Q&A with Mark Henning, Playing Electric Pickle with Heron on Friday
Henning's musical development and sound read as a sort of archetypal index of British-German EDM history. Born in England to German parents, Henning started out young as a drum 'n' bass producer, then felt drawn to the city of Berlin as a student in the late '90s. There he was, of course, indelibly influenced by that city's burgeoning techno scene.
Returning to the U.K. with his new-found inspiration, Henning began to craft his own idiosyncratic brand of techno infused with elements of house and plenty of disparate electronica influences to keep his sound fluid and fresh.
He eventually relocated to Berlin for good, and jumped into a full-time musical career. Henning soon established his reputation as one of the most forward-thinking producers in the European underground scene, with a series of releases on labels like Soma, Clink, and Trapez, in addition to Fabric and MINUS compilations. Known for his driving and intense live P.A.s, he continues to command dancefloors worldwide with a sound permanently on the edge of stylistic innovation.
Mark Henning will be stopping by Electric Pickle on Friday for an exclusive performance along with German techno producer Heron. Crossfade caught up with him for a brief Q&A on the cusp of his show.
Mark Henning and Heron. 10 p.m. Friday, May 28. Electric Pickle. 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Age 21 and up. 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com
New Times: How did you first get into music-making?
Mark Henning: I started off playing classical guitar when I was about 12, then electric guitar in a band as a teenager. At university I then made the move over to dance music, specifically drum 'n' bass. I had a pretty basic Casio keyboard to start with, but it had a 4-track sequencer, so I made a few tunes with this before buying my first computer and experimenting with Cubase and Fruity Loops -- this was in 1998.
Earlier in your career you juggled your musical endeavors with a regular 9-5 job. How did you manage to devote yourself full-time to music and what advise do you have for musicians/DJs who aspire to do the same?
Juggling both was tricky to say the least! I basically had no social life for quite a few years -- I just locked myself away in the studio and hid in my hotel room with my laptop when I was working away from home. It got to a point though, where it totally wore me out. I was DJing on weekends, working 9 hours a day and commuting for 3.5 hours a day. For the last 6 months I had no energy to produce anything so that's when I took the plunge and gave up my day job. In terms of advice, essentially if you really want it then you need to put the hours in. I think it's a lot harder now compared with two to three years ago -- the techno scene is totally saturated. So most importantly, work hard and try to not just follow the current fad -- do your own thing, don't be afraid to experiment. This is all cliche, I know, but so important these days.
You're British-born but of German descent. What influence, if any, does your German background have on your musical style?
Well the single biggest influence on my musical taste back in the early days of my DJ career was spending a year in Berlin from 1999 to 2000 as a student. Before that I was really a drum & bass and jungle head. But after spending a year immersed in the techno scene there and hanging out at clubs like the original Tresor and Ostgut, I never looked back. I would have never had that opportunity had it not been for my German background.
How do you approach your production work? What's your typical process in the studio?
I always work on the drums first. Not sure why! After that I usually play around with some initial basslines, synths, vocals and then quite often I leave the track for a while before coming back to it. I have no idea why I got in the habit of doing this but I think it's a good thing to give yourself a break from working on specific tracks -- it gives you more perspective and also gives your ears a rest. Sometimes I've left tracks for months and months before coming back to them -- but that's pretty extreme. Once I have the initial idea/groove its then a case of trial and error -- adding more elements here and there until I think the track has enough substance. Up until that point it's always just a loop -- could be 16 bar, 32 or 64, but I only sequence the track out in it's entirety late on in the process. Then I spend hours and hours and hours listening, tweaking until I'm happy with the underlying mix, EQ, etc. At this point I hate the track and have to start something new. (winks)
What can you tell us about your move to Berlin and its impact on your musical development and career so far? How does it compare to the London scene?
It wasn't really a musical decision at all. My wife and I just wanted a break from the UK and it was a city we like and that we've both visited a lot over the past 10 years since I lived here as a student in 1999. One of the key factors was the cost of living -- I'd just given up my city job and wanted to move somewhere where we could have a nice, big apartment and not pay stupid money for it. Of course it's great having all this music on your doorstep, but over the past 12 months we have been going out to the clubs less and less. Aside from the healthy music scene, it's just a cool place to live -- there is a lot of other cool stuff to do in the city. There's more history here than most European cities.
Living in Berlin has certainly influenced me musically -- not sure whether it's entirely a good thing though! During the first year here I was thinking way too much about whether my tracks would fit in with what everyone else was playing. I've finally gotten over that stage though and feel like I'm back on track, making music that I want to make. On a purely technical point, being much closer to producer friends and hanging out in their studios has really opened my eyes to different ways of making music. Previously I'd been stuck in Cambridge in the UK doing my own thing -- there wasn't really a scene to speak of. My career has certainly been on the up in last year but whether that has anything to do with me moving to Berlin, I'm not so sure. It's only my 2nd year as a full time producer/DJ so just having the time to work on music all week has got me where I am today I think.
I don't know enough about the London scene to make a comparison really -- I hadn't lived there for a good 3 years before I moved out to Berlin. For sure it's way more liberal here but I've heard about some cool new parties popping up in London recently.
Is there something unique to Germany that may explain why it's become the de facto EDM capital of the world and where many expatriate artists (yourself included) seem to gravitate to?
Hmmm... well just from my personal experience of the scene in Germany, compared with other places around the world, I'd say it's just down to how liberal it is here. The authorities just seem to let the club scene 'be' and don't go sticking their noses in. This has lead to extreme situations -- like in Berlin where there are dozens and dozens of bars, clubs, spaces that can stay open as long as they want, serve booze as long as they want and have a really liberal door/security policy. I'm really not sure why it's developed like this. Of course this is one of the reasons why artists from all over have flocked here over the last 10 years but it's not the only reason. For example, compared with the UK, it's cheaper to live here and the overall quality of life is better I think -- for me and my wife anyway!
Your live PAs are well-known the world over. What is your live M.O. and what can Miami expect during your upcoming performance at Electric Pickle?
That's good to hear. (smiles) Currently my live PA setup is pretty basic -- I use Ableton Live and a MIDI controller. I like to regularly update it with new tracks to keep it fresh, in fact I don't think I've ever played the same set more than once. For me it's also important that my set covers a fairly wide spectrum of styles, not just an hour of monotone techno. I really like to mix up my deep tracks along side my techno tracks -- it shows my diversity as a producer and keeps the crowd guessing what's coming next. I plan to integrate my analogue drum machine into my setup very soon -- this will take the sound up a notch as well as give me more knobs to 'twiddle' whilst I'm playing. (winks)
I will actually be DJing at Electric Pickle. My DJ sets can be quite different from my productions but I have quite a few new tracks to test out too. Expect a little more techno than house. I generally like to surprise people when I DJ, not bore them with the same tracks that everyone else is playing. I'm really looking forward to it!