These Machines' Afro-vocalled house stomper 'Martina' is as hot as the sun right now. We catch up with main man Steve Mac
In between Donald Trump, Brexit, the World Cup and, of course, the English people's collective outpouring of heartfelt sympathy for Germany's first-round departure, there's one other hot topic on our Facebook and Twitter timelines right now, and that's Martina.
A soulful summer house jam that pairs an Alpha Blondy-esque vocal from one Rafael Berrio with an unexpected acid workout which bursts out of nowhere halfway through, Martina - which has been picking up plays from DJs as diverse as Carl Cox, Hot Since 82, Carl Craig and Dubfire - is the work of a new outfit by the name of These Machines. Except that These Machines aren't really new at all, because it's actually a new alias for Brighton scene veteran Steve Mac.
From his 1990s work as one-half of Rhythm Masters, via his 2005 UK chart-topper Lovin' You More (That Big Track), to more recent collaborations with the likes of Danny Rampling and Marshall Jefferson, Mac has a long and illustrious career in house music, working as a DJ, producer and label owner. Right now, though, he's got a brand new name and a brand new focus. As These Machines, he's making music with a vast array of studio hardware (including a Moog System 15 and Mini-Moog, Juno 106, Roland TR-808, TB-303 and TR-909, Emu SP1200, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Akai MPC and more) and an equally wide range of guest artists, of whom Berrio is just the first.
Here's what he had to tell us about the project...
First of all... as you're already well-known under your own name, can you explain the idea behind the new alias?
"I wanted to start something new. Steve Mac has done so much over the years, as have the Rhythm Masters, but it was time to move on, to be really creative and fresh. The original idea was not to tell anyone it’s me and just put all this music out, but that didn’t work out as planned, haha!
"The reason behind the name is that I do own quite a bit of studio gear. I’m obsessed with it... I just love getting boxes and messing around with them, making warped-out sounds and adding them to my productions. I also just wanted to work with new people, different types of musicians from different genres. Just try and make some interesting and different house music and basically have a lot of fun doing it."
What are the benefits of using hardware as opposed to virtual instruments, do you think? And the drawbacks?
"I like to feel the instruments, touch them and just do things on the fly. Plus they sound much better! The drawback is you have to repair them, wire them up and also, they are bloody expensive in this day and age. I do use digital software as well - I have a really good balance between the two. I’m getting the best of both worlds."
Martina seems to be getting a lot of love on social media, have you been pleased with the response to the track so far?
"I am totally overwhelmed with the love for this record. There was so much work involved in getting it right and it seems to be paying off. I have constantly been getting messages since I put the first video up of Carl Cox in his studio listening to it. Not one bad comment yet!"
How did you come to hook up with vocalist Rafael Berrio?
"I was in my local pub in Brighton, The Paris House, on a Wednesday night and there was a band playing called Pollito Boogaloo. Raf is the vocalist. These guys were playing, and the place was just going mental, people were dancing on the tables and just getting crazy. It totally blew me away.
"When they had their break, I just went up and started chatting to them. Told them what I did and that I had a studio in town and we should all jump in there. Two weeks later, we did. The band are a bunch of really cool guys and very talented musicians. We're doing more work together as we speak."
There are no remixes on the EP - is that a deliberate move/statement or are they still to come?
"Well, we wanted to release the record on its own to start with, but the remixes are coming. New kids on the block COUSN have done a remix and it’s a killer. It’s not quite finished but they totally nailed it. COUSN are about to release their first EP in the next four weeks. They're good friends of mine and we've been working together on various bits. Watch out for them, they're gonna smash it!
"Also another new kid on the block, Ben Sterling, is doing a remix. He has had a few bits out already on Josh Butler’s Origins and Wax Worx’s Shanghaied. He is making this super cool wonky house music and I think he is the right man for the job."
The follow-up Half Past Love is quite different, stylistically - is the plan to keep us all guessing from one release to the next?
"Yes, it’s very different to Martina and Check It (the B-side of Martina). Half Past Love has more of a Northern Soul feel to it, a big belting song. I want to try and keep all the records different from each other and try not and pigeonhole the sound."
Last time we spoke you were doing a lot of production work for full-on pop outfits. Would you say that's influenced your approach to making house music at all?
"If I’m honest, no. Maybe with the vocal side of things, but I wasn’t really feeling it in the end and just went back to my roots and doing what I love, which is house."
Is These Machines your main focus for the foreseeable future, then, or just one of a number of ongoing projects?
"It’s totally my main focus. I’m just making music that I’m feeling, following no trends, just doing what I love and what’s coming from my heart and most importantly, having lots of fun making it."
Finally, anything else going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I’m about to launch my new label next month. I'm holding the name back for now but I've just mastered the first two EPs I’m really excited about this venture."
Words: Russell Deeks
Martina is out now on Another Rhythm. Buy it here.