DJ of 2016: Mark DeMarko

Expect the Unexpected with Mark DeMarko but Maybe Not the Golden Girls Theme Song
Mark DeMarko, Music, DJ

Naming Mark DeMarko “DJ of 2016” is our way of acknowledging the ability of an individual to elevate us with music, their beats, and their ability to create a dance party whether we’re on a dance floor in a club or dancing nude in our own living room.  Mark DeMarko mastered that this year and throughout his career, and this is the reason we are honored to name him DJ of 2016.

Mark DeMarko is not only a DJ and music producer and Billboard charting artist but someone who Corey Wesley, founder of Kinkster MAG has known for years and has followed for years. From the late hours at G Lounge to White Parties in Miami or LA, Mark DeMarko has created great dance and club music for decades. When asked, “why are you naming Mark DeMarko DJ of 2016”, Wesley responds, “DeMarko’s humble spirit, his talent, and love for music, people, and charm are some of the reasons I connect with him.  However, it’s also his skill to turn my one person dance party at home into a night that I can only describe as ‘epic.'”

For over 25 years, Mark DeMarko has guaranteed the world of club-goers a remarkable musical experience wherever his talents have taken him. He’s a very stylish and accomplished DJ, remixer and producer with his own unique sound.

Jennifer Lopez, Kylie Minogue, and Samantha Fox are among some of the names he has been tapped to lend his talents to. And if you haven’t had the privilege to hear him spin live, chances are you’ve heard one or several of his remixes for artists such as Lady GaGa, Sound Garden’s Chris Cornell, Jody Watley, Deborah Cox, Jason Walker, Brian Kent, Matt Zarley, Ron Perkov, Heather Leigh West, Inaya Day, Taylor Dayne, Suzanne Palmer, Angie Stone, Ace Of Base and Ultra Nate to name a few.

Whether it’s headlining for such internationally renowned events like The Black & Blue Festival in Montreal, The Upstairs Afterhours for Carnival in Rio and Sao Paulo, The Winter Party in Miami, The Ascension Weekend Party on Fire Island, Mark DeMarko has been a leader, trendsetter, and the “First” in a line of many. He was chosen as the first gay DJ to go on an international tour to promote the “1st” Global Groove CD in a series with other DJs such as Tony Moran, David Knapp, Alex Lauterstein, Kimberly S, Mark Anthony who were all to follow in his footsteps.

Mark DeMarko, Music, DJ

Mark DeMarko Wearing Kinkster NYC

Many of us living in New York City after the September 11 attacks can remember attempts to revitalize the life of the city. Soon after returning from a gig in Ibiza back in 2001, Mark implemented the “in-store DJ” at the Armani Exchange Store in SoHo bringing some much-needed life back to the surrounding area with Ground Zero in such proximity. Its positive effects grew to more stores, and he handled all booking for DJ’s in the New York area, and then to stores in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

The moment he holds closest to his heart, however, was when he received the call he was to headline New York City’s 2005 Gay Pride 20th Anniversary “DANCE ON THE PIER” for which he was the event’s first black DJ in its 20 year history.

If that weren’t enough, in 2009 DeMarko! hit the Billboard Dance Chart hard with a handful of remixes. His biggest hit on Tommyboy Records “DROP A HOUSE” was the #5 BREAKOUT & HOT SHOT DEBUT and hit the top 10 on Billboards dance chart and was one of the 10 best songs of the summer. It was picked up by DJs Junior Vasquez and Wagne G for their CD compilations. DeMarko!s second CD/DVD entitled “Hustlaball” was remixed and produced by DeMarko! with all exclusive previously unreleased tracks. He has spun at Hustlaball in Berlin, Barcelona, Las Vegas and New York, and was named the official DJ for Hustlaball in the U.S. and Germany.

He also contributes his time and gives back to the community by donating his talents to the Gay & Lesbian Center & The Rivington House (a caring environment for people living with AIDS). Other clients include Interview Magazine, Diane Von Furstenberg, Starbucks, Addidas, David Barton Gym, The Tom of Finland Foundation as well as several regular guest spots around the country.

For all of his accomplishments, his passion, and his contributions to nightlife and the community, Kinkster MAG names Mark DeMarko, DJ of  2016. We had the opportunity to connect and learn his thoughts on the golden days of New York City nightlife, the current state of affairs with music and club-going, his most unconventional yet freeing DJ gig, and his plans for 2017.

You came of age as a DJ in New York City around the same time some legendary and revolutionary DJs were creating and feeding the club scene at places like Roxy, Tunnel, Twilo, and Limelight. What were those days like for you and who were some of your early mentors?

