DJ Marky: "I was on Top of the Pops! I didn't even know what Top of the Pops was!" - Features - Mixmag

DJ Marky: "I was on Top of the Pops! I didn't even know what Top of the Pops was!"

19 years on from 'In Rotation', legendary Brazilian drum 'n' bass pioneer DJ Marky has returned with another cross-genre revelation — he talks to Megan Townsend about his late friend Marcus Intalex, turning dark times into positivity and finding samples in the unlikeliest of places

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photo: Marcelo Naddeo
  • 3 August 2023

DJ Marky is the first to admit that production doesn't exactly come naturally to him. First and foremost a DJ, this trailblazer of drum 'n' bass instead prefers to wait for inspiration: "I need something," he tells me, sitting amid the records of his friend and fellow producer Mokoto's London flat. "Even if it's just seeing a dog in the street. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's difficult to make music."

It makes sense then, that the music he makes is packed with reference and nods to his life. Subtle disco and funk references taken from the records his parents listened to during his upbringing his São Paulo, to utilising Baião and samba in a nod to his roots, to sharp-edged basslines akin to the productions of his friends in the UK's d'n'b scene. For his latest record, 'The Time Is Right', DJ Marky's - aka Marco Antonio da Silva - experiences during the pandemic are the primary source material. Disconnected from his true passion, sharing music to crowds, due to worldwide lockdowns - DJ Marky later would be hospitalised with COVID-19: "I was in the hospital thinking I wasn't going to make it, but thank god I'm here," he recalls. Initially planning to make the record alone, he was further inspired by his friends who pulled together to lift him back up from the dark times — many of which are featured on the record; transforming 'The Time Is Right' into an uplifting, deeply-introspective record that once again pushes the boundaries of the genre.

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To mark the release of 'The Time Is Right' on Shogun Audio, we sat down with DJ Marky to talk about his sources of inspiration - which range from everything from his mum to old skool hip hop, why BPM is just a number, and the lasting legacy of 'LK'.

Your new record 'The Time Is Right' has just been released, could you tell us a little bit about the process of creating it?

The album is kind of divided between three moments: Before the pandemic, during the pandemic and then after the pandemic. There were a lot of things going through my mind during these periods. Firstly, I wanted to get back on the road and play in clubs again. After that, I went through a very bad phase in my life [when I had COVID], then I went through a break-up - out of the blue - that put me in a bad place and I started writing a few tracks. 'Colours Of My Mind' is representative of that moment, because I was really sad but I made that tune with Harry and Jack (aka Pola and Bryson) and I felt so welcomed in the studio, spending time with them. They were like: "Don't worry, come here and stay with us... we're with you." That helped a lot. Then suddenly, my phone started going off so much. Everyone started ringing me a lot. My friends were all saying "Oh come and stay here, we can make some music!" That's how it happened.

In the beginning, I was going to make the whole album by myself, but at the end of the day - to have my friends on board making an album with me was fantastic, exploring lots of different genres and tempos. Some tracks are more mellow, more introspective, 'Trip To The Stars', the last tune means hope for me. When I was in the hospital, during the very little time I slept all I could see was stars and I had the idea for the track from there. I asked Makoto to do the track with, he's one of my best friends — he understands what I was trying to do. It was really good to work with Tyke, doing a little bit of jump up, something a bit different, more dancefloor. To work with Sally Green was amazing as well, because I met her during COVID on a livestream on Twitch. I had one of her records, and she was watching my livestreams — she's this amazing vocalist from the US and I was like "oh my god, I really want to make a special track with her," something funk, boogie, '70s/'80s with a kind of modern touch. So we had some live musicians play for us, so it was really good. It was a very special moment.

How does it feel to let life experiences inspire dance music / drum 'n' bass?

I really need inspiration. I'm not one of those guys who just sits down and goes "yeah I'm gonna make a track today." I'm not a computer freak [laughs], I'm not constantly thinking about synths and stuff like that. I'm all about passion, I'm a DJ! But production stuff, it's cool I enjoy it — but I need something. All my music is based on a moment, either a fantastic one or a really sad one. That's the way I work. Brazilians have a lot of passion, you know. For example, I was at home for a few months and I just didn't turn the studio on — I tried, then I went in and it was a disaster. So I need the inspiration, it usually comes from gigs and seeing people, or my mum, my friends.

Do you think 'The Time Is Right' stands apart from your other records?

It's special. It's very special, because of everything I've been through and all the emotions — it was kind of a rollercoaster for me to make this record. It was deep and emotional, after that it felt like the sun was shining again. This record definitely represents me a lot, who I am and how I live my life, it shows what I'm like when I'm very strong and very sad as well.

'Time is Right' is pretty high tempo throughout, what do you think of talk that dance music is getting harder and faster at the moment?

When I started DJing, I was 10/11-years-old, so I have a huge record collection - around 30,000 records. I always liked music, I never liked numbers. I never see music as a BPM. These new, young DJs grew up with CDJs - so they measure tempo so much more. I've been in situations where I've been DJing and the next DJ has come to me and said: "oh, can you slow down for me because I'm going to play 120-127," and I said "I'm sorry, I don't know what music you're talking about." For me, music is not a number, it's much more. So if the music is good, the BPM doesn't matter. I grew up listening to soul, funk, disco, then it was house music, then it was Belgian techno, then UK genres like hardcore, jungle; I just fell in love with the music, not the tempo. I play drum 'n' bass because, for me, I find it very easy to insert house references in there, or soul, funk, hip hop, jazz, all the kinds of music I love. That's why I like it, same with house music. I like the fact you can take a hip hop instrumental and put it in a drum 'n' bass record, because it's just maths, you just divide and add. But, I do hate maths [laughs]. I never see tempo in music, it's just good and bad.

