Mo Wax: Money Mark; Djs James Lavelle, Shadow, Charlie and a cavalcade of stars … Planet, January 6, 1996

For a grunge puppy like myself it is hard to admit that I may be somewhat ‘crossing over’ these days, but with the Mo’Wax Headz in town it seemed to be the right time to come out, just a little …

Planet was bubbling both downstairs and up, the all-ages frenzy in the basement supplying scenes of manic hero worship as outside, after the gig, kids tried scrambing into the windows of tour buses loaded with Summersault superstars who squiggled on fans’ t-shirts, all to an impromptu busk on the sidewalk from Money Mark.

“I heard you guys are not allowed upstairs, that really sucks, so I’ll play to you for free”, said Mark, fiddling with the distortion and beats from his mini, homemade ghetto blaster thing. Crowded around him, the Perth under-aged mingled with a huge international media entourage who were dressed more like rock pigs than the unobtrusive, omnipresent members of Pavement, Foo Fighters and The Amps themselves. Consequently, the outrageously garbed photographers probably signed more autographs.

A drive-by water pistol shooting by the Beastie Boys on skateboards added to the surreal mayhem, Mark tapping away on a dated old Casio making one hell of a strange noise. Charles Street will never be dull again.

After some downstairs gawking and air, Planet’s dance party was in full, furious swing. Blending all schools of hip hop, mixing it with B-Boys, Eric B and Rakim staples, the crowd grinned and bounced to the cosiest, lovin’ atmosphere I’ve ever seen under such circumstances.

Which brings me to the crowd. From metal heads to indie girls, dance bunnies to moustachioed jazz freaks, the uptempo bass-driven jive propelled legs upwards and outwards, fuelled by the multi-schooled beats from hip-hop’s past, present and future. On stage, the wheels were watched from the shadows by local DJs as Charlie, Shadow and Lavelle rifled through crates of vinyl for that subtle sample or drum loop. Then up strolled Money Mark from the dance floor, his aforementioned sound machine bleeping out its cheap, silly beats and a mic halfway in his mouth.

I think most people would say that they didn’t enjoy Mark but I reckon they just missed the gag. “Y’see, I just picked up my bedroom and brought it here”, said Mark of the stage accessories – Buddha statues, lava lamps, a drum kit and countless wires and gizmos. “I don’t even have a bed”, he said climbing on to one of his keyboards.

“I get up in the mornin’, have a cappuccino and then my friends come over for a jam”, he added as a Beastie Boy walked up and started drumming. Mixing 2-3 minute bursts of simple impromptu jazz ditties with his theatrical displays of $4 musical trinkets he makes at home, Mark went through a day in the life of a slacker music man, little stories punctuated with songs like Cry (which he also did with the Beasties at Summersault) and Sometimes You Gotta Make It Alone.

However, the majority of the crowd suddenly and embarrassingly got really shirty about the lack of dance beats and put a chill in the room, their minute attention spans and disregard for alternative performance being a definite blight on the proceedings. Mark’s cabaret muse and theatrics were certainly flippant, but they were equally jolly, funny and reminded the people who paid attention that homegrown music can be part of everything and everyone.

Anyway, Mark left the stage to be filled with the DJ aura once more. People danced as the beats moved towards jungle, Kim Deal played pool and Dave Grohl bumped my elbow. Ahh, I’m still wearing those same socks.

Adam Connors

interview | Money Mark and the Mo’Wax Headz (1995)

From its beginnings in the bedrooms and clubs of teenage whizz-teen James Lavelle, the Mo’Wax label is the definitive futurescape of jazz and hip-hop beats fusion. As the Mo’Wax Headz tour hits Planet on Saturday, January 6, ADAM CONNORS dusted off his grotty sneekers and spoke to Mark Ramos Nishita, aka Money Mark, on the abstract experiments within his life.

When I spoke to him, Keyboard Money Mark was entrenched in the desert of California, “kickin’ it, gettin’ ready” for the forthcoming Mo’Wax Headz tour of Australia. The sometimes-studio musician who does the keys for the Beastie Boys on tour, has his samples littered throughout Dust Brothers productions and has his debut album, Mark’s Keyboard Repair, pumping out of all the right places is quite willing to talk about that absolute no-go of genre-descriptive terms – trip-hop.

