International Feel: Banter From An Island (Part 2)


So if you're still with us, this is the hardcore, gatefold-sleeve limited-edition section of the interview… we're now up to speed with where International Feel is… time to put on the philosophical anoraks…

Mike: I'm not surprised the conversation has gone this way, where we're talking more about a creative space than we are about the technicality of a plugin or a studio set up.  This is the story I came here wanting to tell actually – that this nerve centre of International Feel is in fact…

Mark: Minimalist!  There's nothing here!

Mike: Exactly.  I wish more people would understand this concept, then maybe there would be more creativity as a whole.

Mark: It's all about the idea.  My work space is ridiculously small.  You just don't need anything to make music… you just need a good idea.

Mike: The immediacy of capturing that idea is almost as important, and I guess some people may argue that you need to spend a long time planning the process of how to capture that idea by buying equipment etc., but really, the more things you put in that process, the more things there are to get in the way of capturing the idea.

Mark: Yup.  One of the best things about my current set up, as small as it is now, is I've moved onto a three octave mini keyboard.  For what it's worth I'm a trained pianist, but the benefit of this 'mini' keyboard is that it's like the old days of Human League… you can only play one-finger melodies because your fingers are too fat, and you've got a limited range, so you find you're making very simplistic melodies.  It's all about limiting choices.  Limiting choices makes for more creativity.  When I was 18,19, 20 and you had one sampler, one computer, one mixing desk… kind of like Reason the software looks now, is like how a lot of us started out with hardware.  Part of the joy and the journey was the limitations you had, and working out clever workarounds, and in those workarounds came happy accidents.  Limiting your choice engenders greater creativity.  When I'm writing a song I'm trying to tell a story – it's a narrative – but the actual parts that make up the plotline have a very simple ethos now, i.e. don't overload people with information.  Keep it really really simple.  If, to make a transition from one section to another, you need a load of whoosh sound effects, your part isn't good enough.

(The Human League-emulator in question)


Mike: This is a very interesting point about risers, and I'm glad you've made it.  Whenever I finish a track there is a moment where I feel a bit inadequate about the fact that there don't seem to be very many risers – that people might say ‘it sounds a bit dry’ – it's just not something I think about when I'm laying it down.

Mark: Well you probably don't need them then!  If something's good enough, you don't need risers, you don't need three-layered kick drums, you don't need to tune your bass to your kick as is the current trend, you don't need to side-chain the bass… you don't need to do any of that stuff… the song will stand.

Mike: Do you think that being out in the sticks in Ibiza; not being on any kind of corporate treadmill, not being part of the conventional society that you grew up with; do you think that makes it easier to, firstly; have good ideas, and secondly; have enough headspace to capture them?

Mark: Yes, definitely.  One of my favourite quotes is from a book by James Clavell, who wrote The Asian Saga… in his book Noble House which is about Hong Kong in the 60s, there's this guy who has an American wife who's really loud, and in a conversation between mutual friends someone says "oh, his wife's really loud and brash", but the other person points out that the wife is rich, so therefore the husband can afford time to think.

Mike: You know, the first time I heard the phrase 'time to think' was when I'd jacked-in my steady office job in the real world and moved back in with my parents, with no particular plan, and my uncle said that phrase to me, and I thought, 'what a load of hippy nonsense'; but he was bloody right.  I learnt more about myself, how to play the world, and ironically, how to do business, sitting on my parents' couch, than I did in all the years I was involved in business day-to-day.

Mark: We're bombarded by information… I guess the example of that in our world is the amount of promos we get sent and all of the shit demos that people interrupt me with.  The reality is: my favourite part of the day is meditation, where you're actively trying to shut every thought out of your brain.  Space is so so important.  When the pressure's on, you make the wrong decisions – you make short-term decisions.

Pete: I've been so busy this last couple years with my management company… I can remember this one day where I'd had this meeting in San An and I was in a rush to get back to check that everybody was working, and I saw this lovely field, reversed up this dirt track and just sat there for ages!  I have this dream of just being on my own for a few days.

Mark: I'm very lucky, because that's my life!  (although he shares his rural Ibizan villa with his wife). And what you're talking about there – that's just modern society… what basically happens is; you're kept busy, so your 'real self' is diverted from all the shit that governments do, in order to enforce and engender more control mechanisms.  It's like Brian Eno says, the modern school system is entirely designed to produce what the government of the time call 'people that fit into society'.  Maverick thinking – which is what I'm trying to do – is an endangered profession.  It's very dangerous to them; they don't want people whose heads stick out.  They want lemmings in a hermetically-sealed world.  And really, on this island, other than the little bastions out there like what's happening at Mambo let's say, and Cafe Del Mar in the old days, and some of the free parties; there is zero difference between Pacha and Amnesia today, and Tesco.  They're just corporate brands.

