Mark Fell – Syn/Cussion-Festival

“To me that would be a waste of a life spending your life making money.”

From the fifth to the seventh of May the Syn/Cussion-Festival will take place at Berlin’s Radialsystem V. This event brings together an ambitious constellation of artistic statements, each taking the form of duets of synthesizers and percussions, as the festival’s name suggests. Initiated by artist Hanno Leichtmann there will be team-ups by Martin Brandlmayr and Nicholas Bussmann, Katharina Ernst and Andrew Pekler as well as Will Guthrie and Mark Fell.

Thomas Venker grabbed some time with Mark Fell. 
All images by Mark Fell. 

IMG_1777Mark, let’s start with your involvement in the Syn/Cussion-Festival. . The goal is to investigate the interaction of percussion instruments and electronic sound productions, through collaborations. How did the combination of you and the Australian drummer Will Guthrie come about?
Mark Fell: I first met Will in Canada at a festival we were both playing. I did a performance and while finishing I saw this drum kit on stage next to me. I kind of thought: “Oh my god, there is some drummer next, this is gonna be absolutely awful” – and I was reluctant to have to sit in the audience and experience this guy drumming for god knows how long. But when he started I couldn’t believe it, his drumming was absolutely amazing – everything was just perfect. Not only from a technical point of view, but in terms of the patterns and structure there was also a strong Indian influence. So I walked up to him after the performance and told him how brilliant I thought this was.
I cant’t remember who of us suggested to do things together, but the Berlin thing seemed a perfect fit.

What happened?
I produced a piece with him, Oren Ambarchi and Sam Shalabi at the ICA in London, where I came up with this weird rhythmic stuff. Will had a pair of headphones on which played a rhythmic guide that was different to what the audience would hear, and he played a long with that. So it sounded like some complex interactions, but in truth possible because he was just interacting with something really simple. We might do a variation on that.

What a lovely idea.  Syn/Cussion-Festival will happen at the Radialsystem V, also home to Atonal-Festival and quite an impressive space as you probably know. Does the venue have a big impact on how you present your work in general?
For me the venue and the space are very important, especially with installation pieces. Unfortunately we will not have enough time within the space to actually respond to it in a planned sense, but I am sure the space will change how the work develops.

IMG_1778I looked at your homepage and loved the initial image, this children survey paper asking what you learned today – your answer: „I learnt loads about not giving a fuck about what other people are doing“.
I met this class of young students at the Whitechapel Gallery and talked with them about what I was doing. At the end they all had to fill out this form and the person in charge said: “Mark, Mark, look at this ”. He showed me what one student had written and I thought it was totally amazing. That’s were it came from.

Mark, what is it about school days that people worry so much about what others think of them?
I don’t know where it comes from… people seem so insecure. School is a bit of a weird place with the ongoing strong group dynamics. You have to fit in, so I guess it is partly that.

So would you consider yourself as a free artist?
Sometimes I do care what others think and sometimes I don’t, but I am definitely not free. First of all I have to live in a society bound by codes and conventions. I mean Brexit is just about to happen and that has really changed how I’m feeling about politics at the moment. I consider myself to be a European citizen. I am not German, but when I am in Germany I feel like Germany is my home. When I am in France I feel like this is my home. Suddenly this is all taken away from me, that makes me realise how much power politicians have to manipulate situations.
But freedom has a very concrete meaning: being able to engage in debate and not be worried about saying things for which you would be arrested or punished, to be able to leave the house when you want, or to dress the way you want and so on. These are important concrete freedoms that need to be defended. But freedom in some existential sense, or in an artistic sense, means little to me. I am always working within systems, limits and boundaries. For me this does not limit my freedom. I think the artist Channa Horwitz remarked about structure enabling freedom. I can’t remember the exact quote however.

