Toolroom boss Mark Knight is the latest artist to speak to us in the Ticket Arena In Conversation series, delving deep into life on tour, the merits of running a label and the importance of global awareness. Also wading in on the much-contended digital vs vinyl argument, the big-hitting house producer finds time to get down to business even amidst a hectic touring schedule.
Hi Mark, how’s life? September looked busy! Looking back over your recent performances, it looks like you’ve managed to fall into a jet-setter lifestyle. Do you find a lot of time to see the places you visit or can the toils of international touring get on top of you?
Very very rarely. It’s the curse of the DJ: having been to so many countries and seeing very little of them other than the inside of a hotel room, taxi and club! I’m blessed that jetlag’s never really been a problem for me, for the simple reason I don’t stay in one place for long enough to get used to the time zone there. And of course you don’t sleep at the usual times anyway if you’re playing in a club or festival or whatever from 2am-4am. I’ve been dealing with grueling schedules for so long now that I’ve pretty much got used to it, and can survive on very little sleep. I’m incredibly appreciative of being able to do what I do, and spending time on planes and in airports is absolutely worth it, so I’m not going to complain. The only thing I find hard is spending that much time away from my family. They’re incredibly understanding, but it never gets any easier: quite the opposite in fact.
Your label, Toolroom Records, has now been running for twelve years, supporting artists like DJ Viper, Tiesto and Audiowhores among many more. Are there any releases that stand out as particularly emblematic of what you try to achieve with the imprint?
It’s been quite a journey! I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a label. Of course you always want everything you go into to be a success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great feeling when it gets there. We’ve released some amazing music, and I’ve personally had the chance to work with some exceptionally talented artists, so yes, it’s been everything I wanted it to be. In terms of picking particular releases, that’s hard. Toolroom’s success has been down to its consistency. We only sign records that we think have legs, and that people remember. Hopefully every record we’ve released is someone’s favourite.
You have also released many of your own records on Toolroom, so how does self-releasing compare with releasing on other people’s labels?
It’s great. I like the challenge of doing something a little bit different. I’ve had that success many times on Toolroom, but just doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t really appeal. I like to push myself, and I like the variety. It means that every time I go into the studio I have to put myself into a different mindset. And of course there’s no guarantee that the label I’m making it for will like the record, so it definitely keeps me on my toes.
The majority of Toolroom releases are digital only, with only a small selection pressed to wax. What is your stance on the age-old physical vs digital debate?
I think it’s pretty clear from my output and the way we run Toolroom that I’m in favour of digital music. Yes it comes with its downfalls, but it’s been an overwhelmingly positive progression, especially for music fans. Plus it’s been the norm for what, 10 years now? I think we should all just move on to be honest!
Your Soundcloud bio points out that you are the “second highest-selling Beatport artist of all time”; do you think there is any notable difference in the way that music is consumed now that websites like Beatport make it so easy to download and listen to, compared to when you first started out and physical purchases were still the norm?
Of course, vast differences – too many to go into now to be honest! But anyone who’s been in music for a while can see that the landscape has completely changed, so I don’t think I really need to outline everything that’s happened.
The same bio also describes you as a “DJ, producer, label owner and businessman”; do you think that business interests, and in particular the need to appeal to wide audiences, can inhibit creative freedom in the music industry?
No I don’t think so, as long as you go into it with the right motives. Music has always been a passion for me: the fact that I’m able to run a business doing what I love is just a bonus. I love the challenge of doing two seemingly different things. Again it goes back to not wanting to limit myself to one thing or the other. For me creativity and business go hand-in-hand because I’ve never really known one without the other. I like the fact that I can be in the office for two or three days dealing with the business and not really think about making records, then hit the studio completely refreshed and ready to put my artist hat back on. And it hopefully means that when I’m dealing with artists I’m a little bit more sympathetic to their needs and can see where they’re coming from and what they need from me. I love both the music and the business sides of what I do: I get a buzz out of both.
Last year you released a collection of career highlights titled ‘A Year In The Life’, the proceeds of which were donated towards children’s charity War Child. Tell us a bit about why you decided to choose this particular charity?
The more I travelled around the world the more I became aware of extreme poverty, especially among children. Travelling to different countries around the world is an amazing opportunity, and yes lots of fun, but you also see poverty and inequality in action. Since having a son, and him being of the age where he now misses me, it makes me think differently. I’m sure lots of parents would say that having children of your own opens your eyes, and gives you a stronger empathy for the lives of children around the world who are a lot less fortunate than your own. Dance music is about escapism, but we can’t ignore the fact that there are others in this world that need our help. Warchild is a fantastic charity and it just felt right to do something to help their cause.
Do you feel that artists like yourself have a responsibility to promote humanitarian causes?
I think that anyone with any kind of profile and fortunate to be in a position where they’re earning a decent living should absolutely promote the causes in which they believe. As I’ve said before I’m hugely fortunate to be able to do what I do, so if I can make a difference to other people’s lives – in even a small way – then that’s something I will absolutely continue to do.
Returning to your music for our final question, what’s ahead over the next few months?
We have our Toolroom Live show at Egg London and I’m also playing the final party at Space – both of which I’m enormously excited about. Aside from my upcoming gigs I’m just really looking forward to getting some more music out there, which should show people the direction I intend to head in for the foreseeable future. The last few weeks I’ve been absolutely flat-out in the studio and I’ve got three of four different projects that are now pretty much finished. Both the records I’ve released so far this year have gone top 10 on Beatport via Toolroom which I’m really happy with, so I’d like to try and replicate their success but on other labels. I’m also working on a big new project that will hopefully see the light of day early next year – watch this space!
Mark will be playing EGG in London as part of the Toolroom Live night on Saturday 1st October, alongside Technasia, S-Man, Weiss and more.
Words by Andrew Kemp
Photo courtesy of Mark Knight