Marishka Cross — Double Cross

Posted on March 25, 2015

Marishka Cross on the life and times of a double agent.

For over a decade, I have been living the life of a double agent. Leading two distinct, demanding and seemingly disparate jobs.

I’ve been doing well in each of these and achieving success at both, despite their contrasts. At a very high level the differences are significant. Delve a little deeper and gaping chasms start to appear. Whether it’s day vs night, punk vs establishment, community vs hierarchy, corporate conservative dress and codes vs counter culture fashion and attitude, balancing the two requires double agent status. One is done high in a tech marble steel and glass building that can be seen from any vantage point on the Melbourne sky line…the other is likely, literally, to be underground.

In one life I am Marishka Cross, Associate Director — National Markets.

By day, I work full-time as Associate Director in a global professional services firm. It’s a fast-paced, highly competitive environment that can be extremely political, and mentally and physically stressful. Often, my days are spent in what we call a ‘war room’, full of multi-disciplinary professionals, assigned to the pursuit. They can come from Australia, the US, UK, India or anywhere that we have offices and capability. As the largest of the professional service firms, this means pretty much everywhere.

As a senior member of the firm’s markets team, my job is to coach executives, directors and partners on strategy, tactics and deployment for key accounts and major bids. Here everyone talks in zeros. I don’t work on anything less than a million dollar opportunity.

My job is to identify, unify and then drive them to win. Winning is everything. My performance is measured on success — and performance matters when the size of the prize is a potential multi-million dollar deal. In this role I use many of the qualifications and skills I’ve acquired over some 20 years working in marketing, journalism, business development, strategy and research. I am here to bring the client’s perspective, to help understand and then design the ‘solution’ they are looking for, in a way that stands out from other competing firms.

The environment can be stifling so at times I entertain myself and find ways to get a little more creative in my role. Most recently I dyed my hair an aqua blue. This raised eyebrows, and there’s occasional discomfort in the glass-panelled lift ride to the marble lobby, but generally I’m accepted. If you compare this, however, to my other life, it hardly touches the sides. My creativity gets unleashed at night.

In my other life I’m Mish’Chief: Techno DJ and founder of INSTINCT Events

My other life happens after dark, and gets really active over weekends. In this life I am a successful Melbourne DJ, and promoter. As Mish’Chief I play almost every week in clubs, at promoter parties and festivals. I have been honoured to share a line up with some of my idols: talents that humble me. Last year this included Boris Brejcha and Max Cooper.

I mix music — samples, tracks, instruments or just energy signatures that have been tweaked until you feel and then hear the sound. To me, the possible combinations and creations are endless and wonderful.

Because of my style — staunch/deep and twisted rhythms — I tend to play late sets, often starting my gig at 3 or 4am. I’ve occasionally asked for an early slot for the opportunity to be creative and play a different style (one I also enjoy) — slower, harmonic, melodic, beautiful, sad music. But my more recognised sound is staunch, powerful techno and progressive — tougher rhythms, and a deeper/twisted beat with dark sexy vocals. This sound is often more ‘full on’ than what I’d say most of the people I work with would enjoy (or stand).

My latest creative outlet, and what’s become nearly a full time role in itself, is my work running INSTINCT Events and other club/crew parties. These have included a collaboration with the solar empire team for the Eureka Sky High Party on the 89th floor — simply mad!

My biggest gig was main stage at Earthcore’s 20th Anniversary Festival last year. At what ended up being peak hour on the Friday night, before Ann Clue and Boris Brejcha. The sound from the decks was massive. For the first time I felt ‘little’ approaching the equipment. I felt dwarfed by the sheer size of the stage, the space, and the several-thousand-strong crowd!

Performance also matters in this ‘job.’ You are only as good as your last gig. There’s an expectation once you are established that you will always deliver an epic set. I keep my creative mind on and my ego and pressure in check by trying not to let this sort of ‘day job’ pressure get to me, and loving the music so much that it supersedes tiny thoughts. There is magic in music. The wonder of its endless expression — just getting swept up in the energy of it all — is where I find unlimited creative potential and an excitement that transcends lost sleep, or the need to be ‘something’.

So what does my life look like to most? Mission impossible…

Depending on how and where you met me, many — in fact most — people think I only do one of the above. It’s unusual for the worlds to collide. Only my close friends know that I do all of the above, pretty much all of the time.

For me, sound has a language and it paints a story. This is my approach to mixing — partly because I’m not very ‘technical’, though my skills are technically tight. Perhaps it’s because my day job is so structured and rigid that I have a very loose and emotive approach to music and mixing. Music has a colour, a picture and a vibe, not just a sound. When I hear a track I love, it usually generates images in my head and it is these images that I take as cues for the audioscape I want to paint.