IMG_1779You’ve talked in the past quite a lot about your upbringing during the Thatcher era and the brutal affects the politics had on the whole country, also your neighbourhood and family life. Your father lost his job as a steelworker in your hometown of Rotherham when you were 16 and never found work again. What made you brave enough for the risky life of the artist? Was this an easy decision?
I didn’t make the decision, it was just clear that’s that the way it was. You can go out to shit music or go out and listen to good music, and I decided to listen to good music. It didn’t feel like a political and ideological decision at the time, but it clearly was. I realised early on that I enjoyed literature, films and philosophy. For me these things functioned as a doorway to another world. Really early on in school at the age of 12 or 13 I realized I was quite oppositional towards teachers. I was the super brainiac child if you know what I mean, and at that age I started to get very, very rebellious. That’s when I became aware of the political situation in England and how repressive it was. At the same time I discovered electronic music, so the two have always been linked in my world.

Did you always feel like you are on the right road with your decision? Or does there have been moments of struggle? I remember that in 2001, when we first met when I visited you and your snd partner Mat Steel in Sheffield as part of your releases on Force Inc./Mille Plateaux. You had a day job at at the university, right?
At that time I worked at Hull School of Art and Design where I managed the sound studios and taught people how to use audio technology. That was a great job, I had access to lots of equipment and I could do my own thing. It wasn’t a compromise at all.

When and why did you stop doing so and was this an easy choice?
About 2002 I left the job and got a one year long research job in a computer science department looking at how artists work with technology. When the contract ended in 2003 I realised I don’t need to get a normal job anymore, I could live off what I made as an artist.

IMG_1780Did that feel good? Or did this bring up a certain angst?
It felt good – but it was also a bit worrying. Because at that time there wasn’t any kind of security. I had two children then, now they are grown up, but at that time they were young and I was still financial responsible for them. It was sometimes a scary situation because I didn’t know if i will make money within two months to live on.
Also, since the age of 20 I realized I work all the time. From as soon I wake up until last thing at night I am working. So my kids had the worst of both worlds: I worked all time and never had any money. I was a workaholic and not even earning much. But things got better. For me money is not important as long as I have enough to live off. To me that would be a total waste of a life spending your life focussed on making money.

Money opens up the possibilities for your projects – and, yes, you always need a bit on the side for bad times.
To change the topic: I had recently a dinner with Cologne based artist Daniel Ansorge (better know under his artistic imprint Barnt and also as co-owner of Magazine records) and we came back to a topic we discuss for quite some time, the use of presets in the process of producing music. He only works with presets but alters them quite drastically. I read your Wire article on how technical limitations can be a trigger for creativity. How do you feel about presets?
To me working with presets is not a problem. For example: presets on synthesizers started to happen towards the mid 1980s. The first keyboard based synthesizer which uses presets was probably the FM-series, the Yamaha DX 7 for example is a classic one which was really really difficult to programme. If you look at them today they still have the same sounds on it 30, 40 years later. But for me presets are no problem, because I am interested in how they find their place in music and then evolve. If you look at very early house and techno music productions, there are some presets of the Yamaha DX7 featured in a lot of late 80s club music – and are still present today in recent club music, even though they might not be the exact same presets, they are clearly descendants of them. I am not interested in sounds that are free from references, but more concerned in looking at the historical development and archeology of sounds and how they evolve and where they came from – that is my main interest.
For example I play you this preset from the Yamaha DX100 that’s called JazzOrgan which started to be used in house music around 1987/1988. A famous example of it is “Show Me Love” by Robin S. Now that sound is still being used by lots of people in productions who were not even born at that time “Show Me Love” came out. For me it is of interest how those presets become cultural shared and understood objects, a part of the tradition.

IMG_1781In this Wire article you refer that the presets, the sound inspires you to work on it, you reflect on the connection between the artist and the instruments / technique.
The way I develop music is not by thinking of ideas and then executing them. I recently met a class of students in New York and I was talking to them about how they produce sounds in electronic music. One guy said: “I have an idea in my head and then I find the right equipment to make the idea.” And I said: “How did the idea get in your head?” And he said: “Well, I have all those modules and I put them together and see what happens.”
So the point is: in his description the technology is an entirely passive vehicle that is only there to make the idea that already exists in his head. But, if you observe how he makes it, then the technology is actually an active part of how the idea is generated. My interest is in how our descriptions of creative process ignore or distort the role of technology.