PURE MARVELOUSNESS! The wonder and the astonishment I felt in my heart had to have shown in my eyes the first time I had the “true New York Club” experience! It wasn’t like anything other I had encountered in any other city at that time! I had suddenly found myself engulfed in music like never before! Up until then I had been seeing a very homogenized version, the kind when you travel with your parents to visit family in Queens and Brooklyn! The NYC I had discovered on my first trip without my parents in June of 1999 (during gay pride week) was LIFE CHANGING… altering in fact!

I had a great friend known as AGENT Q that I had known in Los Angeles and moved to NYC who showed me the velvet ropes of New York’s Underground. Splash had the hottest bartenders on Earth (….soooo….I dated a couple!). Roxy had the best Gay DJs: Victor Calderone, Peter Rauhofer, Frankie Knuckles, Danny Tenaglia who were nightclub rock stars and Twilo had picked up where ARENA Sound Factory, Palladium had left off and had become the center of the universe was literally THE GOSPEL thanks to Junior Vasquez….otherwise known as JUNIORVERSE thanks to his extended Sunday morning 10-13 minute “marathon” remixes.

And it all culminated Sunday night with DRAMA on 5th Ave & 21st at the infamous LIMELIGHT where New York’s newest DJs forged their way to the top, song by song, one track at a time! James Anderson, Chad Jack, Scotty Thompson, Alex Lauterstein, Hector Fonseca, Eddie Baez, myself and a handful of others were all my DJ family, all growing together, showing up and supporting each other with our friends until time came to fly from the nest when you got that one booking that launched your national or international career. I had just been on the thrill ride of my life…. paid my dues and I wanted MORE! That was MY intro to NYC!

How has the club scene changed since those golden days of the early 2000s?

It’s done a complete 180° turn around! It couldn’t be more different to anyone who lived, worked and played in NYC from 1995 through 2007 and start to see the demise of it all through drug raids, addiction and overdoses, death, lack of proper investment as new promoters with greedy intentions, in it solely for money and the younger crop of DJs were in it solely for the attention and popularity who would do ANYTHING including undercut a better, working and established DJ, work for free and even sleep with a promoter to get a gig.

It’s so bizarre to me looking back! We managed to survive 9/11 and “in my opinion”…it all came to a screeching halt with the passing of Peter Rauhofer, that was the day the music died for me. He set a standard that we all followed and demanded as true NYC DJs. #OftenImitated #NeverDuplicated

Where do your interests in music come from and what are some of your musical influences?

My early days have so many influences! Country, Rock, New Wave, College Radio, Disco, Chicago house, Acid House Freestyle, and KC & The Sunshine Band, Kool & The Gang, Earth Wind & Fire, The GoGos, Cyndi Lauper, Dead Or Alive, Adam Ant, Billy Idol! My style has grown and evolved to Tech House And Techno.

What makes for a good DJ? Are there technical or creative skills you need or can someone be successful just playing music from their digital collection?

A GOOD DJ may be known for his style or sound, but is completely versatile and can pull from different genres and make it all sound good in one set! That’s where their technique and creativity come in! And they are at their BEST when it’s original ideas, not copied from another DJs set you heard over the weekend and you’ve now incorporated into your own!

I’ve heard my own mixes lifted from my podcasts and played at clubs! It does irk me, but what am I gonna do? At least I know their listening and good enough to copy. Always keeping it fresh is what’s gonna set a DJ apart from the rest.

As much as I would love to say “if you didn’t carry/play vinyl” or if you only use a laptop you can’t call yourself a real DJ… I can’t say that anymore… at least not to some DJs. There has been many elaborate developments with programs when it comes to performing that I see mostly with straight DJs, and a few gay DJs, and a lot of other factors that have come into play that once perfected can thrust you years ahead of the rest.

You’ve played around the world in Brazil, England, Germany, Israel, The Netherlands, and Spain. What does it take to be a world renowned DJ.

Music has sooo many factors that can make or break your career! Time, place, venue, following, social interaction. I have failed at all of them and through trial and error, you learn. #FallDown7Times #GetUp8

What has been your favorite city and/or venue to DJ?

There have been so many over the years for a variety of reasons! Sometimes it’s the event, sometimes it’s the attendance big or small….other times it’s simply the size of the room and its sound system. I have a theory! You’re only as good as what you have to work with! Give me hay, I will weave you a hut and then burn it higher and brighter than anything you’ve ever seen! Give me sand, I will build you a sand castle fit for a king! I’m always aiming for the #NextLevel!

How would you describe your style when DJing? How do you prepare for a gig? Do you have a specific set in mind? How do you read the crowd and adjust if they don’t appear in the zone?

Every gig I have ever played, knowing what the theme is (Winter Party, Pride, Afterhours, etc.) I prepped for weeks in advance, that being said, I never know exactly what I’m gonna play when the moment comes! The spirit comes out, takes over and suddenly I’m just the vehicle. I always have few tracks I will drop, but you never know what’s gonna happen! The DJ is 99% in control of EVERYTHING that goes on in a room and it’s pretty crucial to maintain that percentage cause you don’t know what that 1% is!

