Rolling strong and up to release number 5, we caught up with Utopia Music's Head honcho and key architect Mako. Straight out of drum & bass hot spot Bristol the main man lets us into his world and his music, lifting the lid on both the label and life inside the music.
With a succession of releases on both your own Utopia Music imprint and also Ingredient Records, you have maintained a steady and consistent, if select output. You could be considered to have quite a limited output as artists, can you tell us about your partnership as a production duo and also your musical background?
I guess I could start with the early days pre-release. I've been friends with Fields and Villem for all my adult life and when they started making tunes I got very excited as the quality was there from the very beginning. I was the only one supporting their music to begin with, cutting things like 'Invert' and 'Suspense' years before they had any other peer recognition. It made me want people to listen to them, but I was only a resident DJ in Bristol and London with not much clout in the industry. Falling in love combined with intense drug experiences to produce motivation for something rich and rewarding. Utopia Music was born from this.
I had the unoriginal idea of getting some big names involved to try and establish the label early on as a realistic contender with the other big label names out there, with the aim of putting out Mute's music when the label had a reputation strong enough to shine light upon them and give them the credit they deserved. Fierce was living in Bristol at this point and offered me some very sound advice about label management. He drove it into me that the music was the the first and foremost thing you should concentrate on. An obvious point but one that was driven home through the blurry stoned wall I had put up around myself. Well this was a slight problem as 1. I had no big names to draw upon to help me. 2. I couldnt make music myself so why would anyone want to come in the studio with me? I had no real intentions of writing my music at this point but realised if I wanted the label to survive the beginning and grow I had to have more knowledge about the creative process.
After spending some time in the studio with the guys in France, we wrote a tune called 'Connexion' and I came home and 'invested' in Logic 5.5 straight away (big ups to Sine for the early 5.5 days). I then spent 2 years in hibernation from my friends. I had no job, was on benefits, and was struggling with society pressure to get a career that paid. The problem was that making music was by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Its harder than phoning the girl you really like for the first time. Its even harder than splitting from a relationship you know that is bad for the both of you.
Maybe suprisingly, over the first 5 vinyl releases on Utopia Music, you have not just put out your own productions. You have instead opted to bring in a range of both established heavy hitters like dBridge and Break, and also The Sect, newcomer Villem and also your alias Fields. Has this been a conscious decision to develop the label as it's own entity outside of Mute & Mako respectively?
A lucky 'Break' happened when Charlie moved to Bristol. He was supportive early on and introduced me to a way of working that inspired me. I also found out that dBridge had cut the first ever tune I had made (a tune called 'In the Raw' with Andy Skopes). This gave me ideas for the first single. I had saved some money up for a project so asked if he was up for remixing it. The answer was yes and it would provide the foundation for the first single. Then I asked Survival if he wanted to get involved and he gave me the Bukem inspired 'Traveller' for the label and was up for getting in the studio. By this point I had enough of a grasp of Logic to contribute to the 'sound' of the music. I asked Charlie to produce a track, gave him 3 of the tracks that inspired me (LTJ Bukem - Enchanted, Intersperse - Equanimity, The Shamen - Transamazonia (Bukem remix) and he combined them all into a newer bassier tune called 'Natural Progression'. This then gave the label the single that started it off. We made it into ITunes top 100 singles of the year and it gave me the confidence to keep on pushing.
Working out of Bristol, you must feel the cities rich history and musical heritage heavy on your shoulders? From Full Cycle to Flynn & Flora, to Massive Attack, the cities drum & bass and also electronic music movement in general has long been legendary. Does this come into play for you as producers and also when finding your own identity as artists?
The idea was to have the label as its own entity. I didnt want to rely on any one particular artist for the music. Everyone who I got involved I wanted to know personally. This was the only way I could find out if the artist had the ethics and morality I found warming. I didnt want to get involved with a bunch of egotistical knobends but artists with love for the earth and a mutual respect for one another, no matter what their perceived status in the public eye.
With your earliest release in 2009, how would you compare the realities of drum & bass to your expectations? Especially going through a time of transition where the way music is both consumed and also performed has and continues to change?
You're right. The way drum and bass is consumed has changed over the years. In the olden days, you had to go to a club to hear the dj play the tunes your really wanted to hear. Now, people upload the latest dubplates to youtube, with poor quality rips from live recordings or mixes. I had to ask a few things I have signed for Utopia to be taken down as I wanted the label to decide when the music should be aired to the internet. Everyone I spoke to about it was very cooperative and it encouraged me to think people are genuinely up for supporting the artists. But a dialogue between these people and the labels should come first.
What can we look forward to over the next few months from both Utopia Music and also Mute & Mako?
We've got a few things coming out over the next few months. Fields has something forthcoming on Symmetry and Villem has more things coming on Ingredients. We've got a collab 12" coming on Utopia early next year followed by Mikal's Utopia debut 12". I have some work i'm doing with Critical Impact with regards to a 12" and need to get in the studio with Break to finish off a couple of tunes for the label. I have a solo bit coming on Utopia but not for a while.
I'm pretty content to work with other people for the time being, but i'm hoping i'll get a bit more time in the studio by myself soon. One of the saddest things about having to run much of it by yourself is that you don't get as much chance to be in studio on your lonesome. The thing is, when you're writing things for the label, you want the sickest people around you, namely Fields, Villem, Break and Critical Impact, to help, so more often than not, it turns into a collaborative effort. But I wouldnt have it any other way at the moment. The guys are like my extended family and I want to continue making as much music as I can with them.
Big ups to all at Utopia, Sine, Shnoob, Ethel, Tom, the biggun that is my brother Rob, Mum, Dad and all the other hustlers that make my life what it is