So, in a way working with the machines is the same as working with other people?
If you ask western people to define what it is to be human, typically they will say that the mind is the essential item, and that we interact with the world through our bodies and so on, but that these are ideally subservient to the mind. For me saying that the mind is what characterises us at our most basic level is problematic, because I don’t think that’s the way people are. I think it is much more interactive, people combine in groups, networks and systems. So the idea of an isolated mind as the basis of everything is a problem for me.

Mark, let’s talk about collaborations. You worked in the past with the ones like DJ Sprinkles, Sasu Ripatte (Vladislav Delay, Luomo), Sandro Mussida and Errorsmith. What are you looking for in other artists? What does piques your interest and how does this relate to the actual working process?
Well, for me those people do things that I can’t do. For example Okkyung Lee, with whom I did a piece recently. What she does with the cello is really interesting. I could never do that, but to include that technique and sound in my work is interesting. To see how my process connects with her process – I have a way of doing stuff and she has a very different way. It is a good way to expand the things I do by learning from other people.
One thing that I never do is live improvisational sessions. When I approach a collaboration there is always a formalised basis for what we try to achieve. It is not about lets put our instruments on and make sound and see what happens.
I am actually doing a project in Glasgow which is based on Indian classical music. I went to India for a few weeks last year to meet lots of Indian musicians, especially those who are in the Southern Indian tradition. I wanted to understand the rhythmic structure in that tradition. So what comes out as a result of that is not only me learning of how and what they do. I invited them to Glasgow to develop sort of collaborative works that are based on the the algorithmic stuff I do on computer and the systems they use in their percussive material.
Indian classic music has two traditions. The Northern Hindustani tradition and the Southern Carnatic tradition. In the Carnatic tradition the rhythmic structures are quiet unusual and are based on very formalized systems – there are a limited set of rhythmic structures that have parameters within them that generate really complex and unusual patterns. For me that’s the perfect thing to work with as there is a formal system that I can understand and work with and keep on exploring.

IMG_1782How did they react when you approached them?
This is a relatively conservative tradition, and also it is a religious tradition, it is based on a mystical and spiritual practice. I am not like that at all, I am an atheist and reject most kinds of religious beliefs. But I was lucky that this did not get in the way of working with people. And generally speaking they were interested in my approach and open to seeing how their system would fit with my methodology.

By talking over those more theoretical aspects of music production you often refer to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and his idea that there is no hierarchy of the inside view and the outside view, instead we have to consider both to get the real picture of reality. This seems an important aspect of your work as you do not like the idea of imitations of life. Are you also bringing those aspects into the working process with others as a kind of starting point?
I am interested in how people understand and describe what they do. So one of the reasons I went to India was not just to learn about the music but also to learn how the people I met would describe their practice. A lot of times Western people go there and see Indian classical music as similar to western improvised music – because the score is not followed directly and decisions are made during the performance. It could be said to fit the Western improvisation paradigm.
So actually one of the things I wanted to talk to this people about is how they feel about their practice being described as “improvisational”. And many people I spoke to were uncomfortable with that word because it didn’t quite fit. It may be the best word to find in Western terms, but it is not actually describing what they felt they were doing.

That reminds me of the way people look at so-called free jazz music: they ignore the fact that improvisation relies on experiences and considered paths and patterns.
Yeah. Improvisation in a Western free jazz context always involves previous knowledge and understanding of things: you built up a personal vocabulary and techniques and bring those into the session. I see this with people like Okkyung Lee — she has a series of known techniques she calls upon during her shows.
But that is different from what I think happens in Carnatic music performance. If you look at two people sitting next to each other and playing a game of Chess, they are continuously responding to what they are finding as the pieces move around – developing actions and responses as the game evolves. But you wouldn’t say, “Oh, look at those two grandmasters of chess, they are improvising a game of chess”. The same is true with the Carnatic musicians, it is as distance to jazz as chess is to jazz. Just because something happens and decisions are made while something is happening it is an error to call it improvisation.

