Sonic Agenda Exclusive Interview: Mark Knight
Tonight Mark Knight is coming to Bijou, not as a part of his Toolroom residency but instead as a separate show where he will handle the duties from open to close. Mark Knight is the head of Toolroom Records out of the UK, and they are coming off one of their most successful years as a label, and as part of that Mark had one of his best years as a DJ but also one where he welcomed his first child into his family.
Sonic Agenda had the pleasure of speaking to Mark while he was waiting to fly seven hours from Heathrow Airport to Boston for what is sure to be another legendary evening at Bijou.
You have been enjoying a growing following in Boston over the last decade, and tonight you are playing from opening until close. How do you see Boston compared to the rest of the global market?
I enjoy every time I come to the US, which seems to be about once a month now. It is such an exciting place, and lately I have discovered a style of music that goes over very well. The overall energy of The States is amazing, the people seem to be much more open minded that is quite refreshing, compared to some of the more savage markets. They are more willing to listen to the music as a complete package, and it’s always a highlight of traveling.
I can imagine that you feel pigeonholed by some markets, and feel you have to play what is expected.
Automatically, there are degrees of people where ever you go of an expectation of being close minded to what you are doing. One week a venue may have a Hardwell, and the following week they could have Victor Calderone, and those crowds are going to get two varying performances as well as musical styles. People want to hear a certain type of music at times and have forms of snobbery towards something that may be new, but is still great. The key is to play along the line.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but coming into the States and places like Boston I don’t experience that.
When being offered gigs in areas that are experiencing civil unrest how do you handle it? I know that some artists avoid them at all costs, while others try and do the best to give the people living through it a show.
It doesn’t bother me, and never really will. People live in those areas, and go about their day to day lives. I have never had a problem going into any of those areas. I mean I have a greater chance of being run over by a car. You have to life your life and enjoy it, and take the opportunities that you can. I have never been deterred by something unless it was someplace that was absolutely chronic with turmoil and I will still probably find a way. If people want to experience dance music and are willing to go out, how can I not be willing to give it to them.
With Toolroom records began in 2003, and since its inception has released countless hits and helped break many producers. How are you changing how the label is run as the music is progressing and trends change?
The whole scene is becoming guilty of some things, but we are trying to be more specific in terms of what we stand for. There are a lot of labels from that past that went away, but a lot of labels when you hear them have a specific sound. When you hear a label like a Motown you know what the sound is. When it comes to dance music you want the name Toolroom to give that same notion. Four or five years ago we had a lot more freedom and were able to move around, and it wasn’t so rigid.
You didn’t have to worry about having a label manifesto, and people would accept and give a chance to the music you would be putting out. You could really put out something that was much more underground and at the same time have something that we considered more commercial and it would be embraced by all. That changed though.
We had to focus more on what we wanted our sound to be, created our manifesto of sorts and I am very glad we did because it resulted in our best year in sales. We may not have the same flexibility however which I loved to release a lot of other things or sign different types of artists, unless you find the right way to package them.
You almost have to choose a side whether it is underground or “EDM”, and as a label Toolroom has done a great job of being accepted and played by both sides of the fence.
We always wanted to just make good music and great records. We have been boxed in more recently though, because things have changed. We have had to change, and for some it was uncomfortable but we love where it is now. It takes awhile for people to appreciate it, but we have time and people are becoming more accepting of it. When you have a product that people trust when you show them something new they are willing to give it a try. It took time but we have
Currently companies like Beatport and Soundcloud are going through financial troubles, and as a part of it the end user is suffering. As a contributor to each site if both were to “go away” what avenue are you going to use to promote and share your music?
We are now finding that streaming such as Spotify is really the way forward, and has been received greatly in the last year. In fact we are finding that it is overtaking Beatport in terms of revenue. Primarily we started as a Beatport label, a dance music label. We fashioned our business model around them, and what would work with them. We would look at them and they would look at us. We work with them a lot and even doing consulting for them.
When we first started it was vinyl, but as you went various vinyl distributors went out of business or became bankrupt. Everything is a moment in time, and we have had to be progressive with what we have done and try and stay ahead of where the scene is going. My only one concern at the moment is how do we create a measurable and tangible, chart or stat of success. At the moment there is no way to measure or chart how well a label does, or the success of dance music. Beatport has become the industry barometer for who is doing well and who is not doing well, not in a terms of art but as in a term of sales. It is creating a situation though that is Beatport did go away how are you going to see what is really doing well. You are going to see a lot of labels and producers create their own subscription models as an avenue to get your music out there.
You are going to see a lot more direct marketing, which will make it easier for labels to focus on an audience. Newer labels and artists may find it difficult at first, but I am positive like us they will find success. People find good music no matter where it is hiding.
I do hope that something like a Beatport is always around. It drives me and inspires me to make better records. By seeing what others are doing I can see the competition and it’s very healthy to always want to things bigger and better.
What producers or tracks did you have a chance to sign, but missed out on?
There are two or three people that I wish I could have gone back. When instant messenger came out from Facebook people used to send different track demos every single day. Most notably Avicii, he used to drive me mad sending me different music every single day, and I think I almost ended up blocking him. Obviously looking back I wish I had thought about that differently. But I am sure there are others that I may have missed on, but overall we have given a great deal of opportunity and chances to others so we are very lucky and happy.
Did you think more about your personal vs. professional life while filming “A Year In The Life” last year, or did you see how much each side blends? Has your DJ’ing and production changed since having a son?
My music style and DJ’ing has not changed, but I have started to feel a lot more focused across the board. I have a purpose that is not just myself, but I have a responsibility for me and my family. When I do things now, I know that everything has an impact not just on myself. To maintain a successful career and a family, you have a focus. I don’t just do it for me I also am doing it for my family and need to do the right thing. It doesn’t happen overnight the first couple of months he was very mummy or mum, but as he has grown older he is developing his own character. It has made me realize it more and more.
For 18 years of doing this it was primarily just for me, but the moment he came into our lives I knew that I had a new responsibility and I look forward to what it is doing to do not just for my family but the label.
It was a real pleasure talking to Mark. It is not every day you get to talk to someone who is truly shaping electronic dance music, and ask them questions about how the culture is changing, but also how a family dynamic changes them as a person.
I want to thank Mark Storie from Toolroom, and Shikhar Saxena from Bijou for the opportunity, and wish Mark a great show tonight.
- Jack McDevitt