There’s a certain magic in completely losing yourself on the dance floor when you truly feel as if the DJ is guiding you on a journey. And, as most proper DJs will tell you, creating that kind of experience takes time. It’s an art that is slowly becoming lost due to heavily stacked festival line-ups and bang ‘em out DJ sets. Dance music veteran Mark Knight hopes to revitalize an interest in long form-sets, and create some of the transcendent experiences that made him fall in love with dance music on his All Knight Long tour that features him playing six-plus hour-long sets.
We caught up with Mark ahead of his appearance at Beta in Denver on June 4 (tickets here) to chat about re-educating dancers in the true art of DJing, how he fell in love with dance music and what inspired him to embark on his All Knight Long tour. He’s also dropped a pumping playlist on us to get you primed and ready for another marathon set from this titan of dance music.
Toolroom has stepped out front with some fantastic offerings for producers. Do you feel as if there is enough information about the industry and production being passed down from the top these days? Is there a proper spirit of mentorship in the scene?
That’s a great opening question! To be honest, no, but it’s always something I’ve really tried to focus on. When new artists have come into the label, myself and the rest of the team have always tried really hard to mentor them and give them good advice, but also give them room to breathe. Then, of course, we have the Toolroom Academy, which hopefully helps people just starting out, or looking to break into the industry. Not wishing just to talk about my own projects of course, but I do think that’s something we do really well. In general, though I do think there should be more done to help young artists. There are so many people involved in the scene now, but a lot of the time people’s potential isn’t fully realized as they don’t necessarily know how best to apply their talents.
Your recent short film Odyssey dives deep into the art of DJing. Why did you decide to take this on now? Is there something about the current climate of DJ culture that inspired it?
Some of the most memorable club experiences I’ve ever had have been in a single room, with one DJ, over the space of many hours. Danny Tenaglia in Miami is one that especially had a really profound effect on me, and something I’ll never forget. I’ve always enjoyed playing longer sets myself, and to be honest I just thought it was something that needed to be celebrated, as DJ sets seem to be getting shorter and shorter these days, with more attention on the amount of names you can cram on a bill than the music itself. So that was the starting point: wanting to create a tribute to the extended set.
DJing has changed over the years. There aren’t as many long sets anymore and festivals have made it difficult for DJs to really take people on a journey in a set. Do you think this is changing the way people experience dance music?
I still think we are as passionate about electronic music as ever, I just think the way that booking shows works has changed dramatically. The way that a lot of clubs and especially festivals as set up these days, the more names you have on there, the better. Everyone seems to be trying to outdo themselves with the sheer volume of names they can cram onto a line-up, and while that can be an amazing experience and definitely has its place, I think that to be able to properly engage people and take people on a ride. You need more than an hour or two behind the decks. I’ve had utterly transformative experiences listening to DJs like Danny Tenaglia and MAW play for hours and hours: sets I will never, ever forget. It’s something I’d like to see more of, and I just hope we don’t lose sight of the nuances of the extended set in favor of simply hitting people with as many big names as possible.
What inspired you to embark on a tour that sees you playing all extended sets?
Historically I’ve always made quite a broad cross-section of music. I’ve never really wanted to be pigeonholed into one genre or another. And often when I’m approaching what style of music I want to make, I often think about where a particular record would fit within my sets. So for example, if I were making something a little slower or deeper, if I was playing an all night set that would be something I’d look to play for the warm-up. That’s always been my approach in the studio, so the All Knight Long tour is a translation of that approach into a live context. I love playing a whole cross-section of music. For me, it’s not always that exciting to go out there and just play at the same tempo and in the same genre for hours and hours on end, it’s nice to be able to move between tempos and styles. For me that’s where the challenge lies, to be able to weave together different genres and tell a unique musical story over a long period of time. And I think if you get the chance to do it in the right clubs, it can be really special.
You’ve talked about how much preparation goes into one of these sets. How vastly does your set change from night to night?
Of course, shows differ, sometimes vastly – but I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “This will work in this place, but not in this place.” It’s dependent on so many things: type of crowd, venue, size, time of day, loads of factors. The most important thing is being able to think on your feet, react, read the crowd and decide if the time is right to drop that obscure edit you’ve been dying to play, or whether you need to drop something a little more well-known to pick up the energy on the dance floor. Knowing when to play certain records is something that can only really come with experience, which is why I think the slightly older DJs are more accomplished at the longer sets. Once you’ve been DJing regularly for a number of years it becomes a bit of a sixth sense. If you go in with a pre-conceived idea of what will and won’t work, or what kind of a night it’s going to be, that can be an issue.
When you first started to fall in love with dance music. Was there a particular night on the dance floor that you can remember it really clicking?
As I said above those nights watch Danny Tenaglia were really eye opening, but I’d been involved with dance music for a while by the time I saw him. The moment that really sticks with me was off the dance floor though. I was on a building site at 7 am, it was dark, snowing and freezing. My hands felt like they were about to fall off they were so cold and I just thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I’d been DJing casually for a while, but that was the moment I decided to dedicate myself fully to a career in music, and I’ve never looked back.