Hailing from one of the world's club music cradles, the city of Manchester, Mark Richards and James Eliot are hot names on today's international house scene. The duo, known collectively as Solardo, has a Midas touch when it comes to turning any range of musical endeavours - from original tunes, across production, to event organisation - to gold.
Their award-winning careers in the DJ booth are backed up by a slew of sold-out shows, while flourishing new production projects look to be equally as successful in the future. Also in the Solardo spotlight is the HIGHER event series, whose 2021 edition will have partygoers flocking to Dubrovnik's Culture Club Revelin - a surreal rave hub situated within a 15th-century fortress with a view to boot.
We chatted with Mark about what to expect at HIGHER (slated for September 23-25), his own experiences DJing across Croatia, the pros and pitfalls of the music industry, and more. Read on for the inside scoop.
On Solardo and the HIGHER party in Dubrovnik
Let's jump right in. To start, could you give our readers the Solardo 101?
Let's! We're Solardo, we're a duo from Manchester, and we've been around for about six years now.
We make house and techno tunes. All across the board, our music is high-energy. We've put out loads of tracks; I can't even remember the total number! Our stuff has been released on labels such as Hot Creations, Toolroom, Ultra, our own label, and so many more. Nowadays, we're mainly with Ultra which we've signed to for most of our singles.
We play regularly around the world and hit most of the major festivals globally. We're also residents in Ibiza and we've been at Hï for the last four years.
Along with that, we own two record labels: one called Sola, and a sister label called Sola Nauts. Sola Nauts covers the underground side of things. Less Beatport, more underground clubs. Whereas Sola streams a lot on Beatport and it's a little bit more mainstream. Well, not mainstream necessarily... But a bit more commercially viable in the house world.
What can we expect from your HIGHER event in Dubrovnik?
We do HIGHER events all over the UK, along with quite a few festivals. So, we're basically bringing the same formula which we do in festivals and clubs around the UK over to Dubrovnik.
Expect day-and-night parties and a really good vibe. It all kicks off on a Thursday with an opening party, and across the following days, we'll have a pool party and beach party. The evening portion will be played on the terrace on the top of Club Revelin and we'll continue through the night!
We have a major DJ line-up, including Andrea Olivia, Nic Fanciulli, Waff, Heidi, Sosa, Max Chapman, Danny Howard, Syreeta, Andrew Meller, Arielle Free, Ben Hemsley, Hannah Laing, James Burton, Lost on Mars, Mandalo, Ryan Resso, Saffron Stone, Wade, Versus, and ourselves.
What are a few of your favourite old-school songs?
I'm just a massive Prodigy fan! They're the alpha and omega when it comes to old-school.
What are a few of your favourite new songs?
I'd have to say my own; our new single with Maur called Power. It came out recently on Ultra and we play it at every set, so it's one of the favourites at the moment. It's also available for download and streaming across platforms.
Then, definitely our new track with Calvin Harris Love Regenerator called Rollercoaster. That one's coming out on Friday, September 17.
Three artists that have inspired you the most are...
Calvin Harris, definitely. He puts tunes together so well. I'm not always into the more commercial artists, but the way he puts tracks together, the way he makes constant hits, I just love that.
Liam Howlett of The Prodigy is also a massive inspiration. He's just so good and forward-thinking with his music. The tunes he was making in the 90s are still relevant now.
And then, if we're speaking not just house, Dr. Dre. He's always been, similarly to Liam Howlett, forward-thinking, with a stand-out sort of sound which is timeless. That's what I try to do when I make tracks. I don't always achieve it, but I try.
Three new artists to look out for are...
Sosa from Liverpool. He's released quite a fair bit on Sola and has some EPs coming up.
Also Maur, the group we've recently released Power with. Their productions are amazing. We've been releasing all their music recently on our label Sola, and the tracks just get better and better.
Then, we've got music from a lad called Kinnerman, which is also incredible. It's going to be released later in the year on Sola. I think when that tune comes out it'll be quite groundbreaking.
So, keep an eye out for them guys, definitely doing big things!
What's been the toughest part of your career so far?
I think just actually breaking through.
I originally came from a dubstep world so I was making tracks back in, like, 1999, and then started breaking through in that genre around 2002. My first album was in 2004 with Aphex Twin on his record label, Rephlex Records. I did that sort of music up until 2012, and then I started producing more behind the scenes.
When I wanted to start making house music, and do Solardo projects, that was quite challenging. It was basically starting from nothing, once again, after previously having been sort of established. So it meant beginning from scratch and basically doing everything all over again.
We were lucky to get where we are because we broke through really, really quickly. That was simply due to perseverance, and just trying everything possible to get tracks to people and make ourselves known. Luckily enough, we managed to do so quite quickly, and it wasn't as hard as it could've otherwise been. I've seen how hard it is in the past when I was doing other genres of music, but we luckily did it.
What's been the most rewarding part?
I think it's the experience of playing at massive festivals, when the audience fills up. The most rewarding thing can be playing an early set at a festival (which we've done a couple of times, when we might be playing somewhere else later on).
For me, a good example of this was Parklife, the Manchester festival. We were playing at another festival straight after, and had to fly off, so we played an early set before that.
Here's what happened. We get to the actual festival site. We walk onto the stage. And there's no one there. Not no one, but not a lot of people either. So, we thought, "Oh my god, this is going to be a nightmare..." But then, five minutes before we actually went on stage, it just filled up - and all of a sudden you have like 20,000 people in front of you.
