Marquis Hawkes headlines Hangar this Saturday as part of our 12 week Saturday Residency. If you’d like free entry follow the link below.
For some, Marquis Hawkes represents the uplifting house sound that has dominated dancefloors over the past few years, to others he was a bridge between an almost lost sound of raw Chicago house and to more he’s the offshoot alias of former techno producer and DJ Mark Hawkins.
The Marquis Hawkes moniker has been on the go for the best part of five years now, debuting on Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, with consistent releases on Aus and an album deal with Houndstooth, stretching across sounds from gritty, Dancemania-influenced house to more progressive, positive-vibed sounds of late. All of which you can hear this Saturday as he takes the reigns in Hangar as part of our new residency there.
While he has always kept his personal life rather separate from his musical endeavours, he has not avoided controversy, with some outlets claiming his music is soaked in cultural appropriation.
If there’s one thing that’s clear about Hawkins, it’s that the music matters most and that if anything, a tough background softened by electronic sounds led to his development as an artist, not a quest for monetary gain.
Despite being known as an Urban/Chicago house producer, plenty of your more recent releases have leaned on the progressive house side of things.
You say progressive house and that conjures images of Gatecrasher or something back in the day! It could be perceived that way I suppose, but I never really thought of it like that.
It was just certain records that I was playing. Listening to and playing Floorplan tracks out has kind of had that influence recently, seeing how those kind of records work on dancefloor. I couldn’t just keep doing the same thing over and over because it was feeling a bit tired. It’s the kind of thing where I’d make a record like ‘Outta this Hood’ and people would say ‘can you make me another record like that?’. I can’t just make records on demand! I mean, I could, but it wouldn’t sound as good.
It’s been a natural progression to wanting to make banging party tracks, without thinking too seriously about it. Just lightening up a bit!
I’ve been working on a lot of things that go back to that raw stuff. I’m working on my second album for Houndstooth, that’s definitely going back to some of the more raw stuff, slightly more techno influenced things, but with a different twist.
What’s it like having such solid relationships with labels like AUS, Dixon Avenue Basement Jams and Houndstooth, all of which you release regularly on?
Me and Will Saul are pretty close, we’ve got to know each other over the past couple of years and he’s been a big supporter of what I do. He’s the sort of person that’s open to a lot of different stuff. Whether it’s good or not, that’s his criteria, there’s no certain style.
With the Dixon Avenue boys, I’ve known those guys a long time, about fifteen years! They’ve got a lot more of their own vision of what they want their label to be. I’ve just done a new Dixon Avenue record that’ll be coming in the next few months and that’ll be the first thing I’ve done for them in three years. That record is definitely harking back to the earlier sound I was making.
It’s good to mix it up, I love a lot of different music so it’s difficult for me to have this tunnel vision that a lot of others seem to have. You get a lot of producers that hone in on one sound and they just make records that sound like that. I like too many different things so I can’t do that.
It also depends on whether you’re a DJ who wants to bang out a few records a year to keep your DJ career going or whether you’re more of a producer who DJs to pay the bills, I’d say I’m a lot more in the latter category, as much as I love DJing, I was a DJ in the beginning, it’s not like I learned how to just to earn money.
My focus is very much on the studio, which to be honest, seems like a really rare thing these days. The focus is all on the gigs and playing as much as possible for a lot of people it seems. It might be because I’m getting older, I’m 41 now, I feel old going to parties and trying to keep up with the kids!
I don’t think it’s only an age thing, I’ve always been really interested in making music, rather than just playing music and being a DJ.
When you see BICEP and more bringing out albums to critical acclaim, would you rather stick to EP releases, or put all your energy into an album?
I signed to Houndstooth for three albums, so it was always going to be on the agenda that I’d do an album every two years. I released ‘Social Housing’ last year, now I’ve been working on the next one the whole time while I’ve been doing everything else. If I make something and I think it’s on that vibe, I’ll put that away in the album folder. It’s currently in the process of coming out next year hopefully.
I’m still going to release albums, that’s a given.
What’s your background in DJing, when did you start, what did you start playing?
I started DJing at illegal parties in the UK around the mid 90s. To be fair, I was playing a lot of the music then that I play now, I’d play right across the spectrum of house and techno; from garage tunes right up to gabber! I had a pretty wide selection and I’ve still got a wide selection.
I had a baptism of fire of sorts. I was living on a traveller site in Wales and there was a record store in the local town. We knew the people that ran it because they’d come to our parties. I was finding that I didn’t like the music that a lot of people were playing at the parties they were having near where we were living. I wanted a bit of control, as seen as I knew the people at the record store and the fact that they had turntables there, I was like ‘Give us a go on them!’.
They let me play in the store all day. I’d go to town, hang out there all day, buy a few records maybe. I learned to mix in a week! I wasn’t nothing special but once I could put a few records together without trainwrecking too badly, I went to the party. In my twenties, I was pretty up front looking for a set. They came with their soundsystem every week to where I lived, so I asked for a set. Within a week, I was playing out in front of people on a big system.
I was well aware of how it sounded on a big system from the beginning then onwards. That was 1995, a pretty exciting time for music! When you think about now, and go back five years ago, it wasn’t that much different, whereas then, the evolution between 1990 and 95 was insane! Everything was changing from one year to the next. If you grow up in these times and didn’t experience that, it’s difficult to get your head around how much changed in such a short space of time.
I was thrown in at the deep end, I spent two years doing that. I was sat down one day having a cup of coffee with a friend and he said: ‘You don’t want to be just playing the music, you want to be making the music!’. This was at a time where there was no Ableton; computing power was quite limited. It was a big investment [to build a studio] and you didn’t find many people that made music.
It took me two years after the initial thought that I wanted to make music to actually get into the position where I was actually in a studio. Different era, different ball game!
