It all starts with a beat. And for Marco Bailey that beat was in the late 80s. Over the following 30 or so years, the Belgian techno god has carved out a niche career with over 300 releases ranging from hard as nails techno, to delicate piano ballads. Described by his nearest and dearest as a ball of undulating energy, Marco continues to be an ambassador for the scene, a stellar DJ and producer, and head of one of the most well respected techno labels in the world – MB Elektronics. A&R Simon Huxtable had the opportunity to sit down with Marco recently to ask about his beginnings, the label and the future of techno.
Hi there Marco, thanks for joining us at Decoded Magazine. How has your day been so far?
Very musical actually. As usual. Apart from an hour of sport, its been mainly music for the whole day, from listening to demos to planning & making music into night at home.
Before the music, we understand you were heavily into sport, but an horrific injury halted any plans you had. Do you still enjoy keeping fit, or has the injury stopped things for good?
Definitely, as I mentioned before I try to get into the gym every day although its not always possible. I also still have 2 motorbikes at home, but I rarely find the time to ride my beloved Kawasaki’s now, so sad.
Can you tell us about some of your heroes and influences growing up. Who got you into dance music, and was it always techno?
It all started in 1988 for me in a small club in Belgium. I’d never really had musical heroes as such, I just went a few times and discovered very quickly I wanted to be behind the decks rather then on the dance floor. A couple of months later I was a DJ, I was 18.
Techno in Belgium has always been very strong. Who among your peers do you rate the highest?
Yes, I believe much of that is influenced by what was the biggest, PURE techno party – I Love Techno, now sadly no longer running. And for me, the founder of Belgian Techno will always be CJ Bolland!
How would you describe Techno to someone who had never heard it?
Energetic. Music with force. Quite simple, but never commercial. Very few vocals, but always built from repetitive sounds and FX that keep your mind and feet in constant motion.
One of the most striking things about you are your sleeve tattoos. Can you tell us a little about the artwork, when you got them, where and are you planning anymore?
I got my first in Austria. Initially I just wanted to get something small on my arm, but as many people will know, you get addicted. One more and again and again… I got others in Japan, in Switzerland, Las Vegas, Miami, Belgium… Once you start you can’t really stop, and its also a piece of art that never ends.
Your label MB Elektronics has over 140 releases now, which given the length of time its been active (13 years) surprised me. Can you tell us about the original vision for the label and roughly how many singles you usually release each year?
Well, I try not to over kill it with releases, as you’ve seen. Now its currently about one a month. Thats more than enough. Nowadays in this digital world there are labels that are releasing a record every week. Its just silly because you lose the public’s attention and any force you may have had. The vision behind MB Elektronics is simply to release what I like and from people who I respect. Always funky driving energetic techno. In the last twelve months I have also started MBR Limited, a label that’s more concentrated on the deeper and darker side of Techno. Each of those releases is also pressed to Vinyl.
For me personally, techno took a bit of wrong turn around the new millennium. It had gotten really fast and loopy, and pretty much every techno night had at least one guy 3 deck mixing, but a few years later, the bpms dropped and the funk came back into the music.
As someone with nearly 30 years at the top of your game, how do you see techno evolving over the next 5 or 10 years?
If only we could see into the future eh? What I do know, is that techno is back at the top of its game and it may sound simple, but its because of the energy. I don’t feel this in a lot of modern electronic music, especially with commercial EDM where everything sounds the same. Techno is timeless. Look at people like Carl Craig or Jeff Mills or Aphex Twin who made TIMELESS music. Thats art for me! And not a radio tune that you hear in rotation 5 times every day until you vomit from it after 3 weeks!
Haha! As a well travelled man, I imagine you’ve had your fair share of airport horror stories, but, if you’ll indulge me, could you tell us about one of the best airport experiences you’ve had?
The best : I’m gonna be straight with you guys, sorry, I had great sex in the toilet of an airport once, ha! Still better then any upgrade to business or First class!
The worst : In Barcelona, when an airline cancelled my flight to an important festival and told me without any shame they could offer me the bus to drive 26 hours from Spain to France, sick!
Touring can be hard on the body and soul. How do you like to spend your time away from the limelight if you have a few days in a city?
To be honest with you, mostly in the spa or sauna of the hotel. It helps me to recover 10 times more than hanging in a city and spending money on stuff I don’t need.
Let’s change focus a little. Starting out as a DJ in the very early 90s, the role of the DJ then was a very different thing. Can you tell us about your first few years getting gigs, playing all night long and how you really had to learn your trade to remain popular?
Yes thats what LOTS of young DJs miss I think nowadays, they don’t know what it is to play 8 to 12 hours every weekend, read the crowd, have crowd control, most of them hang with their head in laptop and play for themselves; its not what DJ is about for me, playing easy hit after easy hit, just for the reaction.
My early days at the beginning of the ’90s was all about hard work and dedication. I played a LOT of gigs for very low fees, some even for free, but I was learning my trade, reading my floors, finding out which records and sounds worked together to build sets over hours rather than minutes. Over time you may be lucky enough to build a following and thats when the work steps up another gear. You have to sweat a lot in those early times and then to build a career you eventually have to look outside of the ‘DJing’. Perhaps production, label management, creating your own name/brand and constantly moving forward, evolving and innovating. Its a lot of work, but keep on believing in yourself and it bear fruit.
We love the advice you give new DJs – Be yourself and don’t follow hype/bandwagons – Its music to our ears. What piece of advice have you always lived by and who gave you that pearl of wisdom?
“Work hard.” This is what my father always told me, and I think its the only way. There are at the moment a lot of DJs who got famous using other tools, like paying management lots of money to put them on the right slots on festivals, ‘cause their management have the power to do that, because they have that very necessary headliner in the house. Then you have the guys who pay for votes on the nonsense DJ polls, and you have the people who even buy their own music on Beatport to be in top 100. No personality, so fake, unfortunately the outside worlds doesn’t seem to see it.
OK, so its no secret you’re a bit of a production work horse. What surprised me is the breadth of your releases; Techno, House, Progressive even some Chill Out on your recent album, High Volume. Firstly, I wanted to ask, do you go into the studio with a definite idea in your mind, and secondly, when you’re making a genre you have less experience of, what processes to you go through to make something you’re proud of?
As you mention, I love lots of styles of music, chill out, down tempo, some pumping house as long as its not cheesy, and of course TECHNO! When I go to the studio I already have an idea worked out on my computer in the plane mostly and yeah it can be anything, of course mostly TECHNO, but particularly when I’m doing an album I think it should include all the sounds your heart loves.
Are there any genres you would like to have a go at, but haven’t yet? I know you’re a fan of Drum n Bass..
Yes I love Drum n Bass a lot, I am a big fan of DJ Marky from Brazil, his DJ skills are just magnificent!! Until now though I’ve never tried my hand at producing drum n bass. Who knows though, maybe in the future!
There you have it folks! A Decoded Exclusive!! Haha. Well, its been a real pleasure to meet you Marco. Here’s to the next 30 years!! Where can we catch you playing for the rest of the year?
Thanks a lot Simon, I just completed my diary for this year and am looking forward to some great gigs in Europe like Rave on Snow in Austria. I’m doing a few gigs in India again, some cool gigs in Germany and France, Spain etc but at the end of the year around Christmas and New Year again my highlight is definitely Argentina and Colombia. I simply love South America. Last but not least my own MATERIA showcase in Amsterdam on Thursday October 15th, don’t miss that one!