Mark Gage

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Interview by Kris Griffiths

Mark Gage gives PHASE9 an insight into his latest release, SONIC RESIDUE FROM VAPOURSPACE and his career.

Vapourspace ? Quite a cool name. Where did you get it from?

Back in 1991-1992, my friends John Fazackerly (who is my right hand man computer gear repair guy, I don’t know what I’d do without him) and Jan Cermak (I sampled her voice on my track VISTA HUMANA from THEMES FROM VAPOURSPACE) were sitting about laughing at buzzwords like “cyber world information super highway” nonsense. We larfed up Vapourspace to describe a pot smoke filled cyber room. I added the “u” to evoke liquidity, not because I’m British or Canadian or pretentious. I used the word Vapourspace in a title first, THEMES FROM VAPOURSPACE until I needed to come up with a new project name and John Acquaviva of +8 records suggested Vapourspace from the song title. In the mid 90’s Mr C. of The Shamen and his plink plonk records partner Paul Ripp threw a series of parties called Vapourspace in London, and I actually performed live at one of their Vapourspace parties as Vapourspace. Very recently (Jan 2002), drum and bass label Metro from London released a CAUSE 4 CONCERN track called Vapourspace which samples, ironically, the Steve Miller Band’s SPACE INTRO from the FLY LIKE AN EAGLE album (bad for them, I thought he was one of those hands off people)…
I’ve seen it used as an adjective in record reviews a bit too.

Prog Rock and Techno? Quite an odd combination. What was your stance on Prog Rock before you started SONIC RESIDUE?

I’m 40, and was quite aware of Prog growing up. Peter Gabriel period of Genesis, Rush, Elp, Rick Wakeman and Yes…anything with a synth in it pricked up my ears. I used to pan the stereo on Beatles albums like ABBEY ROAD, where you’ll find some thick synths buried in HERE COMES THE SUN, MEAN MR MUSTARD and MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER. If SGT. PEPPERS was the start of Prog, I think you can throw the Fab Four in there too. I find my pompous produced sound very derivative from Prog anyway, so it wasn’t such a far leap for me.

How exactly did your approach to this material differ from your usual approach to other material you’ve worked with before?

Well, lots of technical work on this project differentiates it from most. Also, I didn’t really have to “compose” anything (rather I did a lot of arranging). Since I had to transfer 7 of the 10 songs remixed from the actual masters (typically remix work comes to me from on dat tapes, or in Pro Tools sessions ready to go or upload) I really had to “learn” the pieces. When I remix, I upload the masters so they are laid out in a visual linear format (all 24-48 tracks) and then graph them with bar lines and meter changes so the computer stays in time with the musicians…quite different than working with straight-forward 4/4 computer generated sequences, and a daunting task with one remix let alone 10. Most of the material was then chopped into individual notes or “hits” (as in the hit of a drumstick!!!) so I could manipulate the audio to the highest degree (like drastic tempo changes and processing). Also, I didn’t want to add my own instrumentation (save for Steve Morse’s led on which only provided me a limited amount of audio and a lot of MIDI) so each mix is derivative ONLY from its ORIGINAL audio information. Quite a different approach than doing the standard “disco” remix.

Did you encounter any major problems whilst working on it?

Only with time and hours in the day. There are never enough.

You worked on material by Steve Walsh, Steve Morse and Steve Stevens. Do you reckon there’d be any remix potential in Steve Vai, Stevie Nicks or Cat Stevens?

There’s this wicked track on the Cat Stevens album IZITSO that I would remix in a minute called WAS A DOG A DOUGHNUT? (The question mark is part of the title). All kinds of ARP synths and drum machines…I think Chick Corea was involved with that album. Not sure about Steve Vai, but would definitely consider Stevie Nicks if it was during her coke binge leather and lace period.

Seriously though, what kind of feedback did you get from the original artists? Did they give it the thumbs up?

A few have commented on the Magna Carta website, and I’ve spoken/emailed with a couple of others, but for the most part, I haven’t dialogued with any of them. I was a tiny bit concerned at first, but once I started finishing mixes, I thought I was only doing something positive, so how could my work be disliked? Also, I tried to take the angle of a producer with this project, which accented my abilities while maintaining the intent of the original.

You were born in Rochester, New York State. Ever been to Rochester in Kent?

Been all around the UK between my own dates in the past and touring with Orbital on their Snivilisation tour a few years back, but not yet experienced Rochester in Kent. From Liverpool to Brighton to Wolverhampton to up north in Glasgow… I had a wicked time in the UK.

Do you have any favourite clubs that you always visit when in England?

I don’t make a habit of going to clubs when I’m not working… I equate it to going to McDonalds to eat when you work there for a living. Loved playing at the Orbit/After Dark club in Morley. It’s been some years but I played there 3 times and it was great. People seem to really be up for it in the north and in Scotland – a much different attitude than in London. Loved Club UK in/near Putney when I played there twice. Really enjoyed the Ministry of Sound too! One room in particular had the best sound system I think I’ve heard in a club space.

