The Kiwi keyboard maestro on his musical evolution, his LA club night and more
Most artists are happy if they can make some kind of mark on just one scene or sub-culture. But not Mark de Clive-Lowe.
Revered by soulful house, bruk beat and nu-jazz enthusiasts alike, the New Zealand-Japanese DJ, producer and piano player extraordinaire is also held in equally high esteem in the jazz world proper. He may have first emerged as a pioneer of the West London broken beat scene alongside the likes of 4hero, Bugz In The Attic and Kaidi Tatham, but these days you're just as likely to find him seated at the grand piano and headlining a jazz festival in Tokyo.
Well, not right now you're not, obviously – there's a pandemic on, don't you know? Right now, your best place to find him is on his new single Sunrays, with UK soul stalwart Andre Espeut, which is out now on UK label Boomerang Records, and which trails a multi-artist, multi-genre but most definitely jazz-leaning compilation called Global Sounds that'll be out on 13 August.
Or another good place to find him, of course, is right here. Mark's very kindly done us a DJ mix and answered some of our questions, you see, and we heartily recommend you listen to the former while reading the latter. Cos the other way round would just be weird.
Take it away, jazzman…
If you say 'Mark de Clive-Lowe' most people will be picturing a keyboard or a mixing desk, not a pair of turntables. Robert Owens once told me he found it quite irritating that people didn't realise he could DJ as well as sing – does that bother you?
“Not at all! If people jump to conclusions or expect an artist to stay in a preconceived box, I’m not about to lose any sleep over that. I’ve had it happen both ways – people who know my remix work and get their mind blown when they come to a jazz gig where I’m on the grand piano, or people who know me from the jazz world and come to a DJ set and experience the dancefloor throwdown.
“It’s all music and a lot of my favorite sounds are the result of DJs influencing musicians, or musicians influencing the DJs. I live for all that cross-pollination and new forms. The purist nonsense just isn’t for me.”
What do you think being a DJ has taught you about making music – and what has being a musician taught you about DJing?
“When I play live sets, whether that’s solo or with the band, the flow of a DJ set is almost always at the heart of how I’m approaching playing. DJing and club music in general taught me how to use sonics and frequencies as an instrument – they’re colors that bring out the most visceral reactions for the audience and bring an unexpected element to live music.
"And having played piano all my life and producing for over 20 years now, my musician’s ear is second nature, which definitely draws me to particular styles, sounds and vibes when I DJ. It’s also given me a really low tolerance for tracks that clash keys or productions when the vocals and music aren’t in the same key. A little musical know-how goes a long way and is something I’d hope that anyone doing music professionally would learn a bit about, whether they play an instrument or not.”
I know you have a club night, CHURCH, over in LA. What kind of thing should people expect to hear there, and much of it is DJ-based and how much is live performance?
“CHURCH was born out of my desire to share my whole musical journey with people, over the course of a single night. It’s the jazz club meeting the dancefloor, as much for the listeners as it is for the dancers.
“I’m incorporating live production, live remixing and sampling into the flow of my band sets, and there’s always guest DJs spinning that are complimentary to the live band sets. It soulful, spontaneous, lush and most of all, a community experience. I’ve had an amazing range of guests join me – everyone from legendary vocalists Jody Watley and Leon Ware to so many of my favourite DJs, like Spinna, Questlove, Lefto, Rhettmatic, and musicians like Kamasi Washington, Chris Dave and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.”
We're talking today because you've just released Sunrays with André Espeut. How did the two of you first hook up?
“We actually connected for the first time thanks to this track! Boomerang Records head honcho Hugh Jardine reached out to me to be part of his new Global Sounds project and asked me if I’d be keen to collaborate with André.
“I wasn’t actually familiar with him before that, but checked out what he’d been doing and knew the combination would be fun. We made the track remotely last year mid-pandemic – me in LA and André in the UK. Hopefully there’s a chance to create more together in the future.”
