AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK ‘MARC MAC’
Courtesy of We Love Jungle
You can read the whole interview here on the "We Love Jungle" website.
Mark ‘Marc Mac’ Clair is a hugely influential figure in many aspects of UK music. His work as 4hero and under multiple other aliases and side projects dictated the direction of D&B and jungle in the early 90s. Marc’s story aligns with the story of the UK rave scene and other aspects of the underground music spectrum.
Marc spoke exclusively to Alex Deadman for We Love Jungle, plotting a course through his early days of musical experimentation, pirate radio and music production that led to the legendary Reinforced Records.
Can you start by telling us about your sound system days
Ever since I was at school, I was always messing around with sound equipment and electronics, so I didn’t approach sound systems from the DJing point of view alone. I was interested in everything that was happening behind the DJ – the speakers, the amplifiers, valve amp technology. Before even thinking about putting a record on a turntable I was thinking about making a speaker to broadcast pirate stations in my house. So it came from an electronic background.
Our sound system (Solar Zone) started playing out in around 85/86. My mum and dad were into youth and community work so we could practice and play in a big hall in Alperton near Wembley. After using this space to practice, we began to actually sell tickets for our events. From there we began playing in blues parties.
A Blues Club refers to an illegal or unlicensed club, often located in a suburban setting. These types of clubs were generally run by members of the Afro-Caribbean community and would typically play reggae, r’n’b, soul, calypso, dub and other similar genres. Although some still exist, many have been closed due to stricter policing. – AD
Around that area there were a few estates and community venues, Stonebridge, St Raphael’s, Mozart and Chalk Hill Estates. This was where we cut our teeth with the sound. We were really young but we had to play what we called, ‘Big People Music’. Despite the fact we were teenagers, we were playing to adults, often in their middle ages. In those areas you had to know your music, you couldn’t blag anything. People would take the sound system apart if it was not right.
What sort of genres were you playing at that time?
We focused on the soul side of things, in fact we called ourselves a soul sound, the names of the sounds were, ‘Solar Zone’ and there was also ‘Midnight Lovers Soul Sound’. It would be focused on the 70s soul and coming up to date, we would find tracks that would fit into that rare groove sound. Other modern music would be boogie tunes from artist like Leeroy Burgess and other electro boogie artists. Where hip-hop met soul, we liked that sound because it had a drum machines in it and you could beat mix with the intros and run-outs.
Are there any tracks that stick out from that era?
There was a group called The B. B. and Q. Band they did tracks like, ‘Dreamers’ you also had S.O.S. Band, Change, Maze’s ‘Twilight’ was a big track, those were the more modern bands and then the rare groove stuff was like Roy Ayers and Leroy Hutson but it wasn’t stuff that was obvious, we would have to dig and try find those gems that people didn’t know. Trying to break tunes that people didn’t know. We also played Northern Soul tracks that were unknown to our communities, we could break it in as a 2-step rare groove.
So at this point in your career, your electrical engineering interest is reflected in building sound systems. At which point did that progress to actually producing your own music?
OK… In some ways I’ve always wanted to make music. You’re taking me way, way back but I would make instruments out of giant Ovaltine cans, play bongo drums and guitars. I’d be making music of some kind and jamming inside my garage to the point where many times the neighbours wanted to stop the noise. At this stage it would have been myself, my younger brother and a few school friends. I’ve always wanted to make music in some way but the next step from sound system was when I had my own pirate radio station.
I studied electronics at Hendon College where I met with Ian and Gus.
Our electronics knowledge meant we understood transmitters so we created a pirate radio station (Strong Island Radio). We needed to make some jingles for the station and that was the first time the three of us were ever in a studio together. Instead of making a standard spoken jingle; we decided to make a tune. That was our route into production.
Tell us a bit more about the station
It was all happening very fast. It was like an explosion and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was all in the space of about 2/3 years, between 85 and 87. The music content on the station reflected exactly what was happening around us. Although we grew up listening to reggae, soul, rare groove, we were also all into hip-hop. You could be into all forms of music but of course, you were into hip-hop. It was a given at the time.
