WORDS BY CAMERON BAIRD – PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEREMY PERKINS
Having dominated the local Australian music scene for the better part of five years, Nathan McLay and his trailblazing Future Classic have ventured across the waters and set up permanent residence in L.A. As the driving force behind a slew of award-winning artists and releases, the label is expanding throughout the States and Europe, picking up Grammy Awards and festival headline spots along the way. For this man, slowing down is not an option, and the next release is always on his mind.
PINNING DOWN NATHAN MCLAY IS easier said than done. Having recently relocated from Sydney to L.A. due to the overwhelming demand and schedules of several of his label’s key artists — in particular a fellow by the name of Flume — he is always on the move. Whether it be the festival circuit in the States and Europe, or the increasing need of some of his artists to get in the studio and make the next hit, McLay is always thinking about his next musical move.
I caught up with Nathan after he’d just returned from yet another tour of the U.K. As he wandered the reservoir in Silver Lake, I asked the man about his frantic schedule.
“We got here in February, so it’s been a lot of setting up. We have a U.S. company — Future Classic Inc — [so] we’re hiring staff and talking a lot internally about what the hell we’re getting ourselves into,” he laughs. “I tend not to think of anything as permanent or forever, everything is in a state of constant flux and flow. This just feels like the right place for us to be at the moment… Oh dear, that sounds horribly L.A!”
I wonder whether he felt the need to get closer to the action, or if there is a greater reason to be based in the States. “Our Australian artists spend a lot of time touring in North America and many of them have done stints recording and writing in L.A., so their careers are becoming increasingly global. L.A. is a great hub for the U.S. and less of a mission to the U.K. and Europe… [from here we can] create more stability, contacts and opportunities for our Australian roster. We’re also inspired to work more closely with international talent — be they artists, directors, show designers, brands, whatever. The scale is overwhelming sometimes, but also alluring and we (sometimesmaddeningly) seem to be most inspired when we’re challenged.”
“OUR ‘SUCCESS’ IS OVERHYPED. WE’RE DOING OK. WE CARE DEEPLY ABOUT EACH ARTIST WE WORK WITH AND TRY TO HELP THEM CREATE REPERTOIRE AND EXPERIENCES THAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT.”
In 2016 Future Classic (FC) embarked on a lengthy label series, touring the U.S. and introducing many new fans to the family of talent. It would seem that this was the catalyst for the move. “Not specifically, but it was a fun exploration. We spent five months in L.A. in 2015; during that stint we were also working on the SKIN album with Harley [Streton aka Flume]— setting up sessions, working with Jonathan Zawada on the art. Then in 2016 we were back for three months while Flume toured — to be close and accessible to Harley and the road crew, and on their timezone. Those trips opened us up to the possibilities [that would arise] if we spent more time here.”
And how about reviving the showcase tour format — is this likely to happen? “We’re working on a multi-artist ‘bus tour’ concept for 2017, and look forward to doing more special concept events in collaboration with our artists, which are a lot of work but seem to get us out of bed in the morning,” he says. “Each summer we curate a few FC festival stages here in the U.S., similar to what we’ve done at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. And we’re hoping to do some low-key live streams from our new studio space we’re (fingers crossed) about to lease by the L.A. River in Frogtown.”
In 2015 the the once-underground label solidified their imprint on the Australian music landscape at the FCX 10-year showcase on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. It was the first time a local label had taken control of back-to-back nights of the world-famous Vivid festival and, as the sold-out shows and noise complaints could attest, Future Classic was being recognised as the torch-bearer of a popular and growing electronic influence.
I probe for some insight into how the label has managed to cultivate such a successful run of releases, both in Australia in overseas. In his typically humble style, Nathan suggests, “Our ‘success’ is overhyped. We’re doing okay. We care deeply about each artist we work with and try to help them create a repertoire and experiences that people care about. But it’s an ongoing challenge and work in progress — the aim is to build an environment where great work is done and artists are able to flourish.”
It’s not a story of instant success for McLay and his team — including label partner Chad Gillard, and wife Jay Ryves, who is the label’s creative director. The label had slogged out 10 hard years of underground releases, basement parties, small to large brand events and a near dissolution. Having known the team from day one, it was nothing short of a miracle to see the endless hours of meticulous cultivation of fine music and incredible events paying off in a world-class display of dancing and rejoicing at Vivid in 2015.
It’s been several years of ARIA domination and industry heavyweight status for the label heads, and its fair to say that since Flume collected the best dance release Grammy for 2016’s SKIN, the world over is pretty damn familiar with Future Classic.
Considering his demanding schedule, work-round-the-clock ethic and non-stop approach to artist management, I wonder if Nathan has any down time to speak of. “I know I am more productive when I am exercising, being healthy, getting sleep, but I am my own worst enemy. It’s an oxymoron as I’m fortunate to be inspired by my work, but in turn I get obsessive and it takes me over. I am not a chiller, I am always pushing and every now and then the balance goes out and everything collapses. Fortunately I have people around me who are understanding and help me immensely and we look after each other. Nick (Murphy) got me onto mindfulness meditation and I want to get back into that. I visualise growing sprouts and longboarding at Wategos.”
What other outlets relieve the pressure of finding the next release? “Deprivation tanks. Sound baths. No, I wish!” he jokes. “I have two young kids who, with my incredible partner Jay, are the loves of my life. When we had our daughter Cleo, it was probably the first time I switched off from work in a long time — mostly because of the sheer hard work required, but also in awe of her wide eyes and zest for life. Now with the addition of my son Erik, there’s two of them, and it’s positively trouble. Sometimes it’s hard to escape, other times music is part of that escape. We’re very lucky.”
And what’s next for Nathan and his ever-expanding label, now based in two countries? “We’re building a studio in Frogtown, L.A., diving into Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, doing a writing camp as part of Vivid, working on new music, tours, music videos, artwork, live shows ad infinitum.” And what about long term? “I’d like to continue to build a team and roster that is increasingly global. I feel that creates a meaningful infrastructure for our artists and enables us to best represent them.”
“SKATEBOARDING WAS MY FIRST LOVE, THEN SNOWBOARDING AND EVENTUALLY SURFING, AT WHICH I AM A NOVICE BUT STILL ENJOY.”
Sounds like Nath needs to hit the waves, or pick up his trusty skateboard. “Skateboarding was my first love, then snowboarding and eventually surfing, at which I am a novice but still enjoy,” he muses. “Ever since I was a teenager I found skateboarding fun and creative. Each of these pastimes take your entire focus. I still skate a bit of mini and had a few days in the mountains recently and absolutely love it. I really should just up stumps and be a bum.” END