Sampling – An interview with Mako, the man behind the ‘Utopia Pad Pack’
We sit down with the owner of Utopia Music, Steve Mako who is a regular site in Bristol when he finally drags himself out of the studio.. Part of an exciting group of producers including Break, DLR, Mikal, Throwing Snow, Hydro, War making waves in the Bristol scene with their nostalgic yet future thinking take on producing music. He is definitely someone who has his own opinions and views on the World so we thought we’d get a little deeper and find out more on his views of the sampling world.
With what seems like everyone using samples these days as their main source of sound material, do you think this is a positive or negative aspect to creating music?
I feel that defining what I think sampling is before I start would be helpful.. I’m of the general opinion that sampling is taking one section, or ‘sample’ from a sound recording. I think this is where it ends for me. Some people say that sampling is also using that sampled sound as, for example, another instrument or sound effect, either as it originally sounded or changed in some way, sometimes to the point of being unrecognisable.
I sit on the fence whether its positive or negative really. Modern recorded music has evolved from focusing principally on musicianship and performance into an auditory collage where no sound is off limits. Sampling is simply another colour on our palettes. Whether we’re sampling old records, using advanced multi-sampling techniques, or recording sounds ourselves, I say use what you want whenever you want, which is loosely summed up by the neat phrase ‘music has the right to children’.
But sampling is not without its problems, most often when people have no scruples! Take for example when producers sample in the same genre. An extreme example of this is where a guy did an unofficial remix of a Calyx and Teebee tune, then gave it away as a free download!! In my opinion that is totally out of order, sampling gone too far!
Break and I have had loads of chats about sampling over the years, he told me about a (completely made-up) 10-year rule he (mostly) abided by when sampling from the same genre. If a tune had been out for over 10 years, it was ‘safe’ to sample from. That sticks in my mind as a fair way of looking at it.
Some producers use predominately sample packs and have created their sound that way. It lends itself to hearing the same bass kick, the same bass hit, the same snares, over and over again. For me thats like someone who works for a TV company and solely using their own company sound bank to create music for the tv channel. All the music will eventually sound the same, but that may be what the artist wants, so don’t let that stop you.
In drum and bass this is slightly different, the essence though I think is similar. If you took 10 producers and gave them the same sample pack they would make different tunes but it would be hard to argue that they wouldn’t all have a similar sound. I feel that it makes the culture a little more bland if people are using the same packs.
As DJ Shadow put it, great sampling is a use of the environment around them, subverting it and decontextualise it. Unimaginative sampling is using solely sample packs. Ironically, yes, I’ve created a sample pack for you wonderful guys, but I’m hoping that rather than using the sounds as they are, people will use their imagination and twist them up to create a new breed of rave sounds.
So what do you find yourself reaching for mostly, the synth or the samples and why?
These days I reach for my synths more, especially for making most of my pads, sound FX and stabs. I use some samples for layering under drums mostly. I use
some bass samples too and filter and twist them up when I’m feeling like it. The bass line is usually a mixture of samples and synths. I sample myself all the time however, so in using a synth, I will make a long pad or a hit, put that into a sampler, then add more LFOs on the pitch, the filter cutoff and more to create a new sample out of the old sample. This is the essence of resampling which I’m totally into.
When I was first making beats I found using samples easier as it was less complex than synthesis. I eventually found out that I had less flexibility in that approach and craved something that would be easier to manipulate. Synthesis is more complicated but way more flexible. Most of the time I weigh up each option on its merits. Do I want to create a live sounding cymbal? If so then I will probably go to a pre-recorded sample as my first port of call, rather than my synths. Of course, I may like the sound of a synthesised crash, but hopefully you get my point here.
You use lots of samples in your tracks, some of them are manipulations of samples used before, is this an intentional signature move or just something that happened?
I love sampling films and textures that give a ‘life’ to drum and bass music, vocals and sound FX’s especially. I love those classic sounds too, Goldie gave me a bunch and told me to write music for Metalheadz with them. I couldn’t say no to that, but use them sparingly. When I wrote the ‘Narrator’ for him, after hearing the original stripped down version, he told me to put loads more of the sounds in there. His idea was to create an old sounding Metalheadz track as he wanted to play the tune at a 20 years of Headz night. I didn’t think the tune would get released like that, but it stuck. Some people questioned it, but when Jubei came back to me and loved the tune, it was a sign that I did the right thing with the source material.