You came under fire in a Noisey article which accused you of cultural appropriation, given the ethnic roots of Chicago house music. However, it was interesting to see your observations on the cultural differences between the US and the UK.
They didn’t have acid house blaring out of daytime radio! None of that music was directly downloaded into their brains via the radio, they didn’t have the same culture. I remember about 15 years ago, when I first made techno, people talked about touring the US but other people said not to bother because there was nothing happening there, nobody knew about dance music there.
It was only a select few pockets of people rather than a scene back then, not that there’s a huge one now, but it’s a lot bigger than it used to be.
Does criticism like that make you change how you approach your music and ‘brand’?
Maybe a little bit, it might be why I wanted to branch out and not be known just as this guy that does raw, lo-fi house sort of stuff. When I first started this project, it was just a side project. Dixon Avenue didn’t think it’d sell that many records, we just thought ‘lets bang out 300 white labels and hopefully we won’t lose our money!’. We didn’t expect that it’d blow up in the way it did.
I hadn’t played house music for years since the early days. Over the years I’d try and play house and people only wanted techno. I was getting that hassle to play harder all the tie and eventually the house records got neglected and sold.
Dixon Avenue approached me and said they were starting a house label and asked if I’d make some house stuff. I thought that’d be kind of cool. That Chicago influence always ran through the techno I played too. I was always big into that whole Chicago thing sound wise.
Back in the day, I used to play Dancemania records at their original pitch and now I’m playing them pitched down! I’m still playing a lot of the stuff I’d throw into techno sets.
As far as that criticism goes, it’s so pretentious. I feel sometimes that it’s not because people really believe what they’re fighting for, they’re just trying to score online brownie points. The sad thing about that is, by doing that [spurious accusation] you cheapen the cause.
Society in the US and the UK getting so polarized now because their being placed on this black and white thing where you’re either a super nice person that does everything correctly, or you’re with ‘them’ [right wing extremists].
That kind of dialogue is very dangerous. Say you’ve got some people that aren’t sure of their conviction and they’re being ostracized over some claim about this or that. I feel they’re being driven to the right because of that ostracisation. I wouldn’t be driven to the right because of what people would say, coming from my background living on traveller sites, living on squats, I’m historically more on the left with my viewpoints, politically speaking, although never really agreeing with either side quite often. I definitely wasn’t down with the establishment!
By polarizing opinion in the way they do, there’ll be people out there that aren’t necessarily as clued up, whose minds aren’t made up, that’ll be driven to the right and that’s what we’re seeing over the past few years.
Don’t get me wrong, if someone does something blatantly out of order, they need to be put right, but I don’t know about publicly naming and shaming and going on the mass campaigns to make sure people don’t have careers again, is it really going to make them change their opinions? It needs to be more inclusive.
How do you find the move to Berlin both socially and creatively?
When I moved here, I didn’t move for music. I wanted to move to a place where I had a lot of friends living. I lived here previously about 12/13 years ago. I had more friends here in a concentrated area than anywhere else in the world.
My wife and I didn’t really want to live in the UK anymore. When the Tories got back in the clock was ticking. If you’re not a millionaire in the UK, you’re going to have a hard time. That’s not a positive environment for me to raise a family in. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for friends and family that’re still in the UK, I’ve got a lot of understanding for people that can’t or don’t want to just up and leave.
The whole world is marching towards this globalized structure with big gaps between the rich and the poor, whereas here in Germany it’s not happening quite as quickly. Here I can rent a decent sized flat for a decent price. If I stayed in the UK, nothing I’ve achieved over the past five years would’ve happened because I wouldn’t have had the breathing space to concentrate on music.
When I was living in England I was working as a van driver. It’d get to the weekend and I didn’t have any time for anything. I was still playing music occasionally but I didn’t have that headspace and that room to grow that I gained when I came here. This country has supported me so much in so many ways I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
We have to talk about ‘The Basement is Burning’, you can get a proper feeling off of it, along with a number of your other tracks.
What’s the point of making a track if you’re not going to say something with it?
The name of it was because the basement in my building was actually burning. After I’d started the track, the cellar in my building caught fire and we had to be evacuated from the 5th floor balcony by the fire brigade. I had to play a show that morning in Berlin!
It was 5 in the morning and we woke up hearing all this noise and seeing smoke. We went out to the balcony and looked down and there’s five fire engines downstairs! It’s 5am, I have to play at 10am on the other side of town. I had a bag of records packed and I’m thinking, ‘Can I get away with taking that UDG bag with me in the cherry picker?’.
I had a weird but amazing experience at the party because of this dancing with death experience, not that it was really that bad in our apartment! The fire brigade was there within ten minutes and these buildings are all concrete, there’s no plastic cladding outside. When I saw the Grenfell tower thing happen it was very heartfelt for me because although my experience was absolutely nothing on what happened there, I could understand the feeling of being stuck in your building smelling smoke and not knowing what to do. Grendel was certainly a testament to what I was saying before about the way the UK was going.
That’s why that track is so heartfelt, there’s a lot of emotion in that track because it was a pretty shocking experience.
When you’re booked as Marquis Hawkes, how broad do you think you can go in your sets?
After years of being in a box, you’re playing at a techno party and people that show up that don’t like techno so much and you’re stuck, you can’t do much other than go a bit Detroit-y. When you’re booked to play techno, you’re booked to play techno. I felt very boxed in by that.
In the beginning [as Marquis Hawkes], I felt that I couldn’t play techno at all. In time, I came to the point where let’s say a Ben Sims or Floorplan record might definitely work. These days, when I’m playing as Marquis I could walk into any party, as long as the people like a 4/4 beat, and get people moving.
Marquis Hawkes headlines our FourFour Magazine residency this Saturday in Hangar, you can get tickets here!