Interview: Mark Sherry

Nina Ristivojevic

November 30th, 2023

This successful DJ, producer, record label owner, radio host and mastering engineer has been present for the last 30 years as one of the top names in the dance music industry. Mark Sherry is a Scottish mastermind, a tech-trance pioneer, recognizable by his powerful sound and energetic performances on stage. Many of you would say his positive energy, kindness, and playful spirit are contagious, making his shows an absolute must-attend. Moreover, Sherry is admired for his unwavering commitment to the music scene and deep support for fellow artists who share his passion.

Highlighting Mark Sherry’s journey and diverse ventures is challenging. Whether it’s partnering with esteemed labels over the years like Black Hole Recordings, Armada, Reset/Spinnin’, Detox, and Coldharbour and delivering remixes for popular tracks and artists, or overseeing his own labels Outburst Records, Outburst Twilight and Techburst Records, where he mentors and promotes other talented individuals, Mark Sherry’s influence is broad.

How could I pass up the chance to sit down for a quick chat with Mark at the Luminosity Festival? I was eager to hear his thoughts on the current state of tech trance music compared to two or three decades ago, explore the inspiration behind his Outburst label, and understand the importance of keeping consistency in today’s music scene. Naturally, I also had to ask Mark about “Operation Blade,” the hit that took the world by storm in the early 2000s and still maintains its popularity. Discover all of this and more in the interview below, so be sure to keep reading.

Nina: Reflecting on your remarkable 30-year career as a DJ, producer, record label owner, radio host, and mastering engineer, there must have been numerous exceptional moments, challenges, and a mix of ups and downs. As you journey back in time, what are the key situations and highlights that stand out most in your memory?

Mark Sherry: I did face barriers in my sound, but staying relevant as an artist means adapting to trends. Despite starting with tech trance, the music scene varied widely in tempo and genre. In the early 90’s when I was going to raves and festivals as a punter, there were always numerous types of music styles being played under one roof in a single tent at a festival. Dancing all night in one space meant experiencing a diverse range of music genres in one night. I’ve consistently aimed to stay ahead of the curve, anticipating what comes next and altering my tempo, style, and production techniques, but not just to fit in comfortably, but also to try and push boundaries. Many elements within the boundaries of trance can be transformed, including percussion, lead melodies, and tempos, structures. A lot of DJs and producers in the trance scene are a bit scared of breaking down barriers and trying new sounds and techniques, but I take pride in the fact that I’m always trying to evolve. Currently, the convergence of trance and techno is a dream come true for me, with both being so closely intertwined now. This fusion makes me feel like all of Christmases have come at once. (Laughs) I’ve played techno mixed into my trance sets for as long as I can remember, so it’s a very exciting time in my opinion. The lines are blurred, with techno being called trance and vice versa — overall it’s an exciting time for dance music.

Nina: What, from your perspective, led to this event happening at this particular time?

Mark Sherry: I believe the pandemic played a significant role in this shift. People just want to come out and enjoy a good party without being worried about the actual genre of music they’re dancing to. They want to let loose and go CRAZY. And I think, in some ways, a lot of the female techno DJs, such as Charlotte De Witte, Amelie Lens and Nina Kravitz, were some of the first to rip up the rule book and start to speed things up and start playing trance, hard-trance and psy trance in techno sets. These DJs seem to say, “It could be techno or trance; the labels don’t matter. I’ll play what feels right, whether it’s a track at 150 BPM or an old school trance track, and call it techno or whatever.” Breaking the rules and keeping things fresh is always a positive approach. Techno is short for ‘technology’ after all. It doesn’t need to always be classed as a certain style or genre.

Nina: And we all know you as a positive, kind and supportive person… When I say this I am referring to your unwavering commitment to the music scene and all those individuals that share the same passion as you. And this is I think the reason why you started your own label Outburst Records almost 10 years ago.

Mark Sherry: Essentially, my main reason was so that I could have complete control over my music, not just financially, but also so that I could have control over the release dates of my own singles/remixes, etc. I also wanted to eliminate the ‘long wait’ that sometimes you would experience with record labels responding to your demo emails, or their approval to sign one of your tracks, only to then be told that you’d have to wait six months for your track to be released! Things moved a lot slower back then, so it could be very frustrating sometimes and cause you a lot of stress and self-doubt… and it put your studio work under pressure etc. I aimed to be in charge of every single aspect of my workflow.
My main mission with Outburst at the time was based on the ‘tech-trance revolution’, a movement that I started off on the back of me feeling saddened at being one of the few DJs left that was still dedicated to playing Tech Trance. 
A lot of the other techy guys had shifted towards making commercial EDM, leaving only a handful of us standing in the tech trance realm. Establishing a label allowed me to focus on bringing more artists back under this umbrella, such as David Forbes, Scot Project, Alex Di Stefano, Tempo Giusto, Indecent Noise, Maarten de Jong, Paul Denton, Jamie Walker and 2nd Phase at the time. My whole aim of Outburst Records was basically to keep the whole tech trance scene moving along and moving forward, not just with some of the more established guys, but also legends of the scene like Mauro Picotto, Marco V, Fred Baker, but also with lots of newcomers that I wanted to nurture and help with the development of their sound.

