Interview by Skaif Ndabal on 18/6/12
“There's good music, there's bad music. It's as simple as that."
Mark de Clive-Lowe has often been pegged as a “Kiwi Ambassador” in dance music, but that title is a short-sell on what he has achieved and continues to do in his global travels, collaborating with some of the finest musical creative partnerships & projects. Quite simply, he is an ambassador of music itself.
Mark will be making some rare and welcome appearances in Sydney and Melboure this coming weekend. Ahead of the gigs, Skaif NdabaI caught up with the man himself, who has just come off from touring Europe, where an unfortunate incident saw him lose his laptop, cash & passport.
Pulse: So, what a trip back to NZ, any word on the theft? It must be a comfort to be back on homeground after that. Mark: yes, it's a relief to be back in the homeland, seeing mum, catching up with friends and resetting in familiar surrounds. No word on the theft - all that stuff is gone and I’ve had to replace it all an expensive misfortunate experience! Thankfully I wasn't harmed at all though.
So you’ve made LA your new home base. You used to spend a lot of time in the UK, West London right? Yeah. I was in London for 10 years from 1998, and relocated to LA about 3 and half years ago. The UK years were great, but after a decade it was time to head somewhere else - preferably with more sunshine and start a new chapter of Life.
I haven't been in LA for many years, and I was honestly way too young to experience the real music culture when I was there - it was more a Disneyland experience for me! I think when it comes to music my immediate thoughts would turn to NY, Detroit, Chicago, but not LA first. Who is your creative community out there? There's a really vibrant community and scene there right now - maybe more so than any of those other US cities flying lotus, Gaslamp Killer and the whole Brainfeeder Crew, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, J*Davey, Sa-Ra and so many incredible musicians from the past to the present. I did a gig recently with Freddie Washington on bass; he was the bass man on so many classic Patrice Rushen records. There's endless talent and a really broad range of music going on there.
I can do a beats n bass set at the Low End Theory one day, a jazz set with Dwight Trible and Miguel the next day, hit studio with Sheila E, spin a soulful house party and at end the week I’ll be doing my monthly party CHURCH. I'm not sure I could say the same for any other place.
I see your experience as a DJ/producer is so much more than the regular, because you truly are a musician, do you think in an age where every kid has access to music-making software, this still gives you an edge and does it help keep the boredom at bay or those moments when you just ‘hit the wall’ and how do you tackle it? We live in an age where everyone can get on fruityloops or something and make a beat. Music is a craft and there's no short cut to becoming great at it. I tell any young up n comers they have to master their craft, digest some history and find their own voice.
It’s a combination of all that which leads to great artistry. I really don't need to hear any more sub-par beats made by people who think they're the next bad ass producer. If someone loves what they do and have a passion for it, then boredom is never an issue or a question. If you're bored then you're either in the wrong game or you're not challenging yourself. There’s always something to learn, ways to grow and try new things.
You're what I described as a 'freak' to a friend, when they asked about you. You literally are the Studio 54 of producers...anyone who is anyone has pretty much passed through you. How does this happen? I’ve been really fortunate as I’ve journeyed the world and my life. If someone had told me when I was 20 that I’d end up collaborating with producers like Kenny Dope and Francois K, playing with musicians like Chris Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, I don't know if I would have believed them. When I first got to the UK my first couple of sessions were with Dave Angel and Goldie's Metalheadz label and within a month I was in studio every day with Phil Asher, Bugz In The Attic, IG Culture and other London heads. I guess there was something in what I did as a musician that they were digging and I was definitely digging what they were doing. I think we were all learning from each other and experiencing the journey together. at this point, I think my discography and history speaks for itself. Jody Watley called me up to work with her after she heard my remix for jazz legend Shirley Horn. You never know who is going to hear your work and what they might lead to. One time I was invited to perform at a jazz festival in Atlanta. I knew Julie Dexter lived there so invited her on vocals and asked her to line up a drummer for me. She called in Lil John Roberts; he's an alumni of Prince, Janet Jackson, Lucy Pearl and George Duke Bands, and we hit it off both musically and personally from the get-go. It’s all been super organic and fortuitous.
You are a man who feels really strongly about kids knowing their musical history/roots. You picked up on the piano because your older brother was playing it at the time and then you did it all the way through school. Would you have your kids do this? We have two kids and don't force any music on them. They’re attracted to music because it's around them a lot and it's in their blood. When they choose an instrument and really want to learn it then we'll support them with that and help them keep that focus, but it's not something I’d ever force on a kid. Nothing is more important than the love for what you do so that's always going to be the primary motivation.
