B-Side the Leeside: The Mighty Quark kicks up a Smokescreen

Mark O'Sullivan may have recorded with the likes of Morten Harket and Leftfield, but there's a strong Cork soccer strand running through his output
B-Side the Leeside: The Mighty Quark kicks up a Smokescreen

Mark O'Sullivan, aka the Mighty Quark, on the decks in Cork in 2007. 

In December 1999, chart-topping dance duo Leftfield went on Swedish radio to discuss their favourite tracks of the year. Among the tunes they picked was a house banger called 'Smokescreen'. However, it was more than a song. It was a mystery, too.

“They said, ‘yeah…we’re trying to track this guy down. We heard he’s English and lives in London but nobody can find him’. And the interviewer says, ‘actually, he’s my neighbour’. So the next day Leftfield called me.”  

Mark O’Sullivan had moved from Cork to Stockholm in 1994, without any plans but eager to expand his horizons. 'Smokescreen' was his debut single as the Mighty Quark.

“I put it on 10-inch vinyl as a limited edition,” he recalls. “It did really well. I sold out the first pressing.” Delighted to have tracked him down, Leftfield reached out to O'Sullivan. “I remixed their single, 'Chant of a Poor Man'. That kicked off everything. It was a complete coincidence – ‘he’s my neighbour’. It’s funny. You remix a big artist and suddenly you’re in the game.”  

O’Sullivan followed 'Smokescreen' with a debut album, Ian Hendrick’s Disco. Ian Hendricks was an old bandmate of O’Sullivan’s from his days playing indie rock in Cork with the Caroline Shout. But the Mighty Quark was something else entirely:  a vehicle for O’Sullivan's wry and inventive grooves.

He checks off the list of legendary venues and festivals he has graced in his career as a beat-maker: Berghain in Berlin, Sonar in Barcelona, Roskilde in Denmark, the Yellow Bar in Tokyo. It’s an incredible story – one that takes in Seventies soccer royalty, Eighties pop stars and O’Sullivan’s home town by the Lee.  

EARLY DAYS 

Music and sport were the big influences on O'Sullivan growing up in Silverdale, Ballinlough, on the southside of Cork. His house was just a few minutes from Flower Lodge – home to the great Cork Hibernians (the ground is today Páirc Uí Rinn).  “They were my idols,” he recalls. “You could just walk up the hill and you were there. If your dad wasn’t there, you’d ask someone to lift you over the gate.” He attended Beaumont National School and Micheál Martin’s alma mater, Coláiste Chríost Rí (finished off with a year at the Carmelite College in Castlemartyr, where he complete his Leaving Cert). 

 At UCC O’Sullivan studied computer science and economics, graduating in 1990. Around the same time, he fronted the Caroline Shout, an indie outfit regarded as having huge potential but who ultimately released just one single, 'Into Your Hands'. And then in 1994, on a whim, he went to Stockholm to reconnect with some friends he’d made at UCC.

“Sweden was very random,” he says. “I hung out there for three weeks. And then hung out for six weeks. And I’m still here. I’d always loved a broad range of music. When I was in Sweden I found the equipment very easy to access. It was affordable. So I just started making stuff myself. Started experimenting. And it went from there.”

GROWING HYPE

In Sweden, O’Sullivan met influential DJ and producer Jesper Dahlbäck, with whom he recorded as DK7. 

They were signed to modish British label Output Recordings, which had released music by LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture and Four Tet, and clocked up two UK Top 20 dance hits. Their collaboration on 'The Difference' is, in particular, credited with kick-starting a mini-acid house revival.  

“One of the first things I heard by Mark was a track he sang on that was produced by Jesper Dahlbäck ,” recalls Shane Johnson, of Cork production duo Fish Go Deep. 

“I saw his name on the record and thought, ‘wow, that’s an Irish name’. I followed it up and figured ‘oh, I do know Mark. He’s in Stockholm’. It was a strange one that this guy I knew slightly from back home would have showed up like that.” 

