We caught up with label boss Mark Knight on the history, future and current sound of Tech House.
Over the years Tech House has evolved, from its fairly underground beginnings to the global sound it is today. Other than the noticeable slowing down of BPM whats been the biggest shift in sound?
To be honest, I don’t think there have been that many seismic changes in its sound. One of its core strengths is that it has a very consistent sound and I think that a lot of the records made 10-15 years ago would sit really happily amongst track made this year. I do think however, that as its popularity has grown, there have been more and more producers making tech house without necessarily the level of skill or care and attention needed to make a quality record, with the result that there are a lot of mediocre records out there. The top producers know what to do to make a record both stand out and stand the test of time: those are the records I’ve always been and will always be interested in.
To what extent do you feel technological advancements in studio equipment has dictated and shaped the sound of Tech House?
I don’t think dictated is quite the right word. Advancements in technology – new plug ins, synths etc – have definitely helped it evolve, and you can create sounds now wouldn’t have been possible a number of years ago, but I think the music definitely has its own direction without the need to rely on technology.
Toolroom turns 15 years next year and the label’s responsible for some of the biggest Tech House anthems. How have you and the team managed to stay so consistent with your releases over the years?
One of the most important things is that we’ve always worked really hard to maintain a roster than defines and represents the labels output. I think that’s something we’ve done very successfully. When you have that core team of artists you’re regularly working with your fanbase trust that the music you’re going to be putting out is consistent and high quality, and that has allowed us to flourish. You obviously then work with artists outside of that core group, but that’s a really important ingredient in long-term success as a label.
House, Tech House & Techno is very much the label’s music policy and since #RESET, the roster has nurtured new artists from around the world – Is there anyone coming up through the ranks that we need to keep an eye out for?
Siege, Wheats, Illyus & Barrientos and David Jackson have all been really impressing me with their output recently.
How did it feel when you and team first spotted David Jackson?
Just blown away by the sophistication and level of production, especially considering his age just 16 Just such a mature sound and amazing capability in the studio: both technically and his approach to melody is very impressive.
Most would consider you to be an ambassador for Tech House. In which countries do you see it getting more popular?
The States is growing and has the potential to grow much further. It’s country I seem to be spending most of my time touring at the moment, with a very young and enthusiastic, clued-up fanbase which is great to see. It’s the perfect progression of where they were with EDM. Tech House still has that energy, but it’s more intricate and subtle, so I think it’s something that’s only going to grown.
What trends do you see in Tech House? And where do you see it going in the next 10 years?
Shall I do the lottery numbers as well?? Haha. To be honest it’s very hard to predict, but I can tell you where I’d like to see it go. I’d really like people to take a little more time with their productions, rather than thinking they have to put out a record every few weeks. Spend some time working on melody, hooks, making it more memorable than just something that’s going to be played for a couple of months and then forgotten about. Everything’s got a little too linear over the past couple of years, a little bit too disposable. If you put a bit more love into something it will pay dividends.
In your Billboard top Tech House tracks of all time, you ranked Patrick Topping’s ‘Forget’ as #2. Why do you feel this track is so important for the genre now? Do you think he’s shaped the sound in anyway?
What I like about that record is it is exactly the kind of record you would play in 5, 10 years time. It’s got a lot of memorable parts to it, and two great hooks in the baseline and vocal and whenever you it’s played it elevates the dancefloor. They are the kind of records the scene is lacking. What great about Patrick is that he can make tech house, but wanted to add a little extra to it, to make his music really stand out. Big up yourself Patrick!
Solardo landed on the label earlier this year with ‘Aztecs’ – Why do you think they’re important for the genre?
They are just unbelievable party DJs – they energy they bring to a room with their music and sets is something else. They know what records are going to work at any given moment and really know how to work a crowd.
Why was Max Champan’s ‘Zulu’ the perfect fit for the label earlier this year?
Again, a well produced record that had that something extra, which is exactly the kind of record we like to sign to Toolroom. We’re all about consistency of sound, but consistent doesn’t mean that everything needs to sound the same. You’re always hunting for those records that stand out, and it’s a great feeling when you find them.
What other Tech House labels do you really admire? And why?
