A Conversation with Marquis Hawkes About Race, White Privilege, and Call-Out Culture

The unedited transcript of an interview for our larger feature on cultural appropriation in dance music.
October 27, 2016, 5:20pm

Presented below is the full, unedited conversation that took place over email between THUMP and Marquis Hawkes in relation to this piece on cultural appropriation in dance music.

THUMP: In the piece I will discuss the EP title Cabrini Green. What was your reasoning for that title?
Marquis Hawkes: The music I made, I felt was very influenced by the music I love coming out of Chicago and Detroit over the years. Perhaps foolhardily, I picked a name of a housing estate in Chicago. I underestimated the internet obviously. :)

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What is your response to various people commenting over the last few years that "Marquis Hawkes" might be meant to sound like a black name?
Well, you'd be better off asking Dan Monox [Rubadub/Dixon Avenue Basement Jams] about that, as he came up with the name. It was never in my mind that it sounded like a black name when I first heard it, and I very much doubt it was in Dan's mind neither. It was simply the fact that he had hung out with Svengalisghost (L.I.E.S.) when he was over in Glasgow, whose real name is Marquis, and liked the name. The original Marquis (Svengalisghost) seemed pretty stoked about that one, when I told him the story at Dimensions festival in Croatia a few years back.

The Hawkes part was reference to the late, great UK house DJ Kenny Hawkes, a white guy incidentally. Moreover, it was a "remix" of my real name (Mark Hawkins = Marquis Hawkes), a name I had released over 30 records under, records which were more of a Chicago-influenced harder techno style, a [style] I was trying for years to move away from, but was constantly typecast by my real name, and the expectations which were associated with that real name. That's why I covered my face. That's why I kept undercover. It was nothing to do with "Pretending to be black." That was something projected onto me by others. Above all else, originally, it was intended as a small side project. We never thought we would sell more than 300 or so white labels.

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Did you in fact use a picture of the character Candyman as a Twitter photo at one point?
No, never. I've just recently discovered that DJ TLR (Creme Organisation) used a picture of Candyman on a mix I did for him when I was saying nothing about who I was or where I was from. So he made up all the back story on that mix on soundcloud. When I first saw it a few years back, I didn't even realise that it was of Candyman, or know the Candyman story at all, I just saw he was kinda making out like I was some black guy from chicago, which I have to say I asked him to take down. See this is the thing, it gets put on me that I did this or I did that, when really, it's nothing to do with me, other people just projected a lot of stuff on to me, and because at the time I didn't talk to the press, and I didn't show my face, and I just didn't engage outside of making music, then it was assumed that it was all orchestrated by myself, when this totally wasn't the case. What are you supposed to do when people write bullshit about you online, and then refuse to take it down?

Did you tweet "I call bullshit on people saying your music should be limited to your ethnic/geo origin. Follow that logic and Bad Brains can't play punk"?
Ok, a bit of background here. This all started because of a guy going under the name RATCHETT TRAXX, repeatedly trolled various people on the underground house/techno/trax scene, questioning their authenticity, "calling them out" for being "white boys," being pretty misogynistic to women, posting everything in caps.

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He's gone to Jackmaster (from Glasgow), gone off at him saying "YOU'RE NOT THE ORIGINAL JACKMASTER FROM CHICAGO", he's gone to DJ Richard and Young Male at White Materials saying "YOUR LABEL NAME IS RACIST" (I paraphrase here, it's difficult to remember the exact words used), to Delroy Edwards, whom he alongside myself accused of being "THE WHITEST N*****S ON THE BLOCK" [I will not use the N word, even if he did], and repeatedly going on about the fact that Edwards' father is Ron Pearlman.

So this guy got me pretty riled, which was dumb really, and a lesson learned, don't get dumb and respond on the internet without thinking some of the sensitivities through. It was a flippant tweet, I admit that, and it was probably the tweet that showed me that I shouldn't be on Twitter. I can be good with words when I have the time to think them through, but I can also be hot headed and reactionary and not portray a valid point in exactly the right way.

But the basic premise stands, that if we are restricted to only making music which relates to our own cultural heritage, then this is cultural segregation in my mind.

