Chicago – It’s raining in the Windy City on the last weekend in September. And it’s Chicago-style rain: torrential for five minutes, then nothing for 45 minutes, then torrential again for five minutes.
It’s a known fact that rain in this city keeps people indoors more so than any other meteorological reason, including the wind after which the city is nicknamed. However, there’s no sign of this weather-induced agoraphobia at Sound-Bar, Chicago’s hub for quality electronic dance music. On this particular evening, the revered Mark Knight kicks off the first of his Toolroom residencies at this venue, bringing with him some proteges, the rapidly rising duo, Leftwing : Kody, and hotly tipped newcomer, Wheats.
The rain kept Knight and company stuck on a plane on the runway for a number of hours earlier in the evening and he’s cut it very close to his set time. But when the party hits peak time, the floor is full and Knight is in top form – no sign of jetlag or the drama that held him up earlier. The crowd knows what they are here for and they are not disappointed. It’s impossible to stop your body from moving to the first-class tech-house Knight and his Toolroom brand have defined as their own.
Earlier in the month, Knight and crew brought this same energy and patented sound to The Mint’s Open-Air Patio in San Francisco as part of select dates on “Toolroom Stateside: The Residencies.” The next day they will be touching down at Analog in Brooklyn. Just before Thanksgiving, they kick off their Los Angeles residency in partnership with Insomniac Events at Exchange’s ninth anniversary.
Since 2003, Knight and his Toolroom family have been diligent about methodically establishing and growing the brand, always with first-rate music at its core. The Toolroom sound has become an adjective, locking down the position as the highest-selling label on Beatport in 2018 with Knight’s prolific output placing him as the second-highest selling artist on the retail site that year.
Toolroom isn’t just a boutique U.K. label with a remote location in one of London’s satellite towns, Maidstone. It is an international network of individuals who have a connection to the brand. Toolroom introduces its fans to its team through profiles on team members and introduces its fans to each other through its “Friends of the Family” series. The label has even made a documentary, #ToolroomFamily. This film is one of several made by Toolroom, including, Mark Knight: A Year in the Life and 10 Years of Dance Music: The Documentary. These films serve as both historically educational for dance music as well and a commentary on its current state.
This past summer Toolroom returned to Ibiza with a very successful residency at San Antonio venue, Eden. This coincided with Toolroom Ibiza 2019 Vol. 2, a hefty 67-track collection divided into three distinct vibes: Poolside, Club and Afterclub. Mixed smoothly by Knight, the compilation offers 22 exclusive tracks and it’s as Toolroom-heavy as you would expect.
After a whirlwind trip to Holland to throw down a Toolroom showcase at Chicago Social Club during Amsterdam Dance Event, Knight is with his wife and son at their home in the outskirts of London, trying to catch his breath on a Sunday evening before he’s back in the Toolroom office in a few hours.
DJ Times: There is a global feeling of being part of a family when it comes to Toolroom. How was that generated?
Knight: The whole company, ostensibly, is a family. It’s me, my brother and my dad. It’s not just a marketing slogan. We’ve got pretty much the same staff we started working with because they’ve never left. We treat them like part of the family, and they feel like they’re part of the family. If we have a good year, come Christmas, everyone gets phenomenal bonuses. That family feel resonates right across everything we do.
DJ Times: How did your brother and your father get involved?
Knight: My father was a drummer in a band, and they did really well. But they broke up and he went into marketing. He retired at 55, and he was bored. At the time, my brother was a car salesman, and I was making music and DJing and working for a cable company. I’d been releasing records on other labels and been disappointed with the way they had handled themselves. They couldn’t run a bath, let alone a business. My brother lost his job. We sat down with our dad and said, “We have an aspiration, a goal, a dream. We want to stand for something that’s right and we want to have a musical identity.” The three of us wrote out a five-year plan and said we would stick to it religiously. I sold the house I had with my wife, moved back in with my parents and invested everything I had into it.
DJ Times: Toolroom really is deeply embedded in the Knight family.
Knight: Yes. My parents had a shed where we used to keep the lawnmower and the garden tools. We called it “the toolroom.” I built a studio in there and that’s where the name came from. I would be in the studio. My brother was in the little office in the house. My dad was helping him out. My mum would be running off the royalty statements and doing that side of things. It’s very much an organic family business, and it just grew and grew.
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