Mike: I'm not so negative about it.  I think that the music that you might hear in Ibiza now, and for the last two or three years, has actually got better.  Certainly better than when Minimal swept across the island.

Mark: Yeah, but it's still not as strong as the early days of House… things like Pacific State with that Sax solo, ridiculously high in the mix, nobody's doing that now… again, it's another form of the extinction of maverick thinking.

Pete: In 1988-90, every record was an individual thing in its own right – a two-hour set was filled with individual moments every five minutes – but now because so many records sound the same, in a two-hour set you merely conjure up 'a feeling'.

Mark: My schooling was Graeme Park at The Leadmill in Sheffield… the big tunes would be Let The Music Move You, Black Box, followed by Stetasonic – All That Jazz, Voodoo Ray etc… all very very different records but you didn't worry whether or not there was a constant kick drum.  And I didn't even know until years later that it was actually Graeme Park!  It was so much more about the music, not the DJ.

Pete: You're nailed into a corner as a DJ now.  If you play anything that is not exactly like everything else, you lose the dance floor.

Mark: Back in the late 80s/early 90s, it was a counter culture that threatened the norm, i.e. the Criminal Justice Act was proposed in the constituencies where the two biggest breweries were based, because people going raving and popping pills were drinking water and not alcohol.  I don't see Electric Zoo or whatever threatening the norm – they are the norm, they are Tesco!  A Guy Called Gerald making music with stuff he got from a pawn shop in a rat-infested squat in Moss Side… that is counter culture!

Mike: All this is true, but what can anyone do about it now the industry is so established?  Are you saying people my age and younger should just ignore the scene because it isn't a counter culture any more?  What's your advice to people who weren't there in '88?

Mark: Figure out how to monetise your music in a clever lateral way, that's what I've always done and one example of that was doing the TV work when everyone else laughed at it, because in those days we were all still selling enough albums.

I've always leaned towards that – not because I'm money-orientated, but because money buys freedom, and if you're clever, freedom can buy happiness.  And everyone should have the choice of freedom and happiness in this life.

Mike: But that's what Tesco would do!  So you're basically saying people should be unashamedly corporate, buy themselves the freedom, and then innovate afterwards.

Mark: Mmmm that's not an easy point to say yes or no too.  With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I think it is still possible to build yourself a good career without compromising the essence of who you are, but be realistic and most importantly true to yourself.  If that takes you down the same road as Hawtin/Guetta, fair enough, that road is just not one I want to travel down myself.  

This is why having a really strong desire for real – and particularly hidden – knowledge is so important, because that ethos will ultimately allow you the ability to think outside of the 'prison of normal society' and this can then be applied to your own music career as well as your own health, your education, your spirituality etc etc.  In simple terms, what I'm saying is that the primary reason International Feel exists is because of the way I think and conduct my life, much more so than say the decision to use 180g vinyl and fancy art.

Bottom line… have the courage to take absolute 100% responsibility of every one of your actions.

Also, one piece of advice; don't listen to too much music.  I very rarely listen to music because I can't help but parody.  I don't have original ideas when I'm listening to a lot of music.  On my Ipod I only listen to audio books and Tibetan flute music, which I use for meditation, and I also use it to trigger something called the relaxation response, which is when you meditate you can build up a neuro-linguistic trigger so I can send myself into a Theta state, where my heart slows right down and I lucidly dream, which is very useful when you get stressed and also for creativity.

Mike: But I think most great creativity comes from accidental parody.

Mark: I would agree, yes.  But now, I don't need to listen to a lot of music!  You know, nowadays I'm a lot more happy listening to Test Match Special when there's rain and they're all chatting.

Mike: Did you by any chance hear the interview that Jonathan Agnew did with Robin Knox-Johnston (the first person to sail around the world solo) during a rain break?



Mark: Yes, it was fantastic!

Mike: That's one of the best interviews I've ever heard… he's just an old-fashioned British dandy who's achieved so much, but is not arrogant in the slightest… he did it all with wit and good grace.

Mark: And this my whole point, Mike!  People like this are disappearing from society, whether it's musical society or general society.  I read this piece on a brilliant cricket blog ( by Jarrod Kimber about how sponsorship money/advertising income in the Australian team was going to people like Ryan Harris and Dougie Bollinger; because they were seen as real people.  Michael Clarke is surrounded by a team of managers – none of it's real.  I bet the Swedish House Mafia also have a team of managers!  I think we've taken a wrong turn with hermetically-sealed society.

Mike: But wait.  Who got those contracts?  Ryan Harris and Dougie Bollinger, because they had personality; so within certain societies – and I think the UK is good at this – humanity fights back against the wall of shit, and some of the good guys get somewhere.

