One of the biggest UK house music partnerships of the 1990s and early noughties, the Rhythm Masters return to the fold this month with their first release for more than a decade.
Already being caned by Paul Woolford, Eats Everything, Carl Cox and Mat Playford, '20 Year Cycle' is a superb prog/tribal banger that features a deep-voiced American in an interview going on about musical cycles — appropriate for the Rhythm Masters, Steve Mac and Rob Chetcuti, who put out their first record 20 years ago. They've come full circle.
On a visit to Steve Mac's studio in Brighton, DJ Mag discovers that the RMs met in Malta in their teens. Brit Steve, a budding DJ/producer, was out in Malta on holiday and got a job at a big nightclub over there — Axis.
Rob was a local Maltese, a keyboard player into jazz and stuff, messing around with analogue equipment. “He had a Roland W30 sampler and he goes, 'We should hook up and make some records',” Steve recalls.
“I didn't know anything about sampling,” says Rob. “The W30 had a sampler in the machine, and I didn't even fucking know! And then my brain just opened to the potential.”
Rob says the duo spent three or four years learning how all the music-making equipment worked, working out how beats are done, listening to dance tracks 24/7, sampling everything that moved.
They found that beat-maker (Steve) and keyboard player (Rob) was a good combination, and put out their first record in 1994 — 'Rock to the Beat'. Quickly becoming a prolific production team, they reckon that their remix of Todd Terry's 'Jumpin'' in 1996 was what really blew them up.
“It went to No.7 in the UK pop charts, and ours was the mix that was play-listed,” remembers Steve, the bald one. “After that, the phone didn’t stop ringing.”
They'd moved back to the UK to launch their music career together, Rob starting off going to university before he was “sucked into the acid house vortex”. Scoring plenty of DJ gigs and remixes of Armand Van Helden, Jaydee, Farley Jackmaster Funk, David Morales and tons more, they soon set up their own label Dis-Funktional and were inspired to write their biggest hit, 'Underground', after assorted visits to Ibiza.
Starting off like a dark, chugging Tenaglia tribal thing before going filtered disco sunny, the guys put the track's schizophrenia down to both of their influences and the different experiences you'd get at Space Ibiza.
“We’d be in there with all the craziness going on, and you’d go into that dark room with Coxy inside going bonkers and it would be banging techno and you could hardly see in there cos of the sunlight — it was before the roof was off,” Steve illuminates. “Then you’d come out and everyone was singing and happy and there’d be Morillo on the Terrace.”
Rob and Steve bought a house together in Hove (Brighton), and constructed three recording studios in it. “We both lived there for years, we were in each other’s pockets,” says Steve, “and in the end it was just too much. We both weren’t growing up, we were so locked into the music that we weren’t becoming adults.”
“We weren’t like separate characters, it was like a marriage in a way — it was weird,” adds Rob.
“Like an un-gay marriage,” continues Steve. “We were a couple of knob-heads really. It just got too much in the end. We split off, and became ourselves, I suppose.”
“We were young and we had fucking huge egos,” adds Rob.
“I was only 19 when everything went fucking crazy, and you start really believing you’re great. My advice is — don’t be a dickhead. It’s great when you’re doing really well, but you need to keep your brain in reality.”
Rob swerved into indie music, forming the band South Central and touring with Pendulum and The Prodigy. Steve, meanwhile, reverted to his first love of hip-hop for a while before starting up his Black Rock label with Mark Lawrence and releasing the odd solo missive such as last year's ace 'Feel Your Funk'.
Plenty of water having passed under the bridge, late last year the two of them started meeting up and making music together again. “We need to finish our story,” says Steve. “I've got that bug back and I’ve been writing some of the best music I’ve written for 15 years or so.”
A Rhythm Masters track now can mean anything under the umbrella of house. “We’re still teaching each other a lot of stuff,” says Rob. “My electro production stuff is different from house music, what I’ve learned we can use but tame it down, cos the stuff I do is quite nuts.
But I'm buzzing to be back in house music again. I’m going to go from playing to people who are tattooed to playing for models again!”
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