My favourite place as a punter is to be losing it on the dance floor. Great DJs should create a feeling and make a connection with others when they play. This feeling should be strong enough to communicate with their punters, to evoke a response; tell a story. It’s what old school ravers (yes I’m one) describe as the ‘journey’. Getting this right is Nirvana to me, and while there’s no denying that while some gigs are bigger than others, the ‘factor of size’ fades away when the music takes hold.

I’m gradually getting to spend more time with music, and finding more opportunities to play and connect with others who share my passion. Whether it’s collaborating on a track released online or a mix that’s featured on UK Radio, the world is opening up and the things I might have dreamed of have started to take on far more possible positions. I now have my own radio segment on DNA Radio that airs monthly in Europe and Australia. I enjoy being a guest on local Melbourne shows like Kiss FM, and feel really connected to a global community. I admit that there are days I pinch myself. I wonder, is it for real? How is it happening? And yes … how will I keep the balance?

I don’t have the luxury of ‘wasting time’. Balancing the two is a massive commitment and takes more energy than I thought I was capable of giving. Time can be my enemy. I might work 50 hours in the office, and if it’s a busy DJ week I can play several live gigs, feature on a radio show and deliver 4+ hours of podcasts, demos or other requested compilation pieces to various radio or promoter crews. Playing two live gigs and a couple of radio slots will require 50 new tracks. I always play fresh mixes, not because I don’t enjoy going back to a sound but because when you find that track, you gotta play it — it’s an itch!

To find these tracks takes time and some sort of system — as loose or weird as mine may be to others, it works pretty well and I pick up anywhere between 20 and 150 tracks in a month. Finding a quality tune can be like searching for a four-leaf clover. It can be a slow process and one that raises self-doubt that you may have lost the ability to ‘pick a great track’… until you find one!

I have tried to bring my two worlds together. For instance, I’ve tried bringing my music to work, but the two don’t mesh. It resulted in some funny situations when, in the professional and industrious ‘cube farm’ floor, with my headphones on and music turned up, I have forgotten where I am and been a little carried away.

Once, I’d just returned from a holiday where I’d been missing my decks. I was catching up on the new tunes I’d not been able to enjoy while I was away, and was lost in the music. A track built, then broke, then reached a crescendo, and I stood up, yanking headphones out of their hole, arm raised in the air, fist clenched, and yelling ‘yes!’ A little too late, I noticed the confused eyes and stares from my colleagues who had obviously not heard the first part of whatever had moved me to respond so absolutely.

There were other times when, sitting at my desk, I would break into tears when I’d discover an amazing track — only to be asked what I was upset about. I would have to come up with some lame excuse because if I were to explain that I found electronic music so moving, I would get the ‘you’re crazy’ look. Other elements have been easier to integrate, despite what some of the dress code guidelines might advise. I guess they can see that I’m living the values of being my authentic self: having a go and still performing.

The future

After some 10 years running parties and nights I have more recently found my heart and my final creative outlet in INSTINCT Events. This role as promoter has offered me new and interesting creative areas to explore. INSTINCT is intimate and rocking. They are not events but gatherings. Attendance runs at around 300 per party, over an 8 or more hour period and will involve many elements including talent (DJ/VJ), plus concept development and execution for every facet of the event, right down to the event artwork, which is a feature in and of itself.

I host around 6 INSTINCTs in one year. These are underground parties catering to a certain community that loves a sound, a vibe and attitude. I started and still run these parties for people who know that magic can and does happen when all the ingredients are right. With love behind this project there is a focus and a desire to really get each element right. It is in the desire to create an environment and a feeling that delivers an experience — the moments of connection with our spirit and happiness.

What I’ve learned along the way

Is there really a pot of gold at the rainbow? Does a work/life balance actually exist? Last year was brutal for me to the point that working a 50-hour week in the office seemed totally reasonable, given I was regularly doing 70 – 80 hour weeks. This sort of intensity, plus all my DJ and hosting commitments had me running at an almost impossible schedule. I look back at those weeks and months and wonder how the hell I did it!

I know a lot was to do with an inner fire: my passion and defiance, where giving up is not an option. I’d just as easily wither and die without music and art as I would without the seemingly needed things we acquire when money is good — aka high salary corporate life. Allowing music into my life, and actively pursuing it, has provided clarity on what really matters to me. But recently I decided to take time out to allow myself some freedom to move, think and be. I now work four days a week at the office job — and even if this extends to a 40-hour week — in comparison it’s nothing.

With this time that I have given back to myself, I experience more free thought, and more creative thought. Creativity is a mindset, but living it requires some balancing and a sustainable view to making it work somehow. Where you put your focus is where you put your heart, and where you will find your happiness.



Additional photos by Ivanna From Russia With Love, Jurassic Melbourne and Scott Sanders.

Marishka Cross studied at Curtin University and Swinburne University.

Buy a limited edition print of Overcoat Seasonal Collection: Winter here.

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