Mark B: Getting an International Feel for things
Mark B is one of those nomadic, forward-thinking people who has gone through several different guises during his time within the music industry. From his early years in Sheffield, to playing drum n bass, to setting up home on the distant shores of Uruguay and more recently Ibiza.
He is the brains behind the much-lauded International Feel label, which prides itself on high quality releases, from heavyweight vinyl pressings to beautiful artwork and, of course, great music. As the International Feel enters a new phase, Mark has put together a compilation of the label’s releases and I caught up with him recently to speak about his work.
Did you ever think International Feel would have become such a phenomenon?
Yes and no. Living in Uruguay meant that I didn’t have any attachment with a ’scene’, be it in London, Berlin or wherever. So before coming back to Europe this summer, I didn’t really have any idea how much love there was for the label. Up until that point the only awareness I had was the ’scene in my head’ and occasional internet browsing. At the same time, I did set out to create something special, something that would stand out from the crowd. So it is pleasing to look back and see that I was right, to see that people actually do want real things that they can touch and feel, things of lasting quality.
At the beginning did you ever worry that the bottom might fall out of what you were doing?
The simple answer is no, I never doubted that quality, commitment to longevity, and putting the artists first wouldn’t work. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a little financially scary, particularly in the beginning. The first release (Rocha Hands of Love) had hand-drawn art by Yuko Kondo, 180g vinyl and a Harvey remix, so pretty much, you’ve set your ’standard’ and laid out your manifesto right there. It would have been counter productive to go back on that approach with subsequent releases. It is a very high and costly standard. It means that by and large we were never going to be a 200-300 hand-stamped ‘hobby label’, as we have to sell (ah yes, that dirty word) at least 800 vinyls on every release just to break even. And through good fortune, cunning and suburban witchcraft we have. There was a period last year when two releases did ’slightly’ under perform and I thought it may be the start of the decline, but immediately after that things picked up again and we started selling more than before the mini International Feel recession.
How do you go about commissioning the artwork?
From inception, I wanted each release to have two pieces of art… the music itself and the artwork. Therefore, the label had to have a visual identity and this meant having an art director. I knew Phantom a little bit from another project we’d done together and I love his aesthetic and eye for detail, so I asked him to come onboard as the label’s art director. From that point on, we’ve had a really great collaborative relationship. He knows what I’m looking for in terms of look and feel and I know he’s always going to deliver something of timeless quality that gives the label a strong visual identity. Of course the musicians always get in the way and complicate things but that’s life as a record label owner.
Without provoking too much of a vinyl vs digital debate, something that seems to be on the rise currently is vinyl and a newfound appreciation for the medium. A lot of younger DJs seem to be embracing it, how do you feel about this?
Every release International Feel does is an anarchic statement against the hermatically sealed world we’re (all too quickly) heading towards as a society, so I’m a big supporter of vinyl – it’s real, it’s tactile, it’s not a bunch of zero’s and ones. It’s the anti-X Factor, so it’s great to see younger DJs and record buyers discovering it. At the same time, a lot of newer vinyl releases are 200 or so hand stamped ‘too cool for skool’ releases that act as a shop window for the artist/DJ/producer to get DJ sets or Live shows. International Feel can’t afford to take that approach, although we did have some fun with Adventure Party and Parada 88. But if that’s what it takes to re-introduce vinyl to a wider audience, so be it.
How has your approach to International Feel changed since the label was initiated?
Not really that much until very recently. As already mentioned, our manifesto (and subsequent momentum) was laid bare with the first release and part of my job as a curator is to ensure that we release music that stands ‘out of time’ and can be discovered as such in 10 or 20 years. That’s not changed and never will – it’s always been about creating a parallel world and inviting people into that world to share and contribute to our (my) vision.
