One of Australia’s finest DJs, Mark Alsop, has given one of the most in-depth interviews of his incredible career. Mark is a DJ that is never afraid to push musical boundaries and bring new sounds to packed dance floors around the country. If you want a history of the Sydney dance music scene, then look no further than this amazing interview.
Do you remember the first 12″ you bought, and what or who was your main inspiration to start DJing ? How long did you buy music before you got your first gig ? I would also love know where you purchased your music from in the early stage of career.
I first started collecting DJ styled remixes in 1983, though I had a passion for music long before then and was/remain a huge fan of Marc Almond/Soft Cell/The Human League. In 1981 I bought two 12” vinyl records. One was Pete Shelley “Homosapien” and the other was Soft Cell “Tainted love”. Both these tracks amazed me with their extended interpretation of the songs. They were mind blowing! It was in that same year the Human League album “Dare” was released with a string of extended mixes and 12”s to follow. 1982 saw a complete reworking of this album called “Love and Dancing”. It contained mainly instrumental extended versions of the Dare album and the tracks were segued together. The whole concept grabbed me and started to open my eyes to what could be done with music. 1982 also saw the release of Soft Cell “Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing” which was a 6-track interpretation of their ground breaking first album “Non Stop Erotic Cabaret”. The exploratory techniques used to rework each track completely fu*ked them over and I am still inspired by those releases today.
In 1983 I ventured into the Oxford Street clubs and pubs and quickly fell in love with the nightclub scene. Now I could go out and hear The Human League at Flo’s Palace, Heaven 17 at Patches and Yazoo at The Exchange! It got me thinking about the people behind the turntables and how fabulous their choice in music was as it was very similar to mine. However as I ventured into The Midnight Shift, all of that was turned on its ear and I found that I knew none of the music. This intrigued me. It was quite inspiring and I found myself on the dance floor for many late nights as this new world of music opened up to me. This triggered me to seek out where this music may have originated. I knew that someone in Sydney must be selling it and went on a hunt through the city. This is how I discovered Disco City, a specialist record shop that was the brainchild of Gordon Alexander. His passion for music filled the shop with all the current releases mostly imported from the UK, USA and Germany. This blew my mind, as up till now most of the stores that I had found only had local releases or were just based upon the UK New Wave artists like The Thompson Twins/Duran Duran (which I also favoured).
Gordon employed the number one Disco Queen himself, the legendary David Hiscock. David and I immediately hit it off and he quickly filled my arms with 12”s (vinyl records that is) and showed me to the DJ listening area. Within that pile of recommended tunes, I was introduced to two DJ subscription services from the USA, “Hot Tracks” and “Disconet”. This style of music was much more in sync with what I was hearing at The Midnight Shift and I soon found myself becoming well acquainted with the strains of Sharron Redd “In The Name Of Love”, Lisa “Rocket To Your Heart”, The Weather Girls “It’s Raining Men” and Miquel Brown “So Many Men”. This quickly developed a passion for a new style of music and started to open my eyes to a world of new artists and remixers. Before I knew it, I had endless records by Patrick Cowley, Sylvester, Donna Summer, and Lime to name just a few. It was at this time that I became bored with being a waiter, even if it was in 5 Star restaurants and felt it was time to make a change. I had started to gather quite a lot of new music and wanted to hear it in the clubs immediately. Surely I could be able to figure out how to blend two records together?
I went out and bought 2 belt driven turntables, a mixer, huge speakers and a set of headphones.
Unfortunately, belt driven turntables have a couple of setbacks. First, I had to have a pitch knob installed so that I could make the music faster or slower which enabled me to sync the tracks. Second, the belt drive had a 5 second delay before the correct speed was reached on the record! It was not the perfect way of starting to DJ but I managed to work with it. It was a godsend when I discovered direct drive turntables in 1984!