My two favourites are definitely Stereo and 8Bit. They both have that same consistency – you just know when you listen a new record from them it’s going to be quality. Stereo especially have been doing their thing for 20 years, which makes them hard to beat.
‘Man With The Red Face’
You and Funkagenda collaborated on ‘Man With The Red Face’ – Did you both ever think this was going to be big as what it was?
Absolutely not. It was something we’d been working on it together in the studio, and I eventually finished off at 3am before getting a flight to play in Miami. We’d just wanted something a little different to play out that no-one else had, but when Beatport streamed the show it just went crazy online with everyone asking what it was. It pretty much just grew its own legs from there and never stopped running!
Did you each come with different ideas and it went from there? Or did you both have a really clear idea on where you wanted to take it?
We had a very clear idea, which is why it all came together really quickly.
This was created the night before Miami Music Week 2008, how did it feel when first played it to the crowd?
It was an amazing buzz, and definitely felt like something was going to happen with the record. Usually it takes a while for people to really tune in to new records you play, but this was immediate.
You still play this track in your sets and every time it gets a huge reaction from the crowd. Why do you think this record has stood the test of time?
Like I’ve said before, I think things with a hook or strong melody always have a chance of sticking around. I think it’s up to a few million plays on YouTube, which considering its still an ‘underground’ club record is pretty amazing. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but not enough people are doing that now.
‘Downpipe’ is a Toolroom anthem. Can you talk to us a little bit on this project with D’Ramirez…
We’d worked on a records together Columbian Soul & System to name a few that had done really well, so wanted to go even bigger with the next one, so wrote the backing track and sent it to Underworld asking them if they wanted to get involved. They loved it and were up for working on it together, so there was a little back and forth in terms of the production, but we ended up with something we were all really happy with.
Is it true this project took almost 12 months to do? Where do you start with a project like this?
Yeah it took us a year from start to finish, because there was no way we could have got it wrong: we had to make sure everything about it was how we wanted it to be. You can’t do a record with Underworld and fuck it up! So we grafted and grafted on it until we were sure.
Can you remember where you first played the record?
Vividly, it cleared the dancefloor – quite literally at Cream in Ibiza . It was just so different to everything else I was playing. It wasn’t quite the finished version of the record, but it was near enough there. So that wasn’t a great start. But we believed in it, and eventually people started to get it. I actually find that often those are the better records: the ones that creep up and you and are slow burners often seem to stay with you longer than the ones that knock you out first time you hear them. It’s not something like ‘Man With the Red Face’ which has loads of syncopated rhythms and a big hook that hits you in the face – we had a create a hook from Karl’s vocal, so it ended up being a bit more subtle than that.
‘Live Stream’ – Mark Knight, Green Velvet & Rene Amesz
What is about Rene’s sound that you were to drawn to for this collaboration?
Rene came over to play football – he’s a really great player, used to play for Holland I think – and after we spent a few hours in the studio and just got this little vibe going, but didn’t do anything with it. I’d been sitting on it for a while and went back to it a few months later as I just thought there was something to it. Rene’s stuff is always quality. He’s such a great producer – one of the all time greats of all time – and a pleasure to work with.
Why was Green Velvet the perfect vocalist for this track?
I’d been talking about doing a record with Green Velvet for years, and realized that actually this was the perfect track for his vocal.
The theme of the track centres around the social phenomena of video streaming from the masses. Whats your thoughts on exposing every aspect of your life online?
I think it has its place. What’s sad is that people start changing their lives specifically to have something to post on social media. I do things because I want to, because they bring me joy, and sometimes I’ll post a picture of a gig, or me hanging out with my son on Instagram. But those are things I’d be doing anyway, it’s not something that should dictate what you get up to just so you can make your life appear more interesting to a bunch of strangers.
Whats better, being in the club or watching a live stream from the comfort of your front room?
I’m all about doing rather than watching, the two just don’t compare. But there is a value to it. I’m very fortunate living near London in that everything there are so many good clubs to go to, the idea of watching a stream is alien to me. But if you don’t live somewhere you can access those things, I think things like Boiler Room have been great in spreading the music and culture across the world.