Every label is underrated until they’re gone. Then we call them “legendary.”
Tell us how you started out. How many years were you a producer or in the industry before starting UKR?
I threw raves with a buddy of mine Sean McNulty (S & R Productions) and was a DJ starting back in 1996. We brought people like DJ Skull, Mike Dearborn, Steve Stoll, Paul Johnson and Terry Mullan out to Seattle back when vinyl was hot and warehouses were packed to the brim. Acid was the sound I loved.
I started producing in 2003 with a buddy of mine Maxamp, Anthony Moscatel and continued on up until a couple years ago. I’ve been putting all my free time into running UKR and UKR Special Series now, moved to Portland where I work a full-time job as a production manager at International Paper, so I have very little time for gigging or making music.
Do you think the experience was worthwhile? Did you learn what to do and what not to do from a label A&R perspective in that time, or was there still on-the-job training?
Things have come naturally to me over the last few years. I’ve learned so much about the communications skills and patience needed to run an imprint. A&R is a tricky line of work and takes a great deal of energy. I’m friends with a lot of my label mates and it takes time and effort to maintain good communication with those people I now call friends. I learn things every week, by dealing with people on the label, at my job, just living… increasing my capacity to understand what it takes to run a label successfully. You have to be dedicated, patient, put yourself last, put your artists first and treat your artists like family because they are an extension of you.
I love vinyl and if I lived in Berlin then maybe I would be doing the vinyl thing. I’m in Portland and I haven’t touched vinyl in years. That’s my reality.
Where did the name come from?
UKR is an acronym for Urban Kicks Recordings. I just wanted something that sounded fresh that has to deal with the inner city pace of life and something that came across to me while brainstorming back in 2012.
You started UKR well into the digital age. Did vinyl ever enter your plans?
Vinyl has never entered my plans as it slows down our release schedule, it’s expensive to produce, it’s a bulky and inefficient way to get music to consumers. I love vinyl, don’t get me wrong, and if I lived in Berlin then maybe I would be doing the vinyl thing. I’m in Portland and I haven’t touched vinyl in years. That’s my reality.
What do you think is the role of a label like UKR in 2018? In your humble view, of course, what are you adding to the world & the scene?
The role of UKR is getting the very best underground techno and house out to the true heads with high-quality mastering, artwork, and distribution to assure the music is appreciated by the world. It takes the efforts of quite a few people on a consistent basis to make UKR tick. Lester Fitzpatrick, Chainsmoker, Tico Torres, Rondell Adams, Drew Sky, DJ D ReDD, DJ Ze MigL, RISC, Dro San and many others keep the music coming on an unmatched level. PJ Allen, aka Chainsmoker, does all our graphic design work, Josh Garrett from Subspec Recordings, Canada does the majority of our mastering and Loukas at Icanpromo UK does our promotional send-outs. We consistently release high-quality raw techno from all corners of the globe and that’s a plus for the artists on the label, as they get to make tracks and within a few weeks or months after making them, they get it on a reputable platform. DJs and clubbers get fresh music and producers get their music into the hands of global tastemakers while the knife is still hot. The producers get excellent feedback and that keeps their fires burning and the tracks keep coming.
What do you look for in a UKR release? what’s the one thing you want to feel or hear?
I listen for raw talent, someone that has their own sound. If it hits me, it hits me. If it’s a quality track it will have just the right amount of perfectly selected sounds, the automation will be done properly… not too much, not too little. Attention to detail is paramount.
What’s the most common flaw (or your own pet peeve) you see in submissions to UKR these days?
If someone sends me a demo and it isn’t personalized in some way, I don’t even listen to it. It can’t be a mass BCC mail out. Take the time to tell me why you want to be on the label and why you think your music fits the platform.
Techno is very “trendy” at the moment – Or a certain kind of techno is anyway. Your thoughts on the “state of the scene” at the moment in terms of new music, the charts, etc?
I don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on with other labels, but I do hear Relief putting out a ton of tech-house tracks, alongside some bangers and that is cool with me. To hear Drumcode blend in melodic trancey elements is also cool with me. Every label head has the right to adapt and change with the tastes of his or her own liking. To each his or her own I think.