Armed with a TDK SA-90 cassette that I had mixed at home, I ventured into Club 45 (a small club next to Patches and across from the Exchange). Within the week I had a phone call from the owner/manager Chris asking me to be resident on Fridays. So my DJ career was born with a selection of New Wave and USA based music. I have many fond memories of playing a brand new artist called Madonna (Burning Up and Holiday), many Megatone Records releases from the USA (Jeanie Tracy “Time Bomb” was a big favourite), Bronski Beat (Why and Smalltown Boy) and Eurythmics (Love Is a Stanger and Sweet Dreams) from the UK!
What records, artists, remixers or producers have influenced you the most in your career and why ?
I have always maintained that there has been no single influence that inspired me. It was always the whole package. My passion for playing my own interpretation of what I was buying at the import stores drove me as well as a mixture of such fabulous music, the exclusive remix services, David Hiscock’s immense passion, and the clubs being so welcoming to all the DJ’s choice of music. I was most happy when I didn’t know the music and this is still my preference. It inspires me and always reminds me that there is endless creativity within our world.
What have been some of your favourite venues and dance parties over the years ?
Memories of the early club and party scene are some of my favourite. In those days, you could literally start at the Darlinghurst/Paddington end of Oxford Street and work your way to the city. It wasn’t called the Golden Mile for nothing! Whilst this kept the clubbers happy on a daily basis, it was the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) that provided the biggest entertainment event of each year. They held the party at the Showgrounds at Moore Park in huge spaces like the Manufacturers Hall and the Royal Hall of Industries. They were big, loud, colourful and the one yearly event that the world looked out for. Later each year SGLMG would hold the annual “Sleaze Ball” which was tailored more to the fetish side. The costumes were sleazy, the music was sleazy and I fondly remember one of the Sydney Star Observers headlines being “7,000 Attend Sleaze”. The DJ’s were allowed play much deeper, darker music, which was quite exciting to hear. I felt that Mardi Gras was more commercial and up-tempo, whereas Sleaze Ball was indeed sleazy with slower music and was just dirty! As you can imagine, these parties hold a special place in my heart.
Weekly parties being held at the Hordern Pavillion (also at the Showgrounds) and a flood of Ecstasy finding its way onto our shores from the UK occurred in 1988. To say that Sydney saw a dance party explosion is quite an understatement. My very first large-scale event was called Renegade and was held in film studios in Rozelle. Close on its heels was my very first party at the Showgrounds. It was called A Ratty New Years and was held by the Recreational Arts Team (R.A.T). When 1989 began, the Hordern Pavillion at the Showgrounds was booked out almost every Saturday night by a different promoter. We saw the formation of regular promoters like Bacchanalia, Sweatbox and the RAT parties. This year also marked my first work for the SGLMG team by doing two of their parties: – The co-produced Pride – Legends of Dance and my first ever Sleaze Event. (They had dropped the word “Ball” from the name at this time.) It was also the year that the Paradise Garage parties were born. They were held in film studios, city wineries and underground car parks. I was a resident DJ at all of these events and another million memories come flooding in as I think about them.
To single out one party as my favourite I just can’t say. I have wonderful memories of dancing with Grace Jones at RAT, DJing nearly the whole night at Karnivale, listening to Marcia Hines belt it out at Mardi Gras, watching Adeva perform at RAT and working with such great production teams like Sweatbox, Bacchanalia, Toybox, Harbour City Bears and Sydney Leather Pride events. The halls were massively themed with props and visuals with colour and movement and really superb sound systems. I valued playing in packed venues in Kuala Lumpur and loved DJ’ing in the middle of Sentosa Island in Singapore as much as playing numerous times at Luna Park with the Toybox team! It is a medley of all of these things rolled with some stunning entertainment from both the music industry and Drag queens. For a full listing of my working history, visit www.markalsop.com/gig-archive. The matching dance party posters are in the Gig Posters section.
What records have defined some of the high points of your career ? By this I mean, records that you personally took ownership of and made your own.
