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“Your tribe defines your vibe” – In Conversation With UKato

 

You know the saying: if you surround yourself with five millionaires, you’ll most probably become sixth.

Capturing this sentiment, but instead in the world of electronic music production, is Indian producer UKato. He credits his tight circle of like-minded friends as the biggest influences and inspirations during his ascent to becoming the shining light of drum and bass music in a country that makes up nearly 20% of the population on planet earth.

Having made a name for himself in the bass music scene in 2017, UKato went on to DJ at festivals, accumulate 100,000s of streams and released on online powerhouse Trap City. However, after discovering a connection with the diverse and underground roots of drum and bass music, as well as Mefjus’ iconic Manifest album, he quickly turned his attention to manufacturing beats at 170 beats per minute.

Forward-thinking, techy, and a true encapsulation of the modern drum and bass sound, UKato’s intricate sound, which draws inspiration from the likes of IMANU, Buunshin, and Synergy, has propelled him to the forefront of the scene.

Having recently released his debut EP on RAM Records’ sister label ProgRAM, entitled Aether, we caught up with UKato to discuss the body of work, his journey so far within music production, and his goal of cementing India onto the drum and bass map.

Namaste UKato, Milke Acha Laga.

Namaste Charlie, Milke Acha Laga. That literally translates to thank you for meeting me, I really appreciate meeting you.

I didn’t know it meant all that! What a lovely way to say hello.

It all depends on the way you say it. If you say it as you did it translates to that.

You’re a drum and bass artist whose making a name for themselves in India. There aren’t many past or present Indian drum and bass producers, so I’d love to know how you got into the genre?

I used to do a bunch of house, electronic, trap, and EDM, the basic commercial stuff. Originally, I started out in 2014 by downloading a DAW for fun. I met a friend called Kreon, one of my biggest supporters and a real trailblazer for electronic sound in India. That friendship brought me into the music scene.

I love the fact that one of your biggest supporters is also your friend.

Yeah exactly. I used to play cricket and I became super depressed when I had to leave because of a back injury. I tried out for the nationals and it was all pretty serious at the time. Then I met Kreon, who made me listen to a lot of electronic music and introduced me to producing music. That led to me making bass house and gathering some attention in the Indian scene in 2017, but it was at the same time that I discovered Mefjus’ Manifest album. It was actually my friend NDS, who’s been a big part of my journey and is one of the biggest hip hop producers in India right now, that introduced me to Manifest.

What a superb album that is.

I still think it’s undoubtedly one of the best bass music albums of all time. Hands down. That’s where my drum and bass journey began. I wanted to work my way up to that level where I could stand level with Mefjus, which still seems quite a threshold to set.

You set your standards incredibly high then.

Yeah man, I literally had 200 demos ready to go but they were all shit.

Haha. I’m sure that you can understand after making the transition to drum and bass that the production levels are a level up.

When you get introduced to a sound, you want to be the best at it. At that time, I didn’t have any money to work on my branding, so my goal was to become the best producer that I could be. For the first year of making drum and bass, I spent a lot of time getting to know the scene, the intricacies of making this sort of music and learning the history. I learned about how it was based around people of colour and how it’s the sound of the underground.

So you were reading up on all of the histories of the drum and bass scene? I love the fact that you spent your time doing that.

I was always a good researcher in school and I used that to my benefit. And on the side, I’ve written press releases for artists in India which makes me all the more excited to research.

To backtrack to what happened with your Cricket injury, was it music production that emerged and gave you a new purpose in life?

It definitely did. At the time when I wasn’t playing Cricket, my school threw a music festival. Every kid wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t play an instrument, so I thought about what I could bring to the table. There was no one DJIng, so I thought let’s do that. It was at that time that Jack Ü released their album as well. From there I started spanning the entire spectrum of genres. A lot of people I knew went down the commercial route, but I went more underground. That’s my thing. I’ve made my peace, I want to represent this sound, I want to represent India, and I want to do my own thing.

How important is representing India in the drum and bass scene for you?

Very. I have friends in the U.K who tell me how badly represented South Asian artists are. But some really good things are happening. There was a boiler room set from Yung Singh which blew up in India. That was a gateway into the U.K bass scene for some people here. There’s also PAV4N, who’s a trailblazer for India as a whole.

You’ve also got the All-Star Sauce Collective at home in Delhi, what is it you do with those guys?