We were playing things like early Big Daddy Kane, a label called ‘Cold Chillin’ was big for us. Public Enemy was also massive for us, we met them when they first landed in the UK and got interviews with them for the station. We went to the artist hotels and met people like Kid ‘n’ Play, EPMD and Stetsasonic.
But also at this time, the acid thing was happening. I remember Roxanne Chanté had an acid track at the time (Sharp as a Knife) and that brought us from hip-hop into acid and the sounds coming out of Chicago and Detroit.
Cities like Sheffield and Leeds also became a big influence on us because we were hearing that bass sound that was coming down from the North. We were getting into Warp (Records) with ‘Clonks’ by Sweet Exorcists, Forgemasters, Juno and Ital Rockers. We were getting drawn to these tracks because they had that deep bass, sound system influence. Strong Island Radio was a mixture of all those kinds of sounds.
How and when did making jingles for the station develop into making full tracks in your Dollis Hill studio?
Before Dollis Hill, we were just working out of Gus’s bedroom. We were all at college at the same time, we had drum machines at college. We used those drum machines to make the jingles as well. Gus was also part of a hip-hop crew called ‘Trouble Rap’ who were signed to Tim Westwood’s label (Justice). Tim had 2 or 3 artists signed, General Levy, Trouble and a few more (London Posse).
So that was all happening and while I was just messing around with equipment in Gus’s bedroom, playing with samples, although I was making some form of hip-hop, it had influences from hip-house, Chicago house and the London hip-hop and the up north rave sounds. It was a real melting pot. Although the first couple of records had MCs on them, I didn’t want to get drawn into making records just for the hip-hop industry. I felt that hip-hop labels were trying to shelve a lot of acts at this time, signing them but not giving them a chance to express themselves. So I began to research how I was going to put these productions out myself. That is how Reinforced (Records) came about.
It was only Gus and myself doing any production (if you can call it that) at that time. This is when we came up with ‘Mr Kirks’ Nightmare’ and ‘Rising Son’.
Rising Son was the first one. It was a rap record and I had a few UK rappers that wanted the beat at the time, they were like, ‘give me that beat man and we’ll release on a Major label’ but I was holding off. I just wanted to keep the instrumental on it’s own or rap on it myself. We ended up putting it out ourselves and I did actually rap on it.
‘Rising Son’ and “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ are two very different tracks aren’t they
‘Rising Son’ is closer to a hip-hop or hip-house track.
It feels like structurally it has the elements of jungle music.
Growing up as a kid, ‘jungle music’ was almost a curse word. There was no reason for us to take that on as a name, I saw it almost as a racist thing.
As exemplified in ‘Babylon’ a 1980 film that details the highs and lows of a young black male in London. ‘They play their bloody jungle music all night!’ is an insult slung at the youths by a working class white woman. The sample was famously used in Marvellous Cain’s ‘Hitman’ in 1994’ – AD
The reason we were talking about jungle music at that time was because of the break, the break in ‘Rising Son’ was from ‘Shaft in Africa’ (Johnny Pate). I call that the jungle break, it’s got that sound. We were calling that recording the ‘jungle track’, not because of ragga samples but simply because the way I felt Reinforced put their breaks together, it always had that jungle feel. Another one of my nicknames at that time was ‘Bongo Madness’, because of that jungle feel in terms of Afro or Latin, the whole percussionist thing that I wanted to have in my music productions.
As Paul Ibiza pointed out when we spoke to him, jungle has been used in lots of different musical contexts at different times by for example, James Brown, Lee Perry and even Bob Marley.
Right, that’s it. Another break we used a lot at the time was from James Brown’s ‘In the Jungle Groove’. It has a jungle feel.
Clive Stubblefield (The drummer for James Brown) has a lot to answer for!
And ‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ is pretty dark isn’t it?
‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ (which sold over 25k units) is just something completely different. If you could ever say that a record actually made itself, that’s what happened. It was just a lazy afternoon when me and Gus were messing around. We got a bunch of breaks, all our favourites and then just layered them all on top of each other. Then we played some bass notes on the keyboard and we said ‘the notes that make the room shake the most, keep those ones.’ It was that crude! We used records that happened to be lying around including ‘ET’s Boogie’ (Extra T’s).
I was quite happy with the track when I left that night but I came back the following morning and Gus had put the vocal sample in there (‘He Died of an Overdose’). As soon as a I heard it I said, ‘What you doin man, take that out, it’s too freaky!’ So we ended up arguing about it. Somehow he talked me round and we left it in there. It was more of a protest than a drug record. It was a protest against the drugs.
It feels like it could have been a commentary on the
media hysteria surrounding drugs and raves at the time.
Nah, it was an anti-drug thing. I remember sitting there we were saying, ‘if someone hears this and they’re tripping, it’s gonna freak them out, they ain’t gonna want to trip again’. It turned out to be a dark record that really made an imprint in people’s heads when they heard it. It was a rave stopper!
But it was probably adopted by raving drug takers as well.
It was! But in terms of production, we never looked back after those tracks. It was kind of like things happened accidentally but everything had to be aligned. We had an audience who were ready to accept something. We had all the different loose ends of genres, all these things that were going on. The reggae scene, 2 Tone, they all played a part.
What influence did 2 Tone have?
2 Tone was good because it was of first genres that made black and white people want to rave together. So the whole “rainbow people” thing was building. We were just there at the right time and had that spark which would ignite what turned out to be an explosion that we now know as the D&B/jungle scene.
These releases (Rising Son / Mr Kirk’s Nightmare) also marked a big turning point for you guys because despite all the sales you ended up in debt!
That’s right the distributor pulled a skank and went bankrupt whilst we still owed money to the manufacturers. We had to find the money from our own pockets to keep Reinforced going. We had to make a decision to stay and fight rather than give up. We had to find £8k to pay the pressing plant, that was a lot of cash in those days. We kept working and we paid them back. It was worth it!
So let’s fast forward a bit to the early days of jungle, when we speak to people like Goldie, Storm, Nicky Blackmarket, Ray Keith etc…. Everybody says you were either their influence, or someone who nurtured their career (Goldie) or gave them their first break. How did this come about?
I think it was about us having our own internal ethos regarding what we thought was good music. We got that straight first of all. Those early productions from Tek 9, Manix, 4hero, R Solution was just us. I was doing 75% of the stuff myself and then with Dego and Gus.
So you made a blueprint?
Yeah, it was like a virtual label because everyone thought there were many different artists on the label. For someone looking on, they thought, ‘they’ve got a strong roster already.’
And it was really coherent because in reality, it was just you guys.
That’s right, so everyone wanted to join the crew. We never went out looking for artists, looking for who was doing big things and signing them. Reinforced was never about that. A lot of the people who walked into our studio had never done a major record before. They just wanted to be part of it. So people like Nicky Blackmarket, Code 071 or a young Lemon D would just hang out and want to get involved.
How did DJ Hype feel about Reinforced?
We knew DJ Hype from the hip-hop days. He was a pirate radio DJ at that time of our first release. We had respect for him as a cut DJ from hip-hop days. He had a show around the time when ‘Mr Kirk’ came out and the pager for the station wouldn’t stop! He said every 2 mins when he wanted to play another record people were requesting the track. I remember bumping into him in Brixton and he came over cussing. ‘You lot! I can’t even do my radio show because of Mr Kirk!’
How did you meet Goldie?
He saw us on stage doing a live PA and Goldie being Goldie, he jumped on the stage in the middle of the set and said ‘Who are you guys?’ He just wanted to be a part of it. So he went away, made some music and brought it to us and became part of the label, his work was way ahead of most things around at that time. Reinforced made something that people wanted to be a part of, we did it from the ground up. Build it and they’ll come.
A lot of these people, at the time, were pretty inexperienced (as producers) so why did you decide to nurture these people?
