An interview with Paul Marc Davis of The MacSmiths, Hackney
Today I’ve been working on Macs that are up to 10 years old that are now running as fast and as well as a brand new Macbook Pro… and why shouldn’t they?
Walking down Hackney Road, past the plethora of cafés, bars, and wholesale bag shops, as you approach No. 489 and look up at the etched glass and black exterior of The MacSmiths, it is impossible to tell what goes on inside this mysterious building; it’s like standing at the gates of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Peek inside the windows, however, and you’ll be faced with a dichotomy of Victoriana and vintage Apple computers…
What started as a passion born from a brain lucky enough to exhibit genius-level skills in both creativity and engineering, the MacSmith himself Paul Marc Davis is a man of clear taste, especially when asked why he only deals in Macs rather than PC computers. Put bluntly, “they’re all shit.”
Diehard Harry Potter and Dr Who fans would be forgiven for not recognising him upon entering the shop, yet mention the characters Lord Draben and the Trickster, and you’ll know exactly who you’re talking to. Prior to becoming an out-and-out Mac geek/god, Davis made a living as an actor and sculptor;
I had a great career as a sculptor and really enjoyed that [artistic] life, but actually the thing that I really missed when I moved from sculpting into acting was not the creativity – I still had plenty of outlets for that – but it the engineering side of sculpting. I worked large-scale in steel, mainly public art pieces and often worked alongside structural engineers, using logic and mathematics to solve the problems of making artwork strong and safe in public spaces. I missed the problem solving more than any other aspect.
It was only during the financial crash of 2008 when work started to dry up due to a lack of funding within the industry that Davis still sought to combine his loves of creativity and engineering. Deciding that his previously private hobby of fixing his own and his friends Macs could be a potentially lucrative business; Artists need the most from their computers but know the least about them. So to have experience of both worlds, I felt like I could really make a difference. Within 5 minutes of putting up his first poster in a café on Broadway Market he had his first client, and hasn’t had to advertise since.
Having taken her laptop to Apple to ask if they could fix it and retrieve her lost data, only to be told that it it would cost £250 and her data was unrecoverable… it took Davis one hour, and cost his new customer £95, to retrieve all the lost data and get her Mac working again.
She was crying and hugging me and calling me a hero and I thought, why has it taken my entire life to start doing this?! I get to help people, make a bit of money, and I got a hug!
When asked if he has the magic touch, “it’s not magic…it’s engineering. It’s just understanding how things work and making it work.”
This vast difference in approach to fixing these Macs only hints at Davis’ feelings towards the corporate side of things. “I love the machines. I hate Apple. I hate Apple as a company, and I would say what I do here is to level the playing field that Apple has created, where customers get misinformed and spend more than they need to on things that aren’t tailored to their needs.” Without sounding like too much of a conspiracy, it isn’t too far fetched when you hear of the exotic materials present in computer chips to understand why the one or two mines in the world where those minerals come from have been the cause of multiple civil wars and thousands of deaths. These components are not recyclable and end up in the bin when Apple refuse to fix the Macs because they’re “Vintage” or their repair prices and their turnaround times make it totally uneconomical to repair. “It cheapens life enormously when Mac users are tricked into throwing these machines away after 4 years… they’re fantastic machines, they’re just connected with a very vulgar marketing ethos.
Data recovery is one of the most common – and beloved – problems Davis faces on a daily basis (“customers arrive because their Macs are fucked and their whole life has just come crashing down, but their greatest fear is always to do with losing data”), although he has seen Macs in all states: from being flooded by cat (and human) urine, sick, or one man who had dropped his 2 week old laptop into the canal and ran into the shop with water still streaming from it (of course, he managed to fix it.)
One of his most memorable fixes was a young fashion student whose family lived in poverty in Southern America, but handed over their life savings to send her for an education in London. Just prior to her final assessment she transferred all her work onto an external hardrive and wiped her Mac to free up some space. Just as the transfer ended, she tripped over the cord and smashed the hardrive. Quoted £2000 by data recovery company to retrieve the data, she came to Davis in a near-suicidal panic.
I just recovered her data for her. She didn’t have any money so I didn’t charge her. It was just nice to be able to do it for her. You don’t get many opportunities to really save someone’s arse and feel that sense of worth and joy.
You need only look up at his altar of the Mac, rising magnificently above his Gothic oak desk, to understand just how in love Davis is with these machines. Macs from all eras are suspended amongst a variety of curios, ranging from the fascinating to downright eerie. Only part of his collection is on show, including the very first Mac, the 1984 128K – “I’m going to create another floor so it’s going to get madder in here…” – and so 100 more will be displayed when he creates space for a Mac Museum.
His whole shop is museum-like, a mish-mash of Gothic, Arts & Crafts, Steampunk…Inspiration was taken from his own home, albeit a slightly more over the top version. Not wanting to lose that sense of wonder/confusion customers had when visiting his home office, he decided to create a shop floor that was even more ridiculous, the kind of place Davis would want to walk into.
I like the way that all these styles blend and jar with each other, and when you’ve got it all going on and you stick a 1980s computer on it…
Being both artist and engineer has meant that Davis has a near cult-like following of fans. His ability to explain complex and technical issues with members of the local community, to build up their trust to hand over their precious laptops to a man surrounded by gold lamps and Old Master paintings, in a shop as far from an Apple Genius Bar as a souk in Marrakech to Harrods, is his main USP. He and his right hand man can work their way through 20+ repairs a day, whereas a visiting team from an independent repair shop in Dublin barely manage 10-15 between 5 of them. How? “I don’t know, I guess I’m just really efficient?!”
Davis, his style, and his mad professor-like approach, is reflected in the character of his shop. It’s as unique as his vision. With no plans to expand the business aside from starting a training school for Mac users, The MacSmiths shall remain a one-shop enigma; a time machine so thoroughly planted in a dystopian world of computer chips and hardrives celebrated in a Victorian setting, that it’s not hard to emerge onto the bustle of the Hackney Road slightly confused as to what you just experienced.