Mark Knight interview: “Joshua Brooks is one of my favourite gigs in the world"

We caught up with Mark Knight, head of Toolroom records, in preparation for his all-night-long takeover of Joshua Brooks on Sunday, check it out below!

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 4th May 2023

With a career spanning three decades, Mark Knight is, without a doubt, one of the most influential artists in modern dance music. Grammy-nominated and the second highest-selling Beatport artist of all time (with no less than ten No.1’s), Mark has released on some of the most revered dance labels in the world including BBE, Stereo and Saved, and founded one of the most successful dance music companies of all time in Toolroom, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023. 

Armed with a musical library that knows no boundaries, a consistent run of hits and chart-topping ventures alike, the success of Mark’s recording career is matched only by the credibility and integrity maintained throughout his discography to date. Heard through a spread of anthems (Man With The Red Face, Alright, Downpipe, All 4 Love) along with producing bands such as Faithless and Underworld has sealed a diverse musical heritage for the accomplished producer. It’s music for passion, not numbers, and it’s what Mark Knight does best. 

This Sunday, Mark is heading to Manchester, and playing none other than the sensational surrounds of Joshua Brooks for an all-night-long set that looks set to blow the roof off. In preparation, we caught up with the esteemed DJ to get a glimpse into what Sunday will be looking like, the history of both Mark as a DJ and Toolroom, as well as an insight into how the label operates. 

What are you waiting for? Scroll down and check it out! Oh, and don't remember to secure your tickets for his Joshua Brooks gig on Sunday, there's still some left, and you can find them at the bottom of this page!

 

 

Hi Mark, how are we doing today?

Yeah, I’m good man, a bit knackered after the weekend, but alive which is a start. I’ve had the eternal balancing act of DJing and running a football academy, so it's pretty full-on, to say the least.

I came back from Ibiza on Friday and had to go to the football Saturday morning, I was straight out to Copenhagen on Saturday night to play out there, and straight back on the Sunday for another match, then I had to go to Hull to play that night. 

So yeah, it's been pretty full-on, and from Ibiza to Copenhagen to Hull meant it slowly petered off in terms of kudos, but it was all great! 

 

We're chatting in preparation for your set Joshua Brooks on Sunday, are you looking forward to the gig? and what can those in attendance expect? 

Honestly, I kid you not, Joshua Brooks is one of my favourite gigs in the whole wide world, and I'm not just saying that for the sake of the interview. I f**king love it. 

Because I always play open to close, It's a brilliant little room, the sound system's really good, and your right there in front and connected with the people; It's just one of those shows that really allows you to express yourself in what you do.

You can start out playing disco, and then by the end, you're banging out techno, so you can do everything, you know? When you get to do these long open-to-close sets like they allow you to do in there, it really reminds me why I got into DJing; that club is just perfect for it and the lads who run it are proper sound. On every level, I’m super, super excited for it.

How does someone like yourself kind of go about crafting such a long set? You’ve said it's what you prefer, but what's your secret or structure to making these night-long sets extra special?

So for me, I'll have a two-hour warmup where I’ll start playing disco and then gradually move into a little bit of house after maybe an hour and a half, and then progress into more pumped-up to disco house stuff.

Then from there, I’ll go into more techy bits and then into something a bit harder and finish up with the classics. So yeah, there is a structure, especially when you know the club and you know when to change gears like in Joshua Brooks. 

 

So it’s sounds like your looking for that constant crescendo then?

Yeah, I am and I love that, to just keep building and building and building and building all the way, you know. That for me is what it’s about, I love it. I think that's what you want when you’re in a clubbing environment, especially when there are loads of people there from the very first record; you want to just gently massage it into a place that's right. If you shift the energy too much too soon, that's not sustainable. If you don't move it on enough at the right point in time, that loses impetus and momentum. So you've really just gotta know when to go up a gear. 

But it's a relatively small room, so you can't go too big or hard, you’ve just got to find those records that have that right amount of energy, but that's not over-facing, you know? 

But these types of sets are why I started DJing. You wanna go in and express yourself as a lover of music and where people can really see a window into what I'm about as a DJ. 

You're both invested in the whole journey and when it goes right and you see these big queues to get in at 10, and those same people are still there at four o'clock when you leave, that's a unique bond and through going through the whole spiritual experience together. So I can't wait for that on Sunday. Really, really looking forward to it. 

Watch the full live stream of when Skiddle linked up with Mark Knight five years ago in Gorilla, Manchester

On the other side of things for you, this year with your label Toolroom is also massive, with it being its 20th anniversary. I love delving back into how successful brands and people first started out. I know it involves something about a shed in your garden, but can you kind of give us an insight into the inception Toolroom? 

Well, it quite literally started from a shed in the garden of my Mum and Dad's house. We called it Toolroom because it was the same place we used to keep the lawnmower and garden tools in. 

But basically, I was working and making music at the same time, DJing and doing little bits here and there, and, I thought to myself; I'm investing all of this time and energy into making these records, which I'm super proud of, and handing it over to people who would just flop it out, and I just thought; surely this can be done better?

So I looked about at the time at aspirational brands like Subliminal and Strictly Rhythm and just thought; that's where I need to be. I need to be across the whole process, then I can dictate the longevity of my career and I've only got myself to answer for.

If I build the right team around me and I own the process, then I've only got myself to be accountable to and I can dictate how the vision of not only the inception of the music and the vision of the music but how that's then branded and brought into the world. 

So I sold my house and every penny I got from the sale of my house I invested in building a studio outside my mom and dad's house, with the vision of starting a record label. 

So yeah, crikey, for three years, every penny from DJing went back into the coffers and that created, on top of the income we were creating with the label, an opportunity to get the business off the ground and invest in more staff and build the right team. And 20 years on we’re still at it.