Nina: What has changed on this 10-year journey of yours?

Mark Sherry: I don’t think things have changed that much to be honest. I’m still as committed to the tech scene as I ever was. In fact, I actually feel like I have even more passion for it nowadays. I’m proud to say that I’m still working with a big chunk of the guys that I was working with when I first launched Outburst, but also have a big team of new guys as well. So this is helping to still push the whole sound forward, way more than I ever expected to be honest! 
The influence of veteran tech trance figures was significant to me at the time and still is, but it’s nice to see some of the more recent discoveries really starting to make a name for themselves! 
I feel as if the musical cycle is happening all over again though, tech-trance is regaining popularity, albeit under the ‘peak time techno’ or ‘melodic techno’ title nowadays. Modern day ‘peak time techno’ is what tech trance sounded like 10 years ago. It’s crazy! (Laughs) I’m always trying to ensure a balanced blend on the label, featuring not only the classic tech trance producers but also incorporating some of the emerging talents as well.

Nina: The significance of mastering in music production is often underestimated by many. However, you step in and provide invaluable assistance to artists, ensuring their tracks sound exceptional. When mentoring aspiring talents, how do you guide them on their journey towards creating the best possible sound?

Mark Sherry: One of the most valuable pieces of advice I often give to new producers is the importance of consistency. Having a massive track that gets a lot of attention globally and that gains support from all of the top trance DJs is great, but it’s absolutely crucial that every subsequent release maintains or surpasses the same level of quality. 
If a follow-up track has been poorly produced or badly mastered, after having a very successful release, people will lose interest in you very quickly and skip to the next release in their folder or basket, especially these days. 
Each release should strive to be as good as, or better than the last - considering the fierce competition in the industry nowadays. Without a consistent upward trajectory, it’s extremely easy for people to forget about you. Making one wrong move might not end your career, but it could set you back a few rungs on the ladder. Therefore, maintaining consistently high quality is absolutely vital in today’s competitive landscape.

Nina: I cannot avoid mentioning the iconic track that we all love. And I must confess that it holds a special place among my personal favorites as well. It has become a staple for every DJ who plays it at some point in their career and we would love you to never stop playing it. What do you think was the trigger back then for a massive fascination with this acid sound and why do you think music enthusiasts still hold such deep affection for “Operation Blade” and Public Domain?

Mark Sherry: I think for me, it was like a magical thing that happened in the studio with the guys, but it all stemmed from a simple idea that I had in the Metro nightclub, which was one of my local Saturday night residencies at the time. I was scratching over the acid section with an a cappella of Flava Flav from Public Enemy saying ‘Bass for your face London’ and the crowd went absolutely NUTS every time I did it, so I took this idea into the studio with the guys and the magic happened pretty much instantly. Every single sound and bit of percussion we added just worked and fell right into place - and the entire track was crafted in just two days. This is noteworthy as some of my releases have taken up to a month to complete, sometimes longer – but usually the best tracks are the ones that come together really quickly. I’m still very proud of this baby of ours (laughs). Despite unexpectedly becoming a major club hit, entering the national charts, and gaining global recognition that was something we never predicted or saw coming. Judge Jules on Radio 1 played the track for 12 weeks in a row, every single Saturday night. It was a massive buzz in the UK and it just went crazy all around the world. It’s really hard to explain how important all of this was to me. After we got all of the samples cleared officially with Xtravaganza Recordings it went to #5 in the UK national charts and pretty much top 10 in every major country around the world. It sold more than 200,000 copies in the UK alone in its first week so went to ‘silver status’. It was madness! We did live TV performances on Top of the Pops, The Pepsi Chart show and on several other big TV stations in Australia, Germany, Japan and Spain, etc.

Nina: We can say you are an expert at navigating the fine line between techno, trance and hard trance, pushing boundaries and erasing distinctions between these genres. How do you find inspiration and motivation after so many years? Is the word “passion” enough to describe your state of mind?