IMG_1783Mark, back then, when we met for the first time you already mentioned your art studies and working on sound installations, but still snd seemed to be your priority at that stage. How connected are your art installation projects and your music these days?
To me, just in terms of industrial structures, the art world and the music world are very different. As soon as Mat and I had a bit of success as snd we were on this conveyor belt which led us away from visual art practice. You become known for one thing and all the other things you are interested in seem to slip away. I was always quite unhappy about the distinction between the music world and the art world because the distinction didn’t exist for me when i started out in my bedroom at home making things. So the question for me was: how do I use that critical success as a starting point that will allow me to establish a space for my multidisciplinary practice rather than occupying a predefined position with a machine. Of course that’s a bit naive and probably impossible.
There are artists out there who do both, but not many. There are a lot of musicians that paint – but they are usually not very good. And there are a lot of painters that make music – but they are usually not very good either. I am probably equally bad at both. For me, I couldn’t choose to either make music as a career or art as a career, because I do not do career choices at all. I make choices of what I want to do based whatever thing is concerning me at that moment.

A lot of people become a one trick pony, they fear losing the success by changing…
Especially when you are a young person, it is difficult to understand and work out how you should respond to success. The question is: how do I create a career that is sustainable, that allows me to do the things I want to do – and not how do I get as many shows as possible, how do I play to bigger crowds and make as much money as possible.
I think that has to do with me growing up in a political situation that was repressive and economically very difficult – that gave me a different set of values that guided me through what I wanted to achieve.
If you look at the contemporary art world, during the 20th century until the present day is has been quite an emphasis on being analytical and conceptually difficult. Whereas the music world is usually focussed on emotional stimulation in one way or another: music could make you cry and laugh and dance. So in the music world there is an massive emphasis on emotional response and in the contemporary art world there is an massive emphasis on the critical response. For me it is not about how do I transcend that, more how I deal with that – to look at why those two systems are there and what their function is.

IMG_1784What does all that mean for the actual sounds you produce in each of those fields? Could they change places?
My interest in the sounds I am working with for an installation is very different from the process of producing an album. If I am making a record I look at certain aspects of the history of music and structures. When doing an sound installation I am looking at a different set of issues and question – how sounds behave in space, how we relate to the space. There isn’t much crossover between the two areas and I’m happy with that.

But if we take something like „Multistability“? That started as a release on Raster-Noton derived from mathematical theories and now is your most frequently used artistic forms of expression, I think you use the term ‘presentation’ for it – the last one, number 80 happened on 17.3.2017 in Florence. This is an installation but comes from the music world.
I guess this is a performance. I turn up at festival and do it for 35 to 40 minutes. So strictly speaking I think most people would describe it as music performance and not an installation.
When I do an installation, I tend not to use rhythmical material as those concerns are not the ones I deal with in installations. Having said that, I did a thing in Vancouver last year that included rhythmic structures in the installation. There is not a massive disconnect between the two strands of what I do, it is just different concerns.

Is there a line of connection between „Multistability“ and your Sensate Focus project?
Those are two very different approaches to rhythm and music traditions. „Multistability“ is chaotic, fast and entirely generative and done in MAX/MSP. One of the conditions behind it is that I did not use a timeline to produce the music. For Sensate Focus the opposite is true. I decided to make only music that is based on timeline and used a grid on a screen within which I drew notes. There is a beginning and an end. Sensate Focus used that technique of me in a non-real-time-manner positioning notes into a timeline. The music is stopped, I get a pencil and draw things in and then I press play and listen and press stop again and change things again and so on – which by the way is one of the reasons why techno and house music sounds the way it sounds. Most of it is based around the timeline technology, the tools encourage some things and discourage other things. For the Sensate Focus records I used the vocabularies, structures and hierarchies present in house and techno.
These two very different technological and methodological approaches kind of imply that I have two different sets of materials I am dealing with.

