A Highland Fling: Lord Of The Isles Talks


Ahh Scotland. The land of the brave, the majestic highlands and rolling hills: a place with endless artistic inspiration. 

A producer hugely inspired by his obsession with beauty and the virtue of the wilderness, Lord of the Isles has spent the last decade shaping music that somehow manages to provide a perfect, juxtaposing electronic soundtrack to nature.  Earthy, airy sounds tinged with analogue elements of acid, house and techno form his new album. ‘In Waves’ on ESP Institute is another artistically different offering from the artist, 

The album comes together in short representations of fifteen different sound landscapes, each track wordlessly unfolding distinctive moods and feelings – a real journey into different realms of nature. After releasing on labels like Permanent Vacation, Firecracker and Phonica Records, it’s clear to see the grandiose and sometimes ambient influences that nature provides to Neil McDonald.

“I think being outside in the wilderness helps me to get in the right headspace for going in the studio. Sometimes I feel like painting after a walk but mostly its music. I think it’s the fresh air and no human combination I like! As the great environmental philosopher and naturalist John Muir once said, “… for going out, I found, was really going in.”

In fact, last year Neil was involved in a project with Forestry Commission Scotland and Firecracker Recordings creating an album exploring the ancestral roots of the Scottish Highlands. Mac-Talla Nan Creag was an album assembled with material from the likes of fellow Scotsmen House Of Traps, Other Lands and McDonald himself. I became an adventure project where the artists spent a deal of time exploring the Cairngorms. 

Neil himself often retreats into the remote backdrop of Scotland in order to help him produce his music.

“The self imposed exile for myself was to get away from distractions with my studio and write – mainly for the album. Although, it was a little strange to be honest. My life is pretty hectic and has been for some years now so the sudden halt in a strange place with all my kit was weird. The silence was deafening at first. But I soon got into it. Strange thing is, I wrote loads of stuff up there that has never been heard! Only little bits ended up on the album. Or tracks were used elsewhere. ‘XIT’ for example was written the day before I came home. I’m sure I will do something like that again soon. I do have some experimental ideas that I’d like to explore which involves the natural world and creating music.”

There is more behind the scenes than might meet the eyes at a glance when looking at the Lord Of The Isles project. In fact, McDonald is an experienced DJ-producer who started off during a residency with his student flatmates every Saturday night, one of those flatmates being Firecracker Recordings boss Lindsay Todd. During his early years in music, McDonald had also forged a close friendship with fellow DJ John Vick, who was part of the acid-house collective Finitribe – a genre that was reaching new heights during the era. They began to create music together as Remote Control, then with an album and two EP’s under their belts, decided to part ways.

Instead of attempting to forge a solo career, McDonald then decided to enjoy music as a hobby – instead focusing on his family and a career in graphic design. We asked which of the two gave him pleasure or relaxation, he said, “I do enjoy both, but I’m obsessive about music and sound.” We also asked how he was managing to find time as a parent now his career was producing and travelling, and he (unsurprisingly) replied, “With increasing difficulty.”

Lord Of The Isles’ new debut album ‘In Waves’ was snapped up by Lovefingers’ ESP Institute, an imprint that’s recently been breaking new ground with new-age artists like Powder, Tornado Wallace and Tambien. We asked McDonald about his relationship with Andy Hogge of Lovefingers and ESP.

“Andrew got in touch out of the blue. It is a label I’ve loved since it’s first release so was really pleased when he made contact. I think creatively we are kindred spirits.” 

‘In Waves’ is a deep, winding journey into unusual territories of ambient house. Melancholic, but somehow uplifting – ‘In Waves’ can be described as an artistic body of work, and the 15-track length shows just how much blood, sweat and tears went into the production process. We challenged him on the way in which he built a narrative across the record. 

“With great difficulty. I knew that this was always going to be hard. I find it really hard to A&R myself! Its great to work with people you can trust. I reckon Andrew (ESP) and Lindsay (Firecracker) are two of the best when it comes to this kind of thing.”

Scotland has formed a great deal of Neil’s musical background. His inimitable sound is as wide-ranging as the vast Highlands at the backbone of his country. 

He takes elements of classic electronica from the last three decades and produces a wide spectrum of ambient dance. A fusion of house, techno and acid – streaked with feeling, emotion and soul. Still based in Edinburgh he reflects on his city with a sense of ironic jest that firmly cements his Northern roots.  

“Edinburgh is vibrant and beautiful with great people… Shame about the council.”

Lord Of The Isles’ ‘In Waves’ LP in ESP Institute is out now HERE

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