Mark Knight On Political Correctness and If Techno Is Still Underground

Mark, you’re currently in the closing stages of your ‘All Knight Long’ tour.  What’s been the most memorable moment on tour so far and what have you learned from the whole experience?

Mark Knight: I think the personal highlight was Basing House on my birthday. It was a combination of having all my friends in one place, being in the UK, and being a club I love anyway, so everything coming together like that made it really special. I also felt like because there were so many familiar faces in the audience I could push the boundaries even further in terms of the music I played, so it was probably the set I enjoyed the most. And because I was playing music from the last 20+ years, it felt like the soundtrack to a lot of my friendships with those people! It was great, one I’ll never forget.

In terms of what I’ve learned?  It’s really cemented the opinion I had at the start: that DJs should be given the opportunity to play for longer, and experiment with their selections more often. I think we tend to sometimes underestimate people’s ability to appreciate music that’s a little outside of what they’d usually listen to. When you allow something like that to happen, you can create something really special.

Your recent Essential Mix is a celebration of all things great about dance music over the last 30 years.  We’re big fans of the classics here at C-U towers and we know there’s a new generation of clubbers out there who have yet to experience all the amazing music that’s been released over the last 30 years. Has Toolroom managed to license any of the classics of the past and are there any big remix packages waiting in the wings?

Mark Knight: If you go back through the tracklist, there are quite a few that we either owned originally or have picked up and licensed since. It was such an important mix for me to get right, and so much of my career has been involved with Toolroom, so it was only right to make sure there was a lot of crossover in that respect. And yes, we have picked up another one off the back of me putting the mix together, Sterling Void ‘Alright’. It’s always been in my top 5 house records of all time, and there are some big remixes planned, so I’m pretty excited about getting those out.

We wrote an article recently about political correctness in dance music, which went viral recently. We got some great feedback from Rebekah, who said she was having to self monitor lyrics in the tracks she was playing; plus her visuals, to make sure they didn’t offend anybody. Are we becoming too focused on not offending people in clubland?  

Dance music should also be about inclusivity, about creating a safe environment where everybody feels welcome and able to be themselves.

So if your music or art is alienating certain groups of people, that could be problematic. As artists in the public eye, you have a certain responsibility. People often talk about ‘political correctness gone mad’, and obviously you don’t want to censor or curtail creativity.

But there’s enough hatred and division in the word outside of clubs as is it. Why not use music as a tool for acceptance rather than division? 

Your Toolroom imprint is still one of the strongest brands in the industry right now.  We know it’s not just a label, so can you talk to us through the education side of your business?

Mark Knight: We’ve been running the Toolroom Academy for some time now, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger. In fact it represents the biggest area of financial growth out of everything we do with Toolroom, so there’s definitely a growing appetite for it. I think what’s made it successful is that it’s not just generic production courses – the programmes are based on the sound of Toolroom, so fans know that they’re going to get the best possible instruction of how to create the music they love.  And it also gets really stuck into the business side of things.  It’s also a genuine talent funnel for us – we’ve actually just signed a new artist for management who we met through an Academy event at the Brighton Music Conference earlier this year. It’s definitely a side of the business we’ll be looking to invest in and expand in the future.

We’re half-way through the European summer and have noticed a trend of techno DJs dropping trance, progressive and vocals during their sets. What’s your view on the current techno scene?

Mark Knight: One thing that seems to have changed in techno is the production that goes alongside it.

For me, techno was always about dark, sweaty basements with maybe a single strobe.

Now events Awakenings they have enormous screens, lazers, even fireworks!  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because the more popular something gets the bigger spaces and shows are necessary

but I don’t know if that’s true to the roots of techno anymore in my opinion.

I guess there are still sweaty basements available if you don’t want to go to a show with 20,000 other people!

You’ve had a busy summer of gigs.  Are there any other trends that you’ve spotted on the dance floor or things you can see happening later this year?

Mark Knight: I see things moving back towards house, back towards records with vocals and melodies. House is an incredibly broad genre, so there are so many different directions you can go with it. It’s funny, everyone’s always talking about the latest trends, or what’s going to be big next. And house music is at the root of everything, bubbling along in the background. It’s as if people aren’t happy with something that’s been nicely defined for over 30 years and  are looking for the next sub-genre just so there’s something new to talk about.

C-U is a platform that supports new talent in the underground.  Can you share some up and coming names from the Toolroom talent pool that we should look out for?

Mark Knight: There’s a new raft of producers coming through that I’m really excited about. Toolroom’s sound is always evolving, and bringing guys like Max Chapman, David Keno, Flashmob, Dale Howard, ZDS and others through shows how much we’re broadening our roster. By now everyone should be aware of our style and what the label stands for, so it’s just a case of making sure we’re keeping the label fresh and interesting.

Which artists are you proud of playing a part in to help further their careers?

Mark Knight: I’ve loved working with guys like, Adrian Hour and Ben Remember. These are guys I see as having all the talent necessary for being successful in the long-term. They both make great music, but 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.

As someone who’s been involved in music for most of my life, it’s a genuinely amazing feeling to be able to share my experience with artists who are coming through, not just in the studio but in terms of how you should operate within the industry in business matters.

It’s one of the aspects I enjoy the most, and when you see people like Ben and Adrian getting the success they deserve, it makes me very proud to have been involved.

Which one of your productions or label projects are you most proud of and why?

Mark Knight: I think I’d have to say Downpipe. It’s just a completely unique record that hasn’t dated at all. I still play it now and I’ll still be playing it in 10 years. It took us a year from start to finish, because there was no way we could have got it wrong: we had to make sure everything about it was how we wanted it to be.  You can’t do a record with Underworld and fuck it up! So we grafted and grafted on it until we were sure. It was worth it though.

What stuff do you have coming up in the pipeline that we should look out for?

Mark Knight: My next release is a collaborative EP, with a track alongside jungle legends Ragga Twins called ‘Move On’ and another with Ben Remember called ‘Let Me Go’. It’s out 25 August, and we’re planning a few pretty cool little videos for the release, so watch out for that.


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