That is massively rewarding because you know the people have come to see you, in such numbers. So it's quite a reward, it's a good feeling.
Who is on your list of dream collabs?
Calvin Harris was one of them. Now, we have new music coming out with him.
Otherwise, it's mainly producers. Liam Howlett from The Prodigy would be amazing to work with because he's been around for years and just does amazing things.
A piece of advice for anyone struggling or trying to make it in the music industry would be...
It's all about perseverance.
Perseverance is the main thing needed to get anywhere in the music scene. I mean, you could break through quickly, but you might be making tracks for years and years and years until you make it.
I talk to kids at colleges and universities who want to break into music sometimes. The first thing I always say to them is: "The #1 rule of music is be prepared for 99% rejection." That is what the whole music scene is fully built around. Rejection.
I'm quite successful at the moment, but I've only upped my game up to 95% rejection. So, that shows you have to be aware that you're going to get rejected, and don't take anything to heart when that happens. Just persevere and persevere. Because if you really want to do anything in life, it will happen.
So, two things: perseverance and get ready for rejection.
Where have you been in Croatia so far?
Lots of places on the coast, including Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar Island, Pag Island, Zadar... I've played at many places and just visited others.
I've been quite a lot of times, definitely over ten visits. We played at Hideout Festival about four times, we played at Noa Beach Club about two other times, and then Club Revelin about four times.
What's the best meal you've had in Croatia?
Honestly, not being biased, but there's a restaurant next to Club Revelin, just down the stairs called Bistro Revelin. The steak there is amazing. That was definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, the best meal I've had in Croatia.
Then there was another place by the Valamar hotel I was staying at in Dubrovnik. I can't remember the name. It wasn't part of the hotel, but sat across from it, in a little green area - you walk through the bushes, and there it is. It's a little barbecue place that was really, really, really basic but every single day I'd go there for lunch and have incredible lamb chops and chips. Every single day. And I will continue to do that when I come back!
I'm pretty basic when it comes to drinks. When I'm in Croatia, it's usually hot. And when I'm hot, I always just like a cold beer.
The best place - a city, town, or island - you've been to in Croatia is...
Dubrovnik is by far my favourite.
Nowhere else even comes close to Dubrovnik for me. It's a stand-out, utterly picturesque place.
The best place to party in Croatia is...
It will sound like I'm being biased, haha. But I just have to go Dubrovnik again.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it's Club Revelin. It's unbelievable. That's not just me saying it; it was also voted one of the best in the world by DJ Mag. The rooftop, the club... Just amazing.
Noa Beach Club on Pag Island is also quality.
What's the craziest thing that's happened to you while visiting Croatia?
Well, there's obviously Hideout Festival in general. That's a four-day bender where you don't even go to sleep.
Then, I also remember when we played Elrow on Zrće Beach. We dressed up as characters - but not the chicken, because apparently that's not allowed - and went in the middle of the dance floor. No one even knew it was us!
What surprised you most about Croatia?
I was surprised by how cheap it was.
I could get the best meals possible at half the prices of the UK. Cheap beer, too!
Can you offer any travel tips for people thinking about or planning on visiting the country?
If you're getting into a taxi, negotiate the price first. I found price bumping a massive problem.
Not so much in Dubrovnik, but around Pag Island, it was the worst.
Croatia is a place for...
I think Croatia is a place for pretty much everything!
I mean, it's got such a spectrum of things to do, it's great. Great beaches and great beer prices, haha. There's also very good weather in the summer.
Where in the world do you feel most creative?
I think tropical places make me feel the most creative.
For example, I feel quite inspired in Mexico.
Where in the world do you feel most at home?
I really love being in America, to be honest.
I love LA and New York. And I really love Orlando, which people find very, very weird. I enjoy going to Disneyworld. In fact, I try to visit every time I go to America.
Once a year - if you haven't ever done this, you should! - there are Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando or Hollywood at Universal Studios. It's the best thing I've ever done in my life. I go every year when there's not a pandemic. There's a load of zombies around, and you just walk around drinking and getting chased by them. Lots of horror mazes, too.
The biggest challenges you've faced during the pandemic?
I've got two kids, so that was quite a challenge. Having them continuously at home, not having anywhere to take them.
At one point in the UK, you couldn't actually go anywhere. You were only allowed to leave your house for an hour once a day which is absolutely ridiculous.
Having a three-year-old and a one-year-old, there's only so much you can do in the house. So, it was very, very hard for a while.
And also having to cut my hair myself! I ended up having a mullet for a while just cause it was funny. I even did a T-bar moustache thing. Didn't last very long.
Did anything unexpectedly positive come about during the pandemic?
It was completely and utterly shit, to be fair, but I made loads of music which was good.
I made tracks with people I wouldn't have otherwise made tracks with. And I worked on some creative songs.
Also got to redecorate the house!
Are there any upcoming projects that you'd like to highlight?
I think the main thing is the HIGHER party coming up. It will be the last sort of festival for us in Europe during the summer. All of the DJs playing are our friends, so I'm really looking forward to that.
Other than that, you can catch us playing all over the world. We'll be in South America soon. As places are opening up, you'll be able to see us more and more all over.
Our new track with Calvin Harris Love Regenerator, Rollercoaster, is also coming out on Colombia Records shortly - it'll be available from Friday, September 17.