Bubblin' Up: The Drifter

Following a good friend's footsteps, Mark Flynn finds the way forward.
Publish date:
Updated on

It's known for a plethora of quality exports, but—despite the Irish heritage of artists like Niall "Mano Le Tough" Mannion—Ireland isn't considered a particularly renowned hot spot for house and techno music. As the profile of Mark Flynn (a.k.a. the Drifter) continues to progress, however, there is a growing sense that Mannion will soon have a fellow compatriot and close childhood friend with whom he can scale the heights of electronic music. Driven forward by his beautiful productions and deeply melodic DJ output, and with a new EP in the works, XLR8R sat down with Flynn to hear his story and his plans for the future, and to learn why it has taken until now for him to begin finding the acclaim that his talents warrant.

“These are great times,” says Flynn through a thick Irish accent, perched on a stool in the corner of a slightly dingy Barcelona street cafe. Affable with an infectious sense of humor, his character is laced with a carefree modesty, an absence of ego captured by his outfit: a striped t-shirt accompanied only by a pair of old sports shorts and some archaic flip-flops. He laughs and jokes as he reflects on the steps that have taken him to the verge of his musical ambitions, pausing only to take a sip of his water and apologize for going off on a tangent to disclose yet another quirky tale. “There have definitely been moments where I’ve wanted it to happen faster,” he adds, pausing for thought. “But if you are to succeed as an artist, you have to have trust in yourself—and I have always had this belief.”

Backlash Photo: John Mahon, www.thelocals.ie

BacklashPhoto: John Mahon, www.thelocals.ie

Growing up in Greystones, a small fishing town on the east coast of Ireland, Flynn’s musical origins can be traced back to his early years, a time when he was encouraged by his mother to explore various musical avenues. The turning point to electronic music came when Flynn attended University College Dublin and discovered Backlash, a Thursday club night that steadily became more techno- and house-orientated with the rise of DFA and Hot Chip. It was here that he first began DJing under the moniker Marko Le Tough, a reference to Hang Tough, the indie-rock band he and Mannion were involved with at the time. “That was where it all changed for me," Flynn explains.“Even though I was exposed to electronic music growing up hearing the likes of the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers, Backlash was my gateway because that’s where I learned to DJ,” he adds. “And it very quickly became an addiction.”

“The thing about dance music is the togetherness in the crowd, where everyone is going off, is just such a rare vibe,” Flynn says. “As a DJ, and as someone who wants to do something artistic with this genre of music, it’s incredible to whip up this energy and be part of this togetherness. This common connection is something that just doesn’t exist in other genres. Whether it is sticking on some big record that everybody knows or putting a completely unknown track, that feeling of connecting with the crowd is like an addiction—and I cannot get enough of it.”

As with many artists, the catalyst in Flynn’s growth proved to be his relocation to Berlin, a move he made in 2009 following two years working in Happy Pear, the family-run restaurant. “I became distracted,” says Flynn in reference to his decision to return home instead of pursuing music immediately after university. “Even at that point, I knew that I wanted to be a DJ, but working with my brothers [at the restaurant] was something I had always wanted to do,” he explains. “Then, at some point, I realized that I needed to move to Berlin, because music was all I wanted to do,” he adds. “There was such a culture for it over there and these opportunities just didn’t exist in Ireland.”

The Drifter and Mano Le Tough Photo: Sebastien Vergne

The Drifter and Mano Le ToughPhoto: Sebastien Vergne

Working part-time in a clothing store while spinning discs across the city, Flynn steadily began learning the art of being a good DJ. It was then that he started Passion Beat, a monthly party he co-ran for three years, and quickly adopted a new moniker. “This period was the launching pad of my career,” reflects Flynn. “I learned so much about myself, how to read the crowd how to choose which records to play because I was given time [to DJ],” he continues. “I also realized that I needed a new name,” he adds, hesitant to reveal to full motivations behind the name The Drifter. “There are a few reasons why I decided to use this name, but the main one is that my mother never really knew where music was going to take me, and then one day she just said to me, 'You know what you are—you’re just a drifter. You’re drifting through life.' I’m still not quite sure why, but I just used it!”

