Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
On the 21st April, and already a third of the way through his 30 Year Anniversary Tour, Mark Archer gave a very special performance at the Five Miles club in North London… Mark Archer – All Night Long, an all night DJ set incorporating a live Altern-8 PA.
That evening Archer was responsible for taking the crowd on a six-hour journey encompassing a range of musical styles, from Detroit Techno and Acid House to Jungle via classic hardcore and rave anthems. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination but the perfect challenge for a man who contributed so much to the early rave scene as both producer and DJ.
Given the unique nature of the gig it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with the man himself to discuss his plans for the night, the tour so far, and his reflections on a career spanning three decades in the business. So, with questions in hand, I arrived early, in time to observe the soundcheck.
What followed was less an interview and more an effortless conversation in which Mark Archer lived up to his reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business…
How has the tour been so far?
Really good, but not without its ups and downs – there were two gigs that were cancelled and that was really unfortunate. But apart from those two it’s been ace with some really brilliant gigs. Last weekend I did the back-to-back with Mike Dred. It’s always nice to do a back-to-back with someone, especially someone of the caliber of Mike Dred. When people see an artist they tend to have a preconceived idea of what they’re like, so when you DJ with someone you get to know them a lot better – how they work, how they build stuff – and it worked really well. I was a bit nervous beforehand because his stuff is a lot harder, but he played proper early-doors acid house and then ramped it up for the last hour.
There was also the gig in Glasgow at 1994 and that was brilliant. It started quite early and I was on second. With the way the Scottish scene is, with the tempo ramped up, I went on second and the guy that was on before me was playing quite hard at like nine o’clock! That was a wicked night – I really enjoyed that.
Is tonight a particularly special night in the tour?
It’s extremely special, an absolute one off and I don’t know whose idea it was! We were like “we need to do something special for the tour” and it all kind of fell into place, being able to get hold of the venue. Yeah… it’s definitely something I’ve not done before, you know? It’s like the book – when I sit down I think “shit, I’ve got a book”! If somebody had told me at school any of the stuff that I’ve done I wouldn’t have believed them. So to do a night where you’re DJing all night it’s like “shit, I hope tonight goes down well”. There’s never a point where I think “fucking hell, I’ll smash it”. I never ever think like that.
Do you still get nerves before a set?
Yeah, and they come at the weirdest of times! Sometimes, it’s before a gig when you’re just sitting there planning, and sometimes you’ll be mixing and your hands are going [makes a shaking gesture] and you’re like “what are you doing?!”
Do you have to do any special preparation for a six hour set?
I’m playing off USBs so I’ve been constantly putting tunes into folders. I used to play off records all the time but then I got a few gigs where my records didn’t turn up. I remember playing in Ireland and they didn’t turn up until the day after – luckily the promoter asked all his mates to give me CDs and I managed to cobble a set together. In Canada my records didn’t turn up once either. Even when I played in Vegas none of my luggage turned up and I stayed in the same clothes for three days! Luckily that was the first time I’d ever played off USBs because I’d been warned not to take my records out there. It just got to the point where I thought “these records are going to go missing one of these days and I’m never going to get them back”. There are some that are irreplaceable to me like my copy of “Technarchy” by Cybersonic – it was the first time I heard it in a club and I went up the DJ and asked “what is that?” He said “there’s loads in the shop” and I was like “I don’t live around here” – he said “give us eight quid and you can have it”! I still have that copy you know?
So, I’ve just generally put stuff as I’ve heard it onto the USB and built up this massive folder. But then you end up scrolling past tunes because often when you’re looking for tunes you go straight to where you know you’ll find them. So I sat down this week and moved stuff into like years so like all the 88/acid stuff is in one place and all the 89/90 warehouse stuff is in another place.
Do you have a loose structure in mind?
I’ll just start off with acid stuff, move on to the warehouse stuff, and then hopefully get to the point where we do the PA which will end on Frequency. Then I’ll do a sort of DJ Nex thing with more breakbeats, and in two hours I’ll try and get it from breakbeat hardcore up to like early jungle if I can.
You’ve got a big gig coming up in Gateshead with live strings – is that still happening?
