Mark Charles’ perpetual act for creating chaos is not usually for effect- to the contrary, it is an out of body reaction to the fucked-up world we live in.
Arts Editor: Christopher George
Mark Charles a bonafide anti-hero and legend of the sub-culture art world. Stemming both the fashion and music industry for the past three decades with his graphic fashion designs and boundary pushing music. He has been desired, admired and avoided; whilst othe are addicted or repulsed.
From his crack-taking models causing him to dislocate his shoulder during one of his fashion shows; to being a first for a fashion designer to crowd surf off his own catwalk, face first into his audience- his life has been more of a rock show on par with Iggy Pop as he documents his life as art.
The release of his new album DISOBEY gained us access and an exclusive interview from the country gothic mansion where he now resides. Hidden away from the general public, with the intention to cause as little offence as possible to the unaware, this habitat sums up his life which has veered away from commercial success.
I for one, have been fortunate to witness first hand much of the creative output produced by this iconic legacy and punk Demigod. Always surprised, hypnotized and enthralled- while at the same time having a bloody good time experiencing an artist purely producing for the sheer hell of it; Each project is an uncharted journey and not even the creator knows where it will end- which doesn’t sit in the constraints of your bog standard artist’s ego.
As a producer he has an ability to source and direct other creatives, allowing them to be fully engaged in their artistry while working alongside his ideas. In a world where the creative has been suppressed by the commercial, Mark Charles shines a beacon, sticking two fingers up at the ‘establishment’ and its factory of slaves producing ‘art’.
From the very beginning Charles has refused to conform to a stuffy and subservient industry that has unfortunately taken such control of the fashion and music business, churning out a multitude of nothingness with a price tag attached.
You’ve been absent on the creative scene for a while, what brought this latest project and album together?
After years of what was like throwing up the ‘crown jewels’ on demand, and expected to create, I consciously decided to float about ominously, like a neon sponge soaking up ideas.
I was like- take a look around and have a break. Don’t force anything, let it arrive out of the blue. Fuck-all arrived for quite a while!
I was like a barren desert, a dry mouth camel hump. But you know you can't keep a creative freak down for too long.
So basically I was expelling waste on some fucked up porcelain, when this melody just exploded in my head. I just flushed the chain and walked over to the sink to wash my hands. I looked in the mirror, and although the reflection wasn't what I expected, I kind of whispered to the person looking at me, “I want to record an album”. So I got some ideas on my memory stick and fucked off to Berlin, then to London, ending in Hastings while gathering an amazing array of talent to help put the album together, and forming the incredible White Reflectors. All of which are successful artists in their own right- including: Gene Serene, Valerie Renay, Sebastian Lee Philipp, NkdV, VeeVee, Richard Heslop, Takatsuna Mukai, Susan Diamond, Frank Cutter, Black Triangle Films, Andrew Neate and Michael Bishop.
What influences are you drawing on for the new album Disobey?
I don't consciously draw influence, but of course influences are there in the subconscious. I basically summon up sounds, images and script in my head, and suck up frequencies and soundscapes from the gutter to the stars that twitch skyward and beyond. Then regurgitate and spit them out in the studio, with no preconceived idea how it will sound.
It's just pushed out like a screaming baby- shouting noise and complete mayhem, and then a new song is born, slapped arse and crying with joy. I don't hang about in the studio you know. I work quickly, and in some ways the album sounds that way, fresh, raw and not overdeveloped. It's the embryonic essence, the quirkiness, the spontaneity that I like.
Spontaneity is a recurring theme in all of your work. That sense of emergency, mayhem, debauchery, violence, yet a constant stream of fun encapsulating it all. Can you explain this?
Spontaneity breeds a certain energy that I require in my work. I am not one to cross the t's and dot the i's. I like to let things breathe, evolve naturally and with that it takes you down some very unexpected roads. I deal in creative and intellectual violence. I'm a natural provocateur, I like to stir things up and that can piss people off, but equally inspire.
Fashion and music have been a huge part of your creative life, and have for many years worked hand in hand for you. Why is this?
Well, I think fashion is sometimes music's pool boy, and sometimes the other way around. Sometimes fashion comes first and music comes limping along after, and visa versa. I believe they should go together, but I'm not sure it really applies like it once did. Something needs to change to bring back that buzz.
You seem to love collaboration, not just because it’s productive, but also collaboration seems to be part of your being. Can you enlighten us on this.