If we liked someone we’d just say ‘Come to the studio and we’ll make a record with you’. If we hit it off and we had a shared understanding then we’d become friends. It might simply have been about how Britain was working politically at the time.
We would always hang out in our studio in Dollis Hill so that’s where people would come and see us. Whilst we’re chatting about UFOs and aliens I’d say ‘let’s make some tunes’. Let’s take Code 071 (author of ‘London Sumting’), although he was a DJ on Strong Island, he wasn’t’ a music producer. We would spend hours chatting about conspiracy theories and eventually we would say, ‘We’ve got to make some music, so while you’re here, do you want to make some music too?’
It worked like that with quite a few people. Me and Dego ended up being engineers for a few people even though they never touched a button or a key. Dego worked a day shift in the studio and engineered/co-produced for Nicky OD (aka Nicky Blackmarket), Code 071 and Younghead’s EPs. Some people would just bring a handful of records to sample but they had no idea how to use Creator(Logic) or the S950, they had great ideas and understanding of what they wanted though.
So you had a mechanism that would allow people to express themselves
Exactly, that’s a great way of putting it. What happened from there is that people went on to learn the equipment and become producers in their own right.
And at that time, it wasn’t too far back when you guys were doing the same thing, learning how to use the equipment and feeling your way through.
Right, one of things I’ve always really liked about Reinforced when you look back on it and listen to the early stuff, you get a history of the equipment and you hear us learning how to use it. It’s a documentary on wax.
I never look back and think, ‘Aw I can’t listen to this’. I love it all. It’s like flicking through your favourite photo album.
This is why I think the new audience is attracted to Reinforced, they can go through the many eras of the label and find bits they like, the hardcore part, the early house sound or the hip-hop sound. There’s so much they can get into from the vast back catalogue.
The difference now is that music production is much more accessible so it feels like if you were beginning in this era, those fresh potential producers might not have entered your studio at all because they would have got a cracked copy of Logic and started trying to do it themselves.
Yeah, bang on! It’s too easy now. We did so much groundwork to get to that point. I remember when people were complaining about sample CDs but we’re way past that now you can buy an app on your phone and you’re making rave music, you can make a rave classic. I don’t like this because I think what we did is not something to mimic for fun. It was too real for us.
In those days you had to do so much! We used to travel loads. Going up North to Nottingham or Birmingham, in them days that was far. We were going to dusty record shops searching for those breaks to sample. These samples became the classic breaks which everyone used. We found acapellas, pianos, etc… and we were also working out how to create sounds. It was sound designing. All those sounds you hear on the records they weren’t all samples, we were designing the ‘hoovers’ and ‘mentasms’. We were making the whole blueprint of what was to come.
When the Jungle scene blew up, from 93ish and onwards. Where did you see your place within that?
In 93 we were firmly a big part of the movement, it was all part of the hardcore scene. Everywhere you would go, you would see Reinforced records and logos. People would buy our records without even hearing them because they saw the logo. I remember one Saturday, I was driving through London in my car and I went through about 10 different pirate radio stations and every single one was playing a Reinforced record.
At that time we were also making an impact on the national chart. We had Manix releases that were selling so much, they were ending up just outside the top 40. At that point in time we were firm in the scene and believed in it, not just what we were doing but what all the other labels were doing too. Moving Shadow, Production House, Sub Base, Kickin and many smaller labels, it was a great community.
So how did you feel about the way things progressed?
It relates to what I said about things becoming easier. As that happened, we heard the sound and the production becoming too easy. The shuffle had gone from the breaks, all that movement, all that jungle. It just became kick-snare, kick-snare. It sounded like ‘Hey Mickey’, like rock or pop. So we found ourselves moving away from that and thinking, ‘if the scene is moving that way towards less soulful music, we need to go in the opposite direction and become more jazzy and soulful’. Some people were saying we were becoming soft, bringing in strings and the intelligent side and gradually we found ourselves becoming slightly alienated. So we progressed into our own sound.
