Eddy has had a lot of special co-hosts on The Remix over the last few months, but never so many in one sitting as last Friday night. Many recent guests have been founders of some of Eddy’s favourite record labels, as was the most recent co-host. But when Wall Of Sound’s Mark Jones came in, he brought with him a conga line of the label’s artists old and new too. This week Eddy salutes Jones and his maverick genius.
I’ve often said in this column how I love record labels that are an extension of one person, from MoWax to Output, from XL to Never Say Die, and last week’s show – still available on the Xfm Radioplayer – paid tribute to one of my all time favourites and, pound for pound, surely the most played record label on Xfm’s The Remix: Wall Of Sound.
This story begins in my first week at Radio 1 back in the 1990s, and my coming across a vinyl compilation album called ‘Give Em Enough Dope Volume 2′, with a close up picture of somebody stirring a vast quantity of hashish oil. As a habitual smoker in those days, even the cover excited me a little, and the beats I found within it gave me the same joy as the similar UNKLE/Conehead compilations that were circulating at the time.
If you’ve got this record, get your fingers a bit dusty, find it, and you’ll be surprised at how ahead of its time the tracklisting appears. Kruder & Dorfmeister, Portishead, Mekon, these were all artists who’d go onto great things but at this stage were just looking for a bit of help and, in this case, that help came from a young man working at Soul Trader Records who just wanted them to have an outlet. That man was Mark Jones.
The Wall Of Sound logo ended up representing the cool side of the burgeoning big beat movement, with Skint representing the more commercial side of things, given its affiliation with Fatboy Slim. But Wall Of Sound always felt like it had a wider brush and never wanted to be shackled to a scene. You could certainly never call Les Rythmes Digitales big beat, for instance.
By the mid-90s, I was avidly consuming everything on this label, and loving everything I heard. Mekon, Ceasefire, Deadly Avenger, Les Rhythmes Digitales, The Wiseguys, all became pivotal, formative artists for me. Monkey Mafia was happening over on Heavenly, another incredibly cool label at the time, but the main man, Jon Carter, joined the Wall Of Sound gang as Junior Cartier soon afterwards.
Wall Of Sound had its finger on an undeniably strong pulse, and were soon striking up interesting partnerships and developing some seriously good artists. Propellerheads and Royksopp were added to the roster and dazzled us probably more than anyone at that time. These are the days that really shaped people like myself and Alex Metric, luring us out of rock and teaching us that dance could rock too.
I remember Pete Tong referring to this gang as if they were naughty schoolboys. He’d be on the edge of laughter while plugging one of their events, hinting at the rampant drug and alcohol consumption of those involved, and talking about “those Breezeblock beats”.
Meanwhile, my job was making promos at Radio 1, and, amongst other things, ‘sound-beds’ for DJs to talk over. I plundered so many of these from Wall Of Sound. I say plundered, but they were routinely reported to PRS/PPL so everyone got paid, and thus the boss of Wall Of Sound, the legendary Mark Jones, became aware that he had an ally at the nation’s biggest radio station.
Mark was the finger on the pulse, the human from which Wall Of Sound sprung as an extension. He must have seen the PRS returns and put two and two together because I received an invitation to come to the Wall Of Sound corporate box at QPR one Sunday. I was warned it would “be messy”, and the reputations of all involved were no secret at that time. Though that wasn’t the reason I didn’t go – for a reason I can’t now remember I just wasn’t available that day – and, alas, I was never invited again.
With hindsight I’ve always regretted not having seen that gang in full flow (in the same way I regret, not long after that, having been unconscious in a pool of my own blood in Los Angeles when I was supposed to be in San Francisco. Had I been where I was meant to be, I’d have been there as an enormous earthquake hit. I regret not having been in the epicentre of such a huge natural phenomenon, in the same way I missed the chance to be at the epicentre of all things Wall Of Sound during the days of most excess).
Around that time Mary Anne Hobbs joined Radio 1 and we became inseparable friends. Her show ‘The Breezeblock’ represented that whole scene and she became like a symbol of that movement, the beautifully carved figurehead on the bow of a ship, while all on board drank and danced all day and all night. But even then I never quite made it to the party. And by the time I actually met Mark, sometime later, he was in the process of giving up every form of intoxicant. “Seven years, five days ago”, he said, proudly, when we spoke last week.
