Mark "Ellery" Leech isn't your ordinary DJ. He doesn't have a clever moniker (merely his middle name), doesn't spend hours searching Beatport for bomb-ass tracks, and tends to approach his mixes different than most.
While you can find him working at such trendy spots as Bar Smith on Wednesdays or at SideBar on the occasional Sunday night, his sounds tend towards for ambient and intelligent versus the usual crowd-popping tracks.
We visited with Leech earlier this week for an extended chat about his style, influences, and opinions on electronic dance music and the DJ game in general.
How did you get into the DJ game?
I was in various bands and musical groups in my teens and twenties. None of them were working out so I decided to make my own music, eventually I got turned onto dance music, which turned into DJing.
What's your current schedule?
Sheesh, all over the place. My mainstay is Bar Smith on Wednesdays at Scenario. Around that I'll guest anywhere from Retro Hi-Fi at SideBar to restaurants to fashion shows. It's one of the benefits of not being pigeonholed [as a DJ]
Preferred genres to work in:
When I started, since no one else was playing it at the time I went straight for Dubstep and anything Heavy because no one else was really doing it. Then everyone started to play it so I looked elsewhere. That got me into more of a future bass sound where it was still heavy but in a different way. There was more depth than speaker tearing. Now I predominately play that, house, moombahton, cumbia and all facets in between.
How do you go about crafting your beats/music?
I guess there's certain elements that I look for in the music I play out. Mostly, I have to feel it. Either emotionally or physically.
Listening to some of your stuff, there's a certain energy that's different from the typical fist-pumping, lose your shit manic nature of other DJs
Yeah, I try not to think about it too much. I love that Phoenix has some diverse producers and DJ's. I feel I have a tendency to be in the mindset of doing what's on the horizon. Because of that I feel like I'm always trying to do the next thing as opposed to competing with my peers. That being said, a lot of people either get it that it's new or write me off as a gimmick or a laptop jockey.
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Can you explain that further? Because there are many involved with popular dance nights that seem to be identified as laptop jockeys.
Yeah...it's the mindset of, "There aren't turntables up there, he's not DJing." But yet if you look at it all the people that are using Serato or Traktor are essentially using a laptop to convey a DJ set. The Method is the same but The Medium is different. I think that's what a lot of DJs miss when I try to explain that. Some get it though.
How do you pick the songs you remix?
It depends. If I want to go into a harder direction I usually don't mess with the tracks too much. But if I'm building a vibe for the time I'm up their playing I layer and make things weave in and out. When I do that I lean towards track that have a lot of space. Usually House Music is good for that type of thing, or Moombahton.
Is it hard to stay ahead of the curve?
I wouldn't go so far as to say ahead of the curve. I feel like all of that crew and my fellow DJ friends all like to keep it fresh in some manner or another. For me personally, I'm just really into music and as a result I'm always searching for something that will hit me in some way. Not everything I listen to or play for that matter goes over well. Like Juke, I feel, even though it's been around forever, it just hasn't quite caught on here in the southwest.
How much or your work is original artistry and how much is remixing existing songs?
Right now, I'd say it's 60/40. I play a lot of stuff I'm into, I slip in tracks of mine when I can, but primarily I try to play stuff that people can identify and dance to.
What misconceptions do people have about you, if any?
Initially it was, "this kid plays his computer." Then it was, "this kid plays crazy music that goes waamp waamp." Now it's, "I don't know what the fuck that kid does, but it's crazy."
What do you think of the impression that some wannabes have that learning to DJ is easy? All you need is a laptop and some practice.
It's precisely that. All you need to do is get a laptop and Serato or Traktor or whtever to start DJing. It's a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that if you're striving to be different it'll make you stand out more. The curse of course now is that anyone can do so. It makes it harder to put some distance between you and the other guy who jacks music from the same blog as you.
Speaking of which, what blogs do you regularly peruse?
Tons. None of them have the word "Hype" or "Machine" in the title. Live For The Funk is up on their game, MTHRFNKR is awesome because they actually give an honest answer in reviews and don't follow other blogs hype.
How about "ports" housing "beats" for that matter?
Yeah, I have a couple of friends that chart on there and it's interesting because they get categorized into genres that make no sense. I get it that it looks good. But I'm not sure if I'd want to be on there.
Author Malcolm Gladwell has his "10,000-Hour Rule," whereby success in any field comes from 10,000 hours of practice. Do you agree?
To some extent that's true that the fundamental structure should be learned, like transitions and track selection, that I feel is learned with time. As far as how "technical" someone wants to get? I feel as though you can learn how to do all these tricks and crazy shit and jump around and what not, but it doesn't mean anything really if someone else is or has already done it. I feel like in that case you're just getting compared to what's already been seen or done.
Is it sometimes hard for some people to get behind your music?
Yeah, it's been an uphill battle from the jump. It took a long time to get my foot in the door because of how I wanted to approach it and what I was playing wasn't easily recognizable at first. I feel like now that a lot of what I do is being done by bigger names that are household names now that it's becoming more accepted.
How is your approach different from rank and file DJs?
