“In Brazil, we have a lot of passion,” urges DJ Marky, via a Skype call from his South American homeland. The veteran DJ is attempting to explain why his country fell so in love with drum & bass (a style notoriously difficult to break abroad), but as the sun streams in through the window behind him, DJ Mag believe we already know the answer.
A long-time bastion for dance music in the southern hemisphere, Brazil has always been a hotbed of talent and showmanship, and even boasts the current top spot in the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs ranking, thanks to Camboriu's Green Valley venue.
More importantly however, the whole place seems to ooze energy — from its obsession with football, to the explosive colours and sounds of Carnival — and there are few genres that require as much energy as d&b.
Although, as Marky tells it, the “golden era” of Brazilian drum & bass has passed, its legacy remains. Producers such as XRS and S.P.Y have made a lasting impact on the global sound, whilst the likes of Andrezz, Level 2 and L-Side continue to promote the underground.
And amongst all of this, Marky has remained a constant driving force, feeding the scene through his Innerground label, his own productions, and his reputation as one of the best DJs in the world.
Despite this, one thing has always alluded Marky, something now almost considered a career requirement — the fabled, solo studio album. Now, as he turns 40, having spent over half his life behind the turntables, the time has come for Marky to unleash his debut full-length, 'My Heroes', upon the world, and perhaps reignite Brazil's passion along with it.
“Everything just came very naturally in my head,” says Marky, as DJ Mag wonders what mystical event finally pushed him into album mode. Apparently spurred on by a documentary on hip-hop legend J Dilla and his use of sampling, Marky hit the studio and before he knew it, lead single 'Silly' was complete. “In a whole week I had like four tracks ready,” he recalls, “and I was just like: why not?”
Marky admits that production has not always come easily to him; sometimes sitting in the studio for months, unable to create. “The computer for me, was an enemy for a long time,” Marky admits, describing the difficulties he still has even getting to grips with the diary applications his agents use. “I just don't wanna look to be honest, I'm very lazy,” he jokes.
“I'm not like a nerd, like a computer nerd,” continues Marky, his thick accent vibrant with good humour. “I enjoy making music and I enjoy being in the studio, but I enjoy more staying with my son and going to a football match with him and stuff like that.
And playing records, and spending money on eBay on rare and expensive records,” he laughs. “So basically [the] studio is something I like, but I'm not very fascinated by it. I'm more fascinated by DJing, y'know, that's my thing.”
CHECK THE TECHNIQUE
He's not wrong either, Marky's turntable technique is truly something to behold (if you don't believe us, check out his upside-down scratching on YouTube), earning him international awards and residencies at the likes of Movement, The End and Fabric.
“I like to create things, and with the turntables it's possible for me to do so many things,” Marky enthuses. “For me [the] turntable is an instrument, that's why I don't use CD players.” It's the challenge of vinyl that Marky says keeps him interested, the danger of the needle skipping, the thrill of scratching.
Even those who up the ante, using three or four CDJs, don't impress the Brazilian. “Some of these people are doing like the double drop, triple drop, and the sound is completely horrible and messy,” he continues, “it doesn't make any fucking sense!”
As with most of the greats, Marky's devotion to the decks started at an early age. He reminisces about old weekend radio DJs, who mesmerised a young Marky with the way they seamlessly blended records, as if by magic.
Then one fateful day he got his first glimpse behind the scenes; skateboarding past a local club, Marky heard a familiar tune ('Ain't We Funkin' Now' by the Brothers Johnson) wafting out through the open door.
Following the sound he came upon a DJ operating two reel-to-reel machines, and from that moment was hooked. “I started to use reel-to-reel tapes,” he says, remembering how he used to pirate tracks from the radio, cutting out the jingles to make his own edits.
It wasn't until Marky spied a pair of Technics in the video to Malcolm McLaren's 'Buffalo Gals' that he even realised DJs used turntables. “I had Technics after like 15 years,” he adds, “I had like really shit turntables, but it was good times. It was hard, but really, really good.”
Nowadays, Marky can often be found using Serato (well, you try lugging boxes of vinyl around the world!), but his mixing ethic remains the same as ever. “I never plan my sets,” he starts, “because I like to surprise myself, and surprise the audience as well.”
Marky namechecks Paradox as a particular favourite for surprising tracks. “I think he's such a fantastic talent,” exclaims Marky. “I talk with him a lot cos every time he says something he inspires me. He is the guy who worked with Herbie Hancock! It's just like fucking hell, it was no other guy, no other producer, you know.
Not David Guetta or something, it was Paradox. He's a genius.” Returning to his original point, Marky summarises his outlook on DJing. “In my point of view,” he says, “the DJ concept, it makes people dance yes, but to teach about good music, that's very important, I think that comes first.”
Although most often associated with the liquid-funk offshoot of drum & bass, Marky has always made a point of not being pigeonholed during his sets. “DJs here in Brazil, they don't say like 'Oh I play house or I play techno', they say 'I play 120, 121.'