Yes, it’s one of those where the venue is normally for more traditional bands so we’ve got to get the people who run the place in the right mindset – it’s not going to be a rave it’s going to be something different. I’m doing a similar kind of thing where I’ll be doing a Nexus 21 DJ set so like early stuff so there’s going to be a flow to the evening and then at a certain point in the night you’ve got that one tune that lends itself to live strings. If it comes off how I envisage it it’ll be sound you know? They’re going to film it and record it so fingers crossed…
When we actually did the video for Activ-8 in Trentham Gardens near Stoke we had two violins, with a tape player playing the tune, and it was screeching! The noise that was coming out of there… and it was a sunny afternoon and families were walking around! So I imagine these guys will be a lot better! It’s weird to think that I’ve now sent the track up and someone has scored the violin part so we’ve actually got the Activ-8 string part as written music – it’s mental you know? Who’d have thought?!
Any upcoming gigs that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to Field Maneuvers. It’s one of my favourite festivals so I always love doing that. A few years ago I did an eighties electro and funk set and they’ve asked me to do that kind of thing again. Every year I’ve played something different you know? I’ve done like an old school piano set, a back-to- back with Jerome Hill, an electro thing, an acid thing… Each year it’s been kind of different, but that one set they were like we need you to do it again. Last time I did it in the main tent on a Saturday night and this year it’s on the Sunday and they have a lot of it outside. On a Sunday afternoon, if the weather’s nice, to play like Chaka Khan “Feel For You” and stuff like that it’ll be brilliant.
Do you prefer playing festivals to clubs?
It’s totally different. You know when you’re somewhere like this [meaning the current venue of Five Miles in London], and the crowd are so close, the vibe is totally different to when you’re miles up on stage and there’s loads of people out there, but I love them both. I’m very lucky to be doing this.
Do you still feel lucky?
Incredibly. You know, to be able to have the chance to do this tonight – with me playing all night long – and going to the places that I go to, travelling up and down the country, meeting people and still having a career… I’m well lucky.
Your book ends on a high note, and from the outside looking in it looks like you’re still there. Is that a fair comment?
Yeah, as cheesy as it sounds it’s since I met that one [gesturing across the club to his wife Nikki]. When I first met Nikki things were really difficult and I was just kind of hanging on to the career, but it’s never been about the money. There have been times when I’ve said to Nikki “look, I can’t do this anymore”, it’s like “I’m chasing my dream but it’s affecting stuff – I need to bring money into the house” and she’s like “I’m not having you giving it up, this is what you’re supposed to do”. So it’s not like “it’s ace, it’s so glamorous”- it still is a struggle. The fact that the belt might be tight one month but better the next is outweighed by knowing that you’re doing what you love doing. The flip side is that you could be in a really well paid job but hate going in on Monday morning – and I don’t hate going in on Monday. I thoroughly enjoy, and love, what I’m doing.
Your book really struck a chord with me – did you get a lot of feedback from readers?
A lot of people have said that to me actually. I’ve had so many messages from people who think that because you’ve had a hit in the 90’s you must be made for life, and hadn’t realised what I’d gone through. Loads of people have told me they were bullied at school and given up on what they wanted to do but after seeing what I’ve done they’re now gonna go back and chase their dream. People have said that they’ve been given the confidence to record something or get back into DJing, and if the book has struck a chord with one person, or made a slight difference to anyone, then it’s an absolute bonus. It’s the same as making records. You make a record that you like because that’s the sound that you wanted to make, so for someone else to like it it’s a massive bonus.
I’ve been getting in the mood for tonight by listening to your Boiler Room set…
That set has done me no end of favours. It was a night where I thought, “the Boiler Room is normally for new stuff so am I really going to go down well? Is this really a good idea?”. Then, when we got to the club it was Lone’s album launch party, and you’ve got two guys playing techno, then Lone came on and I was like “I’m going to stiff it!”. Then when I put the first tune on and it went off… I thought by the end of the night there would be a few people left milling around but it was just amazing… absolutely ridiculous.
