IMAGINE A WORLD without Abel El’Toro. A startling premise when considered within the context of Sydney’s rave history. What if Abel had never met Ming D and Australia’s first outdoor electronic music festival, ‘Happy Valley,’ was never created? Can you imagine how different listening to Sabrina Johnson’s, ‘Peace (In The Valley)’ would have been over the years? Consider extinguishing from existence the inspirational Mixed Beans rave parties, Mortuary Railway Station recoveries and Sydney’s longest running mid-week club night, ‘Warm Up.' Then, envision if you can the hundreds of blank spaces on all the rave flyers, over all the years, had Abel’s name suddenly faded from existence. The mind boggles. Abel is a pinnacle of Sydney’s rave scene, like New York City’s, ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,’ Abel is Sydney’s prince, our city’s rave royalty reigning as DJ, promoter, techno pioneer and breaks champion from the old school to present.’
HOUSE MUSIC PUMPED from a rustic farm out across the hills of Byron Bay. It was 1993 when I first met Abel El’Toro who was already a legend of Sydney’s rave scene having created Happy Valley and Mixed Beans. This Byron Bay dance party had been created by a bunch of English travellers associated with the Welsh Embassy, but it was shut down by police because of noise complaints from the local farmers. Amongst the crowd, however, in the guise of punters, were two of Sydney’s most formative DJs: Abel El’Toro and Ming D. They had both travelled up together in Ming’s ‘Renegade Van’ that was essentially a mobile dance party on wheels. The guys offered up their musical expertise and helped us move the party down to Tallows Beach. Reversing the Renegade Van down onto the sand was quite a feat from memory, but it was achieved and then out popped a generator and decks and we were in business. We danced all night on the beach, under the moonlight.
Abel to me is like a guru, a mystic, conjuring up wicked sounds to entrance and enthrall us all as the tribe dance’s amongst our city’s most sacred sites. When Abel is not on the decks you can usually find him on the dance floor amongst the punters. His energy is open allowing people to approach him whereupon ladies kiss and hug him and dudes shake his hand and pat him on the back. The conversations usually revel in the effects of music, both that night, and in the inspirational times. Abel used terms like ‘organic’ and ‘The Collective Unconscious’ to describe his partnership with Ming D which culminated into some of the greatest raves this country has ever experienced. Further, interviewing Abel for this article he was humourous as he was quick with a joke and genuinely enjoyed a laugh. In speaking with Tony Papworth (Hardcore Café) he said, ‘Abel is a straight up guy who doesn’t carry any airs and graces. Abel is a real person his one of the pillars of the scene. Through Happy Valley, he and Ming have seen great success and great tragedy. ’
ORGANIC, ORIGINAL and RAW are the words that come to my mind when listening to Abel’s music and mixing. His style is such that if you walked into a club or warehouse where his playing, or hear one of his mix tapes (‘the one’s we all played to death,’), you instantly recognize it, exclaiming, ‘Hey, that’s Abel’ His musical selection has an alternative edge to other DJs and this is one of the reasons why he is so spectacular. In discussing his mixing, Abel revealed he prefers mixing the core of a song, the inner marrow if you will, the best chunk. Further, Abel is known for hunting down alternative versions of songs to mix – those odd, rare and often acidic B sides as opposed to the the standard radio and club versions. In Abel’s ‘Golden Room’ mix for example [link], he played GTO, Elevation, ‘Troll Mix’ (React, 1992) instead of the ‘Sonic Love Mix’ that was the anthem you always heard at rave parties.
I think most sets that I do whether I’m playing Techno, Trance or House there’s always that element of melody over the top. Keeping people interested, keeping some sort of emotion in the music, and I think that’s where it stems from.
A lot of the UK Pop was very dramatic.
BEN: Who for example?
MARK: Depeche Mode. Stripped. Their Violator album ‘Enjoy The Silence’ was really dramatic and I think that sort of sense of melody, tone and emotion is still in my sets these days. Even though I still like playing down and dirty, still crusty techno, I like every now and again to throw in one that brings it all back to something more uplifting.
