He rose to prominence musically in the hothouse environment of West London in the late 1990s, often as the man behind the scenes in the Brokenbeat movement. From his early collaborations with IG Culture, Dego (of 4Hero) and Bugz in the Attic, he emerged as one of the UK's top producers, particularly noted in the House scene for his collaborations with Phil Asher and Restless Soul. Mark has gone on to notch well over 200 releases, including collaborations with Lady Alma, Jody Watley, DJ Spinna and his fantastic project with vocalist Bembe Segue called The Politik.
Mark (or simply MdCL) now lives in Los Angeles but spends a considerable amount of time on the road, often performing live with featured vocalists and a full studio rig. In particular, The Freesoul Sessions - a roving clubnight built upon completely spontaneous, Parliament/Funkadelic-style improvisational jams - have drawn rave reviews in every city in which they've been held.
There are like a hundred terms for soul music today, and it seems like every time I read a review of one of your tracks I learn another one (Nu Soul, Nu Jazz, Nu House, etc). How do you characterize what you do?
I don't know what I call it. I don't dig the "nu-whatever" - that just sounds cliché. I guess people like to have a label to put on everything to give them a handle to grab it by. Whether it's in the studio or on the live stage, I'll go from Jazz to Hip Hop, to Soul, to Funk, to House, to Broken, to some abstract electronica... So it just seems pointless to me to try and brew that all down to one word. Or maybe a new term needs to be thought up...!
The MdCL live experience is really a LIVE experience. You play keys and program beats on the spot, correct?
I pretty much bring what amounts to a studio rig out for the live shows. The MPC3000 is the heart of it, then there's the Rhodes, clavinet, various synths and effects pedals... Every joint of every show is created from scratch. I just hit "record" on the MPC and build the beats, b-lines and keys however I feel it as it happens. I love the spontaneity which that allows me - I can flip it in any direction at any time and you'll never ever see the same show twice. Often I'll be the lone one-man-band guy with a featured vocalist joining me. Other times, I augment it with more musicians - a live drummer or percussionist working alongside the MPC beats, horn players with loop pedals, a guitarist... The biggest gig was with a 21-piece big band in Holland. It sounded like the bastard son of Duke Ellington and a House party! That was crazy fun.
A lot of folks have commented in these pages how expensive it is to tour with live musicians. Do you find venues and promoters preferring to go with simply DJs?
We're talking about promoters and scenes that are built around DJs. They're used to flying in one, maybe two people, not having to supply crazy equipment and so on. When you bring in a band, the logistics go up exponentially. I love seeing musicians and live music, but I think what's key to it in this day and age is to have something truly unique to present in a live show. I know I do that, and it's a big reason why I'm pretty much touring as much as I want to be at any given time.
It's more than 10 years or so since we first picked up on the Brokenbeat scene in the UK. Is it like all scenes that we romanticize a decade later? Out of your early collabs, what are you most proud of?
Arriving in West London in 1998 changed my life. Plain and simple. I met this community of DJs and producers who were making music which combined everything I love, so many different styles, and amalgamated it all into a progressive sound that challenged the status quo while always respecting the history and lineage of music. There was nothing cynical about it and there were no rules.
There were a lot of collaborations then that I look back on and still love a lot - "3dom" with Seiji (the b-side to his classic "Loose Lips") which lead to the Kudu project with Seiji and Domu; a 4 track EP with IG which we made over 4 days at his old spot when we first met. That was crazy fusion-jazz-meets-the-SP1200. One track - the only one that was ever released, "Thrillseeker" under the moniker Dub Basement - even featured Bembe Segue before she had debuted as the artist we all know now. And I did a lot of tracks with Phil Asher that year. One of my favorites has always been his remix of Fini Dolo's "Blow" which I played the keys on. That was a great lesson for me in simplicity... Less is more!
Point me in the direction of a "hidden gem" you were involved with that maybe didn't get massive press but you think is lurking out there waiting to be discovered.
There are certainly some hidden gems - it's impossible for me to pick just one.... The remix of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Designated Fool" was a lot of fun. I did that with Aaron Ross and Nathan Haines in 2000 I guess. I don't know if it ever got released in any form, but if it's out there, that's one for the heads for sure.
I'm really proud of the Rasiyah 12" I produced - two head-nodding downtempo soul tunes - "U Better Run" and "Untitled (My Love)". For me, that's the best she's ever sounded on record. There's a joint I did with Phil back in '98 called "Locust" under the moniker 12-bit Rephugees. I remember we were bleaching it all night in Bugz' North Acton studio. Phil had done the beat while I was passed out on the couch. I came to, went over to the keys and laid down tracks of out-there abstract shit. It was on some Deathwish soundtrack vibe! And a more recent joint that not many people know I co-produced: Platinum Pied Pipers' "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover". That version has some serious flavor.
You know how Bob Dylan was asked in Don't Look Back how he saw himself and he said "Just a guitar player." How do you see yourself? a producer? musician? songwriter?
I'm a musician firstly, a producer secondly. If you look back at some of the greatest musicians who walked the earth - Miles for example - Miles was never credited as the producer, but in effect he really was, especially when it came to the late '60s and early '70s. His vision, energy and leadership brought very unique and special music out of the musicians he had in his bands. Those same players would go play the next day for a different band leader and it wouldn't have that direction, vision and energy Miles would bring to a setting, even when he wasn't playing a note. Bearing in mind that example, I don't differentiate too much between being a musician and a producer. I know what I like to hear and I guess applying that is what makes me a producer.