It took Mark Knight a year to make the record Downpipe. So when we talked ahead of his upcoming show at Groove Loch Ness 2016, it was no surprise to find that one of the best-loved names in UK house music is a deep thinker, and a man who puts that same level of care and attention into everything he does.
Here's his take on making music that stays in people's heads, the influence of superstars like Calvin Harris, and the time he sped down the hard shoulder to make it to a festival show on time…
Toolroom Records has been going for 13 years now. Is it where you hoped it would get to back in 2003?
I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a label. Of course you always want everything you go into to be a success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great feeling when it gets there. We’ve released some amazing music, and I’ve personally had the chance to work with some exceptionally talented artists, so yes, it’s been everything I wanted it to be.
This year though I’m really focusing on developing the label, in terms of paying more attention to developing artists and releasing albums: that’s going to be a huge priority for us in the second half of the year. In terms of singles we don’t really have too much more to prove, and our 12-year history of releasing singles, especially our successes at Beatport, has shown what we can do. So now we’re ready to focus elsewhere. We’ve got projects coming up from Adrian Hour and Weiss which I’m really excited about.
Albums afford artists the opportunity to work more creatively and with fewer restrictions, which is definitely the direction I see the label heading in.
What characterises a Mark Knight production?
I’m really into making records with hooks: records that stay with you for longer than just the time you’re listening to it in a club. This doesn’t happen so much anymore, but when I was first getting into house music, the only place you could buy records was in the physical stores. You used to have all these kids going in there after the weekend saying “have you got the one that goes like this?” and then trying to do an impression of the record, whether that’s vocals, the melody, or anything else they remembered.
That’s what I try and do whenever I sit in the studio: try and make something that sticks with people, and has a bit more longevity than your average record. Ultimately, the records I make form my legacy, so I try and have pride in everything I do.
What’s the best festival you’ve ever played at?
I’ve played a lot, so that’s a hard question! If pressed though I’d say Cacao Beach in Bulgaria, which historically has always been one of the best gigs of the year. Of course I’m looking forward to all the shows I have coming up, but if I had to pick just one then that would be it. Playing to 5 or 6 thousand people all night long until the sun comes up; it doesn’t really get much better than that. It takes place on a beautiful beach, and all you can see from the stage is people going back right into the sea and literally no-one leaves until the very last record. It’s insane.
Do you have any crazy festival stories?
I was due to play at Global Gathering a few years back. It was a huge show and was also being broadcast live on Radio 1 for the Essential Mix, so I was pretty nervous and excited about it. I was playing at 7 o’clock and on the way there we hit ridiculous traffic, so it looked like we were going to miss the show. That obviously wasn’t really an option, so we ended up driving 50 miles up the M40 on the hard shoulder, hazard lights flashing, and completely getting away with it. The entire time I thought we were going to get pulled over, but somehow we made it just in time for the gig. Not the best preparation, but looking back quite an experience.
You’ll be performing at Groove Loch Ness this August, with the loch itself as a backdrop. Don’t people go to the Scottish Highlands to escape the city life, not to party to house music?
I think everyone, everywhere deserves a chance to have a proper party. It’s a stunning location, and of course there will be some people who will say that it should remain exactly like that 365 days a year. But as long as people are respectful of the environment and don’t cause any lasting damage, I’m all for it!
The festival occupies the space vacated by the demise of RockNess a few years ago; do you think this move towards dance music is a sign of a shift in UK music tastes? Or is it just one of those things?
Without a doubt: dance music has never been so prominent and popular as it is right now, and the fact that you have a new festival that caters to those tastes is indicative of the current younger generations love of that music. Also, DJs are now – quite rightly – considered headliners in their own right. That’s something that’s changed massively in the last decade or so.
Do you think having a figure like Calvin Harris, with all his commercial success, can have a positive impact on young DJs and producers in Scotland? Or does the fact that he plays most of his shows in Las Vegas detract from his influence on the scene back in the UK?
I think it absolutely has a positive impact, simply in terms of what’s achievable as a dance music producer or DJ. Even if you’re not a huge fan of his music, Calvin Harris (and other very successful artists) should be a source of inspiration. I first heard about Calvin when he was making records in his bedroom, and Mark Gillespie – who still manages him now – said there was a kid he thought was going to be huge. How right he was! He’s worked really hard and achieved amazing things, so I have nothing but the upmost respect for him.
Are there any young DJs on your radar that we should look out for?
For me, Adrian Hour is the guy I see as having all the talent necessary for being successful in the long-term. I think he has all the necessary attributes. He can make great music, not just in a single genre but across a range of styles. That’s always been something that has particularly impressed me. It’s all well and good doing one thing over and over again and doing it well: that’s fine, and people have very successful careers from doing that. But for me, I can find it a little one-dimensional. What’s impressive about Adrian is that he operates on so many different levels: he effortlessly moves between styles but there’s always a level of consistency.
That’s something I always wanted to do with my own career; be able to operate in different spaces but thread them all together with a common theme or sound. One of the things that bothers me about the scene at the moment is that everything has become extremely compartmentalised and there’s less freedom to move between genres, both as a producer and as a DJ. Adrian seems to be able to sit outside of all that. So I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily going to have ‘a great summer’, because I think it will be more of a slow-burner than that. But I think he’s going to have a fantastic career and be around for a long time to come.
And lastly, what are you most excited about that's coming up in the rest of 2016?
Aside from my upcoming gigs I’m just really looking forward to getting some more music out there, which should show people the direction I intend to head in for the foreseeable future. The last few weeks I’ve been absolutely flat-out in the studio and I’ve got three of four different projects that are now pretty much finished. Both the records I’ve released so far this year have gotten in the top 10 on Beatport via Toolroom which I’m really happy with, so I’d like to try and replicate their success but on other labels.
Mark Knight will perform at Groove Loch Ness 2016 on 20 August. Festival tickets and packages are available here.
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