This probably stems from me being an alien abducted only child with attention deficit disorder!
As a child I craved company, I was almost scared of my own company for many years. I was a fucking pain in the rump roast. Although I no longer crave company so much, that sense stuck. In any case, I can't do it all myself, and it's much more interesting working with others.
It seems things were uncomfortable as a young person. Was the school environment a challenge and how did you fit it there? At what point did you begin to search and find a part of society and people you could relate to more completely. We all have a situation, a moment, it can even be just a song or visual from our childhood that awakens our direction in life. What was yours?
I was uncomfortable at school, especially at the beginning because I was a pretty live wire. I felt a bit like a caged animal, sitting around in a stuffy classroom with some boring red faced adult chatting shit, and force feeding me what I considered useless information. I sussed out at the age of 7, it just wasn't for me. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic throughout, which did not help. I was a fish out of water, and in the early years I was sent to a strict boys school. I was the rebel, I had the longest hair, I spoke back, never did my homework. They thought I was disruptive, I was.
I won the chess championships just to prove them wrong. Next was a move away from a strict institution to more of a hippie commune, so it felt, a school but without many rules, a bit like the movie ‘If’. Anyway I left at fifteen without any qualifications.
I waited till I sixteen to leave home to live in a junkie squat and play drums loudly. Music was a big inspiration for me from an early age. Tripping out to Tago Mago by Can, was a turning point musically, realising there was more to it than a catchy chorus.
I saw Bowie when I was 13teen, that was a big influence in how I looked; punk taught me that enthusiasm was as important as talent. Punk’s DIY ethics have really stayed with me throughout my life, and I will always be grateful for that- the gift of the blag. The band I played drums for Umptys Balcony in the punk days will always stay with me as well, the raw, unbridled energy was amazing.
You're quite anti-commercial in what is an excessively commercial world. What really gets your back up about the arts, fashion and music industries following such a commercially motivated mindset, almost abandoning the artistry in today's world?
I've never been interested in schmoozing with the ‘top knobs’, industry duffers- and quite frankly the feeling is mutual. I'm way too much trouble for them, I'm no puppet and I have never played the game. I'm an outsider and happy to be that way. It's all down to money I guess, it always has been, but more and more the experimental avant-garde side of things is getting drowned out with mass production.
During Charles of London and Gobsausage, London was a very different place to what it is today. You have been a part of the creative industries for many years. Give me a brief lowdown from your point of view.
It seemed to me it was easier to get away with liberties and easier to create a scene. I mean we ran our club Funny Farm in a downtown strip joint in Hackney, where the girls would join our Band Gobsausage on stage. They really added to that already raw debauched sound, it was fresh, arousing, energetic and fucking messy. Also with our fashion label, we would just show up at shops in Soho or wherever with our collection, and they would be like cool, we will give them a go.
I'm not so sure that kind of spontaneous acts happen so much now, with the exception of Never Fade London.
Charles of London had great success and a huge following- what was the nail in the coffin for you in fashion that made you step aside?
Susan Diamond and myself had a good run for our money with CoL. And although we did well and did it on our terms, while causing a stinky stink within the fashion world, it was fucking hard work and we were getting ripped off more and more. Watered down versions from brands such as 'TopShit' etc, so we thought fuck it, it's time to knock it on the head.
I remember we defaced a Vogue cover with a naked girl bending over. The T-shirt was getting quite a bit of attention, and one day a shop in Covent Garden phoned us up and said that a Vogue representative had come in and threatened them with legal action if they carried on selling them. I believe they were confiscated.
The next day I had a call from, Condé Nast (cunt and nasty as we called them) from their solicitor on the blower (plumb in mouth) saying; unless we stop selling these T-shirts he will fuck me up the ass! Anyway we kept selling them in our space in Brick Lane. Then another phone call came one day, this time it was from the person who took the photo of the nude girl- I had no idea who had done it as I had randomly acquired the image! Mate… it was only flippin, Ben Westwood, Vivienne's Westwood’s son who took the photo.
I'm like, oh FFs! But no, He fucking loved it!! haha
So me, Ben and the Diamond met up in a Soho dive bar and we did a collaboration with him. He invited us to Paris to see Viv's show. We also passed by her Paris studio which was wicked. We saw the show and went out afterwards on the razz with Vivienne's Mum Dora who kept us entertained for hours.