Club enthusiasts gather and become a unified entity and if there is an unbalance among them you’re gonna feel it in the room; it will spread like a virus and it can translate back to the DJ. A “seasoned” DJ knows what’s happening on his dance floor. If it’s a good vibe, he can take it and run with it and BLOW IT UP! If it’s negative, it’s his responsibility to CRUSH IT DEAD in its tracks and make a lasting and positive memory of it!! In fact I think is mandatory!

What would a club-goer or reveler expect to experience if they attended an event where you were the DJ?

Without sounding cliché…. Expect the unexpected! It makes for a CRAZY NIGHT! If every night I spun exactly the same, it would all be one big blur!

I remember the first night I did something different. I was spinning at G Lounge in Chelsea NYC, and I had built a great following from this one small bar…no dancing was permitted, but they dance anyway because that’s how good the music had to be. I wanted people not to be able to stand still! I had the bartenders and the crowd in an uproar, waving their fingers at me saying TURN IT with smiles that just radiated the most insane energy towards me (just thinking about it now I have a smile on my face and I’m feeling that same energy again as it was the very first time!) and then I DID IT….I dropped the theme from the GOLDEN GIRLS smack in their drinks!

At first people had no clue what just happened and that moment I hit play and it started I regretted it…and that energy stop DEAD in its tracks…But then it blew up the room like an ATOM BOMB!! (I just felt the anxiety all over again thinking about it). It was like nothing I had ever done before or will ever do again because it was the very first time I did it! Now I drop a lost acappella or forgotten remix whenever I can to keep people on their toes!

When it comes to producing music, how do you decide what to produce and what is the process like?

I don’t do commercial music unless I’m gonna get paid for it. I don’t listen or I should say I haven’t listened to the radio since 1994. I can’t with this bottled pre-fab music. It just isn’t interesting to me. I have to know it because it’s my business, so I make myself aware of what’s trending or hot at the moment, but that’s the extent of it. There is so much garbage out there and none of it is even going anywhere. So I stick to the underground where it’s always evolving and keep my ears at attention.

With all the various cloud and web technology out there and free downloads everywhere, how do you balance giving the right amount of free stuff and how do you protect your creative works?

I’ve done really well with the sites and they’ve all shown me love…I mostly do podcasts because I want people to know what kind of experience you’re gonna have if you’ve never been to one of my gigs. I like to do live remixing on the spot, using acapellas and samples throughout my sets! That way, in the event you hear a track you may have heard another DJ play, I’ve twisted it not by taking it into the studio and doing mashups which I refrain from doing or playing but being creative in the spot! Something I learned from the “greats” of the NYC, Chicago, and Detroit Underground DJs! There are only a few that turn me upside down, but most today aren’t doing that because…in my opinion, weren’t there when the greats were shining stars either they lived in different city, were too young at the height of it all to be in the clubs or are too headstrong to realize just like any job, you need schooling and knowledge of the roots of House Music to propel you further. They may think I’m stuck in the past but it’s actually what preps you for the future!

What songs would we be surprised to know are on your iPod?

HA! Every morning I wake up with a song in my head! It’s just something that my brain has been doing for as long as I can remember and it’s a different song every single morning. Today was no different…remember I said expect the unexpected? That applies to me too! At the back of my head I was singing this song silently since I woke up and as I got into the car with my partner I connected my iPod and played “Sailing” by Christopher Cross…he just looked at me and said REALLY??! I had to listen to satisfy whatever my brain was doing.

Besides that, I have Berlioz who was a classical musical GENIUS! His composition of DREAM OF A WITCHES SABBATH was used in SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY with Julia Roberts in two separate scenes when her husband “takes her” on the kitchen counter and then again when he tries to kill her. One of my favorite movies.

What’s in store for you in 2017?

The release of my new Yet still untitled 4 track EP at the end of January 2017 on Relevant Music Label. I’m Very excited about it because it’s not circuit, it’s not House, it’s not Tech House or Techno! It’s the culmination of all of those genres, and elements I’ve learned through the years. I had some additional production by Deep Influence who I consider the best producers in dance music!

Finally, we always ask our interviewees our signature question, “What is something you have done that would be considered edgy, unconventional, or tight-lipped?”

I’ve DJ’d completely NUDE once because I dared myself to! Didn’t tell a soul I was doing it and the booth was secure enough that the only way you could see in was from the side, so if I moved, I always turned my back towards the door and few people believe it or not caught on! It was really freeing and exhilarating at the same time!

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John is a thinker and a doer. He's a whiz at working through policies and procedures but loves taking time to explore the urban environment in which he lives and calls home. He also appreciates getting his fancy tickled.