BEN: Did your family have any influence on your music?
MARK: Yes, this is my Dad here. (Shows me a picture of an elder gent playing a 60s jazz guitar). He was a guitarist on either the QE2 or the Queen Mary in the 60s playing jazz in a band. I used to go out with Mum and see him play (in the 80’s). So in a weird way; what he used to do for a living, I’ve just taken on board in a more modern form. I’m DJing every weekend, whereas he would be out on a boat or a jazz club every weekend. It’s pretty much the same thing, but in saying that - at home we would clash all the time about what music was being played in the house. (Both laugh) Cause I didn’t like the jazz, although I can appreciate it now. Although when I was young he couldn’t stand the pop music I was playing. There were always arguments about that. I guess, that sense of music and being exposed to it at an early age, is the reason I got into it.
BEN: So what motivated you to start DJing?
MARK: Hearing radio shows like that (2GLF Sunday Nights). I didn’t really know at that age (17) about clubs or even what a rave was then, but there were all these mobile DJs playing at people’s parties and barbecues. So I got myself a set of decks, 1200s, a really strange Phonic mixer that didn’t have a cross fader, but then upgraded to a Vestax. But at the same time, FM radio stations were really big and listening to them I thought, “well I want to do that as well!” I went into 2RDJ as a volunteer and I used to sit in on a guy named Tony Gee’s show called Tuesday Night Rage. I used to be just his phone boy and eventually he left and he gave me the show. Then I started doing that radio show in 1990 and that lasted all the way until 2003.
BEN: So you said you volunteered?
MARK: Yes, I just wrote them a letter, and said “hey, I’m blah, blah, and would like to become involved in the station”. I worded it correctly and they said come on in. I did some work experience there first.
BEN: That shows a lot of initiative?
MARK: Yes, I definitely had a drive to make it happen. It was just because I so interested in it! It was really my life! I didn’t play sport. In England, your activities as a youngster are soccer, computers, music and fashion and that’s about it because it’s so fucking cold. I was just into music and computers so when I came out to Australia as an 11-12 year old it was a complete culture change. And being out west it was all Metallica and Iron Maiden. “Metal up your Arse!” So I didn’t really fit in and it wasn’t until age 16 that I created a radio station at school for recess and lunch. It was 1990.
Basically, I organised a Fun Run and we got some money together to buy turntables and somehow we got approval from the principal to make this radio station happen. I was Director and had my own show. Suddenly, I went from this nerdy guy that nobody would speak to, to Mr Popular (laughs) and then I was voted School Captain! It was like “whoa, fuck I didn’t want that”, but eventually I eased into it. So doing that and then being pushed to do speeches at assembly gave me the drive and initiative to realize actually, I can do this. I realized I don’t have to be that scared little nerdy guy in the corner.
BEN: This is a two part question. What was your first party as a punter and what was your first party as a DJ?
MARK: The first rave I went to was one of Brett Beetroot’s parties in the Harris Street car park (Sydney). I can’t remember what it was called now, but it had DJ Edge playing, Force Mass Motion and locals. It was the first time I saw John Ferris and Pee Wee play (at a rave). They had a wicked Punos chill out area and the whole car park had been decked out in strobe lights. I remember trying to walk up the stairs to the event and it was so loud! I said “this is fucking awesome!” I’d never experienced anything like that before! That was late 1993. There were also plenty of club gigs earlier on that were based around the radio station that involved their Hip-Hop and their House gigs. But they are hard to remember.
The first rave that I really got a gig at was Prodigy 6 and it was the last set. It happened like this. I was doing the radio show and by ‘93 it had gotten quite a good following. Up there with “Musicquarium” (Nik Fish’s radio show). I was getting all the good promoters to come in and promote their parties whilst also getting the good DJs as well to come in and play a set for free.
