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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
A few years ago, Bruce fell out of love with club music. This was no small shift: the Bristol producer, née Larry McCarthy, grew up listening to dubstep and attending under-18 raves. In the years since, he found his way behind the decks, and he garnered a reputation for off-kilter dance music. His 2014 EP on Hessle Audio, Not Stochastic, feinted towards UK dubstep and Birmingham techno before dissolving into a smog of bassy disorientation, and his debut LP, 2019’s Sonder Somatic, split the difference between brain-bending techno, rickety ambience, and spine-tingling psychedelia. He sneakily became one of the UK’s best working DJs, with sets that prized mood over genre particulars, building a matryoshka doll out of entire histories and turning the dancefloor inside out.
But dance music was never McCarthy’s only interest. After clubs collapsed in on themselves in the wake of COVID-19, McCarthy fell deep into what he calls “noir country”—Johnny Cash, Lee Hazelwood, Marty Robbins. He found himself drawn towards Reuben’s In Nothing We Trust, a blistering post-hardcore record from the mid-aughts, and he started reading Richard Siken. If there’s an obvious throughline in these names, it’s their directness; this is writing filled with gut punches and twists of the knife. It’s not impossible to fuse that with club music, of course, but it’s not easy, either. While McCarthy had picked up a microphone before, his voice rarely featured in his productions. It wasn’t until a try at karaoke in Japan, when he realized that he could take advantage of a freefalling live circuit: Why not try out pop music?
Not and Ready, McCarthy’s first vocal-forward EPs, double as genre exercise and an exercising of demons. On the releases, McCarthy dug through the ruins of a complex relationship, creating a collage of poetry and astral-plane synthesizers in the process. It is his way of slicing a Gordian knot; it is the sound of the producer bottling a whirlwind of emotions. The releases gesture towards the slow-motion material you’d hear on an early-evening dancefloor, but there’s peak-time energy nestled in there, too. On “Dappled Light,” drum breaks ripped from the hardcore dance-music continuum peek out between densely layered vocal runs, and “Broken” pairs a shuffle-and-skip energy with neo-noir lighting, making for a track that feels like UK garage done by Depeche Mode. Bruce’s best sets collapse genres and styles with a livewire energy—at their best, they feel like a sprint on a tightrope. In this way, Not and Ready read like a natural continuation of Bruce’s work: discombobulation and left hooks prized above all else, yet again.
A lot has changed in the past few years. Bruce is no longer disillusioned with dance music, and he’s in a fulfilling relationship. But there’s a lot of space between then and now. In advance of the release of Ready, we got a chance to catch up with the Bristol producer, digging into the genesis of his latest pivot, getting freaked out by bouncers, scaring people on the dancefloor, and plenty more.
(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)