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Mark MacLeod [Interview]

45 min read

The fifth installment of our label manager interview series welcomes Mark MacLeod who runs Deep Down Music. Mark is a Canadian DJ and producer focused on the deeper side of house and progressive. Having launched Deep Down at the beginning of 2022, the label has gone on to release music from Dimuth K, Dmitry Molosh, Dowden, GMJ, Weird Sounding Dude and more. Now presenting their final release of the year, we caught up with Mark to chat about his musical journey, his vision for Deep Down Music and more more. Enjoy.

Hi Mark, thanks for sitting with us today! What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Thanks for having me! A true pleasure to be here. Despite the winter wonderland outside, I am in a great mood. The last piece of music I listened to was a demo from a New Zealand producer. Really good stuff.

I get many demos. I listen to and actually respond to all of them. But many are just an email with a link. No message about why I am getting this. Today’s producer was very thoughtful and his music was very much on brand.

What are your plans for the week? And for the impending Canadian winter?

This week I am working on promo for our December release (a big one!) and working on a track. Also noodling on an upcoming remix. I like to do that. Let the original sit in my head and think about where to take it.

My plans for this winter include getting married!!! And, I am going to Rishikesh, India in March for a yoga retreat. I have been a passionate yogi for a long time. So, I am really looking forward to this experience.

You were born in Scotland but eventually settled in Toronto, tell us about growing up in Scotland and why you eventually relocated to Canada.

I come from a tiny island that is a three hour ferry ride into the Atlantic ocean named Lewis. On that island, one out of every three people share my last name. It’s very remote. The main industries are sheep farming and fishing. Coincidentally, I was back there this past May and saw a flyer for a rave. I will have to go play there some time. :)

How did you discover electronic music while growing up in Canada?And how did the scene here contribute to your passion for electronic music?

I am going to age myself here but I first experienced electronic music with Gary Numan’s hit ‘Cars’ back in the late 70s. I loved it and have been hooked on electronic music since then. I was a drummer in a rock band in high school. Other than that brief period, it has always been electronic music for me.

At which club or event did you experience electronic music for the first time and what memories have stuck with you from that moment?

A good friend from high school started one of Toronto’s first rave production companies, Pleasure Force. And my best friend became a DJ for them. I really got into that scene in the early 90s. I designed university life around it. No classes on Mondays and Fridays so I could party and recover. :)

Can you name five tracks that were influential in your musical development?

My sound has evolved over the years. Always deep. But I went from being a deep house DJ towards progressive house. Especially deeper progressive house. I was there for the beginning of progressive, when Mixmag came up with the term. And I have followed it ever since.

If I had to name five tracks, they would be:

Work it to the bone by LNR - This is the first piece of vinyl I bought back in the 80s. Basslines are hugely important for me. This track is all about the bassline.

Pushin too hard by Saints and Sinners - A progressive work horse of a track. It’s crazy to listen to now and realize how much faster progressive BPMs were back in the day.

Sasha & Digweed’s Northern Exposure mix series was hugely influential (realize that is not a track).

More recently, RIGOONI’s remix of Landscape by Analog Jungs with Oliver & Tom actually made me cry. It is just so beautiful. I am pleased to share that Analog Jungs and Oliver & Tom will be on the label in 2023.

Above the clouds - Ben Shaw. Of all the 1,000s of tracks I have bought over the years, this is my absolute favourite. I wish Ben was still producing (believe me I have tried to get him for Deep Down).

What led you to start the label Deep Down Music? And is this your first foray into running a record label?

This goes back to my origins. We left Scotland because there was no future for me or my sister. On the island one out of every three adults was unemployed. I have never forgotten that and I saw nothing but opportunity in Canada.

As a result of this, everything I do in life I have to do all the way. The last thing the world needs is another record label. But most labels are not viable. They are passion projects. Unlike most label owners I have a deep background in business and technology that I hope to apply to make Deep Down and its artists a big success.

I can’t say that I had (or have) a master business plan. I just sort of felt like I had to do it. I am guessing many label owners and producers feel the same way. There are easier ways to spend your time. But you just feel compelled to create. Compelled to put music out into the world in the hopes that people will love it!

And yes, this is my first label. I started working on one with some friends in the early 2000s. We called it Propellant Records. We created some merch for ourselves, but never released any music. Might have had something to do with all the pills I was consuming then. :)

In terms of DJs and artists who would say are the biggest sources of inspiration for Deep Down Music?

Deep Down focuses on deeper progressive house. When I think of that sound, I first think of el maestro Hernan Cattaneo. The early part of his sets are our sound and vibe. On that note, at ADE this year it was a real thrill to hear him dropping a track from our December release.

Beyond Hernan, his partner in crime Nick Warren also plays our sound early in his sets. Alex O’Rion kind of owns the deep, chuggy progressive sound. So, it has been a thrill to welcome him to the label.

