Mark McCabe on 20 years of 'Maniac' and the life-affirming power of music
"I guess I grew up as the joke. In dance music, I was the joke. Your man with his ‘Maniac’ track; what the heck is this?"
Mark McCabe doesn't really need an introduction at this stage, but he could perhaps benefit from something of an addendum.
It's a unique enough complaint, being faithfully haunted by a number one hit, but 20 years on from the release of alternative Irish national anthem 'Maniac 2000', McCabe finds himself at a neon-lit crossroads.
Over the past four years, he's grafted hard to shake off a spectre that first burst forth proper at Dublin's now-defunct Temple Theatre as the dawn of a new millennium approached.
Signed to a major label and "ready to really give it a go", the DJ and producer has since released a string of his own original material while also busying away with remixes, the most high profile of which - a rework of 'Nervous' by Gavin James - has racked up almost 160 million plays on Spotify.
You won't find 'Maniac 2000' there and that's very much by design. In this vein, it admittedly feels a touch churlish to sit down with the man, shine a light in his face and enquire once more about a sexy lady that had to get her thrill, but a two-decade anniversary is a two-decade anniversary and thus we felt it fair enough to give McCabe some space to reflect.
"On one part I want to say I’m done but then on the other side of it I see the reaction," he notes.
"I get people approaching me, messaging me, telling me how much it means to them, saying that they want it to be their funeral song, they want it to be their wedding song, and you can’t ignore that. I’d be stupid to ignore it.
"It’s not like it’s a financial goldmine. It’s not something that keeps on giving, giving, giving cash. It didn’t go that big to allow that to happen. It would be easier if that was the case! If I was just rinsing it but it’s not, it’s a personal thing. And it’s a very Irish personal thing. I think people would be offended if I turned my back on it completely. But, look, 20 years on; maybe it’s time? Maybe it’s not!"
Does it make for a better wedding or funeral song, though?
"I don’t think we’ve quite reached the generation of funerals," he considers.
"The sweet spot at the moment is weddings because if you were born around that time at the start of the millennium and it was your thing, if it meant something to you around that time - I think it’s peak wedding season for it at the moment. Probably 20 years time, it’ll be peak funeral when everyone starts to die off. Maybe I’ll have a resurgence of performing at people’s funerals."
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) March 15, 2020
The life-and-death thing extends beyond such formal events. Ask McCabe about the most surreal feedback that has ever resulted from the track and he's quick with an answer:
"The guy who came out of a coma," he recalls.
"I actually met this dude, I went to his house. He was downstairs in the house, they had a bed downstairs so he could manoeuvre around and they could care for him. He was in a car crash and he came out of this coma. I’m confused at the story because I was told another one about somebody who was in a coma; there was a mother who played the track to their child when the child was in a coma and I think, somehow, it managed to trigger, or the kid recognised the track thereafter.
"The guy that I met I think was in a car crash. As soon as he came out of the coma he asked if they would play it and put it on. When you get to that… that’s stilly stuff. I mean, what the heck? For what it is. You’d understand if it was Jeff Buckley ‘Hallelujah’ or Guns ’N Roses ‘November Rain’ but… ‘Maniac’ - it’s just weird that it’s got that thing. We’re in a room here where ‘Riverdance’ was recorded and it’s there with ‘Riverdance’ in terms of notoriety and the top five biggest soundtracks of all time."
As noted, and without meaning to come across all Alan Partridge; there's more to Mark McCabe than a throwaway - boomerang status achieved, nonetheless - call-and-response floor-filler. Latest single 'Enlightened' arrived in late January, while he's also enjoying a healthy reaction to music released under an alias.
Back to that crossroads. He talks about constantly having questions like "How do I top this?" and "How do I even get close to beating this?" in the back of his mind but he also has to deal with a very specific stigma. How do you move forward?
"The number one rule in marketing is, ‘Don’t confuse your audience’ and I’ve broken that rule in leaps and bounds because you don’t know what you’re getting with me," he contends.
"That’s what I’ve got to fix. I like the idea of being able to put on a mask, even if it’s a proverbial one, and doing something different. Especially because I guess I grew up as the joke. In dance music, I was the joke. Your man with his ‘Maniac’ track; what the heck is this?
"You’re talking about a time when it was kind of the downfall of the Irish rock band. They were starting to come off a wave and the international club scene was starting to come up and Ibiza was kicking off commercially. Although I’ve been around for decades, I was kind of the joke and nobody took it seriously. That was tough but even at that time I was producing tracks that were signed to Danny Tenaglia’s label, Twisted, in New York. Nobody knew about it, really - it was just sort of a thing that I was doing with another guy.
"I like being able to break the rules. I guess I want to prove ultimately that you don’t have to be labelled as one thing, that you can be creative in other way and you can go off and do other things under different names. Why not?"
Clip via Mark McCabe