Mark Slee first wandered into our crosshairs as a DJ, but we quickly learned that there was more to the story. As a DJ, Mark is a founding member of the SF collective known as House-Heads, plays regularly at all of the top-tier SF underground events, and also spins as one half of Manju Masi, a collaboration with the well known DJ, Atish. Mark is also a music producer steadily on the rise, with two remixes out this year, and three full solo EPs on the way, all on the Jondi & Spesh imprint, Loöq Records. Add to that the fact that he's a compelling visual artist and it suddenly dawns on you that Mark Slee is somewhat of a modern Renaissance Man, and one to watch.
Mark was good enough to answer our hastily thought up questions about DJing, music production, visual art, hairstyles, and friends.
Qoöl: What's your personal approach to doing a DJ set, and what distinguishes your personal sound?
Mark Slee: My approach to DJ sets really varies depending on the context. In the club environment, I'm actually a big fan of opening sets, as a lot of my favorite music personally just happens to be the deeper, more subtle stuff. I like setting the mood with little textures and melodies, then slowly building up energy. I find there's a nice give and take with that - reading the room and feeling out what people are looking for, but at the same time using softer stuff to draw them in and then push in the directions I would like to go. So I think my personal sound is wrapped up in that somewhere... thoughtful, with a bit of intention, but also going with the flow. I'll get heady at times, but it's always got to have that groove and a bit of soul.
Q: Does your music production inspire your DJ sets, or vice versa, or both? Is there a synergy there?
MS: This definitely goes both ways. I actually often find that the music I'm making at any given time isn't necessarily the music I'm playing out as a DJ. Curating music and producing music are very different processes, so there's an opportunity to explore different sounds and styles by bouncing between the two. And sometimes I don't even feel like that's fully under my control. When it comes to writing music, I usually try not to be too calculated about exactly what I'm making. Things tend to work best when I just play around and see where the exploration winds up.
With that said, I do sometimes specifically produce tracks for special moments in DJ sets, especially for off-the-grid events like the House-Heads parties or Burning Man. It's super fun having an extra little trick up my sleeve for those events.
Q: Tell us about your visual art . What kind of projects have you been up to, and what might you be planning next?
MS: I have a background in computer programming, and I got interested in LED art about 4 years ago. I wanted an artistic outlet for that skill, and I also liked the idea of creating physical things. All my work is based around full-color programmable lights, in various geometric structures. I really like the simplicity of grid layouts - they're very constrained, but that forces you to explore the possibilities (some examples on my site: http://mcslee.com/#visual). It's loosely analogous to having a 4/4 kick with claps on the upbeats and hats on the eighths. Seems like a rigid template, but it turns out there are *so many* things you can paint on that canvas.
Lately I've been also been exploring interior pieces with higher-end finishes, nice woods and metals. As well as some much more ambitious 3-D structures. Lately I've been working on a big project called the Sugar Cubes, led by Alex Green. We're in the midst of a rebuild, but our first version looked like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0lkcChDN-Q
At some point in the future, I will combine the lights with music, doing a full on original audiovisual composition. This is going to happen, but I'm not forcing it. Waiting for the right moment when I just know that it's the project to take on.
Q: We've also noticed that you're a pretty dapper fellow. Do you have a style consultant? Who cuts your hair?
MS: Hah! Funnily enough, I have a very conflicted relationship with haircuts. I tend to find them stressful. Sometimes I just cut my hair myself, or have a friend do it (often before Burning Man, which then dictates the direction my hair will be going afterwards).
Since the topic has been brought up, I have to give a shout here to Spesh's long-standing commitment to whimsical hair. Maybe he's my subconscious consultant...
Q: What's your greatest joy in life?
MS: Oh man, the big question! My answer to this one is pretty abstract. I think a lot about how life is this bizarre temporary thing, we're only here until all of a sudden we're not... so you've just got to go make something out of it and trust that joy will find you along the way. I genuinely love music and art, and my greatest joy comes in those elusive moments when everything else just melts away, leaving me able to stop worrying and just see the very simple beauty of experience.
And of course, the amazing friends I have to share this all with, which at the end of the day I appreciate far more than anything else. It may sound cheesy, but if there can ever be a simple, concrete answer to this question, it's friends.
Mark Slee plays the closing set at Qoöl on August 14, 2013.