Mr. G – The story of a sound man

In 2012 Mr. G had become the darling of the House scene and quite by accident. Although the DJ and producer had been working within House music and Techno since the mid-eighties in 2012 it was like the world sat up and listened for the first time.

It was around the start of Boiler Room and he was one of the show’s first guests. “I’m really old fashioned, so I run everything past my missus” recalls Colin McBean (Mr G) in a n interview with Skiddle. “Benji B asked me to come down and play, and I had no idea what it was.” Colin played a live set, which unbeknownst to him was being broadcast live over the internet. “I missed the concept completely, until I saw this computer screen two, three hours later, and they told me it was all the people logged in.”

By the end of the hour-long show, the name Mr. G  had been imprinted on the minds of a whole new generation of dancers and music enthusiasts thanks to the streaming platform. It was a “life changing” experience for the veteran, and soon afterwards he released a “Retrospective” via REKIDS, consolidating a career of thirty years for this next generation of club-goer. As well as introducing them to the idiosyncratic sound of Mr. G it also provided the launch pad for the next phase of what had already been an illustrious and passionate career up to that point.

Colin McBean’s life had been intertwined with music from a young age. Born to Jamaican parents in the UK Midlands, his earliest memories of music are of his dad’s collection of tapes, recorded from old gramophone recordings. He remembers “Studio One, reggae and all sorts of bits” from those tapes in an interview with Hyponik. From there he would start to amass his own collection, starting with pieces like Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Clair’.

“I ended up on this road that whenever I had money, I’d go and buy records, or if my folks took me back to Jamaica to see family, I’d go to Kingston and stand at the back of some record shop and buy 7″s.” Later he would realise he had a particular penchant for the sound of “analogue bass” in his buying habits. “Whether it’s Burning Spear, Bob Marley, Studio One, or King Tubby, that bass and analog is in our heritage,” he told XLR8R.

While coming of age in Derby, Colin got a job working in a record store in his hometown to furnish and indulge the habit. Regular trips to London to the Record and Tape exchange  encouraged the young Colin further and digging became second nature to him. “I’d spend the whole day in there searching out George Duke, Father’s Children, 24 Carat Black, all for fifty pence. We’d go there with twenty quid and come back with bags and bags of records.”

There was another aspect of Colin’s early musical development that would play a significant role too and something that, like the analogue bass, relates to his Jamaican heritage. Regular trips to Jamaica and the “really robust Jamaican community in Derby” embedded sound-system culture in a young impressionable Colin McBean. “I’ve been going to the island since I was about eight”, McBean told XLR8R. “When I go to where my parents are from, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday there’s a sound system.”

It clearly had an early impact on young Colin, and around the same time he started buying and collecting records, he had begun to nurture this side of his musical personality too. At an age when he was barely as tall as a speaker in your average sound system, Colin was carting them around as a box boy, a type of volunteer junior apprentice for sound systems. “It was a case of if you behave yourself, you can sit round the back, watch what’s going on and look after the system”, Colin told Hyponik. Taking what he learnt from his predecessors he too would dabble in sound systems, building his own “little system” in his living room whenever his parents were out, laying a foundation in sound that would remain with Colin his entire life. “Then as time went on it got to the point where it was my turn to have a go.”

Sound System, records and his Jamaican heritage had laid out the foundation for a nascent career as DJ and producer for Colin McBean, but it wasn’t a career that a small town like Derby could ever realistically accommodate. Although by that age he had been making regular train trips to London, he would always have to come back to Derby and play for a scene that wasn’t exactly nurturing the digger in him. “Because you can’t play your amazing rare disco gem to your local people,” he told XLR8R. “They’re not ready for that.”

A move to London beckoned and by the early eighties Colin had established himself in Kentish Town close to where Keith Franklin (Bang The Party) had a community-based studio. Colin and Keith met and connected instantly over a shared “passion” for much of the same music. The encounter came at time when Colin came to the realisation that: “I like records, maybe I should see if I can make something.” Keith and Colin decided that they would make music together and the pair roped in Cisco Ferreira and formed KCC (as in Keith, Cisco and Colin).  