I'm not using turntables, so from a traditional DJ standpoint, I wouldn't be DJing. I'm not considered a Laptop Performer either because I don't go out with the mindest of I'm playing these tracks in this order everytime I play, a la Skrillex or any other laptop performance. That aspect makes me more of a DJ, I feel and I gravitate toward the possibilities of being able to take people on a musical journey.
What's the craziest thing you've witnessed at a gig?
My homie set my hair on fire with a flamethrower one night while we were playing a festival in [Flagstaff] It was real quick though, and I put it out before my face caught fire. Super Scary, like on the "Holy Shit, did that just happen?" tip. It was a Burner festival, the firs and only I've played. Goodtimes Festival, I think. It was weird, just a lot of illicit stuff going on and kids playing with fire. It happens at festivals. I just got a little burnt...not too bad.
What's your favorite track of the moment?
The whole Flosstradamus EP that they put up on Soundcloud is been what I've been jamming recently. Total Recall, I think is the title track. That and their Original Don remix the did for Major Lazer. Banger!
What artists have been finding their way into your set lately?
Girl Unit, Drop The Lime, anything Bersa Disco, Trap, Juke, you name it. Kayy Drizz is dope...Nina Sky, Evian Christ, DJ Sliink, and Schlachthofbronx.
But, in your opinion, is not so much the song or the artist, but the way its presented?
Yeah, what I get from it. Homies ask me, "Yo, who is this?" Half the time I don't even know the name of the artist or producer, but I know how it's going to fit into the context of what I'm trying to convey.
In your opinion, how do you craft an effective set?
It depends, if I have an ample amount of time I try to take people on a journey into various genres of music that I like to hear when I'm out in the club. I could start of with House or something tropical and light and by the end if the crowd is hanging with what I'm playing I just go harder, so I kind of feed off of what the crowd is. But I mean, I've also played sets that are just quick and to the point. Those are fun because the crowd is ready for it and you mutually know what to expect. Kind of an awkward explaination.
How do you avoid the stigma or label of being just another Bar Smith DJ?
Well, I feel like in particular with the night that I'm a part of at Scenario, there's so much diversity in the music that its hard to label it as this night or that night. It goes under the bigger umbrella of "electronic" music, which is huge. So with that, I feel like what I'm already doing, which is different from practically everyone else that's there, has made it possible for me to kind of create this own identity. The fact that I can hang with playing deep house,or dubstep or hip hop and not "DJ" in the sense of how a lot do, has made me stand out automatically for better or worse.
What's you're approach to moombahton?
Well, I mentioned earlier how space plays a roll in how I go about DJing. Moombahton is a very raw percussive genre at times and the basic elements are the drums and the swing of it. That's where I like build from the drums and how intricate I can make it. There will be times that I'm just feeling the intro to a Moombahton song, but then play a completely different track, but the drums from that one track added more depth to what I was doing, if that makes any sense. Basically, it's music that has the ability to go in any direction in terms of emotion. But it works within the confines of that BPM and swing.
It seems as though the natural tendency of any DJ-related musical form is split off and begat a whole new subgenre. do you see moombahton doing that?
Yeah, it already kind of has. You have moombahcore, deep moombahton as well as a bunch of other split offs into cumbia and 3Ball. Its insane. What's crazy about moombahton though is that, for me, seeing dubstep evolve from drum 'n' bass into dubstep and then into various subgenres of post-whatever over the span of five to seven years was crazy. The evolution of Moombahton is taking place over the course of maybe a year or two? That's astonishing.
Has Dave Nada heard your take on moombahton?
I'm not sure. I opened for him not too long ago and to be honest we didn't do so much talking about the music, we focused more on finishing some whisky. As far as opinions he has, I've only heard through homies homies what he thinks, and there isn't much stock you can put in that. I will say it's amazing to see what the pioneer of that genres plays when he DJ's and how he puts things together is truly amazing.
Are you a fan of Dia de los Muertos imagery? Its been on your Facebook and on fliers for the Scenario.
Well, I'm half Mexican, so that element of culture has always been around so I haven't really paid too much attention to it. But now that you mention it, the Scenario crew is predominantly Latino so I guess that's how its manifested itself. In an unconscious way it's influenced all of us I think in AZ.
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Does being Latino affect your music in any other way?
I've come to embrace what it is for me and to me as I've gotten older. In terms of the style, I think "Latin" electronic music from my generation and the kids who are younger that are making it is just a reflection of their lives and culture, if that makes any sense. Like all the cumbias and whatnot are just reinterpretations of my parents music. But through the eyes and scope of my generation being influenced by culture. And by our times.
Do you think you help create the image of a Latin DJ who doesn't spin bachata or reggaeton?
Fuck yeah. While a lot of my homies as well as myself love that music, we've all been influenced by so much more than just that particular style of music. I think only recently has it caught on that yeah, you can have a Niki Minaj remix with a cumbia beat or the opposite and reggaeton song that get flipped into hip-hop. I guess what I mean is that the scope of the music has broadened. As long as people identify to it.
Best thing about being a DJ?
It's an opportunity to lose yourself and let go. The downside to that is that not everyone is along for that trip, so you do a sort of balancing act and find that happy medium. [A] ying and yang sort of thing.