When I think back to those earlier years, it reinforces my passion for reworking the flow of other people’s music. This is where I found my niche as an editor and remixer. Any track that I work on becomes my favourite to play and it still gives me a great sense of pride and ownership to play those tracks to thousands of people from the regular club nights to the big parties. Why play the track “as is” when I have the technology and passion to leave my mark on it?
As you may be aware, Paul Goodyear and I started to work for those very same remix services that we revered! We started out together on Paul’s reel-to-reel player and spend endless hours splicing music that would ultimately end up on the remix services like Discotech, Rhythm Stick or the Australian based Pro-DJ label.
My first computer was a Windows based 486 with a massive 1GB hard drive. Yes, there was a time when 1GB was impressive! I used a programme from MTU called Micro-Editor to re-arrange my music and then started to have my edits released on many labels including Hot Tracks, Factor 3 and Discotech.
Today, EVERY track that I play in my sets has been thru my Mac Pro and Pro-Tools. This involves anything from simple editing to complex re-arrangement on 99% of my music. I have come from the Old School of DJ’ing and something as simple as extending or creating a long outro to some tracks, allows me to give a much better flow with my performance.
I remember that we all had our favourite records. As I tended to sample a lot thru my sets, I was delighted to hear “Tales of Taboo” released in 1986 by the most profound Karen Finley. There was an acapella on that vinyl and it was nothing short of obscene. I sampled it throughout my nights at The Midnight Shift and I finally got banned from playing it. In defiance I recorded a cassette tape with all the expletives removed and would then press the play button whilst I was doing a mix. Well, she wasn’t swearing anymore, or making much sense with what she now said, but it made people laugh as they filled in the words! I now know (upon reflection) that it drove the managers mad! Luckily I didn’t get fired.
As the Dance party scene started to explode at the Showgrounds, I came across one of my favourite pieces of vinyl, the Batman Soundtrack (From the 60’s Television show). I sampled this to some extent at almost every gig. I had such a great time with that record, throwing in audio samples of either Batman or the TV commentator throughout the night. As you can imagine, it went extremely well with the “Acid House” music of 1989. I still have that piece of vinyl today.
Another favourite was the acapella version of “Work That Pussy” by Sweet Pussy Pauline released in 1989. Just in time for my venture into remixing, you can hear samples of this on my debut E.P with The Carnival of Lost Souls release called The Funky Lunch. She also managed to drive the crowd mad with endless cut-ins through my gigs!
What do you consider to be some of the most important / influential dance records of all time and why ?
When I visited Europe or the USA, I would spend a lot of my time on the hunt for Dance music that never saw the light of day in Australia. I was quite surprised that some stores catalogued their music under the record label and not the artist’s name. It has always been a strange concept for me to fathom as many record labels diversified so much with their sound. I felt lost in those stores and would tend to just choose stuff from the “New Release” bin instead. Back then I remember buying quite a lot of releases on the Megatone label. This was one of the exceptions to the rule. Today I still do not have a label that I follow, but I must say that I am continually impressed with the soulful House label “Purple Music” from Switzerland.
In 1987, I started to notice a DJ/producer/remixer by the name of David Morales (New York City) as he was pumping out House music remixes. I still adore the way he built up his tracks by one instrument at a time over every 8 Bars. This gave him a distinctive structure to his tracks and his use of a piano in mixes still inspires me today. I can still hear the strains of Alison Limerick “Where Love Lives” in my head and am immediately transported to the old Midnight Shift’s sunken dance-floor.
I’d also like to acknowledge Patrick Cowley, Sylvester, Giorgio Moroder and Frankie Knuckles as being distinct markers in my life that have all influenced and helped reshape the world of music.
What do you consider to be the big changes in the way a DJ has to build their career to when you first started ?
