Saxophones, check. Piano rifts, check. Percussion, check. Hip hop sample, check. Muppet voices? You know it.
CA: How do you see jazz and house intersecting? Do you think that there’s something missing from the reproduction of percussion sounds electronically?
Mark: Downtempo electronic stuff and jazz have been around longer than I have; the style and mixture has become more prevalent. Sometimes it’s taking direct samples from jazz stuff, you know, which I feel is one of the nuances of jazz-- it brings a whole different level to it. And then also, musicians who are inclined with jazz-- scales and stuff-- play jazzier melodies over house. I think they go quite well together.
I personally don’t think anything is lost electronically rather than it being just pure jazz. One of the things with jazz that is it looking forward, futuristic and ever-changing. You have to embrace it, it’s about change.
CA: Jazz is all based on improvisation, do you feel that this carries over to DJing as well?
Mark: I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, it’s all about improvisation. Like I don’t really know where I’m going to start or play next, that’s how my sets always are. The question migh be similar tunes on a certain weekend from one set to another, but the whole order is never really planned. I kind of see where the DJ playing before me leaves me ms and take it from there . Free form, that’s the way a lot my stuff is.
I’ve seen younger, less experienced DJ who may need to sort of, plan a set a bit more sometimes. There’s one friend of mine from awhile back who puts his records in the exact order he’s going to play them that night and like to me, that’s unfounded because you don’t know the space, the setting, who’s going to be there, what’s being played before you. So, it’s sort of a free-for-all.
CA: You’re known for playing that organic Mushroom Jazz style and then the more uptempo House of Om style house; next weekend you’ll be playing alongside other house DJs, at a club known for both house and jazz, how will you approach your set?
Mark: Because it’s New York and I’ve been playing New York for so long, I kind of have a certain game plan playing New York in terms of tapping certain samples, certain old hip hop records because I love old New York hip hop . I’ve been clubbing in New York for as long as I can remember, Mars Bar, Red Zone, zanzibar ?Sand Bar-- which is technically New Jersey. It’s definitely a different attitude than playing Chicago, where I’m from, or out in Albaquerue. Playing New York, to me, there’s a different set of rules, you know. And also, going off what I’ve played in the past as well, tempo-wise, New York does like different tempos.
CA: You’ve lived predominantly on the West Coast; what differences do you see between the East and West and do you alter your sets accordingly?
Mark: Well I’m all over, but it’s in terms of if they’re open to tempo changes. I find sometimes in New York, you can break stuff down. Mushroom jazz is traditionally around 105 bpm whereas house is more 125, so if I know New York would enjoy a break down, I do it. Chicago tends to be a little faster, like 128, for example, that’s kind of a mid-West, Chicago-Detroit thing where it tends to be a couple beats per minute faster. But also, you know, it depends on if it’s a house-themed night, if I’m with house people I tend to keep with the theme, sometimes you know and not deviate from the goal of the night. Sometimes the time of the set and how long you’re playing play a role in a too. If I’m playing 12-2, I’m limited to the time. You need some congruency, so if I’m playing 4 hours or even longer, there’s more of a freedom of expression kind of thing.
CA: You’ve been huge name in the music industry for nearly 20 years. How do you keep your sounds fresh and unique?
Mark: I’m always looking for new music and trying to see what’s the next new thing. From day 1, late 80s early 90s you were buying records but now it’s all digital and still about finding new tunes, and not playing the same stuff over and over. Also, it’s mixing in certain classics as well. I’m always looking for new artists and on the look for new promos. I’m lucky that I get sent a lot of stuff, through email, get promos and things before they’re out. I’m always looking for something new and hot.
I come from a promo upbringing, always working in a record store and being a hound for the newest, rarest thing and that’s carried over to today and the digital thing. I’m always looking for something unreleased, or if I know it’s not out, it’s more exciting to have. If I know only 5 people have it, it’s more exciting. I”m fortunate because I’ve been doing this so long so people know what I like and I’ve been friends with the producers for many years. And now, with technology, somebody can make something this evening and bring it to the club and I can play it, or if I can get an email when I’m at the hotel like 30 minutes before my show, which happens, from a producer saying “this one’s is hot off the press tonight!” I can play it that night. It’s cool.
CA: Last year your label went digital. Can you explain this decision? Do you think there’s any tonal qualities that are lost in the conversion?
Mark: I don’t know, I am an old vinyl head I still have all my records from over the years but just to keep up with this technology in day and age, you kind of have to go into digital. There’s a lot of people who don’t buy stuff and also a lot people who are geographically hindered. The whole digital world has alleviated the geographic problems that some DJs may face, like if you live on a farm or in bumblef**** Iowa, then you can’t get 10 copies of a record that came in today. But if you’re in New York and doing your homework, then you can get it. And in, Brazil, for example, a lot of DJs have to pay so much more in taxes and shipping than for the actual record. It’s just hard to get stuff. But now that it’s digital, it's accessible to anybody.
There’s a lot of labels that never progressed and went way side because the distributors didn’t get their money so they didn’t pay up. Distributing vinyl is not an easy task, it takes a lot of resources. When I used to have vinyl, you’d have like 500 copies of a record in your place, it’s a lot more work, digitally you can just implement new music and it just gets out more efficiently. You don’t have to worry about 500 copies in your living room and be like “Sh**, what am I going to do?” Your girlfriend is like “Get these out of here!”
Mark: There’s always different sub-genres of house music that exist: tech, minimal, electro, disco. There’s always different terms . For me, coming from Chicago, “house” kind of encompassed everything. For Chicago-house it was something techy, something minimal, followed by like a formal goal, a sampled track. And it was all still house music.
CA: Plans for the remainder of the year?
Mark: Doing some touring, working on some tracks for Great Lakes Audio. Mixed CD-wise, I’m not sure if anything is planned to come out, yet, I’m focusing on GLA and the monthly podcast, and hanging out with my 14 month year old son, Dylan, he’s very cute.
CA: Is it hard traveling and being away from him?
Mark: Yeah, I mean everyone has to work, if I had a regular 9 to 5 job I would see him less. At the moment I just go away on the weekends and so during the week I get to spend the whole day with him.
CA: Did you ever imagine this as a career for yourself, where you’d be paid for your artistry?
Mark: No, not starting off it was just as a hobby. Maybe we were shooting to get a mix on the radio, during the hot mix days with Funk Master Flex or DMX. It was just to get a mix on a radio, we were never like “Lets make a career out of this!” In Chicago, it's always tough DJ territory, similar to New York around those times, one DJ would go all night. The Thursday slot would open at some club, you’d have try outs and then you’d have to play the whole night. There weren’t really sets, like there are now.