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Issue 1084

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Feature

Mark de Clive-Lowe: Keeping it on de Lowe

Mark de Clive-Lowe @bluesandsoul.com
Mark de Clive-Lowe @bluesandsoul.com

Mark de Clive-Lowe is a renowned figure in the world of underground dance music as well as a fully accomplished jazz musician. His latest album, "Renegades" spans the divide between jazz and house music, showing how one form can be taken into another with some beautiful results.

Starting off playing chords into a sequencer and looping them. Mark then manually feeds the beats into a drum machine, loops those and then adds them into the mix. He does everything you̢۪d expect someone in a studio to do, but live and in front of audiences worldwide. It really is a pleasure watching this master craftsman displaying his trade and, his music is pretty damn good too!

I caught up with the man himself at Jazz Re:Freshed and asked him a few questionsâ€Â¦Ã¢€Â¨

GARETH: When did you first learn to play keys and, tell me of the transition between just playing keys, to doing full on live sets with looping that you are now well known for. How did that come about, as it is quite studio based, but amazing to watch and listen to live

MARK: I started piano at age 4. My older brother played too, but it was more my Dad deciding that all his kids had to learn instruments. I grew up playing classical, getting into jazz, and by the time I was in high school it was Native Tongues hip hop, Mantronix, stuff like that on the stereo. Jazz was really my main pursuit though, but I often dabbled in various fusions - the mid '90s we definitely had an acid jazz scene in New Zealand that was part of what I was into too.

I guess it was really when jungle reached us there that my mind got well and truly blown. I ended up going to the UK in 1998 and connected with the west London crew - Bugz in the Attic, 4hero, Phil Asher, IG Culture - what they were already doing in 1998 was so inspiring for me and pretty much overnight turned me into a studio rat going from studio to studio collaborating with everyone! That year I also did collab̢۪s with Dave Angel, Sci-clone, Lemon D, DJ Spinna, Joe Clausell, Francois K [Korvorkian] - it was a whirlwind! So all that time I was checking the producers and their methods which led me to buying an MPC drum machine/sampler. Messing with that gave birth to my album "Six Degrees" - very much the result of my UK experiences that year and combining the jazz musician and the technology.

So the live sets have been an evolution since them. At first there'd be pre-prepared beats and a full band along with me. Over time the beats became a more and more an on the fly thing and the band kept changing so that eventually, I was learning how to do it all myself in my own way.

GARETH: Your new album "Renegades" features some very distinctively British vocals. I know you̢۪re now based in LA, but tell us about your decade in London. What kind of inspiration did you draw that you were able to put to use on the album?

MARK: The 10 years in London was an amazing experience for me. Every day working on music that didn't exist the previous day, not knowing what would come but always being really excited with the anticipation. I got to work and grow with people I consider amongst the greatest producers and beatmakers there are.

GARETH: What does the term ‘Broken Beat’ mean to MdCL?

MARK: Nothing! I like music and I love Duke Ellington's age old adage that ‘there's only two types of music, good and bad.’ It either moves me and resonates with me or it doesn’t. That has very little to do with genre.

GARETH: Your C.V. of people you̢۪ve worked with makes impressive reading. Jill Scott, Jody Watley, Leon Ware and Dame Shirley Bassey are just a few of the heavyweight names you̢۪ve collaborated with. Out of all of the people, do you have one particular memory or a track that you were especially proud of?

MARK: Every track is equally special to me - the first joints I did with IG Culture were so forward thinking and adventurous that I'll never forget that experience. The first track I did with Sy Smith, "Truth," was a great one too - I didn̢۪t' really know what Sy was capable of and she just came in and knocked it out the park! I love creating with Nia Andrews - she has such a unique sound and style of song writing that̢۪s always the unexpected. It's great to keep the listener surprised and she definitely does that. There's musicians I play with who are easily amongst my favourite players anywhere - Pino Palladino, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Li̢۪l John Roberts. I'm fortunate to be able to collab [sic] with so many amazing creatives all the time.

GARETH: Going back to your new album "Renegades," talk me through the process of how you wrote this and how long it took. It̢۪s a very diverse album in terms of not being tied to one genre. Was this something you did consciously, or did the album just evolve this way naturally?