I believe that if a person has the passion and commitment to become a DJ then they will be noticed. Today there are many “bedroom DJs” who do not understand the structure of music and cannot work without a computer to mix their tracks for them. To me there is no passion in this form of DJing.
I’m not saying that everyone should go out there and buy vinyl to learn the real art, but it’s all about understanding the origins of your art. You’ve got to be willing to look further than mp3s. An understanding of the history of House music is firmly entrenched in my soul. I believe that you need an understanding of the creative influences within music and an understanding of the importance of new music genres to modern culture. Its way more than asking a computer to put two tracks together.
Today it is also about promotion. You’ve got to put yourself out there and be in the public eye. You are always going to be better off with your name on posters, with a web presence, with a Facebook group or by having an email list to your fans. You could be the best DJ in the world but I believe that in today’s culture, it is more about WHO you know so it’s quite important to get out and be seen or heard. Release some podcasts, approach some promoters, give away some of your mixes. You could have immense technical skills but without exposure you may find that your career could fall shorter than expected. Key mixing has become more prominent in the past few years and it’s handy to have knowledge on this. Technology is changing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up with. It’s changing at such a pace that it is hard to know what the standard will be tomorrow. When CDs were first introduced into the clubs the standard player was from Denon. They reigned supreme for many years until Pioneer re-invented the way a DJ could use CDs. Pioneer is still the Industry standard but DJ hardware and computers are undeniably appearing in the clubs. I used to turn up to the club with two boxes of vinyl and my headphones. Nowadays it’s anything from a box of CDs, a heap of USB sticks or your own technology like Serato or Traktor to plug into the clubs main system. It has opened up choices for DJs but has also brought with it a lot more homework and learning. What we regard today as being innovative may be forgotten by tomorrow.
I remember when your homework would be to shop maybe once or twice a week for 12” vinyl. Then you would go home and listen to it, make your notes and that was your homework for the week. That has changed so much now as the Internet has brought the whole world to your front door. I now spend most of the week on my music, preparing for my club/party work. Finding quality music is one thing, but that is only the beginning for me as I then set about doing an edit and making extensive notes. Before I know it, Friday has come around again and it’s off to the clubs and then I start the whole cycle again on the Monday. The music availability from every corner of the world is now endless. There is always another email from a record company in my inbox; there is always another site on the Internet to visit.
If you had to compare dance music from when you started to today, what are your observations and feelings ?
As you may have gathered, I am somewhat of a House music fanatic and have spent a large part of my career with it. Over time, music had diversified, thereby creating many new names to describe different sub genres. Some you may be familiar with: – Acid, Chicago, Ambient, Jungle, Deep, Soulful and Progressive House to name just a few. Naturally, this trend continues today due to the dynamic nature of the industry.
As the strains of Disco were surely dying in the late 80s many wanted to distance them-selves as much as possible. It was around this time that House music was born and we have seen much retooling of this genre ever since. Many of these House sub genres were often formed by re-inventing or by marrying with them with different genres. However, no matter what title you give it, you can always follow it back to its origins to find they have all been fashioned from the one source – House music.
In the late 80s, House not only found its way into the UK, but also into their Pop music and into their charts. I clearly remember the Pop/House music of Stock, Aitken and Waterman in the mid 80s in the UK and the re-tooling of Chicago House in the USA to create Acid House in the late 80s. Today we experience Electro House created in the later part of 2000. Just looking at the charts today worldwide, it is quite obvious that House music has now become Pop!
I LOVE where Dance music is today. I have followed it for so long and seen it take many twists and turns and am still rewarded daily by the music that I find. I often hear DJs stating that it’s not like it used to be, but I totally disagree. I love to find rhythm and melody in music and it is still out there in abundance.
It’s all about the journey and being true to the influences within your tunes. Many of these sub genres come and go but the origins of House are firmly entrenched within our society and this is what I fall in love with over and over again.
Dj, Editor, Remixer….Whatever!!! Pty Ltd