Mark: Let's hope so.  But you know, I think that one of the best things to happen to English cricket would be for us to lose the Ashes down under [Ed: well you got your fucking wish, Mark], because I don't like the way we are winning… it is like the difference between Graham Taylor football and Brian Clough football… I want Brian Clough football!

Mike: Actually, the thought of England managers leads me onto something I was planning to ask you, about stuff you've said in previous interviews about how the human race shares information.  I remember hearing recently that Bobby Robson, when he was manager of Ipswich, used to invite opposing managers down to see his training sessions, just because he thought it was for the greater good of football to share knowledge!  I absolutely love this!  The very idea of that happening nowadays!  So should there be more Bobby Robsons in our scene?



Mark: Yeah, definitely!  I remember Phil Oakey saying that one of the best qualities of Martin Rushent, was that up to that point, everybody that was using the technology wouldn't tell you how to use it, but Martin Rushent was so generous that he basically shared everything, and that was one of his best qualities as a producer.

Mike: But what should the people at the top of the music industry do with the internet etc. to make things better?

Mark: It's not what they do.  The reality is, I have no obligation, and nor does Axwell or anyone, to talk about how he achieves his kick drum sounds.  The obligation comes if people ask.  The obligation is on people to be inquisitive, and I don't think people are inquisitive enough.  The bottom line is: do you get scared when you wake up in the morning and hear the post landing on the mat, or are you excited to see what it is?  One of my biggest concerns with humanity at the moment is the drop in concentration levels, and secondly the dumbing down of society.  People just don't seem to have that thirst for knowledge, despite all that knowledge being out there.

(Mark emerges with some more tea – peppermint this time)

(Mike pours the tea into a cup, the teapot falls apart, and it goes everywhere)

Mark: Move your laptop away very very quickly!  

Pete: How did that happen?

Mark: It's what happens when a Geordie pours tea from a teapot!

Mike: Or is it what happens when a Yorkshireman closes a teapot?


This would have been an entirely appropriate place to end matters.  At this point we'd gone full circle, back to our original discussion about teapots [see part one], having sparred merrily for two hours, with one of us drinking from something half-full while the other's was half-empty, with the odd bit of refereeing from Pete.  


But Mark was not done yet – his craic is absolutely terrific.  You could spend the whole day with him and nearly all of it would be quotable, but he means it all – this is not mere performance – he lives and breathes everything, not just his record label and his music.  And although he spends a lot of time pointing out what he doesn't like, if he likes what somebody stands for – doesn't matter who they are – he's very generous with his time and his insight (me and Pete eventually left his villa after more than three hours); so he cracked on and answered one final question:


Mike: So what about producers/engineers?  Most people start out being heavily reliant on somebody else in order to finish a track to a professional standard… I take it with your only-child mentality, you're not a fan?

Mark: It would scare the pants off me if, to finish a track, I'd have to pay a grand for three days in a studio.  For me, personally, it's a very creatively-inhibiting environment.  There's nothing worse than being in a studio and feeling frustrated… there's just that kind of claustrophobia like the walls are closing in.

Pete: If you have a bad day but you've got the talent yourself, then you can just sit in the garden and do something else, but when you're paying a guy that day – he's feeling the pressure, you're feeling the pressure… it's not the environment to be making music in.

Mark: One of the things that a very intimate – but without getting lost in it – relationship with music technology allows, is happy accidents.  If you're sitting with an engineer, your chances of happy accidents are down to 0.1%. 

Mike: Exactly.  There is an incentive for them to skew the process away from that kind of creative/artistic random factor, towards the conventional, so they can make it sound good sonically.

Mark: But I do send my stems off to be mixed on nearly all of my tracks.  I'm not against the concept of team play, but the main creative input should come from the artist.  I read a great quote from Andy McCluskey (of OMD fame) recently, who said "there are very few great song-writers, but for every one great song-writer, there are a million great players for that song".

Mike: That leads me on to another bugbear of mine actually… the overly formal teaching of music to children in the UK, which can stunt creativity.

Mark: I learnt piano from grades one through to eight, and it's useful in as much as I know what a chord is, what a c minor diminished 7th is, but that can only take you so far…

Mike: To know that there are rules.

Mark: Yep.  But some of the best musicians I know are completely self-taught, and I can remember once when I asked for a line of improvisation from some classical musicians, I was told "we're classical musicians, we read music – we don't really improvise."

Mike: What a shame.

Mark: For me it's been useful because I've got enough playing ability, for example on Adventure Party, to play all of the piano solos.

Mike: That was the one for me.  I probably wouldn't be sitting here interviewing you if it wasn't for that song!

Mark: You know, I was told by everyone connected to the label not to release that track.  

Mike: No way!

Mark: That's why I released it, because I'm a contrary bastard!


Now go out and buy his new album and don't send him any shit demos; okay?