Djing with Nu-Mark
The only thing better than meeting someone you really admire is realizing what a nice person they are. This was the case when I went to see a Jurassic 5 show at B.B. Kings in New York City. Long after the show had finished, while the manager of the club was ushering people out of the venue, members of the band followed fans out continuing to talk with them and sign autographs. The highlight of the evening was getting to talk to DJ Nu-Mark, one of my favorite DJs, and someone whose creativity and skillful beat blending and crafting are a real inspiration. In the interview he very openly discusses his influences, creative process, and how he got started. Nu-Mark also offers some sound advice for aspiring DJs.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to be a DJ/musician?
NM: There was never a deciding point for me to become a musician. I’ve played drums since I was twelve and that was when I started to show interest in both records and hip-hop.
CCB: How have your family and friends responded to your career choice?
NM: Well, at first my mother kept pushing me to pursue a back up career and I did. I studied to be a Radiologic Technologist (In short an X-Ray Tech). I couldn’t hack it, dropped out, and J5 went gold right after that in Europe. We did our first tour!
CCB: How did you learn about the art of DJing?
NM: I used to break with my boy Chris Cooke in junior high. His uncle used to make us mix tapes to get down to. One day I checked out his uncle and was really taken aback at how much it related to my percussive interest.
CCB: Have you had any mentors in your career? What or who inspires you?
NM: Bum Rush Productions was the first mobile crew of DJs I was in. We used to do all the high school parties etc. I really learned a lot from both Amani Smith and Greg Fair on how to read a crowd. We all went to the same high school and talked mostly about hip-hop. Besides my own crew, I really took to DJ Alladin. He was definitely a DJ I studied. At one point I was even trying to stand like he did when he was cutting up.
CCB: My understanding of a mobile crew of DJs is a group of DJs who travel from place to place doing shows. Does that define it sufficiently?
NM: Yes, except we would DJ house parties and the occasional
club. It wasn't a performance; it was a party where people would
dance and would eventually get broken up by the police because of a
fight or a noise complaint.
CCB: How did you go from being interested in DJing to learning about it? Apart from watching other DJs, did you just get turntables and practice? Did anyone take you under their wing and show you different scratches or mixing techniques?
NM: Nobody took me under their wing. I would listen very carefully to Aladdin and Jazzy Jeff's scratches on records and tried to imitate them. Once I bought my own turntables, there was no excuse not to practice. I watched DMC tapes (DJ competitions) as well.
CCB: Have you ever met DJ Alladin? If so, what was it like getting to meet someone you really looked up to?
NM: Alladin was in a group with WC called Low Profile. He was one of the first DJs to introduce a 2 to 4 bar fast chirp scratch. I met him DJing at the club I met the MCs from J5 at. He liked what I was doing and I almost passed out meeting him.
CCB: Where do your ideas come from? Is there a process/routine when you are creating music?
NM: Ideas come to me from stress, a bad idea, someone’s good idea, an old record, my group, a musical void, and much more. There has never been a routine for my production. Each song asks for different musical notation.
CCB: What is a day in the studio or on tour like?
NM: A day in the studio is either one big “Almost” or one big “Victory”. It depends on how much patience myself or the group has. Touring can be a bit tedious until you actually play the show. Packing, traveling, soundchecking, and replacing bad equipment either puts me in a shitty mood or bores me to death. I know its part of the job but playing is the payoff!
CCB: How did it feel the first time you preformed live?
NM: It was amazing. It made us believe that there is an audience for all the music that we kept under wraps in the studio.
CCB: What skills and qualities are necessary to succeed as a DJ?
NM: Patience, a tremendous work ethic, a positive attitude, staying current, reflecting and researching all music (new and old), paying attention to people, keep a dope collection, find your style, and practice.
CCB: Is the DJ community a tight knit group?
NM: It's tight knit. Most of the DJs I've met are super cool. I think
it's because they all have had to lug around so much equipment (good work ethic). Maybe this makes them down to earth and ready to give and receive knowledge. I talk all the time to other DJs. I really get along well with their wacky sense of humor.
CCB: What has been the best thing about your career so far?
NM: Being able to express myself without feeling like I won’t be understood.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
NM: Trying to align five minds to one creative process and finding a comfortable way to make beats on the road.
CCB: Is there anything that people would be surprised to know about being a DJ? Is there anything that surprised you?
NM: Most rock engineers at some of the festivals J5 performs at, think that turntables are easy to mix (“Oh there’s just a DJ, no drums or guitar, thank God”). Well, the truth is that there are multiple things that could go wrong with a standard DJ set up. There is a lot of maintenance and preparation to DJing, never to be underestimated.
