London-based producer Marc Mac has made a career out of drawing on a variety of influences in order to leave an indelible mark on a number of musical genres, from jungle to Hip-Hop. As a member of pioneering drum & bass outfit 4hero the UK studio wizard received a Mercury Music Prize nomination for the group’s 1998 album “Two Pages”, a ground-breaking project which further cemented Mac’s reputation as a master of defying categorisation.
Mac returned to his roots in 2006 with the release of the brilliant Visioneers album “Dirty Old Hip-Hop”, which found the producer utilising a talented band of musicians to create true-school soundscapes that captured the essence of golden-era beats and rhymes whilst still retaining a fresh appeal.
With the recently released sophomore Visioneers album “Hipology”, Mac has once again joined forces with his sonic allies to craft music that succeeds in its mission to fill its creative grooves with the spirit of the many influences that make up the album’s cover collage, including everything from classic Hip-Hop record labels to Spike Lee movies and iconic 80s toys.
Here, Marc Mac gives some insight into why a small selection of the many artists, events and logos featured on the “Hipology” cover had such an impact on his life.
Seminal 1983 Hip-Hop flick “Wild Style”:
“If you were to think of what would be in an essential Hip-Hop tool-kit, I always think that “Wild Style” would have to be a part of that kit. Back in the day it was almost like you had to have seen that movie if you wanted to be in the crew. To me that film really showed the roots of the culture and it brought all the elements of the culture together, showing the emcees, the graffiti artists on the trains, the dancers, the deejays, it really showed the blueprint of what Hip-Hop was about. At the time in London I was surrounded by sound-system culture and for me I was aspiring to be a part of one of those sound-systems in some way, but watching “Wild Style” definitely helped me draw some parallels between what was happening in the film with the music and the graffiti and what some people were doing in the UK at that time. Plus, the actual phrase “Wild Style” has kind of carried on throughout my life in my music, because the wild style concept in graffiti was about taking the art to a different place and really putting your individual stamp on what you were doing, which is something that I’ve always tried to do with my music in terms of approaching things differently and from a new angle that people might not expect.”
Early-80s arcade game Defender:
“People sometimes talk about an album or a film being a backdrop to a period in their life, but back in the 80s it was the sound of Defender for me (laughs). My parents worked at a youth centre so I used to have the priviledge of watching the new games getting wheeled in. But at the time I was almost too small to see the screens of these huge arcade machines once they were set-up, so it was really the noises and sounds that came from the games that I remember most from that time. I used to stand next to the machines and hear the noises and wonder what was happening on the screen, and then I’d see the hands of the older guys who were playing them just constantly moving really fast (laughs). But the memories of that particular game really stayed with me, being in the youth centre, watching people play those games, the older kids would have the boombox set-up playing some electro, and then the sounds from Defender would almost be blending into the music.”
Every 80s b-boy’s favourite item of clothing the Goose jacket:
“That was the one item of clothing you could never have (laughs). Everyone had that one thing they really wanted that was just too expensive and your parents wouldn’t get it for you. For me, that one thing was a Goose jacket. It was just out of reach. I used to see pictures of people wearing them in magazines and on album covers, but they were just too expensive for me to ever get one back then. There were a few people around my area who had them, some of the older kids on the estate, they had the chains and the Goose jackets, but they were just on some different runnings, man.”
Host of Capital Radio’s original 80s Hip-Hop show Mike Allen:
“Mike Allen is a hero. I remember back in the day you could either climb all over your room to put the aerial in the right place so you could pick up a pirate radio station, or you could legally pick up Mike Allen’s show on Capital Radio and still get the real deal as far as the music was concerned. Mike was getting on a lot of stuff early and really introduced a lot of electro and Hip-Hop artists to listeners in the UK. Plus, he had that voice that sounded like a teacher you had at school(laughs). But I heard a lot of stuff for the first time on Mike Allen, sat there with a tape running trying to edit out the adverts when they came on (laughs). As much as people talk about deejays like Tim Westwood and others who played Hip-Hop here in the UK, it was important that we had Mike Allen at that time in the 80s on a legal radio station because he would play everything, from East Coast to West Coast, so it showed you that there was good music coming from everywhere.”
Monumental London Hip-Hop event UK Fresh ’86:
“There’s a little story to that one. That show was at Wembley and back then we knew all the tricks of the trade to get into all the events. At Wembley the trick was to kick the side doors dead centre and they’d go inwards and then fly back towards you and open out (laughs). I remember when UK Fresh was on, one of the older guys kicked the doors and we all just ran in behind each other. Back then we were all small enough to get lost in the crowd quickly so we didn’t get caught (laughs). I think I’d told my parents I’d gone to the shops or something and there I was at this huge Hip-Hop concert. I remember it seemed really high-up and I was looking down onto the stage, but I can remember seeing Captain Rock who killed it and the World Class Wreckin’ Cru as well. I don’t think a concert like that could really happen again today, but having all those huge artists of the time together in once place back then was serious.”