It was kind of naughty because no money was paid to the station. But back then we got away with it (laughs) because none of the people who ran the station could bare to listen to the dance show! (laughs more). They hated it so much (more laughs). So we basically had free reign to run amok!
Myself and Jimmy-Z really started off there. Jimmy-Z was the guy that did Wild FM and then later NOVA. We started off at 2RDJ in the 1990s. Brett O’Meara came in and we got on well and he was a really nice guy. Brett said “I’d really love to give you a set, but maybe not this party although you are coming anyway?”. I said “yeah of course” and turned up with records anyway. Then (DJ) Vagas didn’t show It was the last set (Prodigy 6) and Vagas was really late for the party. So he (Brett) asked, “have you got your records?” I said “yeah.” He goes, “Get on!” I went “fuckin’ hell, there’s like three thousand people out there!” I went “ok, no worries” (nervously), so I got out there. It was the first time I’d played to people (at a rave). I remember people like Georgie and Glen from In House (Sundaze Pavillion gang) and all that crew, were in the crowd. They were my mates; so I had that support down in the corner and I went “let’s just go for it!” I only played Hardcore because Vagas was supposed to be playing. Then Vegas showed after 45 minutes. In those days parties used to go over time. It was like a quarter to eight by that stage and still pretty busy! (laughs) and I ended up playing back to back with Vagas for another 45 minutes. We were playing stuff like Ilsa Gold ('Up!') and you know, 'I’m the Fuck You Man!’ Crazy stuff.
And from there I played Prodigy 7 and got a two and a half hour set at that one. Again, because the DJs didn’t show before or after my own set. This is the Prodigy party that was set up In-The-Round above the speakers.
No one could really see the DJ, but I could look down and see everyone. There were five to six thousand people at that party. I got to play what I (prefer) to play at that party, so it was like ‘Noom 6’, & that Voodoo record I posted on Sydney Rave History recently. All those sorts of things and then moved into some classics like “Next Is the E”. Yeah, I had my set (3-4am), but the next DJ didn’t show and then the following DJ after him was 30 minutes late so I got two and a half hours up there! Brett came up to me after an hour and said, ‘Mate they haven’t shown, do you want to keep going?’ I’m like, “Fuck yeah! This is awesome.” By two and a half hours I was mentally ripped apart because I’d been concentrating hard to get this right. I thought “this is my big break”. Brett said, “mate that was awesome, I love the music.” From there on I got Field of Dreams 4 (FOD4) and other raves from there.
BEN: Going back to 2RDJ, I should say that Phil Booth mentioned to me that he was working at Macca’s and when they were doing clean up “they’d just fucking crank it!”
MARK: Oh Good! I still get people (mentioning 2RDJ) now, and it’s what 2014?, and that show was really popular from 1994 to 2000. It 20-25 years on and people still remember it. Probably, one (person) per month will still come up to me and say “man I used to listen to 2RDJ and that’s what got me into dance music!” That’s really humbling and a really nice thing to hear because that is exactly what happened to me! You know, if I could meet the guy - whoever he is - that was doing that 2GLF show, I’d go up to him and say ‘mate, you are the reason I play music the music that I play. I heard your set on 2GLF, a tiny little radio station in Liverpool back in the day and it’s pretty much what set the tone for me.’
BEN: On 2RDJ you said you would provide mix tapes to some of the promoters on the show. What was the music on you mix tapes and who were the promoters?
MARK: Well this leads to a little initiative and marketing thing I was doing earlier on. I think you are going to take some photos of this later? I was doing this thing where I was telling people on air, the listeners, to ‘send me their cash!’ (laughs)
Not cheque, cash only to a PO box in Newtown and in return I would send them a mixed tape. One per month. It only lasted a little while, but because of that I had an abundance of mixed tapes of all different styles.