The lessons learned during this period have taken him to where he is today. Besides refining his skills in the DJ booth, Flynn also learned the basics of production following a chance meeting with Baikal. “Production was a big step forward for me,” recalls Flynn. “These days you’ve almost have to release a record in order to grow your profile as a DJ. I didn’t start [producing] until much later and I think this held me back,” he continues. Inspired and addicted, Flynn worked tirelessly on his productions, bouncing ideas off of then-flatmate Mannion before releasing 2012’s gorgeous Lovers, his three-track debut solo EP released on Permanent Vacation in 2012.

Mannion’s influence on Flynn’s development can't be underestimated. Connected by their Irish heritage and a profound love for all things musical, Flynn and Mannion have grown up side by side, sharing the same educational background before living together in Berlin for over three years. Today, alongside Baikal, the pair runs the small Berlin-based Maeve imprint and regularly DJ all over the world together. “We’re like brothers,” Flynn says. “Music has always been the foundation of the friendship because we’ve always wanted to be in bands. We’ve always pushed each other in a very informal way. Even today, I will be the first one to hear his new tunes and he’ll be the first one to hear mine.”

For many, witnessing a close childhood friend achieve such early success might deter them from pursuing similar avenues—but Mannion’s rise, a gradual journey that has seen him develop into one of today's leading DJ-producers, has been of great benefit to Flynn’s endeavors. “Mano began producing and hustling for gigs a lot earlier than me, and he always been a little bit ahead,” says Flynn. “But we have always done musical things together, and his success has certainly shone a bit of light on me. I think it also made me realize that music is an achievable goal. His success definitely gave me belief that I could go ahead and have a career in music too.”

This sense of self-belief has allowed Flynn the time to find his own acclaim; instead of becoming frustrated and impatient, Flynn remained positive and undeterred, trusting that his time would come too. “I’ve always had this confidence that it will work out because I have always had a very musical ear,” he explains. “All successful musicians have this focus and tenaciousness, and it is definitely the same with me. Things are going well and so I am going to enjoy it,” he explains, laughing. “I do put a lot of hours in but it doesn't feel like work because making music and playing gigs with your best friends around the world is actually really exciting.”

"It was only last year, at my cousin’s wedding, that my parents first recognized that music was my career."

This is a wonderful time for Flynn. The quality of his output over recent years has increased his recognition as an artist, earning him a platform on which he can now finally begin to really express himself artistically. "But it was only last year, at my cousin’s wedding, that my parents first recognized that music was my career," Flynn recalls. "Before that they just said I was doing music in Berlin. But I don’t see this as success yet. For me, this is only the start. People are really listening now so I have a great opportunity to do lots of cool things.”

Casting an eye forward, that is not to say there is some grand vision in Flynn’s head. For now, it is clear that he's quite happy in the moment, basking in the knowledge that he’s moving forward and that things will now develop naturally, given time. “I believe in myself, but eventually want to get to a position where I can begin to experiment,” he explains. “As an artist, I think you reach a level where people begin to trust you and this gives you the freedom to push boundaries and experiment with different sounds. Right now, I am not at that level—right now, I am still rising. But that’s where I would like to get to.”

Photo: Jan Kapitaen, www.buerobumbum.com

Photo: Jan Kapitaen, www.buerobumbum.com

Pausing for thought, Flynn takes a sip of his water before continuing. “In DJing terms, as the main headliner you are given a certain freedom because you have already earned the trust of the crowd," he says. "I want to have that trust so I can play with confidence that they will stay with me—and this will allow me to go a bit deeper and more experimental.” It is here that he also reveals a long-term vision of combining his “two worlds” of indie and electronic music, a creative liberty that will develop alongside his reputation. For now, however, focus rests solely on putting the final touches to his newest EP, a vocal-heavy production more akin to Lovers than 2014's Again. There are also loose plans to release another EP on Maeve, and a number of remixes are scheduled.

Following the interview, Flynn is next seen at the Maeve label showcase, hosted in an abandoned monastery nestled deep within the El Poble area of Barcelona. He's behind the decks, earphones on, utterly enthralled. Even then, with the Catalan sun setting behind the stage and a mass of expectant fans, there is a sense of great humility as he smiles politely before raising a right hand to acknowledge the crowd’s ovation.

Set over, he grabs a beer and greets his friends backstage. He begins to explain how he and Mannion just played at Movement in Detroit, nine years after he attended as a visitor, and reflects how crazy it seems that Mannion is headlining at Amnesia in Ibiza. “As kids, we’d hear about legends like Sven Väth and Villalobos playing these places—but now Mano is there with them. It just shows how far we’ve come,” he says.

Give it some time, and Flynn might well soon be there, too.