Samples probably make up about 10- 20% of the sounds I use nowadays, but when I was first starting out it was more like 80%, with maybe 2-5% from actual sample packs. I would sample from anything and everything. From sampling a old drum break, to recording dropping kitchen pans on concrete floors, to a TV ad or a clean bass bit from an old Tech Itch vinyl.
When reaching for the synth to make samples, do you find yourself sitting there creating patches or emphasise on a preset which is already suited to the sound you’re creating?
Creating patches are fun, I love starting with a single oscillator and seeing where it goes, creating a low tone with one oscillator, and layering up one at a time, adding more interest and movement in the top end and some subtle modulation in the low end.
Equally I love finding a nice solid tone that I know I can use to make a sick pad, adding LFO modulation, filtering etc to add more movement and interest. It is situation specific again really. If time is tight, I’m cycling through presets and I hear something that is super close to what I want then I won’t be afraid to use it straight
away. If its more of sound creating session, then you can really start to go into the sound and create a lot of movement from a simple tone.
What’s your go-to source for finding obscure samples? Wink wink..
Hahaha, there is no way I’m telling you lot that! I sample a fair few you-tube videos, not for drums or anything that you need super clean though. Often I hear environmental noises that remind me of old Photek records. Often me and T Dog will go out and use my fluffy portable recorder to try and capture something we like. I have a fairly large vinyl collection that I dip into every now and again to find stuff that hasn’t made it into the digital realm (yet).
I sampled so much when I was in my late twenties that I still haven’t used 60 percent of it. I’m in the process of going through all my old hard drives which can be a mare, but it will be worth it because I know I will have loads of fresh ‘new’ sounds.
How close to your furry cat like chest do you keep those home made samples? Do you share them amongst your friends?
I appreciate you taking time out to check out my chest. I do try and work on my fluff levels so its great that you guys have noticed. I share some things, it depends. When I first met DLR, he had just lost his entire sample hard drive. We were hanging out a lot and making beats so I literally gave him everything I had, homemade and otherwise. But that turned out pretty well.
Now I feel I’m a bit more precious over my own homemade sounds and tend to only swap with people who (regularly) give gold in return. Mikal and DLR are pretty much the only two people I’ve got a swapping thing going on with. However, I would share sample packs that I’ve been given by friends in the past. My mate had loads of old 70’s Music for TV sounds that I’ve given to couple of people. I think I’ve just admitted piracy! Fuuuuck
Have you ever used a sample pack, if so why and how?
When I first started making tunes I used all manner of sample packs. I remember using the Vengeance sample series at the beginning, we would put a load of the samples in a sampler and play with them. Mute & Mako – ‘Always’ (UM007AA) has a load of them in. It was a quick way of getting a beat together and quite fun. We just wanted a vibe as quick as possible. I think the bass we sampled from the Virus C we had and a vocal from a reggae CD our mate Sine gave us. A couple of the intro synths were directly from the Virus.
These days I can get a vibe going quickly from my own homemade folders, which I try and add to all the time. That’s the thing, you’ve got to take time out from making tunes to create sounds, purely focusing on new samples which you can use in the sessions to come, or you quickly find yourself using the same sounds over and over again which can lead to certain staleness of the music making process, which may or may not be perceived by the listener or public.
What’s your most favourite thing about sampling?
The uniqueness it can give to your tune. It really can be the most important part of the record. The RZA said ‘If you can hear the obscureness of it, capture it and loop it at the right tempo, you’re gonna have some nice music man…’ I think thats very true, often a looped atmospheric-weird-metallitic-whitenoise thing can make a tune. I think for some of the best examples of that are found on Photek’s album ‘Modeus Operandi’..
I also love sample missions for breaks, some drum patterns you could never come up with yourself. Those drum rolls and fills are hard to replicate.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS:
What advice would you give to someone looking to create samples themselves, any hidden secrets?
I’d say learn synthesis, teach yourself how to make bass and how to manipulate it. Learn a few simple chords to begin with but never stop learning musical theory. Remember to try and use equipment outside the computer to get a more unique sound.
Do you find yourself making samples specifically for a tack specifically, or choose from sample banks you’ve already created?
To be fair its both. I’m getting more into making a load of sounds before each session these days with DLR, we’re rolling together under the name OneMind now.
Who do think is the biggest bad man at sampling and why?
There’s a few people, but one who’s close to me is Hydro. He always brings the sickness. Total Science have got a sick sample collection too.
In other genres apart from drum and bass, I admire people like Dj Krush, Dj Shadow, Edan, Kool Keith, J Dilla, Cut Chemist, Quasimoto, Portishead and Boards of Canada.
Big ups Steve, thanks for the insight!!