I never thought I would work with Big Daddy Kane or get respect from Chuck D from Public Enemy. It turns out that Amani (One of the DJs in Bum Rush) produces for Chuck D and Public Enemy. Who would have thought?
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming a DJ?
NM: There is an audience for all types of music. Don’t give up. Buy turntables and practice alone for a while then try to find kids that are doing what you do.
CCB: How did you meet up with the other members of Jurassic 5?
NM: I met J5 at a club called “Rat Race” in Hollywood. Live musicians with rap artist was the basic theme of the night. I was the DJ for the club.
CCB: How do you collaborate in the group with the other members? (Do you and Cut Chemist create the beats and then the MCs write their lyrics around them?)
NM: Yes you got it. We bring in the occasional guest vocalist and producer in as well.
CCB: On your album, Hands On, how did you compose the music? What production tools/ instruments did you use?
NM: For that CD, I mostly manipulated my turntables with old records and the songs that were produced were sequenced on an Mpc 2000.
CCB: In concert you played with a box of cubes. Would you mind explaining how that box works (Where you pick them up and they play a sound)?
NM: I like rewiring kids’ toys and playing them either in my DJ shows or with my group. The blocks have different shapes on each side. So stars play pianos and circles play bass lines etc. Every time you press a shape a bar of music sounds off. Very addicting.
CCB: It also seemed at your show like you were tapping beats out on a desk. How do you come up with these unique aspects to your shows? Is there any other routine that you are working on or are particularly fond of?
NM: I just brainstorm my ideas with the technology that’s available. Not sure what the future holds for new routines. I’m still struggling with new ideas.
CCB: Is there a story behind how you chose your DJ name? (You briefly mentioned to me that it was from the Numark brand mixers) Have the people at Numark ever sponsored you?
NM: My boy Amani gave me the name “Nu-Mark”. I couldn’t think of a name and he said that it was “probably underneath my nose” and sure enough I looked down and I was mixing on a Numark mixer. My real name is Mark. Made enough sense to me. Yes Numark has sent me some stuff. I’m trying to convince them to let me create a drum machine for them. They don’t seem very interested.
CCB: I noticed that you use a Rane mixer, what in your opinion are the best mixer, turntable, slipmat, and cartridge to use?
NM: Best mixer right now is the Pioneer 909, the Sure M44G needles, Technics 1200 or Vestax, Q-Bert’s butter rugs for the slipmats. All this depends on what you’re trying to do.
CCB: Do you create most of your music through playing instruments or from sampling?
NM: Most of my music is created from samples. I keep my ears open at all times and never stop looking after I’ve created a good drum kit. I keep an open mind to opinions inside and outside my group when we are in the creative process.
CCB: Do you have a large record collection? What kinds of records do you buy?
NM: I own around 35,000 records. I buy whatever stirs pure emotion.
CCB: I recognized SDP (A Japanese hip-hop group) on your album. How did you become involved with them and the other foreign artists on the album?
NM: The SDP song was a remix I did for them in ‘98. I decided to put it on the mix CD and that later inspired me to add other foreign hip-hop artists to my mix. That’s when I made a point to buy international hip-hop.
CCB: I also saw that you collaborated with J-Live on the album. How did you end up working with him?
NM: I basically cold called J because I was a huge fan. He’s an artist that deserves the world.
CCB: I just wanted to say that I am a big fan of J-Live. I am glad that you like him too. He started off as a DJ as well, did you get to talk with him about that at all? Do you have any intention/desire to become an MC yourself?
NM: No desire to be an MC. J-Live and I talked mostly about production and hip-hop. I wanted him to rhyme while he was on the turntables (That's his trademark).
CCB: What kind of music do you listen to? Are there any artists that you would recommend I listen to that I might not have heard of?
NM: Not sure. My taste changes from week to week. I can always listen to James Brown, Placebo, David Axelrod, anything Jay Dee produces.
CCB: What can we expect from you in the future? Any artists that you would really like to work with?
NM: I plan to release more “Uncle Nu” or “Nu-Mark” 12’s eventually leading up to a debut production album. Not sure what vocalist I’d like to work with yet because it has to fit with all the toys and drum machine solos in my stage show. We are finishing up a fantastic new J5 LP. Stay tuned!!!!
* Interview conducted by Michael Maniaci
See what Nu-Mark is up to here: http://www.unclenu.com/home/