Take a survey or take my word for it: Mark de Clive-Lowe is one of the most gifted producers and performers of this generation. Having earned his stripes in London on dozens of records with Bugz In The Attic, IG Culture, 4Hero, Restless Soul and many others, Mark (who has since relocated to Los Angeles) has brought a sense of quality musicianship & evocative songwriting back to a genre that sorely needs it.

I’ve interviewed Mark once before, but as he’s bringing his acclaimed live show to The Shrine this month with frequent collaborator Sy Smith I thought it time for another chat to pick the brain of one of the most gifted & talented musicmakers I’ve had the pleasure to know.

Mark de Clive-Lowe and Sy Smith will be performing at The Shrine this coming Thursday, September 22, 2011 with Soul/R&B duo Innosphere and Czboogie.

You’re on the road a lot but I think this is only your second time in Chicago in the last couple of years. For the uninitiated, what is a Mark de Clive-Lowe live show like?

We have so much fun doing the live shows. It’s all live on-the-fly beat production – I’m literally making the records from nothing brick by brick as you hear them. It’s live soulful electronic dancefloor production unfolding before your eyes and ears. Plenty of bump for the dancefloor lovers, and with guest vocalists like Sy Smith on board it really goes into whole other places and spaces.

I love the unpredictability and spontaneity of the format and by its very nature, no two gigs are ever the same. Each show is built on the vibe of the city, venue, party and audience we’re rocking with. Really can’t wait to see what that means for a Chicago show at the legendary Shrine.

This is part of a long road trip – what sort of gear do you bring with you for that kind of a live show?

I used to be a real analog freak – the MPC3000 drum machine and Fender Rhodes piano being at the heart of the setup. Now though, I’m exploring new configurations and loving Native Instruments’ new hardware/software Maschine. I combine that with the Korg KP3 and a few other toys. The Fender Rhodes has a really special place in my heart – the sound and feel of it is a big part of the sound I like, but at the end of the day, I’ll use anything and make mashibeats out of it.

I assume that someone that can play so many instruments wouldn’t have trouble beat-matching. Do you ever DJ?

Yes I do DJ – generally Soulful House and House-Not-House (what else am I meant to call it?!) sets. I also do hybrid live shows where I’ll spin acapellas on the decks and create all the music, beats and production on the fly using the live rig. That set is called REMIX:LIVE.

I do love DJing and it’s a great setting to share music with people without too much setup compared to the live rig, but at the same time I do really love performing the live set. It’s like if I don’t have a record that I want to spin at that moment, then with the live rig, I can just create it right there on the spot.

There are probably more self-taught producers in House than any other soulful genre. If you had to form a curriculum of great albums (from any genre) for aspiring producers to study and learn from, what would those be?

Wow… I’m not sure how definitive a list I can provide, but the first ten off the top of my head would be Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves the Sunshine, Earth Wind & Fire’s Head to the Sky, 4hero’s Two Pages, J Dilla’s Welcome to Detroit, Derrick May’s Innovator, Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall.

At the end of the day, any one of those albums or any one of many other albums has a lifetime of lessons in it for the aspiring producer. The most important thing is to hone in on something you like and deconstruct it until you come to some understanding of how it was created. Then you can assimilate that lesson into your own creativity.

Knowledge truly is power – an idea that a lot of underground creatives shun; and the true achievement is in assimilating that knowledge transparently into your own style. That takes time, dedication, diligence and most of all, passion.

You were releasing a ton of music (both for sale and for free) and it’s slowed lately. Has that energy been redirected somewhere else?

Nothing’s slowed down on the studio end. A lot of stuff is held up on the release end though, part of the nature of the business I guess. This year there’s already been the Uplifted Vol. 1 EP on Reel People Music, the remix of Lovesick for Mariella, and the Leaving This Planet EP which was a Bandcamp exclusive.

Coming up soon are remixes for Montana & Stewart, Nostalgia77, new joints for Mariella, collaborations with Zed Bias, Aaron Ross and plenty more. I was in studio today with Jon B working on a joint for his new album, and there’s a few cuts on the next Jody Watley album too. There’s a full length new album I’ve produced for Sy Smith that will hopefully be out this year, a full length for Sandra St Victor in the works, collabs with Vinia Mojica and still more that will be announced when it’s time!!

No shortage of music and I’m always making more as well. I’m really enjoying the opportunities to collaborate with such a range of artists – from live performances with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Dwight Trible to studio collabs with some of my favorite artists. It’s a blessed life that I’m continually thankful for.

Tell me about the MdCL album – you mentioned it’s coming out in November?

The album is called Renegades and drops on Tru Thoughts worldwide November 14. It’s my bridge album between the London days and now the LA experience featuring guests and vibes from both sides of the ocean. The guest list includes Omar, Sheila E, Nia Andrews, Bembe Segue, Tawiah, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and some more friends and fam.

A lot of the album is mid-tempo, more of the head-nod vibe, with a couple of dancefloor cuts. it’s definitely a whole range of flavors for the music lovers out there. The first single is “The Why” with Nia Andrews which will drop mid-September along with my own club mix for it.

This is a question I’ve put to many of the artists you’ve worked with, including Mariella. Why do so many vocalists seem to gravitate towards you?

I think a great vocalist really appreciates creative musicality, especially in balance with modern production ideas and approaches. That’s really what I’m about: bridging tradition and knowledge with experimentation and risk. It’s not right for everyone though, and I’m definitely lucky to get that synergy with a lot of vocalists I work with. Everyone has their own strengths and with each different person I produce for or remix I really focus on making their own strengths shine as brightly as possible.

For the aspiring producer out there working with a vocalist for the first time, what is your advice?

If you’re new to working with vocalists then I think it’s important to firstly work with someone you can vibe with. If there’s no vibe and no real experience working with vocalists then the session will be a real challenge from the get go. Aside from that it’s about being able to communicate your ideas to each other. From that point on it’s all about experience and bettering your own musical knowledge and ability so you can work better with someone else.

Knowledge truly is power – an idea that a lot of underground creatives shun; and the true achievement is in assimilating that knowledge transparently into your own style. That takes time, dedication, diligence and most of all, passion.

Your track with Jody Watley, Tonight’s The Night, was objectively a great fucking song. Yet it seemed to come and go very quickly – that same month, that label and its parent released probably 10 other tunes. Is it frustrating when you pour your heart into this and a track comes and goes very quickly?

Man… there’s so much music coming out in this digital age, largely released by labels with little patience, budget or interest in riding one jam the whole way. They survive by putting out quantity and if any one release gets a buzz organically, they may or may not exploit that. It’s a confusing business model that I don’t really get and yes, it can be frustrating to see quality tunes shine for a quick second and then be forgotten.

However, DJs and music lovers who really love the joints continue to support them. I have no problem spinning a tune that’s 10 years old if it’s what I want to hear and play. Self-releasing is a challenge too because it’s difficult to have the time and resources when I’m also my own artist, busy in studio, and having a life outside of that.

Fortunately that Jody Watley joint will be given a second life on her new album Chameleon where there’s one or two more songs we’ve done together as well. I’m a huge advocate of timeless music and even if the digital culture and label business models mean the push is short-lived, the quality music will live on and be re-discovered over and over again.