The term techno is very broad. If it jacks, it jacks. You do you, and I’ll do me. Over the last three decades, I’ve had a preference for music produced out of Chicago, so UKR and UKR Special Series is an extension of that appreciation. I’ve been jackin in clubs since the late ’80s and the Chicago acid sound has been an integral part of my life.
How many records did UKR release last year?
Seventeen releases… just the right amount I think. We keep it moving while letting the material breathe too.
You don’t put your own records front and center on the label. Is there a struggle between Roman the label owner and Roman the producer?
I felt that the best way for me to create a very effective platform for artists is to allow many artists to share that platform. Over the last few years, I’ve purposely made a transition where the focal point isn’t me, it’s been Lester Fitzpatrick, Chainsmoker, Drew Sky and a few others producers that I feel are incredibly talented and have a high-quality output volume.
Lester Fitzpatrick’s material has been closely identified with UKR. What can you tell me about him? The guy is indefatigable, releases just a ton of high-quality material, people bang it and it bangs.
Lester has been releasing on UKR since our beginning. I’ve appreciated his music since the ’90s and over the years we have become good friends. A couple years back I brought him on as a partner as he was releasing so much material and bringing so many other artists on board from the Chicago area. No doubt he is probably one of the hardest working producers I know, a superb DJ and very thoughtful and humble human being. His prolific discography on UKR reflects not only his talent, skill level and dedication, it also sheds light on his versatility and range of music production. One week I’ll get six deeper soulful house tracks, then the next week I’ll get some old-school tracky business followed by ten darker bangers the next week. You never know what the release is going to sound like, but one thing is certain, it’s going to be quality.
I don’t know if he wants to put his name to it since he mentioned it in like a Facebook comment, but one of the old school Chicago guys dubbed UKR the best Chicago techno label not based in Chicago. How does that make you feel?
To hear something like that makes me feel humbled and very fortunate. To have someone consider UKR to be repping “Chicago” in any way shape or form is winning in my mind.
Your artwork has had this consistent theme, somewhere between futuristic and surrealistic color flares and the like. Who came up with the art design and the concept?
The logo was created by an Emmy award-winning graphic designer and family friend of mine, Scott Hudziak. The art since 2014 is a vision started by myself and Scott Hudziak, then the reigns and creative flow went to PJ Allen aka Chainsmoker, who has done an absolutely brilliant job keeping things edgy and effective. PJ keeps things clean, futuristic and full of energy.
Art is so important to me as well the artists, and every time I received the release drafts for final approval I’m blown away. This man is not only an incredibly talented producer, he’s an epic graphic designer that grabs the viewer and engages them.
What is coming up next?
We’ve got some fantastic material from Crossmods from France with remixes from Hertz, Christian Kliche Lester Fitzpatrick and Drew Sky, a scorching album from legendary DJAX artist Kareem Smith, EPs from Diarmaid O Meara, Plural, Jerome Baker, Lester Fitzpatrick, Wetworks, Chainsmoker, DJ Ze MigL and many many more.
What can you tell us about the track or release you’re giving away with 5 Mag?
I’ll be giving away UKR146 Newks, our latest UKR release. UKR is very pleased to present to you UK’s rising techno champ Newks with his stunning 4 track Pushing Steel EP. The quality continues without hesitation as Newks brings top-notch energy and creativity to keep the dance floor packed and all eyes on him. “Assault,” “Bones,” “Darkmoor,” and “Drake” all pack a punch with superbly crafted production that purist techno heads will drool over. Every track gives the listener a crystal clear bangin anthem, raw with drive and heavy jacktastic underground flavor. Clever effects, vocal stabs, massive analog synths and thumping percussion combine beautifully here creating the perfect prime time battle pack for that late night crowd. Watch out for this man… he’s dangerous. UKR and Newks continuing the global techno push!
This article includes a free download of Newsk: Pushing Steel available exclusively to 5 Mag Members.