DJ, producer, label owner and businessman: Mark Knight has proven a rare and wonderful breed of musical heavyweight. He is the second highest-selling Beatport artist of all time with no less than eight Number 1’s, and a career that has spanned over a decade with releases on labels such as Suara, 1605, Stereo and of course his own Toolroom Records.
Mark remains one of the hardest-working DJs in his field, a constant champion for the tech house sound that has made Toolroom and his own brand one of the most respected in the industry world-over. It is thanks to his music that Mark has remained a firm fixture on the worldwide touring circuit with a number of key residencies around the world under the Toolroom Live banner and performances at dance music bastions Space Ibiza and Amnesia as well as a host of landmark festivals.
6AM caught up with the globe-trotting DJ ahead of a weekend that will see him perform at Heart Nightclub in Miami and in New Jersey.
Hi Mark, loving the All Knight Long tour concept. It seems like after a few years of super short 1 1/2 hour sets we are getting back to doing proper sets that tell a story. How did you come up with the decision to do this?
Historically I’ve always made quite a broad cross-section of music. I’ve never really wanted to be pigeonholed into one genre or another. And often when I’m approaching what style of music I want to make, I often think about where a particular records would fit within my sets. So for example if I were making something a little slower or deeper, if I was playing an all night set that would be something I’d look to play for the warm-up. That’s always been my approach in the studio, so the All Knight Long tour is a translation of that approach into a live context. I love playing a whole cross-section of music. For me, it’s not always that exciting to go out there just play at the same tempo and in the same genre for hours and hours on end, it’s nice to be able to move between tempos and styles. For me that’s where the challenge lies, to be able to weave together different genres and tell a unique musical story over a long period of time. And I think if you get the chance to do it in the right clubs, it can be really special.
With that said, what is your ideal set duration?
I think 4 hours is really the minimum I’d ideally like to play for. I think that’s a reasonable amount of time for you to experiment a little and not just have to go all guns blazing. But ideally around 6-8 hours is perfect for me, that’s when I feel like I’m really able to cut loose and take people on a proper journey with the music. Once I’m a few hours on though I could pretty much go indefinitely, it’s only when I stop that I collapse!
What is the longest set you’ve ever played?
The longest set I’ve ever played was around 14 hours in Miami. Although I could have gone on for longer, as soon as I finished and some of the adrenaline had worn off, I was in pieces! It’s tough going standing up there and mixing for that long, especially on the back. So make sure you’re in reasonably decent shape before you start otherwise you might have to retire hurt halfway through. And try and avoid the afterparty the night before: will only make it harder if you’re not properly rested.
What are your top tips and advice for doing a marathon/all-night set?
When you’re playing for 6+ hours, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your records properly sorted. If you’re anything like me you’ll be going through a shed load of music in that time, across multiple genres, so it’s no good just having one big folder of music. I tend to work out my extended sets in hour long slots, so you might have several folders prepared depending on what vibe you’re going for throughout the night. And if you’re someone who’s still playing vinyl, make sure you’ve got a couple of people who can help you lug all that wax around!
Pacing yourself is also key. If you’re playing for a couple of hours you can probably get away with having a few drinks with dinner before, then cracking on with the shots as soon as you start. The same cannot be said for a marathon set. You’re welcome to give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn yo
What do you feel are the circumstances and I guess the things that you feel have to be in place for an all night long set to go smooth
First and most importantly, you need to be on top of your game. Usually for marathon sets you’ll be the only one playing, so there’s really nowhere to hide if people aren’t enjoying themselves. The buck stops with you. That can lead to some really magic moments, but you need to be sharp and never stop thinking a few records ahead. It’s also important that the crowd comes in with an open mind. As I’ve said, longer sets are a great opportunity for you to be able to play records you wouldn’t usually get the chance to, so it’s great when people are up for a little education in areas of music they don’t know so well. Usually on an all night set though, people only come if they’re already aware of you as a DJ, so generally they are super open and responsive for wherever you take them.
