Having cut his teeth on the underground party circuit, Blair is now a regular fixture at clubs around Europe and further afield – recent gigs have included appearances in Paris, Barcelona and Manchester among others – ahead of a much-anticipated return to AVA, as part of the stacked Saturday lineup.
What makes this year’s event particularly special for him is that it will see Blair make his Boiler Room debut, alongside artists such as Floorplan, VTSS, Tsha and Bklava. Not bad for a local lad who started working for AVA Festival as a ticket seller a few years back.
909originals caught up with him. Check out our interview with fellow AVA artist Carlton Doom here.
Hi Mark, thanks for talking to us. What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m not working on much, production wise. I moved out of my studio in Belfast about four months ago to move to Barcelona. Moving from a big studio space with lots of equipment into just using my iMac was actually super nice.
Going back to basics definitely helped my creativity. I made about 20 tracks and edits for my upcoming EPs and Boiler Room set while I didn’t have many shows going on. But now that shows are picking up, I’ve been on a production break the past few weeks.
All my focus right now is prepping for my AVA/Boiler Room set. After AVA, I’ll be straight back into producing my next EP and try to bang out another 20 tracks.
You’ve been a regular at AVA the past few years. Why is the festival so special to you?
Oh gosh, where do I start? When AVA started, it was a complete shock to the Belfast nightlife – in a good way. There was nothing that had been done like that before, and it was the first time Boiler Room had ever come to Belfast.
I attended the very first festival and have been at it every year since. Watching it grow from its humble beginnings into this world renowned festival has been incredible. The first thing promoters say to me when I go abroad to play a show is ‘I see you’re playing AVA this year. It makes me so proud of our little country.
We believe your relationship with AVA goes way back… that you once worked as a ticket vendor for them?
Yes that’s correct. Myself and AVA have a pretty rich history. I began selling tickets for them the first year of the festival – and I was one of their top sellers, may I add!. After selling tickets for them for about three or four years, I then applied for their marketing internship, which they rejected me for…
The following year they asked me to play my first set – after I had hounded Sarah (McBriar, festival founder) with my tunes for a few years. I’ve played for them three times now, and every year the crowd has been getting a little bit bigger and bigger.
It’s been a really great indicator for myself for how much I’ve grew as an artist since my first set for them. I’ve met a lot of people in Belfast through throwing raves and parties, and a lot of them are super supportive and make the effort to come down to the festival early and show support. Which is super wholesome.
You’re set to make your Boiler Room debut at the festival. Are you shitting it… ha ha only joking, you must be buzzing? What can we expect?
Surprisingly I’m quite zen about the whole thing. I’ve been mentally preparing for this moment since I was 16, ten years ago.
I’ve had a playlist on my rekordbox software called Boiler Room that I’ve had for about six years now, that I’ve been adding special tunes I come across into. It’s definitely the most important set of my career so far, but I’m definitely ready for it.
Post-pandemic, do you think that the club scene in the North is in a good place? Positives and negatives?
There was definitely a massive buzz when clubs first opened up after the lockdown. Right now, that’s died down a bit and things have kind of returned to pre-pandemic levels.
But even still, there definitely feels like there’s a ‘strange’ vibe in the crowd at the moment. It’s not necessarily bad, but its not good either. I think it might be all the 18, 19 and 20 year olds that missed their first two years of clubbing and know they don’t know how to act at the rave 😉
Your musical style takes in house music, hip hop, grime – would it be fair to say you have a broad range of influences?
Ahh absolutely. Grime, hip hop, hard techno, pop music and everything in-between. I f*cking love it all. And I feel that it definitely comes across in my production and DJ sets. There’s nothing more boring than boom boom 4x4 techno on a night out, with no musical twists or turns for the crowd.
You’ve got a fair few hip hop edits under your belt as well, particularly Kanye edits. Is Kanye aware of your work?
I get asked this question quite a lot. I remember a few years ago I photoshopped an Instagram DM from Kanye to myself saying he had heard the song. I thought it was quite obviously a prank but a lot of people seemed to believe it.
I guess it’s not that unbelievable considering how many plays my track I Miss The Old Kanye has amassed. Kanye is quite egotistical – I can definitely imagine him scouring YouTube for his name – so let’s just assume he’s heard it 😉
Did the Barbed podcasts help keep you sane during lockdown?
Absolutely. Once COVID-19 hit and the lockdowns began I got stuck into music production. I was super productive for about a month and then hit a creative wall and the thought of opening Ableton made me want to cry. Having something else other than music production to focus on definitely helped me mentally and creatively.
As someone who cut their teeth at underground parties and raves, does this influence you when you are planning your DJ sets?
I say this to my friends all the time. I know hundreds of producers WAY more talented than me at music production and DJing. But the reason I think I’ve been successful in making music my full-time career is because I spent so many hours at raves when I was growing up.
Whenever I make music or prepare my DJ sets, I just think back to when I was 18 or 19, eccied out of my face at a rave, and imagine what I would like to hear.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
I released a new EP at the end of April, and I also have a very special EP that I’m super proud of that will be coming out in about two months. I feel it represents a side of me people haven’t really seen yet. I’ll be debuting it at my Boiler Room set at AVA Festival so keep your eyes – and ears – peeled.
Both of the EP’s will be self released, which I’m a pretty big believer in. Unless it’s a label that you are a massive fan off and want to release with, or a large label that’s going to give you a massive marketing push, then don’t sign away your work!
Mark Blair appears on Saturday 4 June at AVA Festival. More information here.