We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is spiritual. Our great depression is life. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that, one day, we’ll be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. And some of us will – you just need a craft and a work ethic like no other.
I met Mark Eteson on a fairly normal day, in a grey office, in our hometown. He was already jetting off at weekends to play international shows, but staying grounded and grafting a dull office job during the week. 13 years later, he’s a triple threat, playing shows at Jewel, Hakkasan, and Omnia in Las Vegas. Grafting.
Marky, if you look over your career, where do you think the clinch point was? When did you know that you were making it happen?
That’s a tough one. Believe it or not, there was a stage where I was on the dole with another DJ friend of mine who I lived with. Not naming names, but the purpose was to allow us to continue trying to make that break happen while trying to alleviate any financial struggle. The problem with any self-employed career is keeping yourself afloat, and when it comes to such an aggressively competitive industry like the music business, you sometimes have to do everything-plus-one that your competitors do. I know for sure that most people in my position would’ve seen this as a hurdle they couldn’t jump over, but there wasn’t a chance I was giving up, at any cost. That, plus a few of my stand-out tracks that transpired not too soon afterwards paved the way for me to keep taking steps up the ladder.
What was the first single and album you brought?
This is almost impossible to remember! Album-wise, I remember listening to cassette tapes, a musically diverse taste spanning the likes of Mariah Carey, Jan Hammer, Chicago and Steely Dan (which I’m actually listening to now). My dad’s taste helped me garner a broad cross-section of all music. I thank him wholeheartedly for that. As far as singles, probably something from way back in school like ‘No Diggity’ or ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’. Funnily enough, I’ve since met Coolio and he’s invited me back to his pad to party. I couldn’t take him up on the offer, unfortunately, but here’s hoping it happens again some time.
When did you start DJing, and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I learnt in my third year of secondary school. I was 15 years old and it was the heyday of happy hardcore. I was listening to DJ Hixxy, Sharkey and Dougal. Dougal recently came out to Vegas and we all had dinner together. It really is mad how the whole wheel keeps spinning and now I’m where he was. Lovely chap. I then slowed my music down to trance, where early influences were Armin, Tiësto and Judge Jules on Radio One at the time. Those are my beginnings, and it went from there, coupled with the early festivals – Global Gathering, Homelands and Creamfields – that shaped my style as a DJ as well as a producer
Do you think it was harder to ‘make it’ when you were cutting your teeth learning to mix than it is now?
In many ways, yes. Back when I began DJing and producing, there were a lot of DJs who were simply DJs. There was no requirement to also be producing music. There was also no such thing as social media back then, or music platforms like Soundcloud and Mixcloud. Spotify didn’t exit. People still bought albums. If you wanted to release a track, you had to hire a studio, an engineer, pay to have vinyl pressed. Nowadays, you can create music with a little bit of inspiration and a laptop filled with pirate software, then upload it to Soundcloud and start building a fanbase.
The better your music is, the quicker that will happen. I was handing out tapes (and later CDs) I’d mixed with homemade artwork I’d designed in Photoshop back in college. I’d invested in a CD burner (yes, this really was before the time you could do it on your computer), so I was ahead of the curve compared to other DJs promoting themselves. I built a name for myself. I feel like it was much more about the hustle back when I began. You couldn’t rely so much on building a cool image for yourself on Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of shady shit going on under the surface – that has always been there – but it was easier to weed that out when you didn’t have the army of, for instance, 144,000 followers to hide behind or promote with. Whether they’re real or not is anyone’s guess nowadays. Some promoters find out the hard way when booking new talent.
What are currently your main challenges as a DJ? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
They’re two very separate things for me. As a DJ, it’s instant – the gratification, the impact, the energy, the adrenaline. You have to be a quick thinker. You have to be ahead of the crowd. Almost like chess. You have to read them, what they want, and how to craft the set to get you there. In the studio, it’s the other way around. Sometimes I’d spend an entire day and come up with a percussion loop. Your crowd is your own mind, which can be equally rewarding as it is frustrating. But there’s no feeling that quite matches the moment when you’ve produced something huge and you know what it’s gonna go like when it drops in the club.
What do you usually start with when preparing for a set?
An intro. Ha, sorry – I couldn’t help myself. But typically, that all depends on the space, the crowd and the vibe of the night. Believe it or not, this changes massively from one venue to the next. I’ve played entirely different opening tracks for a terrace set versus an Ibizan beach set versus a headline in Vegas. Again, it’s about reading the situation and applying something that, as a professional, I think will work. I couldn’t come on the Zurich Love Parade at 3pm with a drum-and-bass track, but I could get away with that at an underground rave at 3am in London.