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Next year will be 20 years - a number apologies - since 'In Rotation' came out, and the record was commended for how much complexity and reference had been interwoven through drum 'n' bass. It sounds like it's been a similar process with the new record, wanting to move between genres... Do you think you're still drawn to that way of approaching making music?

Yeah, I don't see many differences between 'In Rotation' and 'Time Is Right', to be honest. You're right!

Well they are both great records!

Yeah, 'In Rotation' has one track called 'Terapia' which is sort of a house tune. Me trying to do a house/disco-influenced track, and all the samples we used on the record were from funk, soul, jazz. My background music! It's the same [laughs]. Yeah [this record] is not the same formula, but it's the same background, it's my way to make music. I am really inspired by those eras - '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s - they were so rich and magical for me, so what I tried to do was put all the influences in together in a different way.

But you can really hear them there.

Yeah, it's what has inspired me musically and emotionally, some uplifting music, some sad. 175 is just a tempo, you know. I want people to forget about what the "genre" is I think, to just listen and see the entire picture. It's very funny, because I'm here with Makoto at the moment - I'm staying at his house - and he's talking about 'Sliding Gliding' from the new record, and he's like: "So what's the sample on that track?" and I was like: "Oh yeah, it's from Sylvester!" He was so shocked. My mum and dad used to play 'Dance (Disco Heat)' for me all the time, and I've always had an idea to incorporate it into something and I could never find a way. In the '90s Byron Stingily did it and made 'Get Up (Everybody)' [sings the line] and I just took the verse after that and sped it up. It's very funny, I've had that idea since way before I even started producing!

Do you like that feeling? When you get when you see the penny drop and someone realises: "Oh! I get what you did there"?

Yeah I love it. In the '90s, when hip hop was blowing up and it was such an iconic sound, it wasn't necessarily the production that always created it - it was the samples! The samples they used to create that mood, it blew me away. I needed to find all the records, I need to find all the source material. It made me hungry for records and knowledge, I wanted to know more music. It drove me into record shops and to meet people who'd come up to me and say: "Check this out." And I'm like, "What is this I've never heard before, it's so good." So many people have different knowledge and references, that's what fascinates me... that's why I still buy records every day.

How does it feel that you and XRS' track 'LK' is still getting rinsed on dancefloors all over the world? Did you know that track would be so much of a hit when you first created it?

Imagine this. My son was born three years after that record came out and now he's 18, and he goes to his friend's house the other day and I was in the studio organising my records — he phoned me and I could hear someone screaming, it was his friend's mum saying "oh my god, you made 'LK' it changed my life!" I can hear them in the background playing 'LK' [laughs], and his mates are like: "I can't believe it! It's your dad! Your dad made this tune! this tune is sick!" These kids don't even know what drum 'n' bass is! It's magical.

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You know, you have no idea how many people who have come to me and said: "I like drum 'n' bass because of you" and "you changed my vision about music and this genre." And to be honest, this track we were pretty much trying to create something that sounded like Bad Company [laughs], and we couldn't get it right... it sounded terrible. I said to XRS: "I think we need to find our own sound", so I went to my mum's house - I was living with her at the time - and I'll go check out my record collection and see if I can find some samples. I ended up picking up one of my mum and dad's records, just a record I would listen to and hear them singing and dancing to. I got the guitar from it, and I just added it from a minidisk. Next thing I knew, I was on Top of the Pops! I didn't even know what Top of the Pops was! Everything was so fast. It's crazy, because like you said before, 'In Rotation' came out 20-years-ago — but for me, it seems like it was five years ago. It's scaring me. Numbers! argh!

Oh god.

I'm so proud though. I think the thing I feel, is every time I make something like 'LK' and it touches so many people, I just want to make another one. I hope one of the tunes on this album is one of them. The thing is with 'LK' everybody connected with the music, it was made at the right time and the right place, it wasn't a recipe. I wish I had a recipe! [laughs] I had no idea how it happened, It was just for fun.

That's the best records are made right?

Yeah! No compromising on how you're feeling. None! Even when me and XRS made the track, I made it originally for Marcus Intalex to release on his label Soul:r — and when I played it for him, he said he didn't like it [laughs]. He said it was shit! I just thought, yeah do you know what, I don't want to make music anymore. I'm a DJ, I love being a DJ, I love playing music. I'm not going back to the studio and doing that when I've sent a tune to one of my best friends and he says [puts on Mancunian accent] "this tune is fucking shite!" [laughs]. But, guess who did the remix of 'LK'? Marcus Intalex, and he smashed it. That's the version I love the most, I play it more than the original. My good friend.

What do you hope that listeners take away from 'Time is Right'?

Love and happiness. That's what I want, because at the end of the day, I've been DJing for a long time and everybody thinks it's very glamorous but it's not - it's very difficult sometimes. Everybody sees me as a very happy person, and yeah sometimes I am a very happy person, but I'm weak sometimes. I'm human. I want people to connect to that, and try to understand that what I really want is to bring love and happiness to the dancefloor for them. Playing records for me is a gift, I feel very blessed to have survived and still be able to do what I love most. So, that's what I really want.

DJ Marky's 'The Time Is Right' is out now, buy it here.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter

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