Bristol’s Stephen Redmore is a highly regarded man in underground drum & bass.
Aside from starting up and owning Utopia Music, a label that has harboured some of the scene’s freshest talents in recent years, he’s also demonstrated that he is just as capable at producing his own music.
With releases on Dispatch, Symmetry and Warm Communications in the past, he’s set to further develop his portfolio this year with a cluster of releases lined up on the mighty Metalheadz, including a debut album…
“I’m currently in the middle of writing an album for Metalheadz with DLR,” he says, excitedly. “Headz has always been my favourite label and for me, Jay (DLR) is a man at the top of his game right now, so this release is going to be a truly life-changing experience for me and I can’t wait for it to be released.”
As a man who has worked his way up from a relatively humble beginning, Mako appreciates the commercial side of drum & bass, but is more than happy to remain in the underground.
“I started at the very bottom with literally no money, so I really welcome every release and gig so much and see them as a huge blessing,” he says. “There are definitely two sides to drum & bass right now; one of which is mass marketed and shoved in people’s faces which makes it far easier to access, and the other of which guys like myself fall into.
“The huge divide is a problem but there’s no point showing resentment or frustration towards it as all of those negative emotions are pointless in my opinion. I’m happy where I am.”
Future plans and the state of drum & bass aside, here are five reasons why Mako is an undisputed boss.
He’s the owner of a label rapidly growing in stature
“The artists I’ve managed to sign to Utopia are not only amongst the best in the game, I also feel like all of us are kindred spirits and have a friendly attitude towards life and love, which is reflected in the music we make.
I’ve always put my money where my mouth is and have always paid advances for people’s music, even when it may not make it back. I feel like I’m growing a label out of hard work, so the very least the artists should get is a copy of the vinyl their music is on. Some labels don’t even do this, which disgusts me. However, I appreciate that some bosses run their labels strictly as a business and constantly analyse costs, but Utopia has always been a labour of love and not strictly a business; more a hobby that has grown into an organisation.
My mentality was that if I could run label nights off the back of the vinyl releases, then losing a bit of money after every release wasn’t so bad as I’d make up for it by giving myself gigs at the nights I play at. Overall it’s really about everyone winning and everyone getting what they deserve. Practicing what you preach brings you a certain amount of respect in this scene and I hope I’ve done that more often than not.”
The reason he started Utopia was to help his friends out
“At the time of starting Utopia I had a few friends who were sick at producing but no labels would sign their music for some reason. I felt like nobody was really giving them the platform they deserved. After this, I started to get frustrated so decided to set up Utopia with the intention of releasing their music myself.
I was in a relationship at the time which ended quite badly, so I thought I’d be better off putting all of my love and energy into a label instead of a person, as that way I’d be helping other people as well. The way in which that relationship ended turned out to be a complete blessing in disguise for me, as I’m really not sure if I’d be in the position I’m in today if it wasn’t for it.”
He recently travelled from Bristol to London to hear Goldie play his tune… and the whole trip only set him back £15
“A few weeks ago I woke up one morning with a real urge to write a tune for Goldie. So I got out of bed, worked on an idea for a couple of hours and sent it over to him that afternoon. Amazingly, he got straight back to me saying he was a fan and sent me a few samples to stick in to give it that classic Metalheadz sound.
He then told me he was going to play it at Fire in London that night and I had to be there to hear it! He stuck my name on the guestlist and I ended up getting the last train from Bristol to London and the first train home. I really couldn’t afford it at the time, but the gods must have been watching because the whole thing only cost me £15 door-to-door, when it should’ve cost about £100! The barriers weren’t up at either station so it was a complete blag, and overall it was a night I’ll never forget”
Every tune he’s ever finished has been signed to a label
“This is a mad track record that I’m really proud of but it’s down to the fact I have a great working relationship with most of the important labels in drum & bass to the extent where I can send them unfinished tunes and they can pick and choose which idea they want me to turn into a finished track.
This way, I don’t spend too long on the ideas that haven’t got the appeal. It’s a system that helps me but it also helps the label too, as they get the freshest music possible from me and also know that they’re the only ones with the music from its infancy. When a label receives a tune that they know hasn’t been given to someone else it inspires confidence in your integrity and gives the label more control.”
He doesn’t get drawn in by the masses
“I’ve always followed my heart with the releases I’ve produced and put out and have never catered for the masses. I pride myself on the fact I’ve never jumped on any bandwagon and I never will. I’ve always looked to use my influences and experiences from my drum & bass background to lead the way with the catalogue of music I put out; not just on Utopia, but on the other labels too.”