GMJ and his label Meanwhile are benchmarks for me as a producer and label owner. I have been working with GMJ since February both as one of our artists and he has become a mentor to me through his role with our distributor Proton. He is a real inspiration and an awesome human.

So many of our artists and remixers are people I have been following and supporting for years. It is a true blessing to work with them.

If you had to pinpoint a few tracks that you released this year which were crucial in the development of the label’s sound, what would they be and why?

Our second release, Into Fruition, by GMJ was our biggest by far this year. It is in his top 4 best sellers on Beatport.

It was funny, with that success on release #2, I thought to myself ‘this label business stuff is pretty easy’. Oh, how wrong I was. Ha ha!

From a musical perspective, I love all the releases we have had so far. I have perhaps strayed from pure ‘deep’ progressive once or twice. But rules exist to be broken.

Can you think of any drawbacks in trying to run a label living in Canada?

For sure. Progressive, while global, is pretty niche relative to other genres. And it is far bigger in other parts of the world. I think the progressive audience is pretty small in Canada.

I love Canada and love being Canadian. But if I were to generalize, I would say that Canada is insecure. The relevance of this to running a label (or being a DJ or producer) is that Canadians don’t value local talent or brands as much as foreign talent. We have amazing producers and world class DJs in Canada. But Canadian fans are less excited for a night that doesn’t have a big out of town name.

I goto Holland twice a year. While Holland is big for EDM it has a nice progressive scene. And I love that I am the median age at progressive parties there (vs. being the old guy in Canada). I should probably retire there. :)

You’ve had an amazing first year, releasing music from Dimuth K, Dowden, GMJ, Dmitry Molosh, Ric Niels, Weird Sounding Dude and more but now for the final release of the year you’ve put together the label’s biggest release thus far, please tell us about that.

Thank you! To be honest, I pinch myself sometimes. Exchanging emails and hanging out with people I have long admired.

As mentioned, our biggest release to date was GMJ’s Into Fruition. So for our final release of 2022 we asked some of the biggest names in progressive to remix it. Our December release features beautiful reinterpretations of this track from Brazil’s RIGOONI, Sri Lanka’s NOIYSE PROJECT and Holland’s Alex O’Rion.

Those tracks are blowing up in our DJ promo pool at the moment. I can’t wait to share them with the world.

Organic House has become quite a trendy sound in electronic music this past year, would you ever consider creating another label to focus on this sound? And what are your thoughts on its rise? Do you think this genre has become a bit over-saturated at this point? What is your opinion on the current state of the genre?

Organic house is definitely a thing. To be honest, I really like it. As a former drummer I love the tight percussion. And as a yogi, Buddhist and generally positive person I love the overall vibe of it.

I am actually in the early stages of a second concept/ label called Music for Seekers. The truth is, everyone is a seeker. We all know there is something bigger than this day to day reality. We are here for a reason. COVID has prompted many of us to question our default programming. Music is not an answer to these questions. But music is the biggest shared passion. Everyone loves some kind of music. So, I think the world is ready for music that can create spiritual feelings and experiences.

This will hopefully launch in 2023. It will showcase deep electronic music that has an explicit spiritual element. That could be chanting, mantras, indigenous instruments, binaural beats, uplifting, emotional melodies, etc. While it will not be limited to organic house, I absolutely expect that it will include organic house.

I think almost all electronic music genres are over-saturated. There are 25,000 new tracks released on Beatport every week. Most new releases have a short shelf life and are then forgotten. It is really sad, but it takes so much effort to make a track.

But back to organic house - at the end of the day it's a niche of deep house, which has been around for a long time. It has global appeal, thanks in large part to Lee Burridge’s All Day I Dream. I think this is all good.

And to add to that, with the emergence of Organic House, has the Progressive House genre suffered to some extent?

I am not sure. From a DJ perspective, organic and progressive flow together nicely. I hear and play a lot of organic tracks early in progressive sets.

I think the issue with progressive is that it takes effort to listen to and appreciate. Tech house is the most popular genre on Beatport. Most of it is disposable. I could sit down and produce a tech house banger start to finish in two hours.

Now, that sounds like sour grapes as I would love for my artists to have the volumes and attention that tech house artists get. But, it’s purely a musical assessment. It’s two dimensional music.

Progressive, on the other hand, is so nuanced (or can be). It is massive in Argentina and Sri Lanka. I am spending time working with artists in those markets.

Are you solely responsible for the A&R on the label? Or do you have someone who you get a second opinion from when it comes to signing tracks? A significant other perhaps?

I am. In fact, other than some outsourced help with marketing, the label is just me. I do the most strategic things and the most mundane ones.

I will send tracks to other artists in the Deep Down family to check out, but only after I have signed them.

When you get to a point with a track or set of tracks where you’re close to committing to signing them, what can push the decision one way or the other?

First, I have to LOVE the track. But great music alone is not enough. I have signed tracks from artists that are super talented but are not really marketing themselves. Those tracks have not done as well as I would have hoped.