It’s basically a Delhi-based Collective that not only caters to music but lifestyle culture as well. We used to do parties alongside clothing brands and fashion pop-ups, so everything we do stems from music. All-Star Sauce has been pushing local talent for years. Kunal (Owner of All Star Sauce), Alongside Kreon, got me into the team. I really want to give them a shoutout as they’ve looked out for me a lot.

They’ve had a big influence on you, so they must be proud to see what you’re accomplishing.

They are. We have something big in the works, but I can’t say anything just yet!

When you first started out, you were making a lot of other styles of bass music. What was it about drum and bass that pulled you in?

I can sum it up with one tune. Mefjus – If I Could. When I heard it, I had a mental orgasm. It’s the perfect balance between synth sound design and analogue sonics and the production levels are unbelievably high. I was very influenced by and listened to a lot of EDM early on, so when Dyro remixed Noisia’s ‘Anomaly’, that’s when I first sort of discovered drum and bass as well. Back in 2017, when the bass music scene started to explode here in India, I opened for an American artist called Nitti Gritti, and he told me a lot about the drum and bass scene in the U.K. Shortly after that, I released on Trap City, and then the lockdown happened.

That’s not great timing, to say the least.

It gave me the time to think about how I wanted to proceed with the UKato project. I was in a weird limbo where I’d made house, trap, big room, hip hop, but now I wanted to do something new. Funny story, I had gone to see my parents for ten days just before the lockdown happened, thinking of it as a mini-vacation without any music gear and then the lockdown occurred and I got stuck there. All I had was my laptop, so the second track on the Aether EP, Fractal, was made on TV speakers.

Surely not the mixdown as well….

Haha, no not the mixdown. At the time, I was listening to a lot of IMANU, Buunshin, Skylark, Synergy, and The Caracal Project, and I wanted to know how to achieve music like this. Then, people started to make Patreon’s. I signed up to Synergy’s, big up to them, and IMANU’s as well. I learned so much through feedback, as well as learning how they build on ideas and create a sense of storytelling. As my EP started to progress, I then had the idea of making a tune that was reminiscent of my own country.

If I were going to guess, I’d have to say that’s Delhi Shuffler! Such a sick track name. Where does the vocal sample come from?

The vocal sample is funny, it’s a sample from word to speech on Microsoft, with a bunch of processing on it as well.

Sometimes the simple samples are the best!

It was on Vision Radio and at the end of the song Thys said “big up all the shufflers from Delhi”. I was like yes, that’s what I wanted to hear. With the headline track Aether, that one I started on a Twitch stream. I was really inspired by Stefan Bodzin, who makes crazy analogue and melodic textures, and Aether ended up being this melodic, techno-inspired, big Reese sort of track. All four tracks came together and ended up releasing as an EP. My laptop actually died, but luckily I had all the stems saved.

RIP. We’ve all been there. It’s too easy to burn out a laptop when you’ve got 15 plugins open on one channel.

Yeah, like 15 Serums and what not haha.

One thing I’ve noticed from our chat is that you seem to have a really supportive group of producers that are also your close friends. In the way sense that people say if you hang around with five millionaires you’ll become the sixth, do you think your circle has been influential in your rise as a producer?

I’d definitely agree with that. Your tribe defines your vibe. I feel being kept grounded, humble, and always striving to be better is only a good thing. Kreon & NDS have always given me great constructive criticism with my music and that’s really helped as well. It’s taken me to where I am now, appearing on a VA with Camo & Krooked, Mefjus, Audio, Sub Focus, Skantia, and so many more. To name a few more other dope producers who’ve contributed with great feedback, Sean from Noizbleed (Another D&B act from India), Brij (Three Oscillators), Bharg Kale, and Ashish (JVST SAYIN’). 

So, what can we expect for UKato looking forward?

Another single – Momentine – just dropped on RAM Records Annual 2022 Compilation plus there’s another EP in the works, which I can’t quite announce just yet. But before I forget, I have a Hindi track coming out. It’s a collaboration with Bharg, who birthed one of the biggest albums of 2021 to come out of the country, and it’s coming very soon…

UKato – Aether is out now on ProgRAM

Follow UKato: Instagram / Soundcloud / Facebook

 

For more Indian electronic music on UKF read this in-depth interview with brijplease