I didn’t meet the legend that is Mark Jones until I was at Xfm a few years later, when a band I’d championed from early demo stages, The Infadels, were playing at my Remix Night at East London’s Cargo. Mark was there to woo them into signing to Wall Of Sound. Mark is very good at that. I once interviewed Royksopp and asked them why they signed to Wall Of Sound, when they could have signed to pretty much anyone they wanted. Their reply was: “Just to shut Mark Jones up – he wouldn’t leave us alone!” Therein lies a glimpse of the passion of this man.
And this passion is combined, in an incredibly entertaining way, with a mania that comes from having lived so dangerously in the past. Some of my best friends are ex-drug fiends and they are, in every case, interesting for it. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, they have insight, they have fascinating life experiences and they have an OPINION. They’ve been in it, and they’ve come out the other side better and stronger. If you’ve listened to any recent Noel Gallagher interviews you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Mark has the same sort of manic vibe that Robin Williams conveys, another one who’s been through it and come back brighter. My ex always used to say she thought Mark never gave anything up. “That guy is ALWAYS off his tits – LOOK at him, listen to him”, she’d say, adding: “I rest my case”.
But she was wrong. Mark is just one of those characters, and I use the word character in its biggest, brightest and most colourful way, who wears their past like a badge of honour. Their history is part of their present, and I wouldn’t want him any other way.
Once we’d finally met, Mark and I became friends slash colleagues and collaborators pretty quickly. He and I put on that now legendary Remix Night one Christmas, that saw 26 DJs, from A to Z, each drop one record in a two hour mix, at Cargo, to raise money for the homeless charity Shelter. That night we went from Arthur Baker to Zoot Woman, via Erol Alkan, Soulwax, Lottie, Touche/FakeBlood, Coldcut, Dahlarge, all crammed into Cargo. About 5000 people say they were there, but from the stage I counted 500.
A few years later, when I was working on another charity project, it was Mark who came to the rescue when I needed a label to put out Cage Against The Machine, our original Christmas recording that crossed the Top 20 threshold thanks to an incredible team of people who helped to get some amazing people involved – not least convincing producers such as Fake Blood and Mr Scruff to remix silence for us. The logo on the record: Wall Of Sound.
Away from my own projects with Mark, I’ve found myself time and again championing his work. It was Mark who took the coolest producers in London and hooked them up with the coolest MCs in Jamaica for ‘Two Culture Clash’, the project that gave the initial spark of inspiration that led to Major Lazer. Switch and Diplo got all the credit and all the press, but if you trace back the genesis of that project, it’ll lead you back to the man at the top of Wall Of Sound.
The Remix last week featured the most chaotically brilliant two hours of radio I’ve ever been involved in. Every seventeen to 20 minutes, a different Wall Of Sound artist rolled into the studio and played their favourite Wall Of Sound record, as well as bringing us up to speed with what they are doing now.
Adamski was signed in the studio right in front of me. The first ever WOS artist, Mekon, was there. Mark’s new signings, Echoes and Killaflaw – yes Killaflaw have signed to WOS now! – and one of my heroes, Martyn Ware from Human League/Heaven 17/British Electric Foundation, one of Sheffield’s finest, also came in, which gave me a huge thrill. He’s my second guest, after Gary Numan, whose vinyl albums I bought with my saved up pocket-money when I was at school.
We discussed my theory that there is something in the Sheffield water system that produces both great human beings and great musicians, and we discussed his new project being on such a progressive label, started by such a maverick as Mark Jones. “He’s insane”, quipped Martyn, but we both agreed that for a record label to run successfully these days, after almost 20 years in the game, there had to be a level of extreme SANITY there as well.
Mark is a one-off, and I’d never write him off. Yes he is bonkers, but lovably so, and very canny with it. There’s much more to him that the veneer of cerise coloured madness that is his public persona, and the fact Wall Of Sound is still in existence, still kicking against the pricks and giving us high quality music of almost every genre, is an incredible reflection of the man himself.
Many people reading this will have received an email from Mr Jones at some point, so you will smile when I quote what’s always at the bottom of his missives:
“Where there’s a wall, there’s a way”