DJ, producer and jazz pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe says he was chasing a girl when he first came to London from New Zealand in the late nineties.
After being introduced to UK-based house producer Phil Asher and later meeting various musicians associated with the West London broken beat scene like Dego (from 4Hero) and I.G. Culture, life soon turned into a whirlwind of making music everyday.
Since broken beat's emergence in the late nineties, its fearless sense of innovation has been signposted at turns by P-Funk, boogie, Afrobeat and the UK's varied mutations of bass culture.
Many of the sound's forerunners, people such as Dego and Seiji, had already stamped their unique presence on drum n bass, 2 step and house.
"Acid jazz was a pastiche," says Mark of another distinctly British invention. "But this was progressive expression. We were exploring rhythms, textures, sounds, and other interesting things. And when the tracks started to succeed, those rhythms became the paradigm. Seiji's track Loose Lips did quite well and people started copying the standout tracks and the rhythms became predictable ... People bite but you must bite and innovate, put some of yourself into it, because in the core community that's what people were doing."
"The fact that you started hearing these rhythms in Asia, Australia, Europe and stuff, it was a sign that the music was reaching further but people weren't doing something individual with it. It's a two-way street but somehow it just became counterproductive with this particular scene. Drum n bass, for example, got so big because people were copying it. But the thing is we never thought of what we were doing as a genre. It was just an ethos and a way of making music, whether it be jazz, downtempo, soul or house music, it had to have a twist to it."
Despite its huge impact on global dance music, Mark says the sound peaked at the same time the recording industry was transforming into digital forms of consumption and the main distribution company, the vinyl-focused Goya, didn't evolve, making the business side of it unsustainable.
The night that changed things
In 2008, Mark moved to Los Angeles, another haven for beat junkies propelled by the likes of the Brainfeeder label, Stone's Throw and Sa-Ra Creative Partners. Six months into his stay in LA, Mark was invited to a jam session that shifted his career into a new direction. "A friend said to me, 'If you don't come, you'll kick yourself'," recalls Mark. "[Viola player] Miguel Atwood-Ferguson was there, [jazz vocalist] Nia Andrews, Zap Mama and the guys from Sa-Ra [Creative Partners] were there. That night changed a lot of things. Nia Andrews wanted me to play piano with her. She was a big part of me getting [back] into piano.
A short while later, Mark launched Church, a monthly show taking place both in New York and LA, which he says starts out as a jazz gig before morphing into a club night. Recent guests have included hip-hop artists DJ Spinna, Jean Grae and John Robinson, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw as well as jazz vocalists Jose James and Dwight Trible.
On the club side of things, Mark has developed a solo show he calls Remix Live, which he says has a vein of broken beat but explores sounds beyond that. This is the show he's currently touring in South Africa, with two sets already in the bag, one being at Rockerfella in Soweto and The Living Room in the Maboneng precinct in downtown Johannesburg.
As Mark admits, the show is completely unpredictable, with songs remixed on the go segueing into others being conjured on the spot. The experimental nature of the show is also largely dependent on crowd energy. In an interview with Australian radio presenter Mike Gurrieri earlier this year, Mark mentioned that he likes to play with tempos, which can make people stop and stare sometimes. "But when it's in the dancefloor area, after a while their body can't help but start woggling and then we get on with the dancing."
September 14 in Soweto was wiry, taut and metallic, with stoic heads in the crowd refusing to budge. Mark seemed to be scrambling, trying to hold things together and mellow them out simultaneously. Two days later, during a marathon afternoon set at The Living Room's rooftop, a visibly more relaxed auteur was on display. Rounder melodies, distinct snatches of existing songs and slow-grooving, chugging beats were the order of the day. Metaphorically, the sets represented his iconoclastic approach to production.
Mark de Clive-Lowe plays two more shows in South Africa this week; House 22 in Pretoria on September 21 and Pat's Pub in Rustenburg on September 23. For more information, visit Avant Garde: Vintage Lounge on Facebook.