You see, I feel that I might have my throat slit for mentioning the term within certain circles. Does Mark consider trip-hop a dirty word? “Oh wow, that’s a bit extreme. But I don’t think hyphenated words are very accurate descriptions. Something is what it is, especially when you are breaking new ground. I think when you hyphenate something, when you take two ideas and put them together, as in trip-hop, you are displaying a lack of trying to have a term.”

Which is precisely the definition I am accustomed to. The mix of hip-hop beats and jazz structure, instrumentation and mood has come to be a very fractured collection of music and musicians, only really bound by their place within certain indie labels – Warp, Mo’Wax amongst few others – and the loose label of trip-hop. Money Mark fits in somewhere within the Shaft-style 70s cop show groove, late-80s B-Boys rap, acid jazz and the 90s Sheffield Massiveportisheadtricky thing. Am I again in danger of overwhelming hyphenation and apostrophy overload? ‘Fraid so.

Money Mark’s form of jazz is stripped back archaic keyboards, seminal roots and funky, ambient hip-hop, though it is far from being confined to any one of these realms. The jazz component, for Money Mark, forms his level of conversation with the audience and sets the boundaries for his experimentation on stage.

“There is a misconception of jazz in that certain people feel they should be entertained, while other audiences of jazz need to feel they are participating.

“I think jazz incorporates the audience much more than say, pop music, which is very much into presentation, the big stage, the well-rehersed songs. Free range jazz musicians just hop up and do their thing, with no preconceptions, and the audience knows that and so they participate in the moment.

“I’m not at the point where I’m not going to involve the audience at all. If I get into a certain thing on stage, to challenge myself, I hope the audience responds in kind to the challenge, they accept the wonderment of the new sounds just as much as I am. But if they’re throwin’ tomatoes I know I’d better kick in some beats or somethin’.”

There isn’t much use of the voice or lyricism in the Mo’Wax world, where abstract instrumentation and beat experiments rule. Keyboard Money Mark too sees the use of the voice as essentially another tool, not a flamboyant centrepiece as in pop music.

“Given that not everyone understands the language, the sound of any random bunch of words which sound good is, like, cool. You don’t have to be constrained by the word when you make a cool sound with your throat – like skat, dope, wax – and when you have a microphone you can [Mark barks into the phone]. Y’know, whatever. I admire lots of different sound sources whether they’re conventional or strange.”

Touring with a stock electric piano, clavinet, analogue things and stuff which makes organ sounds, Money Mark will be playing both the Mo’Wax gig at Planet and Summersault with the Beastie Boys. He will be playing Saturday night with guests on bass and drums, who could quite simply be anyone. And where does he want to hear his album, Mark’s Keyboard Repair, booming out of? “I think it can go anywhere man, the young and the old are with it.

“Maybe it will be pumpin’ out of one of those electric carts that the old folks drive through the supermarket, maybe it will be pumpin’ out of some dope lowrider bike somewhere. Or a mono pocket radio, you’ve got it.”

Sort of like a ‘beats entree’ before the Summersault gigs, the tour features Mo’Wax label head James Lavelle, San Franciscan based DJ Shadow, English producer DJ Charlie and Money Mark.

James Lavelle, the 21-year-old Mo’Wax label founder who moonlights as a journalist for acid jazz magazine Straight No Chaser, is leading his label mates in the mix proceedings as the head of the Headz. As well as his business duties, his recordings with UNKLE and live deejaying still keep him wired and admired. “Mo’Wax has come at a time when people may be getting tired with a lot of the techno and house stuff,” he said in NME in 1994.

“Mo’Wax appeals to people because we’re all part of the same generation.”

23-year-old cohort DJ Shadow was picked up by Mo’Wax when he sent demos to Lavelle who went on to say that the result was the record he always wanted to release. His debut EP, In/Flux, was widely celebrated as ‘Massive Attack on dangerous drugs’ and has set the experimental agenda for the label ever since.

English producer of UK duo Attica Blues, DJ Charlie describes his work as “mad subliminal beat music” as he does the finishing mixes for release. Starting off the Mo’Wax beats-fest, his scope in combining twisted drum loops and existing material from new artists will set the smooth move for the groove to follow.