Speaking of collaborators… you've had enough of them over the years! If you could point at one of them and say 'That was a dream come true', who would it be?
“Pretty much every one of them has been a dream come true. Collaborating with like-minded creatives who like to push the boundaries of the status quo is my idea of a good time. I loved collaborating with Kenny Dope. MAW were heroes to me from when I first heard their music in New Zealand. I met Kenny through the late great Phil Asher (rest in peace bro!). Phil and I were really close and collaborated all the time during the decade I lived in London. I met so many amazing people through him.
“Phil introduced me to Joe Claussell, too, and then Joe brought me in on one of the Sangue De Beirona remixes he was doing along with Francois K. I don’t think I even realised exactly who I was in the room with back then, which was good in its own way – the session was purely about the music, rather than me freaking out at what legends I was sharing the time and space with!
“I’ve gotten to collab with so many of my favourite musicians and artists over the years - people like Harvey Mason, Sheila E, Pino Palladino, Omar… the list goes on. I have so much gratitude around those experiences and learnt so much from every one. The exciting thing is that there’s so much more to come and I’m still constantly in collab mode with people who help me find new things to explore in the music."
It's a few years now since you've lived in your native New Zealand. How often do you manage to get back there these days (especially given the pandemic) and do you think you'll ever return, or is LA home now?
“Last time I was there was one week before the US went into lockdown, and I haven’t been able to get back since. It’s such a special part of the world and so very dear to me. But I grew up with a sense of wanderlust and was always focused on where I could go to next to explore life’s next chapter.
“California is about to re-open and NZ has done great through the whole pandemic, so hopefully I can get back there again soon, but LA’s definitely home for now. I spent a decade in London, and I'm now going into year 13 here in LA, but I feel like there’s a lot more story to tell here still. I grew up saying, for no reason whatsover, that I’d never live in London or LA – and here I am, having done extended chapters of life in both!
“That said, I fully accept that I have no idea where I’ll be in 10 years time or what part NZ will play in my future. I do appreciate that if the planet goes to shit and I need to escape the northern hemisphere, NZ will hopefully always be my sanctuary.”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Most of my creative energy over the last year plus has been focused on my Patreon. Creating new music exclusives for the community there, doing livestreams, breaking down studio process and having community Zoom hangs – that’s been a really special way to connect with people all over the world, especially considering that I’d been on tour for 20 years non-stop until Covid hit us and was missing that global connectivity.
“There’s lots of new music coming over the next 6-12 months, including Volume 2 of my Midnight Snacks vinyl series, a collaborative project with Shigeto and Melanie Charles, and an album reuniting with some of my main West London broken beat collaborators from the naughts.
“I’m looking forward to doing live shows again too, but after a year off the road and really appreciating the comforts of being in one place for an extended period, it won’t be at the non-stop breakneck pace I’ve been going at for the last 20 years!”
Words: Russell Deeks Pics: GL Askew, Nick Paulsen
Sunrays is out now on Boomerang Records
Nubya Garcia – The Message Continues [MdCL Remix] (Concord Records)
Mark de Clive-Lowe – Blue Hour (Mashibeats)
Nina Lares – Uncover Me [MdCL Remix] (Moulton Music)
Emile Londonien – Covered Bridges [MdCL Remix] (white)
Mark de Clive-Lowe & Andre Espeut – Sunrays (Boomerang Records)
London Afrobeat Collective – Power To The Women [Krywald & Farrer Remix] (Boomerang Records)
Duke Hugh – Pilolo (feat Andre Espeut) (Boomerang Records)
Flora Purim – Open Your Eyes You Can Fly [MdCL Remix] (white)
Mark de Clive-Lowe – 37,000 Feet (Mashibeats)
Cherie Mathieson – Games We Play [MdCL Remix] (Mashibeats)
Anthony Nicholson & MdCL – Yeah Yeah ( Local Talk)
Homero Espinosa feat Miko Marks – Breathless [MdCL Remix] (Moulton Music)