Mark Knight: Get Ready For Toolroom Records 2.0

Words by: Peter Adkins
Posted: 20/7/14 11:14

Mark Knight: Get Ready For Toolroom Records 2.0Mark Knight and his label Toolroom Records need little introduction. Over the course of the last eleven years Knight’s career has rocketed from inauspicious beginnings running the label from his parents’ garden shed to being the head honcho of one of the most instantly recognisable brands in house music.

A large part of that success lies in the fact that, as Knight tells I Voice when we chat with him, he has always focused on “credible and accessible house music” over flash-in-the-pan trends or concerns about being either mainstream or underground. It’s an ethos that has put Knight and Toolroom in a unique category within dance-music; the label’s unpretentious yet classic sounding tracks have not only won them a strong following of fans worldwide, but also earned them respect on both sides of the dance-music divide. A rare thing indeed, but listen to their records and it’s easy to understand why. 

Toolroom have been throwing parties in Ibiza for five years now, firstly with their ‘BE’ nights at Space and then last year at Eden in San Antonio. 2014 is a year of change for the label, with a refocusing of the label’s musical output and a move to a new Ibizan club that fits their revamped style.

Taking over BoOom! in Ibiza Town every Monday night, the label will be offering clubbers both the  chance to get an idea of what Toolroom 2.0 is all about and also the opportunity to get down to a glittering array of guest DJs – from Basement Jaxx to Riva Starr to Doorly.

Ahead of their launch at BoOom! this Monday, I-Voice called Mark Knight to have a chat about the label’s rebrand, why he has the patience to spend an entire year perfecting a single track and what to do if you’re stranded in Ibiza’s outback with only drug-addled mates for company.

So we’re going back to our grassroots and finding a new squad. It’s really exciting, it’s a dawn of a new era.
Plus, we’re about to go through a really big rebrand as a company...

Last year Toolroom celebrated its 10th birthday, how is the first year of the new decade working out for you?
Really good actually. Last year we had a big focus on retrospectively celebrating the successes of the label’s first ten years, and this year we’re all about going back to the things we were doing as a label in our very first year and particularly focusing on creating a new roster of artists.

Over the years we’ve signed some great artists like Dave Spoon, Funkagenda and Fedde le Grand, but now [those artists] have stepped out of Toolroom’s musical space and they’re doing their own things. So we’re going back to our grassroots and finding a new squad. It’s really exciting, it’s a dawn of a new era. Plus, we’re about to go through a really big rebrand as a company.

What can we expect from the rebrand?
We’re taking a couple of steps back and refocusing our musical direction.  Due to the snowball success of the business we have been able to establish a broad musical brushstroke in terms of what we put out and some of the things we have done have been more about substantiating the business than because we loved them.

Toolroom Ibiza 2014So, we’re going to go back to the roots of Toolroom, both musically and as a business. We’re going to refocus on what we’re passionate about. It’s not that we’re interested in being super-underground, although we’re certainly not commercial either. We’re the owners of that bit in the middle, and we’re going back to focusing on that bit in the middle rather than touching [either end of the spectrum].

Is the decision to straddle elements of the underground and more mainstream house scene a reflection of your own sensibilities as an artist?
Yeah, I think so. Music has become so polarised, you’re either super-underground or your super-commercial, and I don’t want to be either of those. There’s a lot of hype at both ends of the industry with both the big EDM acts and the big underground techno acts, but the majority of the music sales lie in the middle-ground.

As much as we like to glorify these hyped acts, the vast majority of DJs can’t play like that and they need music that is going to work on all occasions and that’s what Toolroom tries to facilitate. That doesn’t mean we’re undersell ourselves in terms of our music, but what we put out is credible and accessible house music. That’s our mantra.

It’s a good mantra to live by! When you’re hunting for new talent at the label, are you looking for artists with this outlook on the industry?
Absolutely. What always gets me excited is when someone sends me a demo and they tell me “I’ve made this track, it sounds very Toolroom.”  That is the greatest compliment that any record label owner can receive. You look at some of the greatest record labels of the past, whether it be Motown or Stax or Chess, and they all owned their own sound.

One artist you’re working with is Harry Romero and you’ve just re-issued his classic track Tania. How did that hook-up happen?
I was hanging out with him in his studio in New Jersey and we were talking about his catalogue and talking about how some of his records were more “now” than they had been when they first came out.

So when I suggested re-releasing Tania, he was like “Let’ do it!” We’re looking at re-releasing some more of his classics, as well as his new music. He’s a priority act for us, because he’s an artist who is not super-underground nor he is super-commercial, he just makes credible and accessible records.

Is he someone that you’ve known for a long time?
Quite a long time. I got to know him through Erick [Morillo] and as the Subliminal thing fizzled away, we spoke more by email and became friendly.

He’s one of the nicest guys you could meet, and so it’s pleasure to work with people like that. That is also something that is a big part of what we look for in an artist. There are too many arseholes and idiots in this game and you don’t want to work with people like that.

