Utomica ‘Rok A Bye’ – its one of those holy grails that people were always asking me for. “It would be great if you could make this one happen” the emails and messages would say, and these messages were regular, not just from one super keen person, but from many people. It became a quest for me to track down the creators of this 12″ and a bloody long quest it turned out to be. But good things do come to those that wait and this is one of those times that patience paid off.
So its a Sunday night, February 2020 and three middle aged men are trying to work out how to do a 3-way Whatsapp call. Well, its not the technological side of it all that’s the struggle, all 3 are aufait with that side of things, its getting us all free at the same time to make it happen! Previous arranged dates had been and gone. Its not like a quick 10 minute call, these interviews are over an hour, sometimes two hours, as we drill down into how things came about, so for everyone to have that much time set aside from the family and other responsibilities takes some organising… and for Whatsapp to be able to retain the channels open, well, that’s just pot luck. The drop outs were frequent, but the perseverance was second to none… and so we chatted.
I have Martin Lee-Stephenson and David Salvi both on the phone at once, both of the members of Utomica and artists on the Pro-One label through various guises. My first question ‘Where did the name come from?’ “It was a bit improvised, we needed a new name for a more jungle sounding project, we were always wanting to stay ahead of the curve and try new musical styles. At the time I was into weird and wonderful stuff”. Martin kicks things off, adding “We were working on weird physics names at the time and we felt that we were sound scientists”. “We would have endless conversations about science and synths and always wanted to stay in touch with the musical advent garde” David continues “So the name Utomica just sounded right for this new project”.
Martin (who was living just behind the soon to be opened Blue Note in Hoxton – “Law and Auder and the Rising High Studios were a five minute walk from my flat. Howie B lived two doors away and Jarvis Cocker was upstairs for a while!) is from a rock background but caught onto the acid house scene that was kicking off in London in the late 80’s and decided that was where he wanted to go musically. David was more from the soul and jazz scenes that London had to offer and was already moving around in the early hardcore scene – “My main connection to the scene was through De Underground Records/Reel to Reel Productions (John Aymer/Flex/Mike) who I met when Hopa recommended me for some engineering work, they then approached me to engineer a remix of “We Are E”. It was in fact through these guys that I met Mike (Michael Whittaker) who had originally formed Pro One. We met, got on brilliantly and within a few days decided to combine forces and keep the label name Pro One. This was in late 1991. The studio was then reformed and renamed as Pro One Recordings”.
They first linked together in 1992 as they both had a mutual friends, but the main linchpin was a guy called Bobbi Style who was a singer and had a band called The Love Junkies, signed to Pro One for an album. Bobbi’s Dynamic Studios was based in Hoxton and David had been drafted in to engineer the project whilst Martin had been asked to play bass guitar and during the downtime, David and Martin bonded over their mutual love of the growing hardcore scene. It was from this chance encounter that they decided to start making music together, their first collaboration being this release, ‘Rok-A-Bye’. Utomica had been born.
Utomica – L-R: David and Martin, Pro One Studios, Walthamstow – 1996.
“We made the tune over a few evenings” Martin explains “We found a few loops and got them into the sampler, then we wrote the piano part. It was at this point we decided that we needed to get a vocal on it”. David continues the story “We had a session singer that we used at Pro One called Faye Rochelle, she did various bits for us, so we got her in and she wrote a couple of verses. We never did use those verses, but there was part of one of the verses that resonated with both of us, the words ‘Rok A Bye’. So that is how the name of the tune came about, thanks to Faye’s lyrics”. That encounter with Faye also had a big impact on Martin, who a few years later started a group with her called Spooncurve, an electronica outfit that combined drum and bass, techno, breakbeat and ambient vibes. Faye worked a lot within the folk scene but also had the privilege of sharing co-writer credits with Kate Bush! But Martin and Faye’s relationship wasn’t just professional, they ended up getting together and marrying, today living happily together raising a family outside of London. Some of Faye’s lyrics from that ‘Rok A Bye’ session were kept in the track, though she wasn’t credited at the time as the release was just a white label, but now, 28 years later, she is officially credited on the repress.
Martin continues the story “We knew by this point we had a bit of a banger and the track had a unique feel about it”. It was interesting, different and we just thought ‘Lets put it out there and see what happens’. We wrote it around July 1992 I think it was” David interjects, adding “I remember we used the Yamaha SY77 to play the piano line, which was a great keyboard that I still have now”. The Yamaha SY77 was made in 1989 and had 61 velocity and after touch sensitive keys. It was also equipped with a pitch wheel and two modulation wheels, expansion slots, floppy drive, on-board effects and a 16,000 note sequencer. A serious piece of kit for any studio back then!
I have to ask, as I ask all my artists the same question in interviews as I am curious about this subject ‘Did you write the music when taking any drugs or having any long, crazy sessions?’ with both of them saying exactly the same thing while laughing “Only bags of chips and coffee!”