What do you think are the main differences between US and UK techno?

Most everything bores me these days when it comes to club music. There are still people putting out great techno records, but what the hell hasn’t been done yet. I’m happy music has degraded to the point of non manuscriptable music (such as Autechre, or some of the noisy glitch based stuff… how can you chart such music with notation or scaling)… it seems that the UK will always be years ahead of what happens here anyway, plus I see the party scene here as completely boring. Promoters book the same acts inspired by money and don’t really take chances with variety or intelligent alternatives as opposed to what happens in the UK on a nightly basis. No offence to guys like DJ Dan, but I think it’s obvious what his set will be like when he DJ’s, so there is not that big of a challenge for him or his audience. He fills the house and the promoters are happy with cash, but I don’t see this as pushing the envelope of the scene. Give me a live Pan Sonic set any day over that banal DJ crap.

What do you think of Fatboy Slim?

Norman Cook is one of those people who deserves to be where he is. His style of composing is no different to me than the predictability of a Barry Manilow pop classic…more orchestration as the piece builds, crashing cymbals, ascending key changes while the chorus repeats…in other words he writes catching fucking pop songs. I realized the power of his tracks in a huge sporting goods store a few years ago when a 30/40 something dad was singing “right about now, funk soul brother check it out…”
Also, I’ve had the privilege of being appropriated by Norman! On his Fatboy Slim BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY US CD, the track NEXT TO NOTHING features a 12 second sample from my GRAVITATIONAL ARCH OF 10 track. When brought to Skint and Astralwerks’ and Norman’s attention, I was graciously compensated. Three cheers for fucking Norman Cook!

What was it like touring with the Aphex Twin? Did you dig DRUKQS?

Don’t know about that piano noodling on DRUKQS, but Richard has had the biggest laugh of anyone I’ve ever met in the industry. He is brilliant!!!! He contacted me twice after the tour, sent me a couple of packets of REPHLEX stuff, but I never kept in contact and he’s obviously unapproachable (even to me) at this point. He was nothing short of a gentleman. He and his girlfriend at the time always saved me a seat at the dinner table. We had a wicked time on tour (with Orbital and without Moby who wasn’t well liked on the tour as was recently depicted in his biography…my god, a Moby biography, what has the world fucking come to!) The back of the bus was the place to be, and there was never a night without spliffs and sun chips (I turned everyone on to these US crisp treats, which were seen in Richard’s beard night after night, in crumb form).

Do you think that nowadays DJs get more or less credit than they deserve?

More. I wish to say nothing more other than I chose to work on this MAGNA CARTA CD because I’m so fucking tired of DJ mixed CDs as career substantiation. There are about 10 good unique DJs to me – in the world.

Do you play any musical instruments?

Wish I could.

If you could be able to play one instrument to the highest standard, what would it be?

I’ve had the same re-occurring dream…in this dream I pick up an instrument (it varies with each dream) and can actually play the instrument. Each time I have this dream, I’m completely shocked when I begin to play like a virtuoso, but quickly start playing the part, twitching and jerking around like yo yo ma as I gain confidence with my newly established virtuosity. Then I wake up. Wonder what that dream’s saying…
I think it’d be reeded wind instruments if I could.

What was the first record you bought?

I bought a lot of 45’s when I was young (and I mean young) but the first album I remember buying was The Beatles’ YESTERDAY AND TODAY (not the butcher baby cover version). I had to have been 5 or 6 years old.

What was the last record you bought?

Odd, but I really don’t remember! I get given so much music with promos and all, and in this day of mp3s and such, I don’t really go shopping for music. I was a much more voracious shopper when I wasn’t doing music as a profession.

What were your favourite albums of 2001?

Doubt I had one. My favourite record of 2001 was probably from 1997, or something. I don’t really pay attention to what’s happening.

What did you do on New Year’s Eve?

Didn’t play out this year. Went to a small fondue get together that ended in tragedy… a ceramic fondue dish filled with pounds of cheese cracked and lava’d all over the table.

What are your plans for the rest of 2002?

I have a bangin’ techno release coming out on LA based label Phthalo…Mimi + Boyd, a collaboration with Detroit DJ punisher Michelle Herrmann. The CD is called ANGULAR ISLAND, and there will be a remix 12″ with remixes by Venetian Snares, Scud, Hellfish and Vapourspace of the track HOVER + POUNCE. Michelle and I are considering live dates towards summer if everything falls into place properly, so it’s still a bit iffy. Who knows what else will happen.

If you had never made it in the music business, what job do you reckon you’d be doing now?

I think I’d have to be a hairdresser…only because they have it made if they own their own shop. The more chairs they rent out to other hairdressers, the more free income in their pockets. They work great hours, have a lot of contacts with the right clients, get taken good care of at all the clubs and restaurants, lead crazy sex lives, have access to all the best drugs, and get great gifts from ALL of their clients at Christmas time! What a life! You know, kinda like Warren Beatty in SHAMPOO.

Thanks for talking to PHASE9.