Mako is a drum and bass DJ, producer, and label boss living in Bristol. His imprint Utopia Music has been turning heads since its inception in 2009, owing to the label’s consistently high standards of quality realized by a tight-knit crew of some of the most respected names in drum and bass including Break, Survival, The Sect, Villem, Fields, Andy Skopes, Mikal, and Mako himself. It’s no surprise that this forward-thinking collective of artists has given rise to one of the strongest label catalogs in DNB, music which bridges the best of the old school with the current musical consciousness.
The latest release on Utopia Music, ‘Dilligence’, takes us back to the roots of the jungle/drum and bass sound…and boy, is it a beautiful journey! I had the opportunity to ask Mako a few questions about himself, the label, and the latest release on Utopia.
Salacious Sound: Hey Mako, how’s it going?
Mako: All good, Hydro is about to make tea and I’m off to buy bacon. The vapouriser is on and we have some grade. The studio computer is packed with work to do so any encouragement to finish tracks is welcome.
SS: First of all, tell us about yourself! Your name, age, location, and where you’re from originally.
Mako: Hello, my name is Stephen, I’m 96 and am originally from Texas where I started life as an army ranger.
SS: Give us a little personal history…where did your musical journey begin? What was the soundtrack to your childhood?
Mako: Until I was about 11 my musical soundscape was a mixture of film soundtracks, Jean Michel Jarre, Michel Jackson and Fleetwood Mac. My mum and dad were into a lot of folk music that didn’t really do it for me as a kid so I searched their music collection for interesting flavours. One of my favourites was the Full Metal Jacket soundtrack, both the music and the score. When I got to middle school, and especially high school at 13, my musical tastes exploded as I was introduced to Nirvana, The Pixies, Rage Against The Machine and loads of other grunge/sub pop/beach surfer rock etc. It wasn’t till I heard an old DJ SY mixtape from 1992 that I heard a sped up amen break. After that I wanted more dance music, but hated on all the cheesy sped up vocals and was craving something edgier but didn’t know where to look.
SS: So, how and when did you get involved with drum and bass?
Mako: One of my oldest friends Ben ‘Fields’ introduced me to ‘Wormhole’ and all the early Bad Company stuff which smashed me. I couldn’t get enough of it. Then Konflict came along and smashed me further. It was all very simple really.
SS: Where did the name “Mako” come from?
Mako: I was in year 7, was in a design and tech lesson and rather than doing the work that was set, wrote a big essay on sharks to give to the teacher. I felt they had a bad rep and were misunderstood creatures, and during most of my teenage years I felt a kinship with this false image. I believed people saw me negatively and battled this insecurity and paranoia for all my teenage years. I felt like I only wanted to give love whilst continually improve myself to make this easier. The Mako shark particularly appealing to me as it was really fast, the fastest of the sharks. It also had a really bad record of being kept in captivity. The record is only 5 days. It echo’ed the beginnings of my teenage rebellion and the pain that went with it.
SS: What producers would you cite as influences? What else inspires you as a musician?
Mako: Dillinja – from 97 -99, the breaks were so crunchy, weighty and disgusting.
Break – Continually smashing anything he touches whilst maintaining a non-cheese approach.
Fields – His ease of making really tight punchy woody breaks that sound old yet up-to-date.
Villem – I call him the finisher. A motivated organised brain combined with musical flavours.
DLR – A very infectious energy. Why sample when you can make it yourself.
Hydro – A sample haven. Has taught me new places to look for inspiration.
Other inspirations include meditation, not sitting down and humming, letting anything and everything be the source of my absorption, travel, and cats.
SS: How did you first link with Villem and Fields, whom you’ve collaborated with frequently?
Mako: To cut a long story short they are both brothers who I have known for half my life. I got introduced to Andy Villem by my brother and then met Fields through Andy. We had a shared love of music, non-cheese and exercise, and still do.
SS: Tell us about your new track with Villem, Fields, and Break, ‘Dilligence.’ How did it come together, and what sort of sound were you going for with the track?
Mako: I wanted to write a collab with Charlie (Break) for the label and Ben and Andrew were around at the time so got them involved too. We didn’t really have an idea of what sound, it was more of a feeling – a vibe of warmth and old jungle flavours combined with heavy bass and beats.
SS: When do you know a track is finished…is there a certain vibe you search for?
Mako: I don’t think a track is ever really finished. People normally hit me up and ask for demos which are rarely finished but if they are happy with them then i’m normally happy to let them go. An artist doesn’t ever finish a piece, they just ‘let it go’.
SS: What about your imprint, Utopia Music. How did the label come about, and what would you say its concept or “philosophy” is?
Mako: I have been quoted before as saying:
“I would like our musical message to be revolutionary, yet non-radical. Heard, yet not loud. Influential, yet non-confrontational”
I still believe that.
SS: What’s your favorite release on Utopia so far?
Mako: I started making a list of my joint favourites but the list got far too big. I do love the latest 12″ a lot, ‘Dilligence’ really gets me. A new Sunchase tune i’ve signed is really really good too, and the Rido remix of ‘The Chant’ is ridiculous.
SS: Any producers you’re really feeling at the moment? What’s the last track you listened to which really blew your hair back?
Mako: ‘Murmur’ by Break, Octane & DLR got my juices going recently. Good balance of flavours combined with a great mixdown. I’m loving on Detail and Sunchase from the Ukraine, Fields has killed me with a tune called ‘Colours’ that I continually play and Villem and McLeod have made this sick 80’s influenced tune that I really rate.
SS: Where do you see yourself in a year? What’s next for the label? Any exciting things in the works?
Mako: We’ve got loads of 12’s coming as well as an album project in the works. The Rido remix of Mikal’s ‘The Chant’ is going to be a sick release. Fields has another 12″ coming too which I love and Andyskopes is coming with an amen 12″ which heralds back to the Metalheadz of old. More exercise, more yoga, more healthy goodness to get the creativity going without the need for hard drugs.
SS: Shout outs?
Mako: Many many people have helped Utopia and Mako get this far. I love them all. x
Big ups Mako and Utopia Music crew!
You can buy ‘Dilligence’ / ‘My Soul’ here!