If the picture above doesn’t cause mayhem, or doesn’t make you loose your mind completely, you are not a full-on raver. The legendary Altern 8 dominated the 90s with their perspective on the newly formed Rave scene, and one half of Altern 8 (the one I’m about to interview) is the mighty Mark Archer, one half of Altern 8. A legend within the scene, with many years of experience as a producer, DJ and rave pioneer.We talk to the man who made the 90s memorable, and who still to this day continues to play all over the UK and the world. He might be a bit older and not on Vicks Vapo Rub anymore, but he’s still determined to get you all raving. Raise your hands in the air, and dance like a monkey on acid: Mark Archer!!!
Mark Archer, how are you doing sir? How’s life at the moment for you?
“I’m very well thank you and life is particularly good at the moment, after a few years of it being a bit difficult to say the least, things are looking up.”
Mark Archer, or is it already sir Archer? You must have been knighted by her Majesty for your contribution to the Rave scene…
“Haha – I wish :)”
Let’s go back in time, way back in time. When Mark was a little lad, and wasn’t focussed on DJing or raving the night away. What did Mark do when he was a young kid?
“I used to live in a really small hamlet called Bishopswood so had a small group of friends and everyone knew everyone really, kind of a quite idylic childhood growing up in the countryside playing in fields etc”
No disrespect, but I’m young. I don’t know what the wonderful music had to offer when you were young. What kind of music did you listen to growing up, and was it music that you really loved and adored, or disliked?
“I pretty much listened to everything, you either liked or disliked a tune, I wasn’t into one specific thing really, just whatever was on the radio at the time.
I’ve recently done a series of mixes called ‘Back To Mine’ where I’ve added some of these old tracks that maybe part of a film soundtrack or country and western, just tunes that I remember well from when I was little.”
DJing wasn’t a thing, because it’s wasn’t fully developped yet. Music was there, dance scenes were also present, but someone playing records non-stop was obviously not a full on thing. What attracked you to the music scene in the first place? What kind of connection did you have with music?
“It wasn’t until the late 70’s I guess when there was a lot of Disco on the radio that I kind of started veering toward liking a certain sound more than others and then when Hip Hop and Electro Funk came over to the UK that was it for me, the idea of the tracks being mixed on the Streetsounds Electro series had me fascinated and it’s from then I started reading all the credits on who produced and mixed tracks and got really into things.”
What did you as a kid imagine to become when you were older? Was it something to do with music, or something completely different?
“When I left school the only thing I could think that I wanted to do was be a DJ but that came after the production really (and after becoming a painter and decorator too).”
According to your own website you started your production career back in 1988. 1988, that’s a long time ago! You started alongside Dean Meredith and formed Rhythm Mode D, being a Hip Hop/sample House group. How did you get into producing as such, and what did you use to make records back then?
“I was laid off from my job as a painter and bumped into Dean who was on work experience in Stafford town (I’d known Dean a few years earlier when we used to be in to breakdancing etc). He said he had a set of decks at his and i’d just got a small sampling keyboard so I went to his and we just made some tracks messing about, nothing serious.
We took this tape with our tracks on to a newly opened studio in Stafford and were offered a deal there and then, amazingly lucky when you think about it.”
The majority of artists started listening to Hip Hop and slowely moved into the dance scene, listening to House music. But is the transition that easy? How come you went from Hip Hop to House music?
“It was pretty much a logical thing and everyone who was into the same sort of music as me at the time did the same. We were listening to a lot of 80’s Soul and R&B so the transition to house wasnt so great as it was a lot more vocally than the Hip Hop and Electro of the time.”
What was the scene like back then? Was the scene as memorable as we believe it was?
“It was very exciting, House music was brand new – it’s now been around for over 30 years so people are used to it but then it was like ‘what on earth is this?’ Then with the start of Acid House it totally turned clubbing upside down.”
Rhythm Mode D was your first adventure, another adventure was Bizarre Inc (founding member). How did that happen?
“Dean and myself were recording loads of different things at the studio we were working at, from Hip Hop to Acid House and doing loads or remixes for the label that ran alongside the studio. We wanted to do a more Techno styled track and so came up with the name Bizarre Inc. Our first release got to number 100 in the UK charts and so Dean kicked me out of Bizarre Inc.”
Nexus 21 was the next step. And you had multiple releases on big labels. But first of all: where did the name come from? And wasn’t producing for Bizarre Inc. And Rhythm Mode D enough work on its own?
