How fatherhood, studying and ayahuasca inspired this UK house producer to keep pushing things forward
2017 will go down as a vintage year for Mark Jenkyns. His recent single Sirens was a signature sound of the summer and went on to be a Beatport No 1 this October. Backed up by releases on ViVA Limited, Suara and Origins, remixes on the likes of Cr2 and an ongoing residency at DC-10’s Paradise, his name has seldom left the playlists.
But this isn’t the first year you could call a vintage one for the South Shields artist. 2012/13 were also big years, as he seemed to blast out of the blue on Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations and Hot Waves and enjoy successive smashes on the likes of Crosstown Rebels and Rinse…. before he purposefully halted the acceleration around 2014 and slowed down his release rate for two years, sporadically breaking near-radio silence with releases such as the Chickaboo-fronted On Me and the Inxec-collaboration Broken Wings.
There were many reasons for his seemingly drastic lane-change. Some of them are negative (a combination of self-imposed pressure to fit in with current trends, and a lack of control of his turbo-charged profile); some of them are incredibly positive (he became a dad and got a degree). He was also concerned that, in his late 30s, he’d already missed his chance to make a career out of music. But behind the scenes has been a whole other spiritual pursuit that momentarily pulled him away from all imaginable trappings of dance music culture, before thrusting him back into them fully recharged, re-engaged and more focused and ambitious than ever before.
2017 has been a vintage for Mark. With the success of Sirens still ringing, 2018 isn’t looking too shabby either. But look beneath the obvious signs of success and it’s clear that every year is a vintage for Mark, and they have been for several years. Now clocking a cool zero on the fucks-given-ometer about his age, or where he fits in with the wider and often fickle world of house, he’s in the best position - professionally and personally - than he’s ever been in. Here’s why…
2017… a good year to be Mark Jenkyns?
"Every year is a good year in its own way, right? But in different ways. So this year has gone really well, but last year I took a little time out because I’d become a dad. That was pretty quiet musically but the most beautiful year of my life. I also decided for some reason that would be a good year to do my degree!"
All or nothing!
"Kind of. Because I wasn’t pursuing music directly I thought I’d take time to study it and set up more of a foundation for other options in the future. I’ve had successful years before, when I broke through in 2012 and things started to go well, it went a bit crazy with tracks on Hot Waves and Hot Creations and there was a lot of interest. But, for me, things went a bit too fast and I took my foot off the gas a bit as I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted."
"I felt DJing was a bit of a hobby you know? Even way back when I was 25 I thought I was too old to be starting to pursue a career in music. I was friends with Jamie and he was two years younger than me and already smashing it. I thought I had no chance! That age thing kinda stuck with me for years. I just never thought I’d actually make this a career. I’d lost my chance. But then I had a few realisations via another interest of mine which, oddly enough, was shamanism and a herbal brew named ayahuasca."
How did you get into that?
"My father died a few years before and I really wasn’t in the best place. During that time, I did a bit of DMT and had some experiences that helped me think a bit differently. So I started looking more into it and reading about ayahuasca which is an ancient, plant-based, medicinal way of drinking DMT and going to ayahuasca retreats. The whole experience and journey I went on and through was very profound, cleansing and ultimately healing."
What were the experiences you had that took you in that direction?
"I attended Burning Man one year and somehow ended up smoking changa (DMT). It totally blasted me out of the RV and I saw all my friends in spirit form flying around having the time of their lives. Then we went to Mount Shasta after Burning Man and I did it again. I was suddenly shot out of the room and saw myself dancing around a fire with Native Americans. I told my friend and he was like, ‘You do realise this was the one of the earliest Native American settlements?’ That was me hooked, but not addicted. I started studying it on every level, went to ayahuasca retreats and eventually went to Peru to a shamanistic centre for four weeks."
What do you do at these retreats?
"You undergo various plant-based diets that purge your body of ailments and cleanse you. I did various diet cleanses with stuff like Mapacho (tobacco juice), for example. The shamans treat tobacco with great respect and consider it a spirit and it purges everything. It pulls your insides out but the feeling you get afterwards, how clean and energised you feel, is remarkable and life-changing. That’s just one of 30 or so plant diets you can experience during shaman training. Shamans guide you but it’s the plants that give you the lessons and teachings."
Were you considering becoming an actual shaman yourself?
