If you haven’t heard of the name Mark Doyle, here are two you may have heard of: Hed Kandi and Fierce Angel. Whilst modest about his achievements, it’s difficult for Mark to hide the worldwide success of his creations. Selling endless amounts of records and hosting in demand parties from Europe to Asia to the Middle East, Mark Doyle has played a pivotal role in shaping house music in the last decade. The tastemaker behind the infamous compilations, the purveyor of parties, the globally renowned DJ, JUICE sat down with the man himself at twentyone BSC, to talk about the hard work (and play) that goes into establishing yourself in the industry…
So Mark, what do you think of the South East Asian scene from what you’ve seen so far?
I’ve been coming out to Asia since I was running Hed Kandi. Our first major bookings back in 2001, 2002. We used to do big clubs in Singapore. Since then, we’ve had 3 or 4 parties at Zouk, and it’s all been great. The whole South East Asian scene for me is my favourite musically, the clubs are better, and there’s great places like this bar. With Hed Kandi we got to a point where everything had to be with big clubs and was very commercialized, and that was why I left. I created the brand and had no ownership or control over it. It got to a point where I did a Jerry Maguire, I’m leaving! Who’s coming with me? We wanted to get back to the grass roots of what we do: great music, in small spaces that are more high end.
Yeah big clubs – we did some really big events in Dubai for example – they’re quite impersonal. They are fun, and it’s great from an ego point of view it’s like, Look at everyone here to see me! I am fantastic! But in comparison, last night we just had a really good crowd of people, who were really into the music, having a really good time. That’s what I believe a good party is.
So that was one of the main incentives for starting Fierce Angel?
Yeah just to go back to a much smaller company, with much smaller overheads, meaning you can basically travel the world playing venues like this. It minimizes the cost of coming over. Sometimes the cost of doing the whole party involves being somewhere that is bigger, that can afford bigger budgets. But we were very, very lucky that we found a bar and sponsorship. This is the perfect environment. You’ve only got to look at what’s been done with the branding, the bar put all of the decor together themselves, and it just looks amazing. When I walked in here in the daylight, I thought if Fierce Angel opened a bar, this would be the bar we opened here. I want to keep it! Fierce Angel, Kuala Lumpur, The Bar.
This isn’t your first time in Malaysia, does the scene change every time that you come back?
The thing with KL is with the bigger clubs the music style changes. With a very big venue you have to follow what’s big at the moment. Who the big DJ is at the moment, whoever’s bringing in the crowd. That’s the reason why we were looking for somewhere smaller and cooler because from what we do musically, we don’t have to compromise. Because you could come out to a big club and change style to make that club work, make it busy. But that’s not what we do. I would rather be somewhere smaller, where the vibe works, than in a big club and have to compromise; to play harder or somehow lose the vibe we have as Fierce Angel. Out of all the countries, Singapore is a little bit stiff, to put it politely. We go to Singapore and have a great time, but we come to KL thinking, this is going to be so much better. I love the city, it’s got more of a vibe about it. A little bit of energy, and a little bit of edge as well. We love it out here. Having our own company, Fierce Angel, we don’t have to go where the money is. We get to do what we want. If I’m going to be any good at what I do, I’ve got to actually enjoy doing it. That’s why we look out for these sort of things, coming over here is a true gift.
You’ve been very successful with your two brands, Fierce Angel and before that Hed Kandi, if somebody were to ask you what was your formula for success, what would your answer be?
Don’t over-think it! It’s very easy, and very cynical to sit in a big room, have a team of people and come up with ideas and concepts. Everything we’ve done with Fierce Angel has been from the heart. Basically Head Kandi was at Jazz FM, a very small radio station in London, compiling CDs. As we were compiling I had these ideas. I was actually trying to get some of my music onto their jazz CDs. We came up with a CD called New Cool, it was quite Jazz. We did the first one which was very successful, then we did the second one, and I slipped some house music in. The guys that owned the station said ‘Look, these are selling really well, but it’s not really what Jazz FM is. Could we still do this, but in another way?’ I said, of course we could! The name Hed Kandi was something that we’d been playing around with for a club night. It just came off the top of my head, the artwork, the presentation of it, the whole point was that it was something that I would want to buy. Completely selfish: I want to buy this CD, and hopefully everybody else does as well. I think that’s where the best ideas come from. They come from action, and from love, and from just being connected to a thing, knowing about it. Towards the end of Hed Kandi I was getting worn down by the big wigs, dealing with the suits. You start to lose that thing that made you love it in the first place. You’re doing a dead cool job, making compilations, playing all around the world, and you’re not happy. Something that I love, and I’m actually getting up in the morning and not wanting to go to work. Or going to a club night and not enjoying it. We had 8 months, just thinking, where does it go next? Kate [Mrs. Fierce] and I, we sat down with a very large bottle of wine and had a brainstorm. Obviously I was done with Hed Kandi. So what’s the next thing going to be? What are you going to call it? Are you going to call it ‘Mark’s Music’? What’s the next idea? So with that large bottle of wine, at about 3am, we were sitting arranging bits of paper for the name. It had to be two words, it had to play off against each other, something that isn’t directly related to music. So we mixed and matched: Cuddly + Wolf? No. We came up with Fierce because it’s fashionable, that whole *Z snap* thing. Angel because things are often named Disco Heaven, that atmosphere. Once we wrote it down as Fierce Angel, we knew. Off the back of that we went in a very different direction with the artwork. The Hed Kandi cartoon style has been done to death now, everyone’s copied it. We decided to use proper models, but bring in some illustration. That whole package when you get it and you open it up and look at it, it’s more than just the music. It’s the look and the feel. So, to answer that question shortly, am I a genius with amazing ideas? No. Right place, right time, good ideas.