That’s refreshing to hear! Let’s talk about your own music. Your new track In And Out has had an amazing response so far, do you get a sense when you’re working on something that’s going to be really big?
Yes, very much so. The whole Bullet series is becoming a challenge because they’ve all been successful, from Devil Walking to Alright, and so it puts the pressure on.

I go into the studio feeling that I’ve got to write another big record, but without making a track that sounds like I’m trying to make a big record. There’s a fine art to doing that.

What’s the concept behind the Bullet series?
The Bullet series is both about making stand-up records that will still being played in five-year’s time and about making music that trails across different genres and DJ styles. That’s very much what I’m thinking about when I make these records.

I don’t want to jump on fads or do something of the moments. I just want to write classic house music that stands the test of time. If you take your time and really craft something, it really breed longevity with a record and that’s the idea with Bullet. And it can take a long time. In And Out took me a year to finish.

Is it usual for you to spend a year perfecting a single track?
Yeah, it can be. I don’t stress over how long it takes to write a track and I might be working on two or three tracks at the same time, which means that I can do something on one record that opens up ideas on another one. I certainly don’t rush, because if you can make a track that you’re still playing in five years then it is worth putting the effort in.

We’re not about mega production or fireworks, we’re about good music and having fun playing the music we love. It’s not that we are no-frills, but our night centres around music first and foremost...Let’s chat about Ibiza. You’re launching the Toolroom Knights club night at BoOom! on Monday. It’s your first year at that venue, what attracted you to it?
Last year we were at Eden and loved it. Having done five years at Space, we had wanted a change and so we moved across to Eden, and I genuinely loved it. We’re a UK brand and our audience are in San Antonio, and it just connected. But we just couldn’t make it work with Gatecrasher [who took over the venue that was previously Eden], so we thought we would focus our effort on our rebrand and leave Ibiza alone for one season. But then the people from BoOom! phoned us up and they seemed really cool, and so our guys went over and checked it out. When they came back and described the space and soundsystem it was obvious that it would make sense as a venue for us. We’re late, but better late than never!

You’ve been coming to Ibiza and running Toolroom Knights for five years. What changes have you made for this new season?
We’re not about mega production or fireworks, we’re about good music and having fun playing the music we love. It’s not that we are no-frills, but our night centres around music first and foremost. And our sixth season is going to reflect where we are musically, our line-ups are exactly where we want to be as a brand. It was a bit of a minefield booking artists because of all the exclusivity deals and it was tough getting it together, but I’m really happy with the line-ups.

Toolroom Knights Ibiza - Monday @ Booom! Ibiza 2014 You’ve got some great DJs coming to play for you. How involved are you personally with the booking of acts?
I’ve very much involved. This year it’s been a case of me picking up the phone to my mates and saying “Look, it’s my first year at the club, will you come and play?” Everyone was really cool and was able to muck in.

Which artists and tracks do you predict being big at your nights over the coming season?
Pretty much anything that Weiss is making at the moment is going to be big, he’s on fire right now. I’m also a big fan of Dosem and his new record Chase The Link is fantastic,  I can’t wait to play that out in Ibiza. Also Adrian Hour is another fantastic talent and we’ve just signed another exclusive deal with him.

How long have you been coming to the island for?
My first time was in 1988. I was 16 and had just left school, I went to Amnesia, took half-a-pill and danced till 8m. It was a life changing moment.

So Ibiza really is in your DNA as a DJ and producer?
Completely. There haven’t been many years since that first time that I haven’t been back. It’s well and truly engrained in what I do.

Well, in that case my next question might be quite tough. What’s been your lowest moment on the island and your greatest moment?
The lowest would be when I was booked to play at the closing party at Privilege one year and I stupidly went to DC10 with Dean Ramirez and Guy Williams beforehand. Dean got a little bit worse for wear and we had to get him back to the hotel,  so we borrowed a car and were driving along these back-roads to drop off the girls who had leant us their car.

But as we were driving to their villa, we got a puncture in the middle of no-where. I was the only sober one, so I had to get out and change the wheel, managing to lose my phone in the process. Finally, we got to the villa and the car broke down. I tried to call a cab, but the girls were too off their heads to give me the address of the villa. There was this old jeep behind the villa, so I borrowed that instead and drove back to the hotel with Dean. The door fell off whilst we were driving, but we just about made it back. I ran into the hotel, picked up my CDs, jumped back in the jeep and drove to Privilege. Unfortunately, none of the dials worked on the dashboard of the jeep and so I ran out of petrol on the San Rafael road. I had to run in my flip-flops to the club. I was 45-minutes late, covered in mud and sweat. That wasn’t one of my better shows.

And your greatest moment?
Doing the BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix live from Space, that was pretty cool.


Toolroom Knights Ibiza - Monday @ Booom! Ibiza 2014
Toolroom Knights Ibiza - Monday @ Booom! Ibiza 2014 - Line-up
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