It’s been quite the whirlwind two years for James Elliot and Mark Richards, AKA Solardo. The Manchester duo went from being mates with different tastes and backgrounds, to collaborators who are now making serious headway on the dance scene.
Mark, who was previously a dubstep artist known as MRK1, became familiarised with house music through his friend James, whose infectious passion for the genre led the duo to combine experience with encyclopaedic vivacity and get down to 8 months of relentless work in 2015. Emerging from this toil as Solardo, they released ‘Slam Jam’, which came to the attention of none other than Steve Lawler, and it was subsequently signed to his VIVa Music label.
Since then, the pair have been in ever-increasing demand, having had music signed by the legendary Kerri Chandler’s MadTech, winning the Best Breakthrough DJ award at DJ Mag’s “Best of British” awards, and zig-zagging their way across Europe, with events including the utterly genius-cum-bonkers Sea Sessions – where clubbers board a boat at Newcastle Upon Tyne and party their way across the North Sea, reaching Amsterdam and spending some time taking in the sights before re-embarking and raving all the way back to Blighty – to featuring at elrow in Barcelona, and playing Abode parties last summer at Sankey’s Ibiza.
Hi guys. Ibiza is just around the corner and this will be the second summer that you’ve played there as Solardo. Have you picked up on any of the magic that has always set Ibiza apart?
Mark: Ibiza Ibiza Ibiza! It is without a doubt one of the best places on the planet and certainly my favourite destination. We are out there for 11 dates playing different places from DC-10 to new club H and of course Sankeys. The island is just magic, everyone’s there for a good time and we will be joining them soon!
James: Sadly I was unable to go to Ibiza last year but for the first time in 10 years I will now be going. I spent a lot of time there in my younger days so I’m really excited about going back. May 24th at Sankey’s is going to be a special moment for me.
Your track ‘The Aztecs’ was very well received at the end of last year. How did you find playing the BPM Festival, tragic though it was how it all ended? Did you find the Mexican audience to be passionate, and do you think that they’ll bounce back?
Mark: Firstly our thoughts go out to the people lost at that festival, it’s tragic. I think the Aztecs track really helped us reach a new audience. It was our first time working with Toolroom who did an amazing job with the release. We heard it around 8 times at the festival and the highlight was probably seeing Carl Cox himself playing it out.
James: The BPM festival was amazing, Mexico was so welcoming and the fans were so warm towards us. It was so sad what happened there but we know the BPM organisers will 100% bounce back. I believe they are doing their first European event in September and I’m sure there will be a relocation in S. America. The BPM organisers are so passionate they will not stop what they are doing.
Australia is fast becoming one of the top places on any dance artists’ tour roster. What have you guys been told to expect before playing there in May?
James: We have noticed quite a lot of messages coming through from fans there which is amazing. I’ve never been so not only am I looking forward to playing there but also looking forward to seeing the country. All our friends (Skream, Eats, Richy) have said it’s an amazing party and people like to… ahem “let their hair down” as we say in England so we are 100% looking forward to it.
The Sea Sessions is such a brilliant idea, and it looks to have been a success. Are there any designs on repeating the event?
Mark: Haha thanks, it was pretty memorable. Watch this space! But provisionally pencil November 10th in your diaries! We are just about to secure the ship and speaking to a few artists so we should be announcing in the next week. This is one not for the faint hearted though!
Do you think coming from Manchester, with its rich musical heritage, has had a large part to play in how your careers have developed?
Mark: Definitely, we are lucky to come from a city with so many clubs and creative people doing what they do. House music had its roots in Manchester and we try to maintain that authenticity throughout our productions. Manchester is almost the heart of the North for music and we feel it is just as good as London when it comes to the nightlife.
Your decision to begin working as a creative duo is paying dividends – and then some. Was this a natural development, or did either of you have a feeling that something might click if you started working together?
James: We have known each other for like, 10 years? We lost touch for a few years and then bumped into each other in the city centre. I’d been wanting to change career and knew that Mark had some serious skills in the studio, I’d just started investing into equipment and suggested to mark we tried a few things and, well here we are now. I have spent probably the last 15 years in clubs so had a real knowledge of house music. Mark had been working throughout different genres so knew how to properly build tracks. It’s a perfect team!
The diligence with which you both approach your jobs is admirable, and you seem to understand the importance of staying grounded and taking nothing for granted, especially with fatherhood running alongside your careers. But have there been any times when you’ve said to each other, ‘this is actually happening’, a pinch-yourself moment, if you will?
James: I’m the only Dad! We have to be diligent because its such hard work. It’s enjoyable work but sometimes our feet don’t touch the floor. We are so dedicated to this and our fans help us understand its paying off.
Mark: I’m the only grounded one!! The thing is, is that I’ve been a part of other scenes for over 15 years and seen artists blow up, the money and the fame and it really does tear some people apart. It’s quite sad but it happens so staying grounded is the only way, at the end of the day we are so so lucky to be doing what we are doing for a living so you have got to stay humble and respect everything and everyone and respect the people that helped and supported you.
James: I think a real “Is this really happening” moment was when we played our homecoming Solardo Sessions date in the Albert Hall in Manchester. The venue was heaving with over 3k people, Warehouse Project put on some incredible production for us and it was just incredible.
Mark: Also, I was watching the Anthony Joshua Vs Vladmir Klitschko world heavyweight boxing match with all my mates the other day and they played Tribesmen which really was a funny proud moment for me. Sometimes these moments of joy come out of nowhere, we are very very lucky.
During your 8-month studio workout in 2015 you amassed around 60 tracks. Are there any that are still lying around that might see the light of day?
Mark: There are 1000’s on my hard drive, sometimes we play them out and maybe some will see a release but we generally only release the ones that cut the mustard.
James, you have a deep knowledge of house music, and this helped to shape Solardo as an act. Was there one particular DJ, producer or tune that really turned you on to that sound?
I think the early music from Jamie Jones played a massive roll getting me into the whole house/techno genre. Stand out track was his remix of ‘Hungry For The Power‘ I think this track turned a lot of heads and feel this was kind of the blueprint for the scene today.
How important has Mark’s experience in both production and gigging been to the whole Solardo project?
James: Mark was producing music when I was riding around my estate on a bmx so that says a lot. Mark has been producing electronic music for nearly 16 years and been actively gigging for about 7 years of that so obviously Mark brings a lot of experience within the the music industry to the table.
What can we expect from you guys in the future?
Mark: We are currently finalising another EP for Hot Creations, another for Skream’s label, finalising a label deal for our own imprint SOLA, have remixed Gorgon City and basically the silliest touring schedule of the last decade! Straight after Australia we are heading to South America for a tour too.
Thanks for your time, lads, and keep up the good work!
Catch Solardo at the Sankeys Ibiza x Do Not Sleep opening on Weds 24th May. Tickets available here
Solardo’s ‘On The Corner’ EP on their own Solä label is coming soon