IMG_1787But didn’t you do kind of the same thing with „Multistability“ by confronting Raster Noton by imitating their structures and methods with what they are doing?
I said to Carsten Nicolai before I started the project: “Look, I got this idea I am working on and really like it to be released on Raster Noton”. I sent him some sketches and Carsten was “Yeah, we could release that”. My music was a direct response to the aesthetic position associated with Raster Noton: these very geometric repetitive grids for example. If you listen to most of the rhythmic music on Raster Noton, especially at that time, it was generally quite quantified, loop-based material with a certain kind of structure. I wanted to make a piece of work that had something in common with that, but was in terms of the time structure outside the grid.

How did the label and by that the artists running it react on your approach?
The label is basically Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender; they liked it – but their practice is very different from mine. I ask certain questions and have ways of working they do not share. The conversation with them while developing the work and after it was finished was not really about anything particularly philosophical, it was more a pragmatic conversation: “There is this festival, you wanna do this?”

IMG_1788Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature and importance of “silence” as I’m working on a magazine project about it. I found this article referring to your contribution to the Salford Sonic Fusion Festival on the Peel Park campus of Salford University with your piece “64 Beautiful Phase Violations”, performed in an anechoic chamber (a silent room, no echo, no reverb, working with 64 “LFO” oscillators). Did you actually produce the music within the room?
Yes, the work was developed in one and a half weeks within the room while sitting there with the speakers around me. When they approached me to do this project they said they have a wakefield synthesis system, which is this mechanism for positioning sound quite accurately in space using lots and lots of speakers and is based on some complex mathematics. When I started to work with the system I realised it didn’t really do what I thought would – if you want to make a synthetic tone and move it from a to b it doesn’t do it convincingly. So instead I decided to use that speaker system in a different way – with phase cancelation and phase offsets etc. Rather than creating the illusion of a single object moving around I wanted to play with the speakers and the way our positional mechanisms deal with the things coming from the speakers.
I started by having 64 oscillations, one for each speaker. I manipulated the frequencies and phases of those oscillations to create unusual spacial effects. and I was very happy with the result. When you play 64 oscillators over a pair of stereo speakers it is very different to playing it over 64 speakers as you get so much more details. The experience of the sound is so different, it sounded so beautiful. In a place like that you could work with sounds on the border of silence. Sounds that would be inaudible outside the room became audible.
The audience – only three people could go in at a time, for about 15 minutes – came into the anechoic chamber which was completely black. A very challenging situation for the audience, some got quite claustrophobic and scared, other people liked it.

IMG_1789Did working in this environment change your definition of silence in music?
It made me realise that silence is not a universal thing. Silence in one room is not silence in another room. There is no such thing as silence, but there is an absence of musical material. A composition can have a pause within musical chords, you may call that silence, but there isn’t actually silence in the room. If you would be in a perfect universe of mathematics, a pause in a composition would result in silence, but music is always within a context and the context is never silent.
By working with very low volumes, exceptionally quiet ones – this is the most quiet room in Europe –, your perception of the sounds start to change. When you are able to work with such quiet sounds you adapt and listen much more carefully. When you stand in a normal room and speak, your words always bounce of all the walls and instantly you form a picture what the room is like. When you are in an anechoic chamber you don’t hear your voice bouncing back so you hear this really weird version of your voice.

Mark, could you tell me a bit more about the „Listening and Silence“ installation you did with sound designer Sandra Pauletto at York City Art Gallery?
I got a commission to work on a piece about cochlear implants for deaf people. The installation was modeling what it would sound to have a cochlear implant. While working on it I became aware that within deaf communities there is often resistance to those implants because sign language is well understood between deaf people – so they question why they should have to comply with a bad version of the sound of the world. Obviously cochlear implants are an amazing invention and enable people to hear some speech and sound, but what you get is not a natural sound, it is basically a kind of vocoder. You hear everything in this weird spectral manner with only 8 or 16 frequency bands – that’s why it is so hard to hear with them in noisy environments.
I developed an idea to demonstrate what implants would sound like, and then to do the same thing with light. I just used the world silence in the title, because I watched a lot of youtube videos were deaf people decided not to use the implants anymore and return to silence. The title was an acknowledgment that this is a choice deaf people have.