Mark Sherry: Attending festivals like Luminosity today, even within the first hour or two, I’ve already experienced the magic of hearing numerous incredible tracks and witnessing the crowd’s reactions to different styles of riffs, sounds, melodies builds, drops, etc. Observing how the audience responds, whether on the dance floor or from behind the stage, is always going to be the most valuable inspiration that I can get, to be honest. It’s untapped, no bullshit, it’s an instant reaction from the crowd – it doesn’t lie. Unlike some who listen to countless live sets while driving or relaxing at home, I don’t listen to music in these settings much. However, being present at festivals and clubs, and watching the crowd’s reactions to music, is where I draw my greatest inspiration. I hate sitting in green rooms. I’d rather be standing at the side of the stage, observing what’s going on, and what tracks are working. The amazing moment when a specific kick drum or bassline drives the crowd wild, or when a melody causes the entire crowd to raise their hands - that’s what fuels my creativity. In the studio, I try to imagine having a live audience right in front of me, anticipating the response each element of a track will elicit during a live performance.

Nina: And we cannot wait to hear you once again playing at Luminosity. As one of the DJs who has been a part of this special venue since its early days, gracing its stage nearly every year, your presence has become synonymous with Luminosity.

Mark Sherry: I think that this weekend is my 14th year playing for Bo and the Lumi team (unbelievably), with a few years off here and there obviously. I think I might have missed the very first one, but being part of this event since 2009 at such a special venue holds significant meaning for me. It’s gone from being a very small and intimate beach party to one of the best-loved beach festivals in the world, but has managed to still retain its magical family atmosphere and friendly multi-cultural vibe!

Nina: Now, when you think about your initial performance at Luminosity and compare it to this year’s upcoming appearance, what do you consider to be the most significant differences? The people, the organization, the music itself I am sure (you played a bit harder back then)?

Mark Sherry: Back in the day, since 1992, I used to attend raves, clubs, and festivals. As I mentioned earlier, at those raves, there would be one big tent featuring a variety of DJs with different styles, tempos, and genres - drum & bass, techno, trance, acid-trance, industrial-techno, hardcore, breakbeat… Nowadays, it sometimes makes me sad to see how segmented things have become. You have separate stages for uplifting trance, techno, psy trance, house, EDM, and so on. I kinda long for the days when there was just one stage with loads of different and diverse DJs playing all of those styles and tempos. Back then, people were more open-minded about music. Nowadays, it’s often about supporting a specific genre—trance, techno, or house. I find this neat and tidy categorization a bit too restrictive. Although things seem to be changing after the pandemic, more and more DJs are tearing up the rule book as I’ve already said. So this in turn will help promoters to do the same at their events, and open things back up musically.

Nina: Are there any heavy bass surprises you are preparing for your fans in the near future regarding production, gigs, or some new projects?

Mark Sherry: I’ve been incredibly busy in the studio for the past month, even preparing tracks for tonight. I’ve made a hard-hitting tech trance version of The Killers ‘Mr. Bright Side’ is a massive rock anthem (and one of my favorite festival sing-along tracks). I’ll be playing that tomorrow. Additionally, I was asked to remix Tony De Vit’s old hard house classic, “The Dawn,” which was (and still is) a significant anthem in the UK. It’s a tribute to a DJ who sadly passed away a long time ago so that remix is also on the lineup for tomorrow night. I’ve also taken on the challenge of remixing another UK hard house and hard trance classic by JFK “Good God”. You’ll be able to hear my remix of that track tomorrow, along with my latest single with my bro David Forbes, titled “Concentrate.” It’s a follow-up to our last “Galvanizers” release from earlier this year. “Concentrate” is a fusion of techno and trance and is absolutely pounding! (Laughs) In total, I’ve got four brand-new tracks lined up for tomorrow, and there’s a fifth one that’s currently under wraps.

It’s all about keeping the music fresh, and there’s loads more to come from me in the studio.

Nina: Interestingly, Scotland’s always loved the hard sound and crazy fast tempo. On a broader scale, the UK, in general, has been recognized as one of the most vibrant countries when it comes to rave culture. But can you explain why this is the case?

Mark Sherry: In the UK, there’s a saying that the further north you go, the crazier the people become, and that’s 100% true. (Laughs) Since I’m from Scotland, which is the most northern part of the UK, we’re considered to be at the pinnacle of this craziness scale. There might be some kind of scientific reasoning in there somewhere. After all, Highlanders and Bravehearts are famous for their love of alcohol and a good jump around on the dance floor. (Laughs)