I really am thankful to my folks for music. I never played an instrument, but their records and the turntable (while it worked) was brilliant for me. I now collect vinyl in the hope that one day someone will flick through them and be inspired too. Do you feel a responsibility to inspire people around you? Do you think that coming from a country like New Zealand you are an ambassador to the music culture there? I feel like sharing creative expression and doing that as best as I possibly can is important. Especially in the ADD age we live in when so much music is nothing more than product with a shelf life shorter than most fresh fruit. in the same way that a professional athlete is always going to do the very best they can on the field and push themselves beyond their own limitations, an artist should do the same. i love New Zealand and represent for it as a kiwi everywhere i go. the music tho, is a reflection and expression of my own life, travels, journey, people, places and experiences. In that sense it's more international than anything.
You played the Croft Institute in May, and we're pretty much your neighbour - why are we only getting to see you in Sydney now? Croft has always invited me through to play. Maybe Sydney’s been a little lacking in having the right spot? I’ve had a few really fun gigs at the 505 when it was still an underground warehouse spot, we turned it into a full on dance party. Last time was at its current spot and it was more of a jazz gig. Playground Weekender a few years back was fun too, but it'll be great to get back to Sydney this time and do the kind of party that I really love; quality music in a vibey space for people who want to get down.
What can we expect from you? it's my REMIX:LIVE show which is always different and unique. I have vocal acappellas on the turntable and then drum machine, keyboard and toys to create complete remixes on the fly from scratch. The vocals are everything from my own jams to club classics, old school legends and underground anthems... I have a whole lot of fun with it. I’m basically hand-making the records beat by beat at the same time as you're hearing them.
I've noticed you've been getting pretty busy with gear. What to you is the one piece of hardware you have to have? It doesn't really matter to me. You can make music with anything these days. I love the MPC3000, although live I use Native Instruments Maschine for beats. And I’m a sucker for vintage analog gear. It’s just not possible to travel with that stuff. My favourite of all tho has to be a quality full size grand piano. There's nothing like a great acoustic instrument.
When people ask me what I play (once in a blue moon) I tell them acid jazz, broken beat and nu jazz, I get confused looks. How do label your music these days, is it just Australia that isn’t that familiar with these labels anymore? There's good music, there's bad music. It's as simple as that. Subgenres confuse people and alienate people from having the opportunity to experience new things. Subgenres confuse people and alienate people from having the opportunity to experience new things.
You mentioned a few years back about hearing jungle, and we all know what a disciple of Jazz you are, not forgetting the work done with Metalheadz, that I must ask your opinion on Peshay's Miles From Home? And what are your thoughts on the Estate of Miles Davis looking to a producer like Skrillex to come on board with their new project? I loved Peshay's stuff back in the mid to late 90s and along with Roni Size, Photek, Dillinja and 4hero. I don't really have an opinion on Skrillex. He’s found great success and I respect that. His music though, just doesn't enter my universe.
You've just wrapped up a project with gorgeous Sy Smith, what's next on the cards? I have a big band album coming out later this year on Tru Thoughts, the jazz big band-meets-the MPC styles. There’s a remix EP of joints from the Renegades album dropping soon too. I’m in the middle of producing Sandra St Victor's new album (from The Family Stand), collaborating with LA artists Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Dexter Story and Nia Andrews; and starting on my new album which will be bringing my CHURCH club night into the studio and bringing the jazz side of what I do back into the beats more overtly than before. There are always remixes and collaborations happening too - I like to keep busy.
And family...? Yes. One thing I’ve learnt is how to balance my work and the family. That’s a vital thing for sure.
So I guess the penultimate question from me would be, when do we get to see you and Herbie Hancock together? Ha! That's one to make happen for sure. I’ve met Herbie a few times, not sure if he'd remember me though! But yes, he's one of my biggest inspirations and I’d love to collaborate with him. I feel like we could do something that he hasn't done yet and for me, obviously, it'd be a dream gig. The way the last 10 years have been so unpredictably amazing, who knows, it might be closer than I think!
Here's hoping! I have to ask, I love food...and you travel a lot, what is the kind of food you love going out for? I've got a serious aversion to bad food otherwise I’m pretty open. My go is Japanese and Vietnamese. I was in Seattle recently and had one of the best meals I’d ever had; it's such a great foodie city.
Have you learned anything off your mum's cooking? I’ve picked up a bit of this and that, but I can't compare to her at all. She’s an amazing cook and the original Asian-fusionist long, long, before Asian fusion cuisine became a thing anywhere.
Nice, I'm coming for lunch.
Mark de Clive-Lowe plays a Lioness Presents secret warehouse party in Sydney this Friday (buy tix here) followed by the Croft Institute in Melbourne on Saturday. To win a double pass to either gig, email us here with your name, which city you wish to attend and why you can't miss out on seeing MdCL. Entries close 5pm, Thursday 21st June.
start selling tickets with ease
start sharing your music for free