MARK: It was a very organic process. I just like different vibes, different tempos and different moods. It wouldn't really make sense to me to make an album all in one pigeon-hole. The world is so diverse, nature is so diverse, and creativity is so diverse, so it makes sense for that to be expressed in music as well. The basic demos were made at different times over a year or so, but once I really got down to finishing it - recording the different musicians and featured vocalists, it was probably a six month process.

GARETH: I see you̢۪ve been booked for the Sun Splash festival in Turkey next year. I̢۪ve heard a lot of good things about Sun Splash, and the venue looks amazing too. What do you know about this festival and what are your expectations of playing there? And, will it be in an MdCL vein, or an MdCL DJ capacity, or both?

MARK: I know very little about the festival except all my friends who have played it in the past rave about it! I was in touch with the crew there and we decided 2012 was the year to make it happen! It's probably going to be a REMIX:LIVE show - I have vocal accapellas on the turntables and create entire remixes on the fly from scratch, it's a fun vibe for sure.

GARETH: You̢۪re currently on a European tour and I managed to see you at Jazz Re:freshed in London when you were here. Is the tour based on the jazz trio you̢۪re a part of, or will you also be performing tracks from the album?

MARK: The trio show at Jazz Re:freshed was a special one-off put together for that night. I grew up in NZ playing trio, but when I lived in London, I was pretty much trying to deconstruct the jazz musician in me and explore beats, production and club culture more. Everything came full circle once I moved to LA and started playing jazz gigs more and more again.

It felt right to bring that format to Jazz Re:freshed and share it with the London crew. The other shows this tour have been mostly REMIX:LIVE solo shows. Sharlene Hector and Bembe Segue joined me on a couple of shows in Portugal as well. There's a few tracks from the new "Renegades" album that I incorporate into the show and do live remixes of for sure.

GARETH: I used to mess about with keyboards in the nineties, and had a Roland JP8000 that sounded amazing! Do you have a favourite piece of kit, not necessarily just a keyboard and if so, what̢۪s so special about it?

MARK: The MPC3000 is a really special piece of kit to me - along with the SP1200 it's the king of the drum machines. Funnily enough, I've recently put mine into storage and now I'm using Native Instruments' Maschine which is an amazing hybrid of MPC and software. It's become the core of my live shows now. At the end of the day though, nothing is as wonderful to me as a great grand piano. One with a rich dark tone and fluid action - I love that!

GARETH: Which new talent in the scene is exciting you at the moment and why?

MARK: I love what I'm hearing from James Blake and Nia Andrews - two really unique voices who are doing their thing. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is probably still a new name to many - he's an incredible string player and arranger also on my record, but doing incredible things himself too. A few years ago he did a full orchestral performance of his arrangements of J Dilla beats. Mind blowing stuff!

â€Â¨GARETH: Tell me more about your DJ’ing too please, do you prefer spinning music, or playing it live on stage? What’s the difference in them, as a respected artist I mean?

MARK: I do enjoy spinning, but playing live is where my heart is really at. With the former, I'm playing records, with the latter, I'm actually making the record from thin air at the same time as you're hearing it.

â€Â¨GARETH: Finally Mark, what does 2012 hold for lovers of MdCL’s music?

MARK: I'll be touring to support the new Renegades album, but there's plenty more for sure. My LA and NYC monthly party 'CHURCH' will be hitting the road and doing a few exclusive dates around the world - that party is pretty unique, starting off with the jazz trio and ending with the improvised electronic beats/dance party vibe.

There's also plenty more new music - I've produced Sy Smith's new album and a live album with a big band from Rotterdam. There's some tracks on the next Jody Watley album, and I'm working on a new album for Sandra St Victor of The Family Stand - there's always other new projects and happenings. I'm really excited about the new live project Kon and I are putting together as well. Coming to a dance floor near you soon!

Mark de Clive-Lowe's new album "Renegades" is out now on Tru Thoughts.

You can read more from Mark de Clive-Lowe in our January 2012 printed edition... find out what influences he picked up from his stint in London + what makes Mark's live shows so special - click below to order your copy of B&S now.
Words GARETH MORGAN

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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