The first one was happy hard on one side and happy break beat on the other. By the time I got to the third one I had really been introduced to Trance like those Le Petit Prince records which were the first real trance records (I’d heard). And then, that Steve Baltes record (Excelsior EP - 1993) that a mate played to me and I went “Wow! No more of this piano house, I want to play that! It’s awesome, it takes you on a journey, it’s mind bending. It’s not just one level, it’s the whole package.” That was late ‘93, and from there on that’s what really got me into Superstition Records. I mean, that was the big catalyst for me; listening to all those records like Paragliders, Humate, Jens ‘Loops and Tings’, Marmion with ‘Schoneberg’. The mixed tapes, well I was not trying to be pushy (with promoters), but just get them into people’s hands.
BEN: So you mentioned the 2 1/2 hour set, that’s a long set to be able to do & you also said that 2RDJ said you had some mixing talent; so what was your regime to be able to do that? Your daily regime?
MARK: Well I was working at Ashwoods in 1993, a second hand record store in the city. I was working pretty much full-time, but I wasn’t DJing that much at this stage. I was only doing the occasional club gig. So I could just practice on the weekends. I was going to parties, coming home a little bit wasted, get the decks out and bang, off you go. (laughs) Maybe cut that bit out my Mum might be listening to this! (both laugh)
BEN: That’s OFF THE RECORD???
MARK: Yeah (laughs) scraaaatcch!‘94 I was started playing enough to survive. By the end of ‘94 Crash Bang Records were an up & coming label here in Australia, & they had taken me on board full-time to do product design and mix their CDs like ‘Sundazed’ and ‘The Anthems’. I dunno I
was just a bit of a machine I guess and I found the time to practice. Whenever I could I ran the DAT player and would record a set. I’ve got 150-200 mixes from that period all the way through to 2001-2002. There are some really quality mixes there. I would just basically get all the latest records I had just bought from Central Station Records, spending $200-$300 a week on records, and just do a mix of what I had (bought) at the end of the week. Then I’d listen back to it in the car and see what worked with each other. Then use that to plan my sets. I used to do a lot of work and preparation into it back then. It was like a labour of love. It was not a chore or anything. Whenever I would have time I’d play.
BEN: You mentioned Central Station Records. So where did you access your vinyl back then? You also mentioned HMV at Parramatta?
MARK: Well a lot of those shops out west closed down because they weren’t popular enough. I moved to Chatswood in 1993 so I didn’t need to worry about the Western Suburbs’ record shops anymore. So from 1993 on it was all Oxford Street and Pitt Street. Central Station was a big seller of records to me. I met Jo and Morgan (owners of Central Station records) and Tim McGee (later, director of Ministry Of Sound Australia). Tim was a bit later on at Central Station Records (on Oxford St).
Reachin' Records - I’d buy a few things from, and BPM in the mid-90s - Ming D and Milo. I used to also buy a lot of second hand records and back in those days you’d find a lot of the latest records at places like Ashwoods for $2-3. I got a lot of classic records from Ashwoods in ‘93 that filled the collection. They are records that I’d still pull out now: ‘Next Is The E’, ‘Kinetic’ - Golden Girls, “Night In Motion” - Cubic 22, Incubus “The Spirit”, and all the Prodigy stuff. And you have to remember that a lot of that stuff was being sent out to reviewers and magazines like Drum Media who were basically rock guys. So they were like ‘ewww this is dance music. I fucking hate this.” So they would take it down to Ashwoods and sell it off for a dollar each, they’d buy it, then put it out on the shelf for $2-3. So you’d get all The Beloved, the Sunscreem singles, all that cool stuff for dirt cheap. I’d spend all of Saturday trawling through records. New and old.
BEN: How would you prepare for a set like once you got a big gig what would you do?