IMG_1790Let’s get back to our earlier political discussion. Mark, as somebody who lived through the Thatcher era, how dark are the current clouds?
In a way the status quo is worse now to be honest. I grew up in a time when the government was almost at war with the people. I don’t know if you know about the battle of Orgreave in 1984. It was a turning point in British politics where the police force basically acted like a paramilitary unit. I grew up in the village next to Orgreave and saw first hand and through friends and family the exceptionally repressive tactics that the police used. They basically became like a military force. Right now the government blames immigrants for problems in society, but in those days the unemployed were the target. Even if you were a miner you were described as an enemy. The Thatcher government was extremely repressive, we should not forget they passed bills to outlaw teaching about homosexuality in schools, they outlawed repetitive beats in public spaces. It was an incredible repressive climate to grow up within – but the welfare system was not yet completely dismantled. So when I grew up I had no money but I still had the support of a relatively intact health care system and public housing and benefits and free education, and this enabled me to go to university and ultimately built a pretty comfortable life. But these days that does not exist. People are treated like criminals if they try to claim unemployment benefit. Health care and social housing are being underfunded and run down. We live in a climate where everything is blamed on migrants. It is no surprise that something like Brexit happens because people get fed lies about what the problem is. Right now is a terrible moment in british history. The way we treat asylum seekers and refugees is awful. There should be an European policy how to handle this. I have to say: Angela Merkel did a great thing by accepting the Syrian refugees, everyone in Europe should have done so. I am really disgusted by the British government’s approach to the refugee crisis.

IMG_1791The European Union lost sight of its founding values – instead all its energy went into economic considerations. And then, when first the economic and then the refugee crisis hit Europe suddenly you see the terrible effects of not having a common sense of morality. I hear your positive words about Merkel’s reaction, but we should not forget how she and all her party members reacted when the Greek crisis started – all the post collapse discussions focused on money, not peace and community values the EU was founded on.
So Mark, coming from political events like Brexit, the rising of new right parties, the economic crisis of Europe, the wars in Middle East and the refugees crisis, and the police violence in the USA – does art, does music have to be political today?
Artist should do whatever they want. People, human beings in general have the responsibility to behave in an ethical way and to care about the world we live in.
In the town where I live fascist organisations have started to hold demonstrations, and I feel strongly that we have to stand up against this and protest. Everyone has the responsibility to be politicly aware and to challenge things that are cruel and unfair. Its not just the responsibility of artists or politicians, but everyone.

Looking at your collaboration with Terre Thaemlitz (as DJ Sprinkle) for the „Complete Spiral“ ep and the „Fresh Insights EP 2“ as for both you worked with political content. For „Complete Spiral“ you sampled the miners union leader Arthur Scargill, and for „Fresh Inisghts EP2“ the late Labour Party politician Tony Benn. What did you learn from those releases?
It that showed me that it is actually quite difficult to get a message through. Many people thought it was a joke but we were both deadly serious. We had a political message that we wanted to promote. Some people really loved it and enjoyed that we put these words on a record and played them in a club. For some it was the first time to hear such a speech.
The punk movement in the late 1970s played with swastika and Nazi symbolism – obviously they were not fascists but for a 12 year old like me it was not so clear what was going on and there were definitely people at that time wearing swastikas because they were in fact racists. So it was important for the artistic generation that followed punk to make it clear that those fascist beliefs are not acceptable. In Britain right after punk there was a kind of mod revival with bands like the Specials, Selector and Madness, and these groups were the first music groups to have a very clear anti-racist message and this was very important to me personally as it reaffirmed my own position – that racism is wrong. When you deal with such a symbolism you have to be very careful and deal with it in a very clear manner.

IMG_1792Right now we see a certain hipness of industrial, wave and avantgarde music from the 80s and 90s, bands like Coil, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV. How does it feel to see the confrontational music of your youth becoming so popular?
It seems like all those people are getting a revival, but unfortunately I am not into what most of those people do these days. I remember I went to an event on the south coast of England, a festival where Chris & Cosey were playing and there were 50 year old guys with leather jackets and Throbbing Gristle on it – this is mental, TG wasn’t about that. This was just nostalgic.

