Superstar DJ Mark Knight, a mainstay of the house music scene, is one of the abundance of cancelled shows that won’t be showing up in Dublin in the coming weeks. The beatsmith is used to the mass audiences of Ibiza and London, however, Knight has a special affinity to our capital.
It’s an affinity that plays out in the way he performs, too. Dublin’s club scene is mediocre by international standards even at its peak, with early closing hours and small-scale venues far behind pubs as a priority. Knight makes a point of dropping in regularly, however, playing smaller venues than he’d normally grace purely for the love of the place.
“It’s a special connection,” he tells me. “My wife’s from Dublin and I’ve been playing there for 15 years, I always have a great time. This year, I’m mainly focused on my business, Toolroom, and things related to that, but the Dublin date [which would have taken place in April] was an important one personally.”
“Toolroom has fed into my music now. I come across so much different music because of my job. When it comes to playing live, I play about 50% my own stuff, and probably about 85% of it overall is Toolroom stuff. That’s how it should be, I think. The balance with the label has allowed me to play maybe two weekends a month, which is a really nice balance when you have a family and you only want to spend a certain amount of time playing at clubs at 3 or 4 in the morning.”
“I like playing small venues. You can’t just go in with a sledgehammer, you have to massage people a little, and it gives you a chance to do long developing sets that are a journey from beginning to end. It’s something a bit different.”
Knight’s previous lifestyle is one of the things that has been, at least temporarily, lost during the shutdown, along with his tour. It’s also something that indicates the strength that can – but doesn’t always – exist in creative arts. While he can’t play live, he’s putting together videos connecting with his new record, and keeping an eye on the future of Toolroom, including the label’s new development pipeline, Toolroom Academy.
“The quality threshold is paramount,” Knight says of his work. “As a DJ, I get to translate records in situ when I play, and as a label there are very few that I just release as they are. We like to mix things down, do the production, it’s a proper A&R set up as well as a label. We pride ourselves on that, on having a distinctive sound.”
“It’s about squeezing the most out of it,” he explains. “The best ideas can overcome genre. Diana Ross, for example, translates into lots of different genres. Some days I work on several tracks, mine and other peoples, and I try not to be too retrospective, you have to focus to do that for 20 years, as we have.”
“The Toolroom course has produced some amazing talent, it’s like football. We’re all football fans at Toolroom, and the principal is the same – the Academy brings the talent through, and eventually they become the big things on the label.”
Knight will be back on the road when circumstances allow. In the meantime, his Toolroom Academy allows online access for potential DJs to learn and develop from home, with the added perk that one of the biggest names on the house music scene may just sign you up on the back of it.