"The shamans told me I was strong-minded enough and had the right characteristics. So yeah, I was seriously thinking about it. But during my journey, while having an ayahuasca experience, I had this realisation: ‘You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, you’ve got a passion you love... shamanism is something you’re trying to latch on to, so you don’t have to pursue your music because you’re scared!’ I came back and that’s when I had my first Hot Creations release and got made resident at Paradise and it went from there."
But I get the impression it wasn’t all plain sailing?
"Well, no. I took my foot off the gas because it went too fast. But also, musically I was feeling a bit despondent. The tech-house sound had blown up and, don’t get me wrong, I’m well into it. But I’m a house guy and I was torn with my sound. Every I idea I had would lead to, ‘Nah this isn’t good enough or current enough or won’t get played by this DJ or that DJ’."
That’s a nasty trap to be caught in!
"It is! But then I became a dad, went to university and didn’t have to think in 4/4 24/7. But I was still playing around with tracks and sending things to Jamie [Jones]. For a year or so, he was like, ‘Sorry, not for me’ with every track I sent him. But then I sent him Sirens. He got back to me in 15 minutes. It was going to be on Hot Creations but the schedule was quite full for a while so we decided to do it on his Hottrax label earlier. At the time, people were telling me to wait for Hot Creations as it’s the bigger label, but I didn’t want to hang onto any music as I can’t be stewing over one release, I needed to get it out and move on.
"It’s brought a lot of things together for me as I’ve now got releases on Resonance Records, ViVA Music and the Hot Creations release all before March, so everything worked out for the better. Maybe Sirens would have done even better on Hot Creations? But if you’re going to get picky over one spot in the overall Beatport chart then you’re in the wrong game."
Seems like you’re over the whole age thing now? If you’re making music from the right place you can be any age.
"Yeah, I’m totally over that now. When I was in my 20s I was hanging around with younger people who were successful. When you’re in that age group you’re very age-conscious, but the older you get the less you care about that.
"Life for me gets better as you get older. When I was 25 I knew nothing. I thought I did but I didn’t. And I think if I’d have broken through at that time and been flown into a massive gig, I’d have caked it and totally ruined everything. I wouldn’t have been ready. But now I’ve done my graft and learnt how to really warm up and how to play a main set. I see people playing warm-up sets and they’re not even making people feel comfortable. They’re either out for glory or clearing the room. I’m glad all these opportunities have come to me now I’ve learnt that and not making those mistakes. So yeah, I’m very happy with where I am in life and what I’ve achieved."
Like doing a degree the year you became a dad!?
"Yeah! Mental, I just finished it in May! In the back of my head I always thought I might teach eventually. When I got enough life experience - something else I can work in, like a get-out clause from DJing much later in life. What was interesting was one of the modules was setting up a business proposal . I developed the idea of a music school that I’d actually love to pursue."
So now you want to run a music school?
"There is absolutely nothing in the north-east that offers this and I’ve got a very clear idea of how it would work. If I found the right space and people to work with, I’d do it for sure. But for now, it’s all about the music."
You’ve got your groove back…
"My focus is totally back now. Sirens success has vindicated me a little, and I want to see this out. I love playing gigs, I love touring and DJing. The teaching side of things I can pick a little up later in life. I’ve had my time out, I’ve worked hard, I want to see how far I can take this!"
So what’s next?
"Loads of remixes. About seven I think! Then a Resonance EP in January, a ViVA release in February and Hot Creations release in March. I’m talking to a few techno labels, too. I’m really enjoying experimenting and making what comes out; it could be techno, house, deep. Whatever. There are no boundaries as long as they’re mint.
"I’ve toyed with the idea of an album because of this approach. Like, write a track that’s pretty left or right of centre every month, collect them in a folder and see where I’m at the end of the year. Maybe that’s a bit of a pipe dream but let’s see! All the albums I listen to sound like flamboyant noodles anyways, and are certainly not dancefloor-structured, Max Chapman did one a few years back which was totally different to what he normally makes that and was proper mint, so let’s see."
No more worrying about which DJs will play your tunes then!
"Nah, no way. The thing is, the sound is always changing anyway. Tides turn. Trends change but house will always be there. It might not be the flavour of the month but there will always be a place for it, even if it’s just an afterparty – if one person plays it you have done your job. A lot of people think next year we’ll see more of shift from tech-house back to more traditional house, but who knows? Each to their own. And I’m really happy making what I’m making and seeing what happens next."
Words: Dave Jenkins