Mark Archer
Mask Hysteria

Altern 8's Frequency track stands proud as an essential piece of rave history. With a re-release and remix package set to drop, Kone-R talks to its creator Mark Archer

By Kone-R

UK rave duo Altern 8 (Mark Archer and Chris Peat) released Frequency on Birmingham's seminal Network Records back in 1991. With its gargantuan riffs, galloping breakbeats and upfront vocal samples, the tune became a classic that encapsulated the chaotic dancefloor energy and raw production aesthetics of the emerging breakbeat hardcore scene.

The duo's penchant for performing in chemical warfare suits and fluoro facemasks quickly garnered them a cult following, and they went on to produce a string of further EPs and also an album for Network before their production partnership ended in 1993.

Mark Archer first entered the limelight as a founding member of pop/dance act Bizarre Inc and also one half (with Chris Peat) of Detroit-influenced techno outfit Nexus 21. Since his split with Peat, he's recorded solo under monikers such as DJ Nex, Trackman, Mark II and Slo Moshun, and continues to DJ with performances at events such as Bangface, Bloc Weekend, Fantazia and Sonar.

Frequency, produced solely by Archer, is 20 this year. To mark the anniversary the original has been rerubbed to bring it in line with what he terms 'modern production values', with the track to be given away as a free download. In addition, Balkan Vinyl is releasing a limited yellow 12" of bruising remixes from Luke Vibert, DMX Krew, AGT Rave Cru, and Killa Productions (aka Ben Sims & Paul Mac).

Spannered's Kone-R found out more about the re-release, the remixes, and whatever happened to those sweaty warfare suits...

Photo credit: Martin Lesanto-Smith

Frequency is 20 years old now. What was the catalyst for the decision to re-release it now?

Apart from it being the 20-year anniversary of the original release, I'd noticed in the past few years a number of major players in electronic music have been playing it a fair bit, from Aphex to Ben Sims to Soulwax, and thought it would be nice to at least update the original version that was recorded on a skeletal set up at my parents' house and was actually in mono. The idea then came to get some remixes done to see what people would actually come up with, as it's one of those tracks that if the riff's not there, it's not Frequency. I'm really pleased with the different interpretations that were turned in.

You've re-recorded the track to 'modern production values'. What exactly have you done with it, and why did you feel it was necessary?

The original version was recorded on about six pieces of hardware and not a single effect unit, all finally put through my DJ mixer onto DAT, so it lacked somewhat in production. But what it lacked in technicality it made up for in brute strength. I just thought a little bit of stereo panning (not much though) would be nice and maybe a real delay instead of a looped sample.

Are there any plans for a similar re-airing of other Altern 8 material?

There might be, possibly another B-side track that was more of an underground favourite rather than one of the main A-side tracks, who knows?
I understand your relationship with Chris Peat broke down around the time Altern 8 split up. Do you know how he feels about the reissue of the track being under your name — or was this not a track he was involved in writing at the time? 

I've not seen him since 1994 and I know he won't give me permission to use the Altern 8 name or wear the suits anymore, or even use the logo, so doubt he will be overjoyed about the rework, but the original track was written and recorded by myself and he wasn't even about when it was done so I really see it as one of my tracks, like quite a few of the tracks on the album.

Over the last few years you have released a few very limited tracks under your own name, which move more towards the Detroit-influenced techno sound you originally made as Nexus 21 (again, with Peat). Does this release signal a departure away from that sound for you? I ask as the two names seemed to be used for very different sounds and images at the time, almost purposefully kept separate. Is this a conscious attempt to bring your various sounds back together under one name? 

Back in 1989, I was trying to build up the name of Nexus 21 and it was purely our take on Detroit techno, so when we recorded material that sounded different we came up with a different name, so as not to spoil the purity and anonymity (for want of better words) of the projects. Now I'm trying to let people know that it's me who's making the tracks so what better name to use but my own? 

How much music do you produce nowadays? Do you still have the same passion for it as you did 20 years ago? 

I still have the passion for it but unfortunately don't have the set up that I used to have years ago, so producing tracks isn't as easy as it used to be, but when I can get into a friend's studio then I'll work on either new material or remixes that I still get offered regularly.

Detroit techno from the 1987-92 era is still my passion and, as most people are aware, I love old skool acid house, so those are the main styles I produce when I get time.

You've continued to DJ in recent years, often dressed in the instantly recognisable Altern 8 garb. Do you think it's important to continue with this visual element to your performances, and this link with your past? It must get incredibly hot in a hooded top and facemask!

Up until a couple of years ago I wore the suit, mainly to let the new generation of clubbers know a bit about what Altern 8 were about, as some clubbers are even younger than the suit itself, but alas I no longer have permission to wear it.

I've always thought it important to put a bit of effort into a performance, not just technically but visually, especially with the whole [traditional] DJ vs lapjay [laptop DJ] debate going on. Musically it's what comes out of the speakers that matters, but there's also the visual aspect and that's where the antics of Altern 8 came in with the suits. And yes, it gets very hot in the suits. I used to be able to manage a full hour-long PA, but ten minutes is enough now to be wearing them so the ban is a bit of a godsend.

The music world/business has changed hugely since you started out. Do you regret the way things have gone in the last 20 years, or are you a firm embracer of change?

It's not really changed the way a lot of people wanted. There's much more freedom and the ability for people to get material out instead of having to be picked up by a fickle label, but the market is swamped with millions of mediocre tracks [made] by anyone with a half-decent PC, and that's without matter of piracy. Saying that, if file sharing was not so rife, would the sound of Altern 8 still be so readily available and still here after 20 years...? So I can't complain.

It must have been very bizarre for you to be rocketed onto the likes of Top of the Pops in such a short space of time. Altern 8 often seemed to be the 'pop' face of hardcore, alongside the likes of The Prodigy. Did you intentionally set out to try and bridge that gap, knowing that it was unlikely to happen with the Nexus 21 stuff? Do you think you were just plain lucky to capture the zeitgeist?

Altern 8 was pretty much a complete accident, from the name to the image ... There was little planning behind it all, it just went its way from the moment we recorded the first nine tracks (of which eight were used on the first EP). We were supposed to be called Alien-8 but the name was printed wrong so we kept Altern 8 as it sounded okay.

The image was quickly put together to stop people thinking we were the same as Nexus 21, and the first chart action we had was with Infiltrate 202, which was recorded on someone else's remix budget with the plan to put in all the ingredients of a 'rave' track and see what came out, so it was just our take on things and not a conscious attack on the charts. The full intention was to carry on with Nexus 21 as Altern 8 was merely a side project to put out 'different sounding' material, but the project took off and meant Nexus was shelved.

As for the promotion, that was all down to John McCready's madcap ideas and press releases, and not wanting to be po-faced musos but really be a part of the scene. 

Finally, I'm interested to know what's floating your boat musically at the moment? What sort of tracks are you dropping in your DJ sets right now?

As always, Detroit techno and Chicago acid and house is what I listen to mostly, along with a lot of tracks from 1986-92. I'm mainly booked to play old skool sets so anything from that era goes really. With newer material it's the likes of Kink & Neville Watson, Stephen Brown, Ben Sims and Paul Mac, and lot of the tracks on Balkan Vinyl, the more down-tempo acid stuff that's about at the moment — just new productions on the old skool vibe really, so expect to hear a lot of 303s.
Frequency remixes are out soon on Balkan Vinyl
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