Turning Points: Altern 8’s Mark Archer
Altern 8 were arguably the quintessential rave act of the early 90s. More significant than the novelty of the duo’s chemical warfare suits might suggest, their raw energy and sample-heavy approach drew on the explosion of electronic music to produce some of the most alien and exciting music that ever entered the mainstream.
With a career spawning many projects over nearly three decades, Mark Archer still regularly sends dancefloors into frenzies when DJing under the Altern 8 name. Ahead of the 25th anniversary deluxe release of Altern 8’s album Full-On Mask Hysteria, we called Archer to discuss rave’s manic heyday, the allure of Detroit techno and writing a memoir on Derrick May’s recommendation.
1988-89: Starting Nexus 21 with Chris Peat
I did a few breakbeat albums with Dean Meredith as Rhythm Mode OD and then decided to do Bizarre Inc. Unfortunately, Dean eventually wanted to go solo and got me the sack. Everyone gets shafted in the music industry, and I did quite early. Nexus 21 started when was I was bought a box set for my 21st birthday and there were a few Detroit techno tunes on there. It seemed so futuristic but so full of emotion and I knew that was the music I wanted to make. I called the studio with an idea for an album and they put me with Chris because he could play keyboards. When we went to sign at Network we heard a Kevin Saunderson mixtape, on it he puts an Inner City acapella over the top of (Still) Life Keeps Moving. He then remixed it, along with MK and Carl Craig. Years later I discovered it was Carl Craig’s first ever remix.
1990: Forming Altern 8
When [Stafford recording studio] Blue Chip closed we were owed studio time. We went in and in a week did nine tracks. I’d been going to loads of raves and different kinds of tunes were out by 1990 so we didn’t just stick to the Detroit thing. Network wanted to keep Nexus quite pure, so we put it out as a side project, which was Altern 8. It wasn’t a plan to have an image. We were playing our first PA as Altern 8 at [Coventry club] Eclipse where we’d played before as Nexus 21. I thought people would recognise us so I asked my brother, who was in the RAF at the time, for these chemical warfare suits. It absolutely went off. Before we knew it we were being booked again.
"For our first gig, I asked my brother who was in the RAF for these chemical warfare suits. It absolutely went off"
1991: Shelley’s Lazerdome
I was always at [Stoke-on-Trent club] Shelley’s, if we weren’t doing a PA I’d be there. We’d got a tape cut of Activ8 and they let us test it there. I just wanted to give something back to the club and all the people who had supported us. I noticed that after the club finished everyone would stand around their cars playing their shitty little stereos. I thought it would be cool if there was a decent soundsystem, so when we needed shots for the video we did a set in the car-park. Thing is, word spread and people came from all over, there were more outside dancing on cars than had got in the club. There was also a radio presenter going round interviewing everyone and doing a kind of voiceover. He turned up so he could take his interview to Radio Stoke but they didn’t want it. There were so many little sound-bites that we pressed what he recorded onto 12”. The intro of E-vapor-8 was him that night. In the end the police turned up, we tried to carry on until they said we’d spend the night in a cell if we didn’t stop.
1991-1993: Mainstream Success
The first big warehouse rave we did was at Donington Park, there were maybe 20,000 people there. We started playing and behind the mask I just had this massive grin on my face. Obviously you get a buzz from DJing, but when they’re dancing to what you’ve made it’s that buzz times ten. We couldn’t believe the chart success. We’d been at number three and got booked by Birmingham council for New Year’s Eve. My dad phoned me in the afternoon and said there were 45,000 people in the middle of Birmingham. We came on and there were 2000 fans right at the front who’d come to see us, chanting our name. We were only on stage for 15 minutes, but everyone went mental.
Mid-late 90s: Split with Chris, Going Solo
It just got to the point where we were pissing each other off. Chris was into computers more than anything. He kept going on about the internet and I was just bang into remixing. In the end Chris tried to sue me because I’d done stuff on my own and he wanted half the money. After that I produced and remixed under different aliases. In 1999 I got asked to DJ as Altern 8 again. It was the furthest thing from my mind at the time but I agreed and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since. I play a lot of festivals.
2016: Releasing Autobiography Mark Archer – The Man Behind The Mask
Certain people have always said to me, “you need to write a book”. When I saw Derrick May in a club around 2005 that was the first thing he said to me. It was a case of [co-author] Andrew Woods calling me every day for three weeks and letting me burble, going off on proper tangents. Everything came into place, and I’m really glad I’ve had the chance.
Full-On Mask Hysteria will be re-released late September via Network/Blech