MARK: Well first thing I’d do is have a panic attack. Then I’d spend a week pacing around. And then about three hours before the set I’d go ‘faaark!’ and grab the records and do a “Well, that just kinds goes with that. I know from listening to it in the car; and…. that would work at the end of the set”. So I’d kinds get all the styles I would want to play because most sets would start off with one style and end up in another – purposefully, because I liked playing a hybrid of sounds. “Well that kinda works there, but that won’t work there because it’s too fast”. It’s exactly the same as what I did at Eckythump (Golden Room) the other night. (playing different styles in one set). I started off piano break beat, went through some house in the middle, rave house like “Positive Feedback”-
Cleptomaniacs; went into some Trancey acid stuff and finished up on Italo House. I mean, god knows how that all fits into an hour and fifteen minutes, but somehow it kinda worked. So that’s exactly what I did ‘back in the day’ with records. I would start off with something mellow like “Power of American Natives” - Dance 2 Trance and then finish up with “Mandala” - Noom Records 10 or something like that. You’d often see me touching the pitch controller, and flicking it up a little bit, because I needed to get just a few extra BPMs (Beats Per Minute) so that I could finish where I wanted to and with the kind of style I wanted to.
BEN: Well I noticed that when we first met. You went through my bag of classic house records and played them at a pitch that I did not expect. I was like ‘wow’ I did not expect that. It was more like hyper house. It seemed like you always like to play it a bit faster?
MARK: I used to play a lot faster, but the only reason I think I did that on the day (recovery party after 20 Years Later) was, we were kinda going back to back and once the tempo is set you kinda don’t want to go slower. You can always go faster, but going slower sounds a bit ‘urrrrrrgh’.
were pulling out things like Black Box & “Jack to The Sound of the Underground” which are about 118 BPM so they were a lot slower than the House started with. Normally I wouldn’t play things out of pitch too much. It kinda does my head in a little bit now. I listen to some of the mixes I did back when I was making CD compilations with Central Station. We did ‘Peak Time’ where I did everything pretty much at (+0) pitch, but then for ‘Full Frequency’ I did everything about +2 or +4. I listen to the CD now and wish I had recorded it at the proper speed because it’s all a bit too fast for me now. But this is the thing. I was coming out of the rave scene and going into the house music scene in the clubs. I was trying to move my music into the clubs and get down from 140 BPM to 128 BPM in my head, so it felt natural.
BEN: So was it Prodigy 6 you said you had a panic attack before you went on? Do you ever freeze up?
MARK: I’m probably over stating it. I was actually more confident I think back then than I am now because back then I had nothing to lose. But, it’s good to be nervous because it means you care about what you are doing. You want to do it well. It wasn’t until later on I started getting panic attacks about playing, getting really anxious about playing. In around the mid naughties, 2005-2006. I think it was just down to be being burnt out. I was playing so much for the Ministry of Sound CDs, touring all around the country, not getting enough sleep and not having to time to prepare. This is what it really came down to: not having time to really prepare, (convincing myself) that “no I’m really not going to do that well” and just having to wing it. Usually, it would turn out alright, but it was just anxiety. It’s a bitch of a thing.
BEN: Sydney Rave History bases itself from about ‘88-‘89 up to about ’97. That’s when most of us pulled out and stopped raving. Some of us still came back into it like I did in 2002.
MARK: The Rave scene turned into this super-conglomerate thing. The Utopia parties with 10,000 people rather than these small niche parties at the “Hardcore Café” or “Graffiti Hall of Fame”.
BEN: Exactly, when I got back from Byron Bay in 1994 I was first going to big raves. But by late ‘96 we were just doing clubs because we were sick of parties getting shut down like with Happy Valley 4. We just went to clubs because it was a guaranteed night.
MARK: I remember a distinct moment at “Graffiti Hall of Fame” and I think it was 1996. Things had been going downhill in terms of parties getting shut down, cops shutting everything down in South Sydney. All the North side parties and the beaches had been shut down and it was just becoming really difficult to go to outdoor parties. I remember being outside the “Graffiti Hall of Fame” and the cops had just shut down the party at about 1 am.
