Back in the 90s you were at the peak of the money game for remixes.
I was earning fifteen, twenty grand a remix, doing at least a remix a month.
It’s crazy to look back at that time now.
Yeah! But it’s switched now because you can DJ and spend the same amount of time you would doing a mix and earn the same amount of money. It’s flip-flopped but it still works out. Of course the budget isn’t the same for remixes but what happens is when you do a really good remix you get booked for really good shows and you make the same money.
That’s exactly the same move you’ve made, because you didn’t really DJ until a couple of years ago, right? How much had you played before then?
Zero! No, I’d done like maybe three shows before that but I’d always take my brother, Scottie Deep, with me because he knew how to DJ. I’d just kind of be in the booth with him and bring a drum machine just so I was doing something. Once I started getting asked to DJ in the past couple of years I realised I had to start DJing.
So when Jamie and Lee asked you to play at that Hot Creations party a couple of years ago did they know that you didn’t know how to DJ?
No, they didn’t. They just assumed that I did. Straight off the bat I told them when I DJ I play with Scott. They’re a duo anyway so that didn’t sound strange to them, so I didn’t even have to really tell them I didn’t DJ. They were just like, ‘Alright, cool. Let’s do it.’
So it sounds like you’ve moved into DJing pretty much just because you’ve got to do it, right? Because that’s the way the industry’s changed?
Pretty much. It started because I did the MK House Masters for Defected, and Simon Dunmore asked if I wanted to DJ some Defected parties. I knew that if I wanted to get back in the house world properly I couldn’t get in it and not DJ, so I just kind of started teaching myself and my brother started teaching me. I started using equipment that was easier at first – I was using Traktor with an S4 just because it was easy – but now I use CDJs.
But you’ve done the Defected mix album with Ableton, right?
Yep. Usually when I do podcasts I do them live, but then I was talking to Lee Foss about it and he asked why I didn’t just do them in Ableton. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Lee and Simon showed me. I still play the records in Ableton the same way I’d play them out live but you can get things a little more precise, go back and fix things and make things a little bit cooler, because you have time to make the transitions a little bit more exciting or whatever.
The mix has got a lot of your older stuff on there, which still sounds really fresh. It’s hard to believe a lot of those tracks are twenty years old now.
Yeah, it’s crazy. Simon suggested that we make it like a history lesson. That’s why one disc is more the older MK stuff and the second disc goes off into newer remixes and newer songs that I like. On the first disc I used some tracks by Prince Club because they feel like my older tracks. So it’s kind of like tracks done in 2013 mixed with tracks done in 1993 to show how similar they are and how well they mix together.
Do you think there’s a secret to making that retro-inspired music but giving it a twist to keep it fresh for 2013?
The start is to do your drums on a 909. Everything. The kick, the snare and especially the hi-hats.
You think it’s got to be the real thing?
Oh no, samples are fine. Or there’s even a plugin I use, Drumazon, which sounds great to me, especially when you sequence the drums in the plugin. Then you need a heavy bassline, not too bright. Honestly you can just take those two things and you’re there. Sprinkle it with a nice cool vocal sample or even a real vocal and just build from that.
The secret to retro house? Do your drums on a 909. Everything. The kick, the snare and especially the hi-hats.
So that’s the retro part but how do you bring it up to date?
I think you need to make it a little more… radio, I guess. Not with the sounds, but more with what the bassline’s doing or what the chords are doing. Back then in the 90s we were trying to make it dark and use chords that don’t really work on a pop record, but if you add a little bit of that into it now you’re kind of there. It’s kind of like an updated version, in my opinion.
Do you think the importance of making things a little more poppy and hooky crosses over to things like arrangements and the length of transitions in DJ mixes? Do you think maybe people’s attention spans have got shorter?
I never thought about that but I guess I can see it. The thing is that back in the 90s I didn’t really go out a lot and I didn’t DJ so as far as what happened in the clubs I’m not too familiar with it.
Have you never really been a club person?
I would go out every once in a while but not every week. And if it wasn’t a proper house club, if Masters At Work weren’t DJing or Tony Humphries or Frankie Knuckles or somebody then I wasn’t paying attention. A lot of times I was young and going to hang out with girls at a club, so I was just going to have a good time. I wasn’t paying attention to the production or DJing.
People kind of assume that producers and DJs are going to be the most obsessive music fans.
Dude, it’s so funny. Even now someone’ll say to me ‘Are you going to see so-and-so?’ I’m like, ‘Who’s that?’ ‘You don’t know?!’
I was young and going to hang out with girls at a club, so I was just going to have a good time. I wasn't paying attention to the production or DJing.
Are you into other types of music as well?
Yeah, I’m into rap. But, you know what? Music is my life. I’m literally in my studio all day long every day if I’m not on the road, so in my spare time I listen to talk radio because I don’t want to hear any music. Sometimes I’ll be out and people try to play me things. ‘Please. I don’t want to hear this right now. I just spent twelve hours in my studio listening to music. That’s the last thing I want to hear right now.’
They forget it’s your job.
It’s all day. Then you wake up and get your emails. ‘Mark, is that remix done?!’
But you’ve still got a love for it?
Oh yeah, of course!
How’s it been to see the reaction of newer, younger fans to your old music?
I don’t know if you’ve seen the reaction to my shows but I’m like, ‘What the fuck is that?!’ There’s kids screaming, girls lifting their tops up, all kinds of crazy things. What’s cool is it’s to my old stuff and my new stuff. Around 70% of the music I play is my music. I played ‘Burning’ at Eastern Electrics last summer and the place erupted.
Looking back over your career so far, what are you most proud of?
I’d have to say ‘Burning’. That was the first track that I really did by myself, without any other input. There was nobody saying, ‘Yo, Mark, you should do this. Maybe you should try this.’ I did the track in my room by myself with nobody in the room. I brought Alana in without an engineer, I recorded her. She sang some notes bad and I left them in the record because it gave it character and to me it sounded good. Twenty years later I can still play it for kids who weren’t even born when I made it. That’s the one I’m most proud of.
Defected Presents MK In The House is out now on Defected Records.