It's like, what the fuck is that? I play good music,” he moans. Marky instead aims to cover the full spectrum of his chosen genre, pleasing many. “If I do a mix, I wanna do a mix you can listen to at home, you can listen with your girlfriend, you can listen in the car.
you know, something like a proper kind of journey,” he says, suggesting that too many DJs get caught up in a kind of club mindset. “Also I think one hundred percent of girls,” he adds, a huge grin spreading from ear to ear. “A lot of people say that drum & bass is men's music; I hate that, so I try to please the women more.”
His widespread musical interest and need for variation has in turn had a serious effect on the outcome of Marky's new album. 'My Heroes' encompasses everything from traditional rollers, to tech-heavy steppers and, perhaps most intriguingly, a few house cuts.
“Disco music is very influential in my career,” explains Marky. "I really, really love disco, and for me house is just the evolution of disco music. I'm a big fan of Danny Krivit, I love when 'Little' Louie Vega plays, I love Joey Negro — every time [he] blows my mind.
It's just amazing because that's the tracks I grew up with, not in the club but on the radio. I see my sisters and my uncles dancing and, y'know, it's just a big part of my life.”
Marky reveals that 'My Heroes' track 'Freedom' — a collaboration with regular partner in crime, Makoto and new vocalist Jay Love — is actually somewhat of tribute to Joey. “I think it's got a little of his vibe,” says Marky, who confesses he actually had the chance to give the legendary DJ his track, but was too starstruck.
“I was in Heathrow and I went to the BA lounge and he was there,” explains Marky, “but I just couldn't talk with him. I wish I had the courage to come and say 'Hey that's my tune, take it!' But I felt very shy. I'm a very shy person sometimes.”
DJ Mag is amazed that someone who has performed in front of thousands could be so nervous around just one man. “To play for 10,000 is easy,” Marky retorts, “but it's difficult to play for 10 people. If you play for 10, five, and make them dance, you're a good DJ.”
'Freedom' is just one of many tracks on 'My Heroes' that sees Marky working in tandem. Also contributing are vocalists Singing Fats, Adrienne Richards and Collette Warren, and producers A Sides, DJ MS2 and Random Movement, the latter of whom Marky believes is one of the most talented producers operating in the current scene.
Collaboration is nothing new for Marky, however — his early days saw regular partnerships with fellow Brazilian XRS — and DJ Mag is intrigued to the reasons behind his fondness for working with others.
“I like to share ideas,” replies Marky, “especially with Makoto, cos me and Makky, we think the same [about music] … all the people who helped me with the album, I'm so happy and I'm so grateful for all of them. They are very special and I really love them.”
Neither Marky's disco idols or collaborative pals are the heroes of which his album title speaks, however. The answer to this lies a lot closer to home and is revealed, in part, through an image hidden in the text of the 'My Heroes' cover art.
Through the lettering, an old picture of a bride and groom can be seen. The couple are perhaps Marky's biggest influence: his parents. Suddenly, the inherent energy in Marky's tone disappears as we delve further into the meaning behind the name and image.
“I had [it] in my mind, for a long time, I knew I wanted to do an album called 'My Heroes',” he mumbles, hesitating, choking back his grief. “Nearly three years ago now in June, June 12th, I lost my dad. And the 14th is my birthday.”
He chuckles to help his nerves. “So I lost my dad and I'm very, very close to my mother, and I wanna give her a present. I wanna show my mother how important she is to me.
They are my heroes because they teach me everything I know about music; about soul, funk, jazz, Brazilian music, stuff like that. All my music background came from my dad, from my parents; I'm so grateful about this.”
Marky's smile returns as memories of his father's musical influence come flooding back. “My dad used to play instruments; he used to play guitar, acoustic guitar, bandolin, a Brazilian instrument called a cavaquinho and what else?
Bass, y'know, my uncles, they all play instruments,” he states proudly, adding, “but not me,” with a burst of laughter. “I really want to play,” he admits. “One of my dreams is to play instruments, like drums, but my dad was very old school, like, 'If you wanna learn, you have to learn by yourself, blah, blah, blah' you know, all that bollocks.” He chuckles again, a hint of melancholy returning to his voice. “I miss that, I miss when he used to say that to me.”
Family is Marky's true passion, and growing up in a musical household has only reinforced that. Now with his own son to take care of, the Brazilian has made significant changes to his life in order to keep his family at the centre of his universe.
He reveals that several years ago he began having panic attacks in London as a result of his jet-set lifestyle. “My doctor said 'Slow down travelling or you're gonna die'. Straight away he's just like, bang,” says Marky.
DJ Mag is relieved to hear Marky is now feeling much better due to this, although he admits he did have another reason for improving his health. “I lost like eight, nine kilos, which is good because I've always been skinny and suddenly I was fat, and a lot of people called me Carl Cox,” he blurts, clearly rather miffed at the label.
“I love Carl, he's such a lovely guy, but people call me Carl Cox its just like 'nah, I need to [go to the] gym!'”
Marky's newfound focus on exercise and healthy food should mean we get to enjoy his music for a long time to come. He's even cutting down on some of the bad habits he apparently picked up in London — namely smoking and drinking.
“My son is 10-years-old now,” he says with gusto. “He's always like 'Dad come home, dad I miss you'. I listen to him, like he says 'Dad you need to stop smoking'. I haven't smoked for like the past two weeks, [it's] hard but it's been alright. I've been trying my best for him... and for me as well.”
words: BEN HINDLE