With that being said, what can fans of Fierce Angel look out for next, what’s in store for them?
I can say that we will be drinking a hell of a lot more Jaegermeister, so you can look out for me possibly having a liver transplant! Fierce Angel’s made a partnership with Strictly Rhythm, one of the all-time classic American dance labels. Now because the markets changing so much all of our CDs are available digitally worldwide. It presents a challenge because if you’re in the UK and you get licensing for CDs, they’re only supposed to be released in the UK, and then exported. With the change in the music market, we’re able to license the whole album so it can be available everywhere. Fans of Fierce Angel will be able to get CDs very easily. We’re also working on artist projects. Going to unknown singers, putting them in the studio with our producers, and coming out with unique material. Events wise, we had a wonderful party here last night. I’m going to put twentyone through misery until they commit to a minimum of 4 or 5 gigs a year. I see Asia as a really great market. It’s just a matter of finding places that are intimate, small, to do more of what we’re already doing. It’s artist projects, it’s more compilations, it’s events. Without losing sight of what we’re about, the heart and soul of it. Not getting sucked into the big, 10000 people show. If we could do a 10000 stadium show, brilliant, but it would be something so spectacularly over-produced like cirque du solei, that sort of production. Going into a very big club and there’s just me standing at the end of the room fistpumping isn’t enough. Well, in here it’s enough. But I want the 17 acrobats, the midgets, stilt walkers, the drag queens. It’s about making things a bit of a show. I think that’s what we’ve lost slightly, with the superstar DJs. They are very good at what they do and I’m sure they’re worth their money, but I want something a bit more interactive.
How far in the future is this?
The whole future is fierce! The first six months of next year are about focusing on the music and the events. If you listen to anything we do it’s about a great song with great hooks, people with great voices. The artists we work with we expect to perform live as well. It’s not about going into a studio and sounding great because I think that I sound great in a studio. With enough technology I could sound amazing. Not to say you could put me on stage, and I wouldn’t get bottles thrown at me and kicked off the stage….But it’s people that feel part of the family as well. Most of the people we work with on a regular basis, we see them socially as well. It goes a lot further than music. We find them all over the world.
You’re not scared about the transition to mp3s?
It’s a huge challenge, at the moment our CD sales are probably a tenth of what they were 5 years ago. The CD has died, and everyone was expecting downloads would pick up that market. The problem is piracy downloads. To put it into perspective we did about 3 or 4 thousand downloads of our last album, and a website was advertising it had done 32 thousand downloads for free. It’s a double edged sword because we have the events business. Will our music be being in heard in some countries that maybe can’t afford music, but do download it because of piracy? Yes. Does that help with events? Yes, it probably does. But in terms of the work that has actually gone into that record, it’s heartbreaking. To bring out just one track, we’re looking at 6000 pounds. And then the day it’s released to go online and see 72 Chinese and Russian websites advertising it for free is a nightmare. But there are lots of different ways now of releasing music now, we’re looking at sponsorship. So we don’t even sell the CDs, we give them away. Maybe there will be a Kuala Lumpur Fierce Angel CD for twentyone. There’s lots of different outlets for it. It is going to be challenging, the last 2 years have been hard for a small company. So the message would be: if you love it, DON’T DOWNLOAD IT FOR FREE! Okay, download the first one and see what it’s like, I can understand that. But if you love it, Buy. The. Music.
When you’re DJing, do you have any pre-set rituals or anything you have to do to get yourself pumped up to play?
I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. There’s this whole thing where I kneel in the middle of the living room whipping myself – No! Let’s not go there! It’s sort of like the Da Vinci code really or something like that. Sacrificial goat! I did have twentyone have a goat prepared for me the other day…No! Pre-ritual is sort through my tshirts and pick one to wear, depending on whether it’s a good night, I do have my lucky tshirts. And then, I’m not one of those DJs that goes to a club 5 minutes before my set begins and then as a result play all the songs that the previous DJ played. I like to get to a club, meet the people, see who’s there. Depending on Kuala Lumpur traffic, we like to be there an hour before, there’s no ritual as such it’s more just absorbing the atmosphere seeing what the people are like. Because every venue is different, every club is different. And it’s so important, because there are a lot of DJs that just go on and go ‘I have my stuff prepared. This is what I play. You will enjoy it.’ At Fierce Angel we are much more about the job of entertaining people.
So you adapt?
Yeah adapt and make things work on the night. Ultimately the pre-club ritual really is to be there early and absorb the atmosphere, there’s nothing abnormal involved. Even with an unresponsive crowd, they’ve paid to come. There are limits, but you’ve got people that have paid for good a night out, it’s your responsibility to show them one. I come from 20 years of DJing, and I come from years and years of paying my dues where you’re earning your money. I think rock star DJ attitude of I am, I am, and whatever I play, they’re going to love! And watch the floor clear! There are some DJs that can do that, some DJs have such a following, that they can go on and play brand new material, and everybody will go crazy. The Tiestos, the David Guettas, are in a completely different league. For A lot of DJs though, it’s an ego thing, look at this new B Side I’m the only one that’s got it! Everyone’s force-fed these things, that’s not what DJing is about. We had people dancing on the fountain last night, hands in the air, until about 4am. They had to drag me off the decks, I kept begging, one more!? One more! Pleaaasee! ‘It’s really time to stop now Mark!’ ONE MORE! It’s not about you, it’s about entertainment. You can’t just sit there, you need to perform.
Mark Doyle’s Fierce Angel party took place last weekend at twentyone BSC, pics will be posted soon so watch this space! More fierceness can be found here.