Deep Down is still a new brand. Anjunadeep can release a track from an unknown artist and it will do well because they have the brand and following. Deep Down isn’t there yet. So, I am focusing more on finding well known remixers + if I am working with a newer artist, they have to be serious about building an audience for themselves.

But, I will never sacrifice on music quality just for the sake of signing someone with a lot of followers.

Do you have a special spot to listen to demos? Outside of the studio I mean, a place where your mind resets a bit and you have fresh ears in a way.

Mainly in the studio. But also in the car. I try to put all idle time to use. If I am driving to the gym as an example, I will be listening to a demo, a pre-master or early cut of my own productions.

What advice do you have for artists hoping to get signed to Deep Down Music?

I get a lot of demos that are not a fit. It is clear that the artist doesn’t really know the label. So, my advice would be do your homework: send demos to labels that fit your sound. Personalize your message - tell the label owner why you think you’re a great fit.

And as mentioned above, you need to be actively marketing yourself. I know many artists don’t love this. I encourage them to reframe how they think about this: you are helping people discover your music and hopefully finding true, engaged super fans.

Is big DJ play a factor in signing something? From someone like Hernan Cattaneo or Nick Warren for example?

It’s not a factor in signing, but absolutely key to promotion. When I am organized and ahead of the game, Hernan and Nick will get my upcoming releases many months in advance. And we have a promo pool with many great names.

People shazaming a Deep Down track at a Hernan show is the ultimate promo.

What is your thought process behind remixer selection on a given project and how many is too many in your opinion?

I like to work with remixers when I am releasing a newer artist that doesn’t have a big following yet. Personally, I will only do one or two remixes for a track.

I select remixers that produce our deep, progressive sound. Many of the remixers come from our promo pool. If a big artist is consistently loving our releases then I will hunt them down to see if they will do a remix or original track for us.

What advice would you have for new or potential label owners out there?

Don’t do it!!!! :)

Seriously though, really understand why you are doing this. It is hard. Time consuming. You won’t make a living from it for a long time. You need to truly be driven to do it. You need a vision for what it will be. A unique sound. And a plan for building a brand and community around it.

Spend time with other label owners. I have learned a lot from that. Get good at marketing. Never compromise on music quality. Don’t work with assholes, even if they are famous - life is too short!

Who do you see as future stars in Progressive House?

Ah, well, so many names. There is so much talent. The future is bright. I will highlight a few that I have worked with through Deep Down:

Dowden - a prolific producer and real talent. He has a lot of momentum and is releasing on bigger and bigger labels.

Ric Niels - a rising talent in the already saturated Argentinian scene.

Weird Sounding Dude - in some ways, like Ric and Dowden, he is a big name already. But I am loving how his sound is getting deeper over time.

Outside of the label, I am really impressed by Kasper Koman. Both as a DJ and producer I think he is the next Guy J (big statement, I know…..). He is just very thoughtful. His productions are unique and of the highest quality.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Well, given our discussion on organic house, you will like this.

First, I would throw a day party. As a yogi, I am all about the health thing. Plus, I am too old. The all-nighters are tough now :)

3 - 5pm: Khen & Eli Nissan back to back

5 - 6:30pm: Simply City

6:30 - 9pm: Alex O’Rion

9pm - 10:30pm: Guy J and Kasper Koman back to back

10:30 - midnight: Hernan!

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

I love to read. Non fiction exclusively. I recently read Being Ram Dass. Going back to what I was saying earlier about everyone being a seeker in some way, everyone realizing that they have a connection to spirit, Ram Dass was a huge figure in the spiritual awakening of the late 60s and 70s. This is his biography.

What a read! And what a journey. It’s pretty clear that if I had been an adult (or even alive) back then, like him, I would have consumed vast quantities of psychedelics.

Joking aside, it is an inspiring read.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Without a doubt, my fiance Margaret. My first marriage ended in 2019. I learned a lot from that and designed a life where every day is great and happy. I practice kundalini yoga and this has a huge, positive impact on my life.

Being of service is a core value for me. Have you noticed that when you do even a small thing for someone else, it feels good? You hold a door open for someone; Give someone change; Help someone who is lost. You get a rush from that. As the Dalai Lama says ‘everything that is good in the world comes from thinking of others. Everything that is bad in the world comes from thinking about ourselves’. So, being of service makes me very happy.

What can we expect from Deep Down Music in 2023 – anything you can share with us?

We have a new brand that we will be introducing. A good friend and branding expert felt that it was not too early for us to have a defined brand that people would recognize.

I am hoping to keep the momentum going with strong monthly releases. Hoping to keep attracting a mix of established and new names.

Finally, I am in the early stages of thinking through events. This is where our artists make money, so I want to figure out how to enable that for them. It is also key to building community around a label.

Thank you for having me! And to the readers, if you made it this far, thank you!

The 'Into Fruition (Remixes)' are out now via Beatport: https://bit.ly/3EPWnGq

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