HOME STUDIO

Mark O'Sullivan with Morten Harket of A-ha; right, O'Sullivan with his son Sam. 
Mark O'Sullivan with Morten Harket of A-ha; right, O'Sullivan with his son Sam. 

 O’Sullivan cut 'Smokescreen' and Ian Hendrick’s Disco at his home studio in Stockholm, releasing them, in collaboration with Walter Bäcklin, on his own King Syndrome Sounds label.  

“A lot of house and electronic music is very generic,” says Johnson, who would go on to work with O’Sullivan on Ork Recordings, a bijou label set up to mark Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2005. 

 “Mark wasn’t like that. It was a lot of fun. Instead of using a bunch of keyboards and a drum machine, he used an all-in-one beat-making machine, the Akai MPC workstation. It leads to a really spontaneous and quick way of working.” 

“Here are some instruments, here’s a sound,” says O’Sullivan of his recording process. “What can I do? What can I make out of it? That was my real love, not the touring, though that was a great laugh.” 

'Smokescreen' and Ian Hendrick’s Disco were well-received on the house scene. But O’Sullivan was already moving on to something else. He had struck up a friendship with Ride and future Oasis guitarist Andy Bell, living in Stockholm with then-wife Idha Övelius (a recording artist in her own right, signed to Creation Records, and today a successful structural engineer). 

 He and O’Sullivan started playing together and their recordings were the foundation for O’Sullivan’s 2001 side-project Bacuzzi – named after iconic Cork Hibs right back Dave Bacuzzi and released on Paris jazz label Night and Day (which re-released Ian Hendrick’s Disco in France).

“I found an old photograph of me in my front room in my Cork Hibs gear at seven years of age. It became the album cover. I thought, ‘yeah, I’ll call the project Bacuzzi and I’ll name the album Flower Lodge’. It meant that if I was doing interviews I’d have something to talk about rather than the music.”  

Rubbing shoulders with big names was not a new experience. Prior to The Mighty Quark he spent time in the studio with Morten Harkett of A-Ha, having been introduced by mutual acquaintances.  

“We did six tracks together. We were about to sign to a label in America. There were too many legal problems with A-Ha. Last year, I got a call from his autobiographer looking to interview me. I have three pages in his autobiography. Morten came over to meet me in February for dinner.”  

WHAT CAME NEXT 

As the Mighty Quark he toured and recorded through to 2006. Production projects included the debut album of Cork band Stanley Super 800 (previously featured on these pages) and an edit of Nun Attax' mighty 'Knocknaheeny Shuffle'.

But while he enjoyed travelling the world, the thrill eventually wore thin. He vividly recalls standing in front of 6,000 people in the Roskilde dance tent and ticking off a mental checklist of chores he needed to get to back home.

“I didn’t want to go on stage,” he recalls. “The World Cup was on as well.”  

Soccer had always been his other passion. He studied for his UEFA A coaching licence and in 2016 was appointed head of youth development at Stockholm side AIK, one of the Allsvenskan’s biggest clubs.  There aren’t many occasions in which his Irish background comes up in the context of his career in Swedish soccer (he had also worked with the Canadian FA as coach education consultant). 

But as a Leesider in Sweden he was naturally thrilled when, in August 2005, Cork City dumped out AIK’s Stockholm rivals Djurgårdens IF from what was then the UEFA Cup. 

 “I was delighted. I got years out of that. It still hurts them. I actually know the captain of Djurgårdens [Markus Johannesson]. He wasn’t happy. I met him for the first time a few years ago. I said, ‘come on, we’ll go through the Cork City game’. That was funny. They were really shocked at how good Cork were.” 

While O'Sullivan has put music aside while working on his PhD in Sports Pedagogy, he does plan to release at least one more album of new music when time allows, and is also putting out a Mighty Quark/Bacuzzi compilation next year.

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