I was more refering to the 20 year olds listening to them and current experimental labels like Pan or Black Ever Black.
A similar dynamic can be observed if you listen to house music these days, it is almost the same as in the 1986 – and that is really weird, 20 year old producers making music sounding like something from 30 years ago.

Only the context is not the same anymore. Look how club culture represents today in opposite to the late 80s. It got very conservative und unfree.
Let’s take a group like Yello whose electronic dance music was a precursor to the house music revolution which happen in the late 1980s. Around 1984 and 1985 they made some amazing electronic dance music. Their video to the track „I love you“ feels to me like a piece of video art and clearly deconstructs and plays with the gender relationships between those two central protagonists, one woman and one guy.
For me house music and club music deal with those kind of issues. Club music came up out of a place which was not just guys beating up guys and getting off with woman. It was alternative to that world. Yello were a precursor to that. But the musical form that was once radical is now used as a kind of soundtrack to car adverts and celebrity tv shows.
There is a remix of that track or a similar track of them by some DJ who is around right now (Call it Love, Maxi Mix von DJ Trancemann 2015) and the video to this is really terrible: women in bikinis thrusting themselves at the camera. It is incredibly sexist, racist, conservative and really really awful and doing exactly the opposite of what Yello originally did. I feel like the movement that was about challenging stereotypes seems to be reinforcing those.

There are still a lot of good artists and productions around, but, yes, I take your point about these kind of anachronistic re-appropriations. One only has to turn on the Boiler Room, one of my favorite “the world doesn’t get better”-topics. That said, I liked the one you performed with snd with a backpack on.
I did also a Boiler Room in Tokyo with Russell Hasell and Aoki Takamasa – but it got censored. I told the guy in charge beforehand that while performing I want the camera just pointing on my laptop screen – where I was just skipping between tracks in a timeline. He was fine with that, but the cameraman, a polite Japanese guy, didn’t do what had been agreed, and when I shouted at him to direct the camera on the laptop, he basically couldn’t handle the conflict and walked off, so I took the camera and start doing the camera work for the Boiler Room pointing in all the bored faces that are usually out of view. With the Boiler Room the camera always has a certain angle and is always point at the people having fun, but everywhere else are lots of people looking really bored: “How boring is this thing we are experiencing.” So it got streamed out live, but they cut it out afterwards. The Boiler Room is a very conservative organisation that I think is propagating myths about having fun, club culture as a kind of joyride, a lifestyle, an never ending excess. It’s a kind of weird broken reflection of the world that emerged in the late 1980’s.

IMG_1793The sad final frame of an über capitalist scenario. Normally you go on the dancefloor to release yourself from the stress of the working week and share a good time with other people, celebrate life – and now you do this in front of a camera and hope it gets your best moments.
And all the DJs just do some gestures for the camera. Some stupid play. I don’t get it.

Mark, you still live in countryside, right?
I live in a small town on the outskirts of Sheffield called Rotherham. At first I could not afford to move away as I had a kid when I was 20 years old, so I needed to be around the family, and also I started to study video art at the local university which, back then, was one of the best experimental video art courses in the UK. And as I started to get more work I traveled more, and I realized I could afford to live in a much nicer place here that in a big city like London. I am happy where I am. A few times a month I travel around the world and meet friends and hang out, when I come home I do not need a fancy Coffee bar or hipster book shops, I just need space.

Mark, it was a pleasure to catch up with you after such a long time. I wish you an outstanding performance experience at the Berlin show.


Mark Fell and Will Guthrie perform on 5th of May at Syn/Cussion-Festival at Berlin’s Radialsystem.

Listen to Mark Fell´s set for Resident Advisor.

Thank you to Alexander Mayor for his helping eyes and words.

Kaput - Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop | Aquinostrasse 1 | Zweites Hinterhaus, 50670 Köln | Germany
Herausgeber & Chefredaktion:
Thomas Venker & Linus Volkmann
Autoren, Fotografen, Kontakt
Kaput - Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop
Impressum – Legal Disclosure
Urheberrecht /
Inhaltliche Verantwortung / Rechtswirksamkeit
Kaput Supporter
Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop dankt seinen Supporter_innen!