What will change is the frequency of releases – 36 vinyl releases in 36 months is a lot of work and that’s something that I want to reduce. It’s also important to bear in mind that any release, just like this interview, is a ‘point in time’ – it’s how you’re feeling on that day or in that period of time. Right now I feel much more experimental and more drawn to step away from club music specifically, into more, well….weird areas. Ghost Box are more interesting to me at this moment, than a standard four to the floor club beat. But I say that with the proviso that it’s an artist’s job to be fickle and keep themselves smack bang in the middle of a contradiction !
Why did you decide to release a compilation now?
Having made the decision to slow down the release schedule, it seemed like a great time to mark this phase of the label with a document, as it really does feel like the end of the beginning or at least the end of the Uruguay years. We’ve established ourselves, now it’s time to exit the expected and really have some fun. It’s also the chance to include some of the rarer vinyl releases onto a wider format as a thank you to everyone that has supported the main vinyl releases over the past three years. Also, release something that will introduce the label to a wider audience, people that may have heard of the label, bought a couple of things digitally but don’t (like me!) own a record player.
How did you go about selecting which tracks went on the compilation?
I’m pretty good at coming up with running orders. I’ve been making playlists for a long time, be they Harvey’s or Gatto Fritto’s albums, or playlists for commercial spaces when I had my Music Consultancy Company. So, I just wanted to make sure that the rarer stuff was on there and beyond that make a perfect ‘anything goes/Balearic’ (un) mixed tape.
What’s coming up next on the label?
It’s the first cold day in Ibiza, so I’m still in bed, huddled with blankets, planning the next phase. I have a rough sketch of where we’re going and a few musical ideas. Yes, I’m finally going to focus on releasing more of my own music. The key phrases/titles that I’m coming up with right now as inspirational jumping off points are things like – Suburban Mysticism, The Architects of the Golden Dawn, Dr Nimm’s Garden of Earthly Pleasures, The Boethius Experiment. I could go on but I’m sure you get the general idea of where my heads at – not very Balearic (just as I’ve moved to Ibiza) but I do like to be contrarian.
In your humble opinion, what does the future hold for the music industry we operate in?
More Simon Cowbell, more ringtone music, more sausage waveforms, balanced by small pockets of (growing) guerilla resistance. Then, finally and quite soon… the great awakening.
You’ve been through several different musical guises and lived in different places around the globe, what’s the next step for you?
Ibiza…Winter… James Clavell’s Whirlwind, Krautrock meets Ghost Box, meets Wickerman, with a hint of Balearic and Steve Reich thrown in.
Do you think there will ever be a time when you settle down fully?
Well, in the past 12 years, there’s been Berlin (twice), Italy, Uruguay and now Ibiza. I think that if the winter’s bearable here, then this will be somewhere to stay for quite a while. But I’m a great believer these days in simple living, so my studio is now totally portable and everything I own can fit into two or three big suitcases, so I’ll never rule out moving to Botswana on a whim.
What do you do in your spare time?
Apart from the label and making music, I spend a lot of time thinking about music technology and old analogue synths. It’s such a shame that making music actually has to get in the way of all of that. I like to mediate on my slant bed every day, go for a walk, do Yoga, a one day a week juice fast, read a lot, swim in the sea, keep an eye on the gold price and the cricket scores… you know, the normal things.
Any words of wisdom for a young person hoping to get into making/releasing music?
Funnily enough, a ‘young person’ wrote to me and sent over a demo via Soundcloud last night, so perhaps my answer to him is the best reply:
Thanks for the message.
I’m not signing many new things at the moment, but I did have a listen to the track. In terms of what I’m feeling at the moment it’s not really where my head is it… I’m currently in a much more experimental headspace, but it’s a good track and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself – the key is what you said in your message… enjoy it - music is really all about creativity and self expression, whether something is released or not, is, in a lot of ways, a bit of a diversion. Some of the best music I’ve made since I started (a long long time ago!!), no-one except me has heard and I’m really happy about that.
Anyway… thanks again for writing and supporting the label and I hope you keep enjoying and having fun making music.”
For more information on International Feel Records, visit their Soundcloud page HERE.Tagged in: International Feel, Mark B
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