You’re playing Heart Miami at the beginning of September for their 2 year anniversary weekend. It’s a club known for it’s marathon sets… how many hours do you think you will play?
A good few hours I would hope – I know they have a certain reputation, so I’m going to do everything I can not to let the side down!
I saw you’re also playing at Sound-bar Chicago in Octoberfor my friends Lawrence and Haider. What makes that club so special to you?
One of my favourite clubs to play for sure, just never had a bad night there. Great sound system and crowd – that’s all you need really!
I guess this brings me to a question, having seen you live at large and small clubs alike: do you prefer bigger rooms or smaller intimate clubs? Why?
It’s impossible to choose for me. I love the intimacy of small spaces, and the adrenaline you get from playing to thousands of people on a huge stage. I love both of those experiences.
You pretty much mostly play clubs and festivals these days. Were you ever DJing the underground such as raves and warehouses?
Of course! Like pretty much everyone else I know who was coming up as DJ in the ’90s!
Would you get back to that even if it meant smaller DJ fees?
Absolutely, as long as I’m paying the bills I’m happy. I completely understand the economics of the industry we’re in, and that smaller venues can’t compete with huge festivals or clubs in terms of what they can afford to pay. If the venue and crowd are right, that’s without a shadow of a doubt the most important thing.
While we are talking about touring: what do you look forward to the most about playing in the States?
The States is growing and has the potential to grow much further. It’s country I seem to be spending most of my time touring at the moment, with a very young and enthusiastic, clued-up fanbase which is great to see. It’s the perfect progression of where they were with EDM. Tech house still has that energy, but it’s more intricate and subtle, so I think it’s something that’s only going to grown.
Tech house is a genre often hotly debated and misunderstood. I believe there’s good tech house and bad tech house, just like with every genre. Where do you feel the genre is at right now and where do you see the future of the genre heading?
To be honest it’s very hard to predict, but I can tell you where I’d like to see it go. I’d really like people to take a little more time with their productions, rather than thinking they have to put out a record every few weeks. Spend some time working on melody, hooks, making it more memorable than just something that’s going to be played for a couple of months and then forgotten about. Everything’s got a little too linear over the past couple of years, a little bit too disposable. If you put a bit more love into something it will pay dividends.
You’ve been around for a while. What are some of the most welcome change to the industry, as a producer, DJ and label owner, since you first begun?
The amount of interest in dance music as a genre has grown so much in the time that I’ve been involved in it. Now you have huge brands looking to sponsor shows, most electronic-focused festivals and events than ever, so many more people involved in the industry. That’s a fantastic thing. It adds legitimacy to the ever-growing legacy of dance music, and hopefully insures it’s going to be around indefinitely, which is something that was definitely not a certainty when I first started out.
A lot has obviously changed in the way DJs produce and play music. What’s your stance on technology?
I have absolutely no problem with it. Dance music has always embraced and been the sound of the future, so to rail against advancements in technology is ridiculous. As long as you’re using that technology creatively, then it’s all good. I think the issues that people have with it is when certain technologies are applied lazily to make lowest common denominator music. But quality will always out, regardless how it’s been made.
I have always been a believer that it takes a lot of hard work to break through and stand out from the myriad of DJs and producers that want to make it big out there. Do you feel there are any key qualities an artist must possess to make that leap to the next step of their career that launches them forward in a significative way?
Just do something you love and do it well! The minute you try and copy something or replicate the success of someone else, you’ll always be compromising your own vision. Take inspiration from others of course, but always try and do your own thing. Because if you truly believe in something and work hard at it, you have every chance of making it a success.
Cover photo via www.djmarknight.com
Catch Mark Knight in the United States this weekend:
Fri, 01 Sep 2017 /
2 Years of Heart Feat. Mark Knight at Heart Nightclub, Miami
Sun, 03 Sep 2017 /
Mark Knight & Chus+Ceballos Pool Party at Oasis Day Club, New Jersey
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