David and Faye Rochelle at the Pro-One Studios, Walthamstow – 1996.
“Hopa was over at the studio a lot at this time. Hopa was our link to the current club scene in London as he was out all the time and knew what was working on the dancefloor and what trends were coming in and what were going out. He wanted to add his take onto our tune and make it more fitting for the clubs. At this time music was moving so quickly that you could write a tune and before you could release it, the scene and the trends had changed and the tune was dated” Martin tells me. This is something I remember from back then, 1992 into 1994, the sounds and the vibes changed so quickly, and they weren’t just small changes, they were drastic. This is a topic that comes up many times when I do these interviews and is cited by DJ Phantasy as to why a lot of the tracks that he has in his DAT collection were never released. he was at the front of the scene at this period, DJing all over the world and he was so in tune with trends. As he told me in his recent interview when we discuss his unreleased tune ‘Stick Together’ “It’ll probably get more love now than if we had released it back then, the scene was evolving so fast”.
Hopa was well connected, later that year signing with Moving Shadow alongside Harvey and Ian as Oaysis, releasing the awesome tracks ‘Open Secrets/Enticer’ which were originally made at Pro One before taken to Rob. “I remember Hopa saying he didn’t like the piano in the tune, that pianos weren’t what people wanted anymore, baring in mind this was 1992 and things were getting dark in the hardcore/jungle scene. We loved the piano and decided to keep it in our version but gave Hopa full creative direction to do as he felt was best in re-crafting the tune for the clubs, so he used it sparingly in his remix. And what a cracking job he did” Martin tells me. And again, being that the original release was just a white label, Hopa was never credited back then for his mix, something the guys were very keen to have rectified on this reissue. “We just decided to put it out as a white label” David explains “As we didn’t know what people would think of it and if they didn’t enjoy it and it wasn’t a success, it was no big deal, we could just move onto something else”.
The Pro One Studio as it was back in the day and as it is now.
The Pro-One studio was a serious and professional set up based in Walthamstow with a huge array of toys to play with as David guides me through “We had a Sequential Circuits Pro One, Crumar Bit 99 in white (David’s treasured keyboard!!!) a Roland MKS70 with PG800, a Roland W30, an Akai S1000, a Kawai K5, Casio CZ1, Casio VZ1, Yamaha SY77, TX7, TX81Z, KX88, a Korg X3 , an Emu Proteus 1+3, an Alesis D4, 2x Yamaha DMP7, a Soundcraft Spirit mixing desk, 2x Yamaha SPX90s , a Yamaha SPX1000, 2x Drawmer DS 201, 2x Drawmer 221 compressor, 8 Alesis Quadraverbs, a DBX160, and Adat with BRC and tons of other gear! We had just switched to running Logic ona Mac after years of Cubase and Notator on Atari. I had been on a quest to get full automation across the studio, dreaming back then of what we take for granted these days!” As Martin states “Pro One was totally over-specced for this kind of music!”. There were many artists that would come by and use the studio back in the 90’s including Hopa, Randall and lots of Moving Shadow artists – “I even remember Goldie coming over and having a cup of tea with my mum” David tells me laughing.
The mastering and cut of the ‘Rok A Bye’ release was handled by Porkys Prime Cuts. Then it was down to both Mo’s and Total Distribution to take care of getting the record out to the shops. Only 1000 copies of the record were ever pressed up and they all sold and the money made was reinvested into the next release on the label. As already mentioned, the scene was moving so quickly around this time in 1992 that they had given up on the release by the time the first pressing had sold out and they were more focused on the next project. “We were juggling far too many acts for a studio our size during this time and all our finances were tied up in the next project. I remember the 1000 records sold quite quickly and that we were paid for them all, which was good considering some of the stuff that was happening at this time”. A little while later they wrote a follow up to ‘Rok A Bye’, a halloween based release called ‘Pumpkin’ that they put out around November 1992. Martin recalls “It was crap, it was just a one off for a laugh!”
By 1996 David had lost interest in the jungle and drum & bass scene “Its when it all started going dark and I realised that it’s not longer the scene that I got into. So I just moved into other genres”. Martin also recalls another reason that he too decided to call time on the scene “We got tucked up a few times, there were some not so nice characters in the scene by then”.
The year is 2020 and both Martin and David are re-inspired by the interest that their earlier work as Utomica has generated and the legacy that they have created. Motivated by getting their earlier work repressed, they intend to regroup and start making music again together. They may even try and contact Hopa! So watch this space as more Utomica music is planned. But till then make sure you keep checking back with the label as we delve into some of the unreleased music they did in the Pro One Studios as well as an unreleased mix of ‘Rok A Bye’ that they both forgot about until they located the master DAT the other month! On top of that, Martin was also part of Law & Auder and we are pleased to announce that we are repressing that back catalogue as well, including some unreleased tracks from 1995.
Its a Hoxton Ting!