For a hot minute in the summer of 2008, very early one Sunday morning, Baltimore club music shone as bright as it ever has. The party was the now legendary My Crew Be Unruly bash, celebrating less the venerated label namesake than the whole of club music itself in all its myriad strains and eras: K-Swift, Diplo, Scottie B, Say Wut, and more, all having something different and important to say about the music and how it's grown and expanded and changed. Spread out over three rooms and an outdoor courtyard at Paradox, you could find art-school kids mixing with old house-music heads mixing with club kids going off on baby-powdered dance floors. If you missed it, that's a truly terrible thing. The next day, on July 21, DJ K-Swift died in a backyard pool accident and club music has never recovered.
K-Swift was more than a DJ. To many, that might seem as obvious as saying that the "Think" break is more than a neato sample, but it bears repeating. K-Swift was where club music came together. If you were a young kid with a track, you sent it to Swift; she was the one that could make something happen with it. If you were a club DJ, you'd look to Swift for the new stuff and, in particular, her Jumpoff mixes, a regular series of club mixes released by Unruly Records and distributed in large part via Downtown Locker Room. Over 14 volumes, there was no better way—beyond Swift's weekly 92Q radio show, that is—to hear what Baltimore club was at any given time. And what it was becoming.
One of those young kids with a track was Marquis Gasque, aka Murder Mark. Talking in his Brooklyn Park studio—an upper-floor rowhouse room sporting an array of computer screens, a couple of keyboards, a framed Barack Obama drawing, and a soundproofed closet for recording vocals—the now 22-year-old Gasque seems at once exasperated and mournful when talking about Swift. "Swift used to hit me on Myspace [for tracks]," Gasque says. "She passed July 21st. My birthday's July 21st."
You might've already raced ahead to what's coming next—that Murder Mark is/is going to be the face of Baltimore club's future—but that's not quite it actually. Club music will probably never have a face in the K-Swift sense again, and besides, Murder Mark would rather you call him a producer than DJ. Even when he does DJ, he's approaching something closer to live production. And his production is actual production, in the from-scratch sense. Dude builds his own drum sounds. Murder Mark stands at the confluence of technology, club-music history, and Cherry Hill. He's not the new face of club music, but he is its future. And there's something else—he's making club music's future important again. Baltimore club's been declared dead in Baltimore probably still more times than it's been declared a "next big thing" in the pages of fashionable magazines, and that was happening even before K-Swift's death. For too long, club has been obsessed with its history while staying ambivalent about its future.
And whether you're paying attention or not, Gasque is convinced that future is going to erupt in the year 2012. It's going to be great, and historic.
In conversation, Murder Mark talks like a rapper. Not like whatever cliché of "a rapper" just appeared in your brain, but like the way you might imagine a rapper thinks. He talks fast, with a mild stutter, in a measured cadence, and nonstop, like he's doing a circular breathing trick for 20-minute stretches and always thinking three lines ahead. His talking even has refrains, quick ideas or notes that recur in what feels like measured intervals. In our interview, he's off before a question is even asked. Within 10 minutes, he's slipped in at least three chanted verses.