KCC released their first single, “State of Mind” via Hi Note, a rough trade subsidiary in 1990. A monosyllabic synthesised organ looms over an excessive percussive workout on the title track, executed with the youthful exuberance of early acid House. Various 303 phrases lick the surface  of the track while a vocal sample preaches about a new state of mind lifted from the liturgy of the burgeoning UK rave scene from the time. The sound is indicative of its time, but there was something about KCC that set them apart from the peers early on.

While most were playing established clubs or congregating on the fringes of London’s M25 as the first strands of Rave culture streaked forth into the UK, KCC recontextualised it all through the world of sound system culture. Keith had been adamant that KCC will play carnival right from the outset and to that end they eventually teamed up with the Rocking Crew sound system. It was another one of those “life changing” moments for Colin according to Hyponik. “We went in there not knowing what to expect, and by halfway into the second day police were begging us to stop, every single crossroad was blocked. We were playing house, soul, funk, disco all on this reggae system, it was momentous.”

From there they set up Melange club as a permanent installation of that Carnival experience, with regular guests like LTJ Bukem, Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, and  Kevin Saunderson coming over to play for a meager £30 – £50 to make history together. “I remember Derrick or Kevin left their records in the club, which I still have,” says Colin.

Eventually KCC disbanded with Keith Franklin bearing the torch as a solo artist while Colin and Cisco Ferreira went on to establish the Advent. The Advent saw Colin and Cisco abandon the stilted sounds of Acid House to pursue the more primal sounds of Techno and Electro with a determined fervour. They would come back to House later however as G.Flame and Mr.G but throughout the mid- to late nineties, The Advent found Colin and Cisco in the grips of a sonic assault with fast -paced percussion and Herculean industrial textures distinguishing their sound.

In the late nineties Colin left Cisco Ferreira to pursue the Advent alone, while he went on to establish his own solo career. The pair didn’t part on the best of terms according to his hyponik interview, “(b)ut everything happens for a reason and me going back and grabbing that MPC was the result of not wanting to leave without something.” He spent the next two years then learning the intricacies and pitfalls of the MPC (drum machine) and then everything changed in yet another life-affirming moment; when he got his first remix assignment  for Virgin and brought Mr. G into the world.

Armed with little more than MPC, he’s able to channel all the various aspects of his musical life experience through Mr.G. Built on the foundations of House, but with disparate influences informing the music, Mr. G has over 60 EPs and 6 albums to his name today.

Using is label Phoenix G as his exclusive vehicle for music, Colin releases everything he creates as Mr. G. ”I’m a music guy, I live to make music, and hear music”, he told XLR8R when asked about his excessive output. Making music is “a way of life” , coursing through his very being and a big part of that being is “a sound man” he told Red Bull Music Academy. Colin distills everything from that sound system experience down into his music with records that were made for those kind of systems. “Everything I do sonically in the studio is not about radio or not even hi-fi. It’s about some big, bass-heavy system – it’ll talk to you.”

His music talks to you from some incredible hidden depth and you feel the entire history of the man pulse through records like a “Night on the town” and the more introspective, “Personal Momentz”. There’s always a concept or theme to his LPs, the result of being “a child from the seventies” and growing up with albums from that era. His singles are more in the moment, crafted and released in quick succession whenever he feels the creative urges at their most intense. Five pages on Discogs barely contain his output that can be found on labels like REKIDS, Bass Culture and Monique Musique, but mostly on his own imprint Phoenix G. It’s a prolific output for a veteran of the scene who is already in the third phase of his career.

He’s been playing live as Mr. G since the start of the project and with little more than an MPC and a mixer he’s astounded audiences all over the world. There’s always a deep-rooted investment in the musical cultures that constitutes him and it’s best experienced through a “big, bass-heavy” sound system. 

Today Colin McBean has an extensive and varied musical career behind him and it’s all born from the simplest of ideas:  “All I wanted was to make music and release records”, he once told Meoko. “It’s just steely determination. You have to believe in yourself – and trust me.”


*Mr.G plays Frædag invites Mr. G