“As I’d stopped working with Dean after he kicked me out of Bizarre Inc I was on the dole for a while. I’d firmly got the music making bug so contacted the studio to see if I could do a new project, which became Nexus 21.”
The music progressed, and so did you. You formed a side project, which became one of the biggest duos in the UK Rave scene. The name is known for many things, but the main focus was the music. The group became an instant success overnight, and you took the UK charts by storm. And this happened at the beginning of the 90s. How did the success of Altern 8 effect you? How did it make you feel?
“We started Altern 8 in 1990 when we signed to Network records and released the Overload EP. It sold well because it was 8 tracks at a single 12″ price, so when we release The Vertigo EP in 1991, people were already waiting for it. It was a complete shock that it charted in the UK top 40 but I think that was due to the power of the Rave scene. Radio was no longer breaking these sort of records, they were just being catapulted into the charts because of the amount of people who went to raves and bought the singles.”
How did the act come about? The mask, the suits?
“It was all accidental, the name was wrong as we were supposed to be called Alien 8, the suits and masks were to stop people recognising us as Nexus 21 as we had done a fair few PA’s under that name so wanted to look different.”
Two tracks appeared in the UK charts, ‘Infiltrate 202’ and ‘Activ-8’. And the true ravers know the tunes and they know the legendary video for ‘Activ-8’. How was it, making a video with the equipment back then? And what was the focus of the video? Is there a hidden story behind it? Or were you just mocking about (because of the Vicks)?
“It was supposed to be us at a club/rave then jumping into this parallel world where it all goes crazy with the violins and robot in a country park. It was all very funny and a great laugh to do it, but at the time we never thought the PA in the car park would go down in rave history.”
Not only were Altern 8 known for their music, but also Vicks Vapo Rub. How in God’s name did that happen? How did it come about? And did Vicks ever contact you two, because you made the sales go through the roof?
“After wearing the masks for a while they begin to smell so it was purely by accident when we went to a club in Newcastle Upon Tyne that people were using vicks in the club, we decided to put it in the masks so it would smell nice and last a long time.
I wanted to see if Vicks would sponsor us untril someone told me the reason why people were using it in clubs, then thought maybe contacting them wouldnt be such a great idea.”
You must have seen quite a few weird things during the 90s, being Nexus 21 or Altern 8. What’s the most memorable thing you can think of, the most funniest moment, the most beautiful moment, and the most shocking moment?
“Being spat on as we left a club was probably the worst moment (can’t please everyone eh?) but playing infront of 40,000 people in Birmingham while we were in the charts in 1991 was a great memory.”
Obviously you kept on producing music, and the next step was obviously an Altern 8 album, which was called ‘Full On Mask Hysteria’. How was the general reaction to this album? And how were the sales?
“It went top ten in the UK album charts so we were very pleased and it’s seen today as one of the two biggest albums of that era. It’s something i’m very proud of indeed.”
Talking about the word general: the general election of 1992. You were participating during the election. That must have been the weirdest thing you’ve done? Who’s idea was that, how many Vicks did you us on that day the decision was made, and how many people voted for you?
“It was actually Chris who did that and not me, but we didn’t come last in the local elections which was funny as we beat someone who was being serious about a political career.”
Altern 8 as a group decided to call it a day after those succesful years. Was it the right decision to make? And was it the right decision, looking back at it?
“We decided to stop Altern 8 on a high as there had started to be a huge backlash against the whole Rave scene and we were going to concentrate on Nexus 21 but by then mine and chris’s working relationship had gone bad and it never happened.”
You continued in the music industry, and your next project was Slo-Moshun, and success continued. Was it hard to maintain the level you reached when you were part of Altern 8?
“We weren’t aiming to emulate the success that I’d had as Altern 8, we were just making music that we liked and luckily ‘Bells Of New York’ was a massiver club track and it silenced a lot of doubters at the time that Altern 8 was pure luck.”
The 90s progressed, and you continued in the DJ scene. Producing wise it all became a little bit more quiet than the previous years. After those memorable years, what happened in Mark Archer’s life?
“I got married in 1992 and soon had my first child which make it difficult to be in a studio all day. When in 1996 my second child was born and the label I was signed to folded it sort of halted my career (not that regret having children of course, I wouldn’t change that for the world)”
The party scene evolved, and became bigger and bigger. You’ve played at so many events, and I reckon you do have some memorable moments you would like to share? What was Mark Archer’s biggest moment as a solo artist on stage?