What can’t you live without when you’re in the booth?
When it comes to my necessities, it’s three-fold. My Hublot for starters. I’m obsessed with being on time and matching that with the flow of the set. Think about how DJing works, it’s all bars and beats per minute. My life revolves around staying in time. So, I’ll do that with the best in the biz.
How important is building a real relationship with the music you’re playing for your own approach? There’s so much music out there, is it even possible to build meaningful long-term relationships with a particular track or album?
Not so much in dance music unfortunately. People tend to release singles over albums nowadays. Especially with the implementation of streaming apps, such as Spotify and Apple Music, the concept of a flowing album have all but disappeared. You can’t tell a story from beginning to end like you used to on a CD, when your chosen streaming app will spit out whoever it wants, in whatever order. Also, with the sheer amount of new music being churned out only the strongest really stick around for longer than, say, 3 months max. This is a positive and a negative part of it being so easy to get your music out there these days. Positive because anyone with talent and laptop can show us what they’re made of; negative because the safeguards that used to be in place to make sure that only good quality, professional studio-produced, vinyl-pressed music got out there, are obviously no longer there. No complaints, of course, I’d rather take an abundance of music than a lack of it. But it sure as hell makes the process of being an A&R more difficult, and selecting music for sets can become an extremely long process of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
When did ‘house’ become the ubiquitous term for everything Electronic Dance Music?
A long while ago. Unfortunately, the genres thing is something I (along with a lot of other DJ friends) despise in the scene. I used to love when everything was just ‘house’. Then along came garage and messed it all up! But seriously, it’s now to a whole new level. We’ve got house, deep house, future house, shoe gaze, power pop – where does it stop?! I remember once reading Paul van Dyk, the godfather, name everything EDM. Electronic Dance Music. That fitted perfectly. All under one roof again. I loved it. But then, somewhere along the line, that too got chewed up and spit back out and all of a sudden, EDM now carries the stigma of what should really be called ‘big room”, those tracks with not much substance other than being slamming and having huge ear-blistering build-ups and drops. It’s always difficult when people ask me what I play. I now just say dance music, and pray they don’t ask any more questions!
What makes you decide to play a particular record during one of your sets? Is there any criteria other than pure subjectivity?
There could be a record I absolutely love to pieces, but it just won’t work in a particular environment or setting. Let’s go back to the Ibiza example. I played on the beach at a wedding. But I couldn’t be dropping something they’d fire the confetti to in Vegas to a crowd of people on the beach at sunset, could I? I suppose that means there’s no real criteria other than me liking a record.
When there’s more music than one can possibly take in, it is becoming increasingly hard to know what constitutes an original and a remake anymore. What’s your opinion on the importance of roots, traditions, respecting originals and sources?
Very true, but I was once sat with Jono from trance super-act Above & Beyond in his London studio and he remarked that all music was just pieces and parts of various other puzzles rehashed and put back together in different ways and formats to create new meaningful records. There is, after all, only a finite amount of chord changes you can work with. It’s more about the method, the delivery and the constant pushing of sound design and forward thinking that keeps this scene growing in such an exponential way. Obviously, I’m biased, but I don’t see any other avenues of music, be that pop, rock or rap, with as much raw creativity, unique sound, and young genius producers spawning every day, as I do in the music scene. And that makes it extremely exciting to be a part of.
What’s next for you? You’ve been playing Vegas for a number of years now, do you feel settled here?
As settled as you can in such a strange and man-made adult Disneyland. Plan was never to be here forever, but I certainly wanted out of Swindon! There really are few other places that would be able to offer men such a mixture of incredible food, fantastic cost of living, 24/7 entertainment, weather, and of course, the most amount of shows I’ve ever done in a year. Most people don’t know that you can leave Vegas and in 45 minutes be on Lake Mead jet-skiing or BBQing. There really is a lot more to offer here than the strip. Next up, I think maybe California. But I’m good here for now. New York would also be incredible, but the cost of living there is about 16 times what I pay to live in a penthouse here.
Biggest extravagance in life?
Back to the Hublot. Anyone would think I’m trying to get a sponsorship!
What’s the best thing since sliced bread?
Amazon Prime. Literally, one order a day. They’re killing me.
Who is ‘smashing it’ right now?
Andy Murray. ilan Bluestone. Harry Kane. Porter Robinson. Zedd. Grey. Andrew Bayer. The Chainsmokers. Not Donald Trump.