Hopefully there’s a time in any artist’s lifetime when they get the nod of respect from an inspirational figure. For Brighton-based DJ and producer Steve Mac, it might have been when he met underground house music godfather and Murk label boss, Oscar G. “I said ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you,’” Mac tells me. “’You’re one of my heroes.’ He went: ‘No. You’re one of MY heroes.’ I was like… ‘Fuck off. You’re joking!’” It’s another mark of recognition in a career that’s seen Mac remix chart-topping singles, play some of the world’s greatest venues and produce dozens of genre-defining tracks.
We’re speaking on a beautiful day, just outside Mac’s studio near London Road. He’s tired but resolutely chatty, having just flown back into the country. DJing since the age of 11, he formed Rhythm Masters with Rob Chetcuti in the mid-’90s. Together they’d add a very British twist to house music, drawing inspiration from pioneers like Todd Terry, Kenny Dope and Masters at Work. “What we did was take what they’d done with their rhythms and toughen it up. It worked in this country because everyone was off their tits and just wanted it harder.” With a forward-thinking brand of massive, peak time house music, the pair dominated the British club scene for almost a decade. They also remixed hundreds of Top 40 singles for other artists (Mac professes to not know the final count – describing it only as ‘a lot’), as well as unleashing dancefloor-smashing versions of tracks like Todd Terry’s Keep On Jumping and Jaydee’s Plastic Dreams.
In 2002 they split amicably to follow other projects, but have recently started recording together again with renewed vigour. That meeting with Oscar G directly led to them reworking one of dance music’s all-time classics. Their version of The Fog’s Been A Long Time is the first remix from them in a decade, and was almost instantly declared B.Traits’ hottest Record Of The Week on Radio 1. “It’s not about having anything to prove. I feel like I’m 18 years old again. I’ve invested heavily in my studio and loving it more than I ever have. We’re making so many records…” This reinvigorated attitude has brought into play some tracks on Steve Lawler’s label, some more releases on Eats Everything’s Edible label and an EP for Ibizan party promoters, Do Not Sleep.
Soon Mac will complete the line-up for Disco Lovers’ Pride Village Party celebrations, and adds his considerable knowledge as well as a few cheeky reworks. “I’ve been collecting music for years and years, and have created a collection of edits. It’s going to be bringing a good vibe with some classy music.” The event comes to Kemptown’s Brighton Rocks Bar on Sat 5 Aug, where Mac will play alongside Darren Murphy from Inspired and Inner Rhythm, J Felix and Charlie Drayton from Tru Thoughts, Go Bang’s Ali Back and Disco Lovers’ own Sam Moffett and Spike Kingston. With an environment and decor by Ideas Lab, a monstrous sound system and lights from Traction Sound, body art, mischief and mayhem by Judi and the Doodlecats, this epic party will be raising funds for LGBTQ+ charities The Sussex Beacon and MindOut Brighton.
He acknowledges club culture has changed significantly since Rhythm Masters’ original formation. Mainstream house music is increasingly atonal and tech-based. “A lot of it is just drums and bass. The biggest problem is everyone wants to be cool. A lot of the young DJs try too hard and play records which they think are cool, but no one dances to them.” Part of the looming issue could be the current difficulty in finding quality dance music. An online music store like Beatport will release 25,000 new tunes in a single week. It’s just not possible to shift through all that volume and find fresh or exciting tracks with ease. This is a long way from when Mac would go into a record shop as a youngster and be filtered to about 50 pieces of vinyl by a sales assistant who knew him and his tastes.
Crate digging and searching for new sounds formed a big part of early Rhythm Masters work. There would be endless evenings spent looping and sampling old tunes to form new ones. “I remember walking into a second-hand shop and there was this whole section of 12 inches. I said: ‘How much do you want for all of them?’ He’s like: ‘Really? 500 quid!’ I gave him the money and we loaded up a car with all these records.” The pair had a studio with four turntables, a huge sound system and a wall full of records, spending day and night mixing dusty old vinyl, forming ideas, and being inspired.
In addition to all the resurgent Rhythm Masters work, Mac’s own productions continue apace – including a forthcoming acid house album in the very near future. He’s been through a phase of really enjoying older sounding records, and realised he had all the technology it was written on. “So, I’ve made this album. I got all the original people involved. Robert Owens has done two vocals for me and I got Marshall Jefferson. I met Marshall in Amsterdam and we hit it off. He asked me if I wanted to go into the studio with him. I was like: ‘Too right…’” As you’d hope, he’s got quite a few tales of hanging out with artists like Armand Van Helden, Roger Sanchez, and Sleazy D, as well as the improbably wonderful story of taking Robert Owens for a pint in Brighton’s The Joker. The people Mac once looked up to are now peers. He’s visibly a little perplexed by it all, but it’s unlikely he’ll take any of this for granted.
The Rhythm Masters have also started performing live shows together. Now, Mac takes on turntable duties, while Chetcuti deploys a keyboard and Ableton-loaded laptop to layer sounds and make live edits. But the recording studio is still where they’re in their true element. His new studio is based firmly around the use of analogue gear, something which gives the music ‘a bit of ‘movement’. It’s an awe-inspiring setup, dominated by walls of vintage equalisers and compressors to create a richer sound. “When I was a teenager, and getting into it, the equipment was so expensive. You’d buy an Akai Sampler, and for a ten-second sample that would cost you £3,000. Where do you find that kind of money as a kid? Unless you’re robbing shops or selling drugs It was a lot more difficult to get into. But it’s like anything, if you love it and you want to do it, you pursue it.”
Steve Mac headlines the Disco Lovers’ Pride Village Party event, at Kemptown’s Brighton Rocks Bar, on Sat 5 Aug. Steve Mac and Rhythm Masters’ records can be heard on discerning dancefloors everywhere.