Former London-based pirate radio station Kiss FM:
“Kiss sort of lost me a bit when they made the transition to being a legal station. I preferred it when they were a pirate because it really was radical radio, which is why I put the old logo on the album cover. But for me, Kiss FM really helped you to grow your record collection, because listening to the different shows you were able to join the dots between what was happening in Hip-Hop at the time and the jazz and funk records that some of those samples were coming from. You might listen to a Westwood show and he’d be playing Hip-Hop, and then you’d listen to someone like a Trevor Nelson who’d play some wicked funk sets, which were nothing like the type of music he plays now (laughs). So listening to that original line-up of deejays on Kiss really helped you make those connections between the differents styles of music they were playing, particularly with the breaks and the whole James Brown era of sampling that was happening then. I mean, you couldn’t really have grown-up in London during that time listening to pirate radio and not listened to Kiss and I don’t really think the importance of Kiss as a pirate station is fully appreciated. If you were there at that time, then you know, but otherwise I don’t think it’s fully understood what Kiss meant to the music scene in its early days.”
The mighty Juice Crew’s original recording home Cold Chillin’ Records:
“I’m glad you picked the Cold Chillin’ logo because out of all the other record label logos included on the album cover Cold Chillin’ was probably the most important label of its era. Marley Marl, Masta Ace, Roxanne Shante, Kool G. Rap, Big Daddy Kane, MC Shan, the amount of talent on that label was ridiculous. But aside from the actual artists, it was the sound of Cold Chillin’ that was equally important to me. The label had a trademark sound, just that funky, dirty feel to the beats and samples, like the vinyl had been recycled (laughs). It had a lot to do with the sound the SP 1200 gives you, but when you listened to some of those incredible records from Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap, they just felt like they’d been done in one take and the whole vibe on a lot of those albums was just magical. It’s hard to pick favourites out of everything they put out, but MC Shan’s “Down By Law” album was always one that stood-out for me as there was a lot happening musically on that one. Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo’s “It’s A Demo” was a classic and I always really liked Roxanne Shante’s stuff and the way she approached her rhymes with her don’t-test-me attitude. The whole Cold Chillin’ sound just defined an era for me.”
Native Tongue low-end legends A Tribe Called Quest:
“I mean, what can you really say about A Tribe Called Quest that hasn’t been said before? For me, Tribe were important because they were the first group who really brought together all the musical elements I loved and shaped them into one sound. From the jazz samples to the way they looped their beats to the chemistry between Q-Tip and Phife, they were just Hip-Hop all-rounders to me. What was clever about Tribe, particularly on their first album, was that they’d use familiar drum breaks that people knew and then drop a sample on top which hadn’t really been used before. I was already collecting jazz and funk records, so when Tribe came out what they were doing musically really made a lot of sense to me and was something that I could relate to. Plus, listening to them pushed me deeper into wanting to know more about jazz and the artists they were sampling from.”
UK Hip-Hop pioneers London Posse:
“I always had a connection with London Posse as my partner Gus who I started Reinforced Records with was in a group Trouble Rap who were signed to Tim Westwood’s Justice label at the same time as London Posse were in the late-80s so there were times I’d be in the studio when they were recording. But I also knew them from when I used to have a sound-system at Notting Hill Carnival where all the emcees in London would get on the set as it was one of the first sounds to play only Hip-Hop at carnival. But the main reason I was always such a big fan of Rodney P and Bionic was because they really brought that London vibe to their music. At the time so many people were doing the yankee accent thing here in the UK and they were really the first to say we’re going to do this Hip-Hop stuff our way and they really made it work. I remember seeing them at gigs and they wouldn’t be able to get past the first track they were performing as people would be going crazy and they’d have to rewind the same tune about seven or eight times (laughs). But I really do have a huge amount of respect for London Posse for what they did in terms of putting the UK style of emcee-ing on the map.”
The late, great J Dilla:
“To me, Dilla is my favourite Hip-Hop producer. The feel in his music that he brought with him out of Detroit spread to influence people in New York, Philly, here in the UK, it really spread out across the whole Hip-Hop world and had a huge impact that can be heard today. As a producer myself, what he was doing with things like time-stretching was incredible to hear. I mean, he just went from making classic to classic with everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to his own stuff with Slum Village and then on to Common. I literally could sit and listen to Dilla beat-tapes all day long and “Donuts” is definitely one of my favourite albums of all-time. Listening to what he was doing just before he passed, getting into using synths more and that style, you could really hear him evolving and it felt like there was still so much more to come. Dilla really was a producer’s producer.”
“Hipology” is out now on BBE Records.
Visioneers ft. Baron & TRAC – “Back In Time” (BBE Records / 2012)