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interview
(by dj devi)
1999

banco de gaia, aka toby marks, came on to the electronic dance scene as planet dog/club dog introduced the world to the likes of eat static, astralasia, the drum club and other early trance adopters. dipping into the sound pools of indigenous music, marks, a former jazz musician, crafted a groove-based glossalalia of global trance-fusion. less ostentatious and calculated than the likes of loop guru and transglobal underground, marks/ banco de gaia stepped up to the ranks of electronic troubadour with the release of last train to lhasa. taking a page out of the traditions of keats and byron rather than on-location-sound-collectors, marks used tibetan and nepalese samples to craft a sonic journey to a land he had never visited, just before the beastie boys and the rest of the western scene rushed in to make the plight of tibet the politically correct cause du jour. ironically, marks never set out to make a political statement - it was just another destination on the travelogue of banco de gaia.

in a move away from the indigenous influences that marked earlier releases, marks made big men cry on mammoth records, his former label. big men was ambitious, stretching out beats and incorporating structures akin to pink floyd and neo-psychedelia. reviews were split, with some so-called experts recognizing marks' evolution as an artist, and others feeling it self-indulgent and outside the lines of a dance act. along the way, marks participated in electronica's ill fated cross-country crusade, known as the big top tour. the tour was a bust and big men was the last record he did under the mammoth name.

it seems somehow appropriate that banco de gaia land on san francisco's six degrees label. six degrees just barely escaped the label incineration of the polygram/universal meltdown. revamped and ready to go, six degrees was a safe haven for a recharged marx and his latest effort, the magical sounds of banco de gaia, which is, as a work, effusive and ecstatic, loping along with loopy beats and goofy mantras. it balances the ethnic and experimental sides of an artist who seems just happy to be creating again.

in the tradition of breaking records before they hit the shelves radio-v is pleased to be able to premier (i love) baby cheesy, a track from the magical sounds of banco de gaia. we hope to make this kind of premier a tradition, with new tracks being laid on a consistent basis, with the addition of our "future sounds" section. we also had the pleasure of getting the latest from mr. marks with a quickie q&a on the topic of the magical sounds of banco de gaia.

what event or realization took place inside of you to embrace beats, electronics and ethnic atmospheres as a form of your artistic expression?

in 1988 i started hearing hip hop and acid house stuff on the radio. for the first time people seemed to making machines groove, and as i was working on my own at the time the technology was very interesting to me. the defining moment was when i heard paid in full by eric b and rakim; it's got a classic hip hop loop on it but with a sample of ofra haza, the israeli singer. as soon as i heard it i thought "that's what i want to do."

do you think that using indigenous samples helps bring attention to those cultures in a positive sense, or do they simply commodify culture and lessen its impact upon the listener?

i don't think about samples in a cultural way. as far as i'm concerned a balinese vocal sample has no more or less "ethnic" significance than a new york drum loop. apart from the specific cases of the tracks last train to lhasa and china, which were supposed to be making a point to some extent, i use sounds as sounds and not with any kind of cultural-political intent. i don't really think many people think about where a sample comes from when they hear it in a tune so i doubt it has much impact, positive or negative, on the culture it comes from.

what is your connection to tibet?

never been there, just read lots of books and liked the sound of it. i liked the sound of it more before the chinese arrived.

do you think that europe/u.s. are bullies in baghdad and kosovo, but pussycats when it comes to peking?

i suspect that our illustrious leaders are unable to see beyond petty financial and materialistic concerns so anything becomes expedient if it turns a profit. they're just doing what other big monkeys do, but less gracefully.

were you disappointed with the commercial results of big men cry?

unfortunately, i have never been clearly informed by my (ex) record label what the commercial results of big men cry were. what i do know is that some people think it is the best album i have done to date, others that it is the worst. i definitely did not want to do another last train just because it was safe and unfortunately it's inevitable that not all my existing fans would like the same change in direction but i don't regret exploring new territory at all. now, if i was only in it for the money...

did your experience around that disk lead you back into more ethnic grooves on the magical sounds of banco de gaia?

no. i was just happier when i wrote it.

what was it like for you to participate in the big top tour?

absolutely fucking awful, i hope i never experience anything like it again.

what are your plans for touring the new record?

should be over with the band in the fall and i'm doing some djing on the west coast in may.

would you ever consider working with indigenous musicians in a live setting?

could be interesting but i hate to think about the tuning problems we might have! i am thinking more about working with more people live but i don't have any definite plans at the moment.

have you ever used sacred substances to explore inner realms and if so, how has that process effected your music?

yes, but i don't think it's possible to say what effect it has or hasn't had on the music making. i don't have access to the parallel universe where i didn't take them so i can't compare the creative output of the two realities.

five favorite records of all time?

rock bottom by robert wyatt

the orb's adventures beyond the ultraworld

ok computer by radiohead

side one of wish you were here and side two of meddle by pink floyd

manhattan skyline by aha (12" extended version)

are you a curry or salsa guy?

yes.

what's your star sign?

cancer.

  credits

reproduced without permission from radio v. to be used for private and research use only. original article is here.

copyright 1999-2002 gavin stok. all rights reserved