“Over the years I’ve been very lucky to play in so many different countries at amazing clubs and festivals but I think that closing the Arcadia stage at Glastonbury 2015 was the best gig of my career. the stage is a huge robotic spider so the crowd is 360 degrees all round you and even underneath the stage and there was around 40,000 people there.”
The internet emerged during the late 90s, early 00s, and Facebook came and made you closer to the fans you adored you since the early 90s. I’ve not asked this to anyone before, but how does social media affect the artist’s life? How is it to be under constant pressure (in a good way) by the fans?
“It’s great that social media alows you to get closer to people who years ago you’d only be able to see on tv or at a concert and it’s fantastic some of the messages I get especially about the book that came out last year, the fact that people can relate to things that have happened in my life or it’s maybe inspired someone to keep trying at music, it’s fantastic.”
Towards the end of the early 00s tracks began to be released on several labels, such as ‘Frequency remixes’, ‘Microdots’, ‘Flections’, ‘Joints’, and more. Did the producing side of Mark got him back into releasing records?
“I’d done a few things through the 00’s but mainly engineered by other people as I’d not kept up with engineering after the late 90’s when I’d sort of stopped making music.
After meeting Josh from I Love Acid, he got me back into producing slowly so I’ve been doing more things but I don’t think I’ll ever be as productive as I used to be in the early 90’s.”
Did you use your ‘old’ equipment from the 90s, or did you move with the flow and used modern day equipment?
“These days I just use a laptop as I had to sell all my equipment years ago.”
Ok, hard question: if you had to choose between making music back in the 90s and now, and we’re talking producing wise, what would you choose and why?
“The 90’s for sure, I knew what I was doing then haha.”
It’s like you never stop! After releasing an album and many records and also contributing to mix compilations, you released your own book last year! Who would have thought that? Who came up with that idea, and was it hard to remember everything that happened in your life?
“It still blows me away that I have a book out, it’s mental!
I’d had people tell me a few time that I should write a book but I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to say and had no idea how to go about it, so when Billy Daniel Bunter asked me if I wanted to do a book to follow up his own I jumped at the chance. It was a great experience and I owe a lot to Dan and his wife Sonya for getting me to do it.”
A book? Who reads books nowadays? For those youngsters who don’t read books, what would you say to persuade them to get a copy and indulge themselves into Mark Archer’s rich history?
“It’s not justy a book about Altern 8, it’s the whole story of how I got into music in the first place, how I got into production, about the success of Altern 8 and the very difficult years that followed, but also about how things are now a lot better and like a lot of good books theres a very happy ending ”
Ok, so we’ve established that you are a very talented man, who’s gifted with the gift of producing music, contributing to his own book, and also DJing non stop. What will be the next step? Are you going to get your own reality TV show? Your own cooking show? The Altern 8 Vibrator? The Mark Archer toeclippers? Nexus 21 comic book?
“I’ve no idea haha, I just want to continue DJing and producing and should any opportunities come up that I think will work then I’ll go for it.”
When you were a little lad, you probably never thought you would be where you are now. If you are given the power to change anything in your past, what would it be, or would you leave it as it is?
“I’d not change a single thing, there has to be bad times for you to appreciate the good times and bad decisions to make you learn not to make them again.”
Where will Mark Archer be in the near future? Where can those dedicated fans see you/hear you?
“Between now and June I’m pretty much booked up every weekend playing up and down the UK as well as gigs abroad. For gig updates it’s always best to visit the Facebook pages.”
Could you clarify for me the saying “real DJs play vinyl records”. Is that true? What’s your thought on this debate?
“Yawn (I think that covers it)”
Random question: if asked, would you still be able to dance like a monkey on acid?
“I do, regularly ”
Last question, and it might be the most difficult one of this interview, but if you could rate your life from the moment you stepped into the music industry until now, what would you rate it, and why?
“I’d give it a 7 out of 10, not that it hasn’t been amazing but it’s not been easy and it’s far from perfect (very little is).”
Thank you to the wonderful Mark Archer, who took the time to answer these questions as honestly as you would expect. And if this interview has sparked your enthusiasm, why not check out Mark’s own book, which you can get right now, and read about his whole music life, and hopefully it does have a happy ending, as he mentioned before. CLICK HERE and you’ll go straight to the website!
Again, many thanks to Mark Archer. The legend. If you want to know more about him and follow him, check out these websites right now: