Mark E is one of Birmingham’s finest. A teenage passion to play the music that he’s infinitely crazy about developed to become a full-time career. A modest, and unassuming person by nature, he’s happiest behind two turntables, letting the music do the talking. Often cited as an underground favourite, he’s a top selector with a penchant for rolling Disco edits & Detroit Techno heat-seekers. He’s also an esteemed producer having released on a shopping cart of premium labels such as Running Back, Spectral Sound and his own Merc imprint. To put it simply, Mark is a DJ’s DJ….
London based producer Mike Greene aka Fort Romeau is a core member of the Ghostly International family. His debut LP ‘Kingdoms’ has been retained with high-honours on both side’s of the Atlantic since it’s release in 2013. Exhibiting dexterity beyond the confines of software production he’s also a practiced guitarist & keyboardist having toured with La Roux. For such a fresh-faced talent, his forward thinking sound is surprisingly wholesome. Think hazy Balearic sundowners and rolling mountain peaks, stretching infinite and you’re not far away..
Ahead of the Ghosty International takeover of The Hydra’s new East London home at Studio Spaces, the two musicians have taken the time to mull over drum machines, disco digging and La Roux’s mum’s acting past…
Fort Romeau: Hey Mark, OK, let’s get into it. What’s the best record nobody’s ever heard?
Mark E: OK, now I know people will have heard this, but it was a pretty under the radar track I think: ‘Scallion Philosophy’ by Brenan Green on Modal blows everything out the water for me, and it just disappeared without a trace. How about you? What’s yours?
FR: Wow that’s not even on YouTube, that’s how you know its obscure in the modern world, all I could find was videos about chopping onions the right way. I found a clip on Juno though, sounds good! Lovely vibraphone & Solina combo.
I guess it depends if were talking contemporary or older. Recently I’ve been spending days and days just sifting through Discogs looking for stuff. I’m really into this track by Richard Wahnfried called ‘Time Actor’ . I’m actually just reading now that it’s a project from Klaus Schulze if your familiar with him? It’s 1979 so I’m trying to figure out what drum machine it could be, maybe one of those EKO Computerhythm things? I know Manuel Gottsching had one, maybe they were mates?
ME: Yeah that ‘Time Actor’ is mental considering the date, it’s a new one on me, I immediately thought of ‘Pinnacles’ by Edgar Froese when I heard it, no YouTube either by the looks I’m afraid.
Also, are you still working with La Roux? I’m sure you get asked this a lot I’m sorry, but wasn’t her Mom in the hit gritty Cop TV series The Bill? Or have I dreamt that?
FR: No I haven’t been doing anything with La Roux since around end 2011, but yeah her mum was in The Bill – you didn’t make that up!
Let’s keep going with the obscure stuff for a minute, what else you got in your back pocket?
ME: I went through a stage of getting into all this kind of stuff around the time of the Harvey San Diego mixes, things like Gaz Nevada – ‘Special Agent Man’, The Alan Parsons Project – ‘mammagamma’ and Michael Shrieve – ‘Transfer Station Blue’, but by trawling and scouring as a buyer and collector I kinda found I was neglecting my first love which was House music primarily. Having kids meant I had to refine my buying methods, hoarding the cosmic stuff was a lovely luxury which sometimes got out of hand financially.
FR: Yeah these are all great! I can totally understand what you mean about Disco, it is a black hole for both time and money.
ME: Talking drum machines, what’s your choice? I still use an Alexis HR-16 – it sounds so dusty. Also I use a Drumstation – very basic but it sounds great, I really need to get a TR-8 but I’m put off by those lights (laughs)! It looks so plastic.
FR: Yeah the HR-16 is pretty cool, I think Carl Craig used to use one didn’t he? In the early days my flatmate had one when we were at university. I don’t actually own any drum machines, but there are some really fantastic samples of all the classics recorded on tape you can get, which is what I usually use if I’m after a specific drum machines sound. Loading them up into the MPC is a good middle ground for me although id like to get a 707 because they are still fairly reasonable, I can’t see the justification in buying the 808 or 909 unless you’re made of money. I think it’s about picking your battles when it comes to hardware. I agree with you on the TR-8, its just too damn ugly! I don’t care how it sounds (laughs).
So my turn now. I guess you’ve moved almost completely away from the edits/sample based work you were doing in the beginning, what place does sampling have in your new methodology? Or is everything built from scratch now?
ME: Yeah I made a decision with the most recent album for Spectral to do everything from scratch, and after all those edits I did years ago I vowed no to do anymore but that was at a time when edits got real boring , I didn’t want to be a part of that. I actually missed them though so I’m three releases into a new edit series right now, but sampling gave me the confidence to take it to the next level and write original stuff. So combined with my new love for hardware it feels like I’m starting out again at the moment, it’s exciting.
FR: Ah ok I see, yeah I think many people start off predominantly with sampling. I very rarely would take a big loop or phrase these days, although I’ve definitely done that for some tracks. Generally speaking I like to sample small snippets of things then re pitch them and turn them into instruments and mix that with hardware, sometimes I’ll use soft synths but quite rarely, they just aren’t very much fun and they still don’t sound as good in my opinion.
ME: So, I’m looking forward to the ghostly showcase on Saturday in London, and hearing you play, we actually played together a few years ago on NYE at Peckham Palais, but it was a bit mental in there I recall. Got anything planned or do you just go with the flow of the night? Any exclusives? I definitely plan to give my forthcoming Spectral EP an airing. Would be rude not to.
FR: Ah yes I remember that gig, the place was so packed it was a bit of a nightmare! Yeah I’m looking forward to Saturday, mixing some new stuff today so will definitely have a few new tracks to play!
Mark E and Fort Romeau play Ghostly’s take over of The Hydra this Saturday. Buy tickets here.