Artful at Ballyhoo and interview with Mark Hill
The godfather of 90s UK garage, Mark Hill aka Artful (minus the Dodger), is back with hopes of once again gracing the charts with his two-step beats. Having heard nothing from Artful since the It’s All About the Stragglers album released over a decade ago, I was intrigued to see if the Southampton born garage producer, who was responsible for huge hits such as Rewind and Craig David’s Seven Days, could live up to the former hype. As garage has given way to new genres of popular music with drum and bass, dubstep, electro and house being the music of choice for current generations of partygoers, can Artful prove he is still relevant?
I met with Artful on Friday night 4th May, at Ballyhoo, London, for the opening night of his UK tour which has been cut short due to lack of publicity and ticket sales – not a great start.
However, Hill remains hopeful and insists that he is having more fun this time around. “Last time things got too complicated and there was too much pressure. Now that the pressure is off the music is flowing more naturally.” After a short stint in Ibiza, Hill left the clubs behind, heading for more conventional pastures – marriage and three children. Music always remained a passion and what started out as a hobby inevitably led to the resurrection of Artful.
With the explosion of social media networks, Hill was able to connect with followers via Twitter, receiving positive feedback from promoters and producers and facilitating a fairly successful collaboration with Ed Sheeran on the track Could just be the Bassline. However, Hill is aware of the challenge he faces – whilst these networks might be helpful to communicate, they also give the public access to a huge amount of free downloadable music, a fact which has transformed the music industry since Artful’s last spell of fame. With a lack of ticket sales meaning cancellation of several shows, Hill hopes that by filming Friday’s gig and posting it online, he can attract more publicity for his upcoming EP.
The biggest factor in Artful’s success though, will be down to the simple fact of whether the new music is up to par. Hill maintains that while he has taken influence from house and electro artists such as Deadmau5, he was keen to work with artists who were influenced by the UK garage scenes to produce tracks that remain true to the old stuff, but are also more modern and sonically broader. Whether he has achieved this though, is somewhat questionable.
The gig itself was rather bare, despite the fact that Artful performed with a full band and four different vocalists including collaborators Terri Walker and funky house singer and rapper Donaeo. The new tracks seemed to be dated, stuck somewhere in the R’n’B of the 90s, with others such as Survive sounding somewhat monotonous. Unfortunately, the old outshone the new, with hits such as Moving too Fast stealing the show. Artful is undoubtedly a talented producer, however, I worry about his ability to fit into a new generation of music. There is definite potential for a successful return to music, however, in order to appeal to the new club scene, Artful will have to incorporate more upbeat musical trends into his brand of chilled out repetitive beats.
Read our interview with Mark Hill:
It has been a while since you released It’s All About The Stragglers. What have you been up to since then?
Mark Hill: Well, the last time around, things as Artful Dodger were getting too complicated with the label; there was a lot of pressure on myself and my partner Pete and we decided to split with no hard feelings. I sold the name Artful Dodger to the label and after working on Born To Do It with Craig David, I moved out to Ibiza where I was DJing on the club scene for a while. While I was out there I met my now wife. We decided to move back to the UK together and have had three children.
Why have you decided to make a musical comeback now?
In the last ten or so years, I was raising my family and just living my life working on a few other projects. I still loved music, but it just became more of a hobby that I did on the side. As soon as the pressure was off though, I found that the music just started flowing and some great stuff was coming out. And this time around things have changed a lot; now there’s Twitter (@ThisIsArtful), Facebook, SoundCloud and it gives me a great opportunity to speak to people and get feedback on the new stuff. I mean, even when I’m in the studio I can just record it on my phone, upload it to SoundCloud and see what people think straight away. I got a Twitter account and I was so surprised by the positive response from promoters, producers, etc. that were interested in putting on shows and hearing about what I was doing. Now it’s much easier than it used to be to connect with the public, but it’s also much harder to get a record deal and actually make money because there’s so much free stuff out there.
Today is meant to be the penultimate day of your UK tour. How has it been touring again?
Actually, today is the first show. We had to cancel most of the dates on the tour because agents at the venues were worried about lack of ticket sales. There also wasn’t enough promotion for whatever reason; we think that for the next shows we will take over the promotion ourselves. So we kept this gig and one in Southampton for the home crowd, but we’re hoping that we can film tonight and put it online to attract more attention and publicity for future shows. This show is really just for all the people on Twitter and Facebook who have been asking “When can we see you? When can we hear the new stuff?” We are performing tonight with a full band: guitar, bass, drums, piano and four different vocalists. Terri Walker, who I worked with on the last album, will be singing and also Donaeo.
What kind of sound are you going for with the new stuff? Are you going to stick with your garage roots or have you taken influence from newer genres of music such as drum and bass and electro house?
I have been influenced by the music that’s in the clubs right now and I am interested in electro and house music, especially DJ’s like Deadmau5. The track Could just be the Bassline which I produced with Ed Sheeran, who I am a massive fan of and absolutely love, has got a kind of electro feel to it. But I have been working with artists who are influenced by Artful Dodger and other artists who were doing the same sort of thing with two-step garage in the 90s. The other day I saw that the Ministry of Sound’s It’s all about Garage mix CD was doing really well on iTunes. I think there is definitely still an appetite out there for garage influenced music. I want to make tunes that stay true to the old stuff, but are also more modern and sonically broader. I do love my two-step beats though.
The last album had a lot of collaborations with artists such as Craig David and Romina Johnson appearing. Are there any more collaborations to look forward to on the new EP and album?
Yes, as well as Could just be the Bassline, I have also collaborated again with the wonderful and talented Terri Walker who has an incredible voice and I have worked a lot with Donaeo whose voice just fits absolutely perfectly with what I’m trying to do.
When will the new music be officially released?
I am starting with an EP with Donaeo which will be released in June. The album is basically written and will hopefully follow shortly if things go well with the EP and there is enough demand.
To find out more about Artful and to listen to samples of his new music click here.