Man Power: Bright and happy songs about dark and sad topics

Producer, DJ and remixer Man Power initially burst on to the scene anonymously, his identity the subject of much guesswork – some thought he might be another alias of John Talabot, Andrew Weatherall, or Tim Sweeney – but the man behind the music was quickly revealed to be Geoff Kirkwood, a producer from the north-east of England who only recently ventured into solo work.

Flacid Trax, his 2014 debut EP for John Talabot’s Hivern Discs imprint, set out a bold template for his productions to come: a tough, mid-tempo take on techno that progressed at a steady place, leaving room for powerful basslines and carefully placed samples to breathe and develop naturally.

In the years since his coming out of obscurity, Kirkwood has developed his sound through an array of releases spread across a range of labels, including a self-titled LP for Jennifer Cardini’s label Correspondant, and a string of 12″s for ESP Institute, Optimo Trax and Voyeurhythm.

In 2016 he moved to Mexico and inaugurated his own, aptly-titled label Me Me Me with the Tachyon EP. His latest release this year is the “Apologue EP” for DGTL, a three-track selection of typically acid-tinged techno that ups the tempo a little from previous offerings.

In advance of his upcoming performance at AlFresco Festival, Kirkwood has compiled for us some of his favourite perceivably happy pieces of music that are in fact inspired by dark and sad topics.

1. Flo and Eddie – Keep It Warm

Flo and Eddie used to be The Turtles. The were also Zappa’s backing singers. This track balances Beach Boys style optimism melodically, with lyrics that cover everything from the horror of the music industry to serial killing snipers.

2. Ween – Zoloft

Yes, the song is happy and lifting, but thats because the singer is supposed to have just necked a tranquilliser to hide how shitty life really is.

3. PiL – Don’t Ask Me

Public Image Limited showing their more pop side, but details the publics apathy to the destruction of the planet, media manipulation and the political unrest.

4. The Beatles – Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

A chirpy, almost oompah pah pah, Beatles number about an adolescent serial killer who murders people with a hammer.

5. Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again Naturally

Is this the most depressing song of all time? Arrangement wise, it’s not as outwardly cheerful as the other songs on this list, however, it deserves to be here for the fact that it even sounds remotely bright, considering it deals with a suicide attempt after being jilted at the alter, and the death of both of the artists’ parents.

6. The Beach Boys – God Only Knows

The song starts with “I may not always love you”, and talks about the fact that life will (and does) continue after a break up. Perhaps not super dark, but certainly a more sober sentiment than the rapturous arrangement would suggest.

7. The Clash – Spanish Bombs

Far more jaunty than it is angry, especially in relation to a lot of their other output, the whole song is about the atrocities carried out during the Spanish Civil War.

8. Eddie Grant – Electric Avenue

It reached number 2 in the US and UK, had people dancing in clubs all around the world, and was about the Brixton Riots and the racism and poverty which lead to them.

9. The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays

While a lot of people thought this was just a jaunty lament about the worst day of the week, it actually deals with a real life shooting spree in a US School.

10. Crowded House – She Called Up

It’s refrain sounds like something from a movie musical, but its about the suicide of the drummer from Split Enz.

Man Power performs at Alfresco Festival this May.

Tickets and more info here.

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