I think I said to myself “this could be the end of this. This is really like coming to a close.” I think I made a decision there and then to push myself more in this new ‘House’ thing that was coming up. Clubs in Sydney like Zoom, (Sublime wasn’t until later on), & parties on the North side at Metropolis. I thought “you know, they are actually playing rave (music) on some nights. I knew a lot of them from the radio station already so it was just a matter of making a phone call and saying ‘when can you slot me on’.
I did quite a lot of things (in clubs) actually, but it wasn’t until they took me on at Sublime, Pitt St. Friday Night for ‘Voodoo’, I didn’t start for the opening and came on about three months into it. What happened is, they opened thinking it wouldn’t go past 3am, but then realized that they had to get to 6am. People really wanted more. So they said “we need a DJ after 3am, we’ll close the back room at 4am and bring everyone out the front.
I’d start off on House and play all the records of the time like Slacker – “Scared”, Space Brothers, Bonzai, Black Master and get a little bit trance, then a little bit deep, then come out a little bit vocal. I remember when Breaks started happening in 1999 - I was playing them as well. That was really when people said, ‘Oh, who is this guy?’ And things really started happening. They’d follow me from Sublime to Pavillion and I’d do the recovery there from 6am till 9pm. So it was pretty much DJing straight from 3am to 9pm! These were Saturday mornings, but I’d also do Sunday mornings.
BEN: So when you say Pavillion, you don’t mean the Sundaze recovery run by Glen Marsh and Georgie and the gang?
MARK: No, this was much later on - from 1997 onwards and it ran for years.
The ‘Taucher’ style trance had just started out of Germany. All that sort of floaty stuff and early Ferry Corsten. It was also less ‘hard’ and would sound great at the Pavilion. You’d have people in there really coming out of their headspaces going, “Wow,” and really letting go. It kind of reminded me of the ‘feral’ parties a bit, where people just let go and absorb the music. But I was playing a little bit on the German tip. Not the sort of German, “Access”-like DJ Misjah sort of thing; more floaty. Because I was the only one playing that sort of stuff at the beginning, maybe Jumping Jack a little bit, I think I got a bit of a following from that which is really where it kicked off…
BEN: Just going back in time a bit. There is a newspaper clipping and photo of you when you were 15. Can you describe that?
MARK: It goes back to what I said before about doing volunteer work at 2RDJ. The photo is not at 2RDJ, it is in my bedroom (in 1989). So 2RDJ said “Tony G is leaving, do you want the radio show” and I said “yes”. Because of that, two newspapers called up and said “do you want to do an interview and photo shoot?” I said “yes” and they came around to the house and took photos of me in front of my Commodore 64, ghetto blaster and just-new CD player! Huge news that was! (laughs)”
BEN: Well, we can leave it there.
MARK: Lovely, thanks a lot. [END]
Mark Dynamix - old skool set from 'The Golden Room @ eckythump encore'
'This was the mixtape that got me the gig at my first big rave, Prodigy 6. Here it is for the first time in digital quality taken straight off the DAT. It was only released in limited numbers on cassette back in 1994 through the Dynamix membership program.' (Mark Dynamix)
'Great tunes, still sound fresh, funky vibe, club ready without being over the top. I love this style. This mix was never released, it was put together in the studio as a test mix on Ableton, as I'd just started doing the MoS Annual mixes on Ableton in 2007 (prior to that, I did all the MoS mixes live off CD/Vinyl). Came out well and using Ableton certainly allowed me to tighten things up and be more creative in the layering.' (Mark Dynamix)
SRH reporter, Benjamin Sullivan shares a laugh with Mark Dynamix
Mark Dynamix interviewed and written for by Benjamin Sullivan of Sydney Rave History Press
Photos courtesy of Mark Dynamix, Benjamin Sullivan and Paul Blamire of Full Flight Racing Photography
You Tube presentation by Phil Booth of Sydney Rave History
3D World and In The Mix articles and photos of Mark Dynamix were provided by himself.
Listen to the Mark Dynamix audio interview on you tube below
Article ©2014 SRH and Benjamin Sullivan