Mani Festo is an artist in high demand. In the last 12 months alone he’s put out six releases, all on different, well-respected labels and all on vinyl. 2020 saw him drop EPs via Club Glow — the DJ Mag Best Of British-nominated label he co-runs with Denham Audio, Borai and LMajor — Warehouse Rave, E-Beamz and Hooversound, before kicking off this year with another for WNCL Recordings, followed by a thundering two-tracker for Diffrent Music sister label SweetBox in April. Not bad for a year in which there weren’t even parties to play records at.
Busy label release schedules and a logjam at vinyl manufacturing plants mean most of the music is one year old, if not more — but that’s proof that Mani Festo has grabbed the attention of the contemporary UK club scene. His discography is built around the kind of hybrid sound that’s come to dominate our age of connectedness; drawing on an immeasurable number of influences, yet still managing to sound like the future. Indebted to soundsystem culture, he pulls from the primordial energies of hardcore, jungle and dubstep — ritualistic breakbeat rhythms and earth-shattering bass are staples of many Mani Festo tracks. But there’s much more too: the incessant pulse of techno, the euphoria of trance and electro’s grubby futurism all play pivotal roles.
When Nick Marks was last interviewed for this magazine, he was right at the start of his journey as Mani Festo. Though he’d been making music for over half a decade already — working with the Swamp 81 crew, as part of the duo Cousin — he’d just secured his first solo EP as Mani Festo for Bristol’s Durkle Disco label. Listening back to it now, its dubstep focus is more in keeping with his previous associations, but there are certainly hints of what was to come. Speaking with Nick over Zoom one afternoon, his take on this development is somewhat philosophical.
“Whilst I view my sound as something that has evolved over the 10 years that I’ve been writing music, at the same time I feel like it’s exactly the same,” he says. “I’ve always had a vision and a desire to do something that’s uniquely me, and doesn’t fit into the boxes that other [people use] — you might be like, ‘I make house’, ‘I make techno’, ‘I make jungle’, and that’s great, but that’s never been my driving force.”
The idea Nick has of what his sound should be is a combination of all his influences, rather than fitting neatly into any one genre. But there’s a twist: “I’ve never managed to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled it off.”
Nick’s quest to achieve this elusive sound, and escape the metaphorical boxes of genre, has also led him outside the box technologically. Much of the last year has been spent putting together a hardware setup and getting to grips with it. His plan is to one day play live, though he admits this is progressing slowly, due to a constant urge to buy more kit. “But I’m learning so much about actual production just through learning about these machines and devices and different ways of recording them. Like I understand compressors now like I never did when I was using a computer,” he says, eagerly. “I’m making music completely differently now to how I was a year ago. When I write a track I don’t even have the computer on; I start by making the whole thing on the machines and I’ll jam with it. I’ll have a couple of sessions, then I’ll turn the computer on eventually and I’ll start recording different bits.”
Though it takes him longer to finish tracks now, Nick’s enthusiasm for this new method is palpable. The move to hardware was partly down to not wanting to sit in front of a computer all the time, like he does with his day job — but also down to a feeling that working entirely in a DAW was never quite right for him. “I’ve always felt like I want more of me in stuff, and through making sample-based stuff for years and picking out from a sample pack or a break, I’ve always had that... I dunno if it’s imposter syndrome, but you feel like it’s not part of you,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with making music that way either, sampling is an art form, it’s just never really gelled with me — it’s always been a means to an end.”
Nick says his E-Beamz release, which largely focuses on entrancing, rolling tracks, and the break-infused electro of his WNCLEP,are “closer to the thing I’m trying to say”, but at the same time, he could just as easily unleash some barnstorming jungle. Take his new SweetBox release; a furious jolt of jungle tekno, its acid-laced B-side ‘Warehouse 2.0’ was inspired by the success of his 2019 four-to-the-floor cut, ‘Warehouse Theory’ (released on Rupture) and Sasha’s classic 1999 trance epic ‘Xpander’.