Back in the day I regularly attended 12-hour marathon DJ sets spun by Junior Vasquez at the Palladium in New York City. Vasquez would hold court the entire set, dropping unreleased material to classics when the sun came up. Sometimes the vibe was incredible and as special as capturing lightning in a bottle. Other times you could tell he was working out ideas, but his faithful fans loved him no less for it. Every time I left the Palladium on Sunday afternoon I knew I had experienced something truly special.
This sort of experience is rare nowadays. Club bills are getting bigger and DJ sets are getting shorter. Some say the shift is accommodating the changing taste of a generation with shorter attention spans; others believe it boils down to promoters and club owners sucumbing to market pressures. There’s probably merit to both theories.
The cultural shift in clubland hasn’t been lost on Toolroom Records boss Mark Knight. A fan of playing longer and taking clubbers on the proverbial journey rather than an Uber ride, he began talking to peers including Danny Tenaglia, Roger Sanchez and Andy C about why playing longer is often better.
His inquest is documented in Odyssey, a short film chronicling his conversations. One of the best lines comes Tenaglia, who says matter-of-factly how playing all night was a given when he first started out. “Everybody worked 9 to 5 – 9pm to 5am. That’s what was normal to me. Still to this day I don’t consider that a marathon.”
There’s also an accompanying DJ tour, All Knight Long, where clubbers in select cities will get a no-holds-barred taste of Knight’s skills.
In advance of the tour kicking off April 12 at Culture Box in Copenhagen, we talked to Knight about his inspiration behind the film and subsequent DJ tour.
Congratulations on a great film. Have you done something like Odyssey before?
Mark Knight: Thank you. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance from a lot of people. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I’m glad it seems to be speaking to people. I’ve been involved with short films and documentaries before, but nothing as specific as this.
What inspired you to investigate this topic and what did you learn?
Some of the most memorable club experiences I’ve ever had have been in a single room, with one DJ, over the space of many hours. Danny Tenaglia in Miami is one that especially had a really profound effect on me, and something I’ll never forget. I’ve always enjoyed playing longer sets myself, and to be honest I just thought it was something that needed to be celebrated, as DJ sets seem to be getting shorter and shorter these days, with more attention on the amount of names you can cram on a bill than the music itself. So that was the starting point: wanting to create a tribute to the extended set.
What was the level of effort to secure and coordinate interviews?
A lot! It’s been a concerted effort from a lot of people over a period of several months, but I think the results speak for themselves. We had a first screening in London last month and the reaction was great, so I think everyone’s very proud of what we achieved.
Were there any DJs in particular that you tried unsuccessfully to interview?
There were a couple who wanted to be involved, but due to touring or prior commitments just didn’t happen in the end.
Which came first: the idea for the movie or your upcoming tour?
They pretty much came hand in hand. In terms of the tour, historically I’ve always made quite a broad cross-section of music. I’ve never really wanted to be pigeonholed into one genre or another. And often when I’m approaching what style of music I want to make, I often think about where a particular records would fit within my sets. So for example if I were making something a little slower or deeper, if I was playing an all night set that would be something I’d look to play for the warm-up. That’s always been my approach in the studio, so the All Knight Long tour is a translation of that approach into a live context. But the extended set is something I’ve done for years, and also something I’ve increasingly admired. So I definitely wanted to create something separate to the tour that people could watch and enjoy now, but also look back on in years to come.
What’s the one thing you learned from talking to the likes of Danny Tenaglia for the film?
One thing I learnt is that I think that age really helps your ability to deliver as a DJ. You only really learn how to DJ while you’re doing it, so naturally the longer someone has been DJing the more experience they have, and hopefully the deeper their musical knowledge runs. Beatmatching and playing records that go together well is one thing, but the ability to know how long you can push things in a particular direction in a live setting only comes through experience. It’s a psychological thing: you’re constantly re-evaluating the room to assess what the vibe is and what you can get away with. It’s not always the case, and there are some incredible DJs that are much longer, but when you meet the masters, people like Danny and Roger Sanchez, who could lay claim to be some of the greatest ever DJs, I think a lot of that comes hand in hand with their experience.
You’re about to embark on a lengthy marathon tour of your own. How are you preparing for it and what can people expect?
Most of my preparation has been sorting out records. I’ll be playing extended sets at each of the venues, and I want to make sure every one is unique, so that’s a hell of a lot of music. In terms of what people can expect, I get asked this a lot and I always say the same: you’ll have to come and see for yourself.
In your view, is a longer DJ set always better?
No, not always: for sure you can have some fun with the shorter sets. If you’re headlining a festival and everyone just wants a full-on party for a couple of hours, sometimes it’s great to get on there for an hour and a half and bang out all your huge records. Some of my favorite ever experiences have been sets like that, both behind the decks and on the dance floor. I just think the art of DJing all night is a completely different experience requiring a different set of skills, and it’s something I think we should try to preserve.
What advice do you have for an up-and-coming DJ who’d like to venture into playing longer sets?
You need to know your music inside out. And take risks: longer sets are absolutely the opportunity to do this. If something doesn’t work, you’ve got plenty of time to get everyone back onside.
Any final thoughts?
Hope you can come see me on one of the tour dates – they’re going to be great!
All Knight Long Tour Dates:
12 April – Culture Box – Copenhagen
22 April – Womb – Tokyo
27 April – Panama – Amsterdam
28 April – Output – New York
29 April – Soundbar – Chicago
05 May – Pacha – Munich
19 May – Uniun – Toronto
21 May – New City Gas – Montreal
02 June – Sound – Los Angeles
03 June – Audio – San Francisco
17 June – Harterei – Zurich
24 June – Basing House – London
07 July – Gorilla – Manchester
26 August – Danceteria / Capital Club – Helsinki
22 September – Roxy – Prague