 

What strikes me about Toolroom is just how all-encompassing it is now. You've got a record label, radio show, studio, events company, music school, and an artist booking and management agency. Was that something you always saw Toolroom becoming? or did these things appear and progress over time?

I've always been keen to be the owner of my own destiny, and, and if something came along that sits within the realm of what we do, and a facet of what we're trying to achieve, where we can invest and find the right people, then I just think if you can do it yourself, that’s always the better way.

I use a lot of football analogies because spend more time doing football than I do music nowadays, but it's about building the right team to go on the pitch, you know. I don't need 11 centre forwards, I don't need 11 left backs; I need a complement of all the right people to create the team because individually you can be pretty good, but as a team, you can be unstoppable.

So it's about building that team and understanding how and when to get the right people doing the right jobs. I think that's key with any form of employment or any business, finding the right people to satisfy all the facets of what you need to achieve, it just makes it an economically viable business.

The music school is something that stands out for me amongst the rest, as you don’t see it often, particularly from labels your size, how did that come about, and what does it entail?

The Academy is just ridiculous, we can't keep up with that. It's a very unique situation, I very much modelled the whole thing from the football academies I used to be in when I was a kid. I always wanted to be was a professional footballer, and I’d say at the time I was better at football than music, but when I was playing for like £50 a week and then getting £200 quid on a Saturday night; basic economics was telling me maybe to go another way with my life.

But I'd come through that system and I understood how academies worked and I wanted to take what they do in football and apply that to what we do. 

As I said though, it's a very nuanced thing. Nowadays you can go onto YouTube now and learn how to make music and all the generalisms of making music are online for free. But if you wanna be taught by people who had bonafide careers within it, teaching you the nuances of our sound of how we make records, what the benchmark is, and what we're looking for; it’s a unique situation. It's the same way as you if you sign for Tottenham, you learn to play the way they play.

I mean, look, let's be honest, 95% of the people that get go through the academy don't make it. But, if you wanna get to the elite level of making music, then you've gotta be the best of the best. But believe you me, we've found some brilliant talent for it. 

So it works on every level. It's a win-win. They're learning and getting the inside tack on how we see music, and then we get to cream off the top 5% that come through. It keeps our roster buoyant and those who come through the system are generally more loyal, love the brand, and know exactly what we’re about.

 

It's clear to see that a Toolroom is hugely influential within its corner of the music scene. What's it kind of like being in that position? Does it come with pressure or is it more of you just relishing a chance to be able to support the music that you kind of love?

A bit of both. I think the pressure is almost a privilege, you are in a great position if you've got that amount of pressure and if your doing something you love you can absorb that. I know what we stand for, I know what we're about, I'm not chasing fads I stick true to what we're about. Occasionally that means you will drift out of being number one in terms of in the spotlight, but music is like that. It goes round and round and round. Oasis isn’t number one anymore, do you know what I mean? 

It moves on, but it's about staying true to what you're about, and in doing that your time will come again, and you will be number one again; that’s something we've always maintained.

We've never chased trends. We've never jumped on a bandwagon. We'll go, right, this is what we stand for through thick and thin. If you wanna build a brand in this game you've got to stay true to your musical vision. Just be true to yourself and provide the music that you love because when you built a client base and an audience that like that, and it continually grows with the age. We've never had to go backwards, put it that way. 

 

Just to kind of finish off on Toolroom, you've already brought it so far, but what's on the horizon for you guys? 

Well, we're doing some really cool stuff around this concept we’re rolling out this year called Music Matters activation. We’ve got a bit world tour going on. We’re setting up another sister label called Fools Paradise, which is a house music label, so anything from super Disco to more sort of underground house music that you'd find on No Fuss or something like that, for example.

So anything that encompasses house music in general. Cause I think house music is the smallest genre of the lot. Everything house has to be a sub-genre like ‘Tech-House’. But the real root of it all is somewhat overshadowed. So I want to create a forum to put out brilliant house music because there's some incredible talent in that scene that just doesn't really get the exposure and opportunities they should do. 

So I just want to start wrapping things up by wagering you a quick hypothetical. So your set at Joshua Brooks has been reduced to just three tracks. What are you playing?

Wow, that’s a good question. If this is Joshua Brooks, I'm going to have to try and represent what I would do over six hours in three records.

Well, look, I would probably get shot if I didn't play ‘The Man With The Red Face’. I don't think I've been to a gig in the last 16 years where 10 people haven’t come up with their phones saying: “Aw, when are you gonna play The Man With The Red Face.” So I guess that's got to be one, and we'll definitely finish on that.

First I’m going to play Michael Gray's mix of Luther Vandross, ‘Never Too Much’, because that always gets everyone on the dance floor, it’s absolutely impossible not to dance to that, a proper party starter right there. 

And then I would play something, the, the kind sit in between. Oh god, what do I play… he says frantically searching through his record box. There are so many that sort of fit in the middle, but I would probably say my own record ‘Go Deep.’

 

Just to finish off, if people can’t catch you at Joshua Brooks this evening, where else will you be playing this year?

Well, I’m not doing too much in the UK this year. I’ve got a Village Underground show in London in August, but then I'm all over the world. I'm in Barcelona, then I'm in San Francisco, and then I'm in San Diego, and then I'm in New Yorker, so yeah, I guess I only play in the UK maybe five times a year, so the best thing to do is just follow me on Instagram (djmarkknight) and then all my dates and stuff will be right there. 

 

 


 

If you want to catch Mark Knight at Joshua Brooks this Sunday then you can find out all you need to know by clicking or tapping - HERE

If you want to cut out the noise and just secure those tickets asap, then you'll be able to find them at the bottom of this page!

 


 

Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.

 

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