That progression is the birth of things like Internal Affairs which went on to other bigger 4hero productions and the Timeless LP from Goldie, all that stuff that people didn’t want to hear in the clubs, we carried on exploring it. It might not be dancefloor classics but I think that’s a very rich part of the D&B movement.
And it continues to be influential today.
How do you feel about some of your recorded work becoming
[Chuckles] I love the way all this stuff happens there’s a thread that ties it all together because we started out searching for these rare records and sampling them, particularly some of the records we used for breaks. Me, Ian and Dego at the time were heavy vinyl collectors, we would easily pay £100 for an LP (in the late 80s/early 90s). The Winston’s amen break at that point in time that LP was changing hands for about £50. Only a few people actually owned that record. We always had this mentality that, ‘I’m not sampling anything unless I own it’.
Going back to how it is now for the kids. Some people complain about it and say we need to reissue records like ‘The Enforcers’ or Tom & Jerry but I like the idea of them being rare like that, It says that the kid that wants that Tom & Jerry SHELL 005 it’s because they really want it. It’s not because it was sold to them for 99p in some dodgy advert and mass produced. You’ve got to be committed and I like that.
If I’ve got one of your rare old records and I sell it someone for £500 are you happy with that or are you annoyed that you sold it for a fiver when it was released.
If someone is prepared to pay the £500 for it then it meant that much to them. The dealer doesn’t put the price on it, it’s how much they buyer values it. And as a record collector myself, if someone is asking for £500 but I can get it for 50p if I keep digging, then I’ll keep digging, on the other hand if I’m aware that only 500 copies were pressed and the tune is strong then I may be prepared to pay a lot more.
Do you think exclusive access to music is less important now than it was back then?
I think it’s more important now. Maybe 10 years we felt that things were falling off and people were losing interest but now were getting 16/17 yr old kids who are so into it, they’re living for it and for them they need the stuff to be exclusive and to be special.
How do you feel about the current resurgence in jungle music and projects like ‘We Love Jungle’?
I think it’s great. It feels like things are just growing. Everyday you see another new Junglist or another new Junglette on Facebook. I wanna see all the old labels coming back with all the new merchandise and putting records out. I love it.
I can see it from the outside slightly and just appreciate it because Reinforced was not exclusively a jungle label. It was much broader than that. The latter Tom & Jerry releases, they were more focused towards jungle I guess but they’re also pretty much hardcore in the early days. I love what’s going on. It’s good to see some of the old skool acts who didn’t really get their dues back in the day now they’re coming up, doing the shows, getting paid good fees and potentially getting out there to earn a living from it again. I might bump into an MC or DJ I haven’t seen for decades and now they’re back on all the flyers.
The kids have done their homework, they’ve got the tapes from back in the day. I was talking to Randall a while back, he’s getting booked left right and centre to play his old jungle and hardcore because those kids did their research and saw what a killer DJ he was in that era, in fact he still is. If those kids hadn’t done their research then it could’ve fallen off and died. Randall will always be a DJ, he’s gonna be playing new stuff at D&B raves anyway but he’s being dragged back into the jungle thing because new people understand how important people like him Kenny Kenny and all they guys were. I like the idea of bringing back the original artists.
So what’s happening with you right now?
At this point of the year, I always like to look back at what’s gone. That’s why it’s a good time for this interview. I’m always gonna do new music, I have lots of new projects and music with New Era, Visioneers and a few remix/production projects, maybe a little 4hero, who knows, but I think it’s important at this stage in my career that I make sure the new generation is hearing what has come before so I always like to put some time into letting people know what we’ve done before.
I’ve literally made thousands of records from the beginning up to now and I can continue to make more but I can also take time to connect the past. What we did with the Broken Beat scene, what we did in the Jazz scene, what we did with Giles Peterson and Talkin’ Loud, with King Britt in Philadelphia, what we did with Mad Mike and the Detroit guys in the States. We want people to know everything we’ve done so they can see what Reinforced is really about, how our roots spread into all forms of music.