There’s one mix in particular that transitions into “Everybody in the Place”…
Oh, you mean Gat Decor! It was just one of those things, as soon as I heard Gat Decor I thought “why does no one ever do this” because it makes complete sense! So many people have mentioned that mix.
There’s a big resurgence in the old skool scene at the moment – do you feel it?
Yeah, it goes up and down. There are years when it’s steady, but like the next year, maybe because there’s a new scene started and maybe someone’s sampled old skool stuff, it just seems that the scene gets big again. Last year it was phenomenal and again this year… It’s like ever since the golden era of the rave scene there’s been no music quite like it, with the whole euphoria that comes with it.
What’s so great over the last couple of years is that we’ve now got books, seminars, family events and art galleries which celebrate the culture as a whole…
There are people who haven’t lived it so you’ve got to show them what it was like. You can’t just do that through the music alone. You’ve got to put it out visually in front of them. Y’know, this is what rave was like, this is the footage online, these were the flyers, these were the people involved… Otherwise, if people don’t keep putting it out there, like any music it’ll be forgotten. One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s now a whole generation of people who’ve never heard the music before, so when you play it out they think it’s brand new. They’ve no idea what the hell it is but the good thing about the internet is that they can go on You Tube, follow the related videos, and trawl right back.
We’ve also got the generation of people where their mums and dads have brought them up on it literally all their life. They’ve grown up with their mum and dad playing old skool tapes and old skool records and sometimes I’ll have people come up to me and say, “my mum has always said if you’re ever in town I need to come and see you”! And it’s like, how to make a bloke feel old! But y’know, how nice is that?!
My kids love a bit of old skool. Every time I do some messy DIY I can’t resist getting a black marker and drawing an A on my dust mask!
You won’t believe the number of times I get tagged on Instagram and it’s just someone doing the decorating but they’ve got a mask on and all their mates are commenting “yeah, year Evapor-8”! Bit it’s brilliant that it evokes that memory. It’s wicked. I cannot complain. To be able to do this, with special gigs, and the whole tour, and to still be doing it 30 years on… who’da thought?!
Another thirty years then?
Yeah! Well I can’t do anything else! I’ve been to the Job Centre and they’re like “what can you do?”. I can make records – “well that’s not down here!”. As long as there are people prepared to listen I’ll still be doing it…
Needless to say the night was a total success and testament to the support Archer inspires in his fans. The crowd were most definitely up for it and throughout the evening I had the opportunity to speak with many people who had travelled far and wide to be there. Whereas in the original old skool days the common thread in most conversations was “what you on?”, this night the common thread was simply “isn’t this great!”.
Something Mark had said during the interview rang true – there genuinely was a real mix of age groups attending, many of whom wouldn’t have even been born in 1988! One group of lads stood out – they must have been in their early twenties and were huddled in the bar area taking selfies in their dustmasks. That group were every bit as up for the party atmosphere as the original ravers who couldn’t stop bouncing during “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare”.
Mark’s plans for the night were spot on and by the final hour the atmosphere was buzzing as hardcore morphed into jungle. At this point it’s worth noting that a good litmus test for the success of a night is whether you can lure the bar staff away from their posts! It was during “Original Nuttah” that I noticed two of the bar staff burst onto the dancefloor and cram as many moves into their stolen five minutes as if to make up for the previous five hours! It was a perfect moment.
One of the most memorable moments of the night came at the stroke of one – exactly halfway through the six hour marathon. When the crowd were already pretty hyped following a playing of Outlander’s “Vamp”, the masks came out and the night switched up yet another gear. From out of nowhere the dancefloor was showered in glo-sticks which were soon being held aloft as the otherworldly hoovers of “Move My Body” played out. This was a truly special moment, and following the earlier interview seemed all the more poignant.
The truth is, as grateful as Mark might feel to still be pursuing his dream, his supporters feel just the same. Having met so many enthusiastic fans that night it was clear that there is a lot of goodwill and appreciation for Mark Archer out there. His music has now been a part of their lives for three decades, and every time he dons that boiler suit in the hottest of clubs you just know that he’s taking one for the team! Long may it continue!
The 30 Year Anniversary Tour runs all year and dates are available here.