Take Drum N Bass/Jungle for example. It's not purely a black form of music, it's a product of the melting pot of urban Britain. Many Caribbean people were involved with the inception of this music, but also many white people, many people of Indian or Pakistani descent, people of African heritage. Same with the development of Grime, and then Dubstep in the UK, which could be argued by some as a white British appropriation of grime. Dubstep was then co-opted by "bro culture" in the US. Do we see white, privileged people in the UK calling out Skrillex for appropriation of that culture in the US, on behalf of black people in the UK?

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I think what has happened here, is a lack of understanding on both sides of the Atlantic about the different nuances of integration between the US and the UK. Of course, there is racism in the UK, and as much as it's institutionalised, in the context of art, culture and creativity, it's always been much more mixed than the US. It's been very usual for white urban youth to take cues, styles, and patterns of speech, from people with West Indian or other ethnic minority roots, because, at least with people from poorer backgrounds, we were always mixing. Black kids hang out with white kids, white kids hang out with Asian kids (and by Asian I mean Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi etc), and Asian kids hang out with black kids. You only have to look at the development of Multicultural London English as a legitimate dialect over the past 20 years to see the influence it's had.

In the cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and others, the music scenes were never as segregated as they seem to be in the US, even in scenes like Hip-Hop or Punk. In fact, especially when it came to dance music, it was the complete opposite. Especially when you consider that from 1988 onwards, there was a huge youth movement that was the beginnings of rave culture, many people taking ecstacy, and all dancing under the same sky. That did far more for the development of integration in the UK than having white people criticising other white people for supposedly "stealing" the culture of ethnic minorities. That just divides people further.

I think this whole culture of "calling out" people for this and that, in quite an aggressive way, it just drives people to the margins and increases the animosity between ethnic groups. If you have the people who are not the 1% arguing about issues, which really are quite trivial in the big scheme of things, then their minds are being taken off the real issues, which really do matter.

The Twitter account @LittleWhiteEarbuds responded to your tweet, ""It's not the music, it's your insistence on appropriating signifiers of urban America you have no claim to." How would you respond to this statement now, three years later?
Well, there was a lot of assumption made by @LittleWhiteEarbuds about intent, an accusation that it was almost all planned out as a way to sell records, to get success in a cynical way, which was never the case. It was compounded by the fact that I wasn't releasing much information about myself, which was actually for entirely innocent unrelated reasons as I've said above, because I had to move on from what I had been doing previously, but this was taken like some kind of admission of guilt. If there was any use of "signifiers of urban america", this was purely down to the fact that I loved music which had that, I've been playing that music for over 20 years, supporting that music even when it wasn't in the spotlight or any way popular.

You have stated on several occasions said that you understand how the titles Cabrini Green and Social Housing could be taken as offensive. Do you feel the same way about the song titles "Outta This Hood" and "Get Yo Ass Off My Grass"? If not, why not?
I only understood that they could be taken as offensive, when I saw the amount of offence taken! And in regard to the latter two track titles, it was in relation to samples used, as in, the vocals in the track and what they were saying. Perhaps with hindsight it was ignorant to name them as such, or even use those kind of samples, and I have to say, I'm put off making stuff like that these days just due to the amount of hassle it seems to create, but as I say, when you come from a culture such as the one I detail above, it's easy to think the whole world would see such references as more out of affection for a rather than making a cultural point. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery as they say. And likewise, coming from the other side, as we've seen, it's easy for offence to be taken in particular corners of the US when there is a lack of understanding of how things are culturally on this side of the pond.

You have stated that the title of his new album Social Housing relates to his positive experience in Berlin social housing. Some questions I will pose in the piece—the album cover depicts black people dancing in front of a housing projects. Were there black people living in the housing projects where you lived in Berlin? Do you think its possible to draw an equivalency between living there and the American social housing experience—i.e. Cabrini Green? Do you think it would be problematic to do so?
My concept for the album art was purely that I wanted the blocks I live in to be portrayed in the art. The racial identities of the people dancing in front of the building came from Alan Oldham's concept when we were discussing the direction of the artwork, he wanted to pay homage to the artwork of Miles Davis "On The Corner". (Alan is a black guy from Detroit in case you didn't know). There are some black people living in this area, but also Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and also now Syrians and sub-Saharan Africans starting to move into the area as refugees get resettled here. it's an immigrant area, as are many places in Berlin, although obviously the demographic is very different to the US as there isn't such a big legacy of the slave trade here. Not to say that Germany was never involved in the slave trade, and as a nation certainly has just as big skeletons in it's closet, it just was nowhere near as widespread as say in the US, Brazil or other places.