Label of the Month: UKF

Three letters as synonymous with bass music as BMW to the automotive industry, UKF is celebrating its 15th year of operation this year – five of those as an official music imprint. We catch up with founder Luke Hood to unpick UKF’s progression into a label, and how this evolution compliments the historic brand.

9 min
UKF Header
Jul 1, 2024
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By
Jake Hirst

It’s a sunny June day in the UK with festival season starting to motor. For many people across the country, Glastonbury is all the talk. During the end of each June, Somerset becomes the destination festival-goers and industry heads flock to. But for Luke Hood, he’s got an extra special connection to the wider brand.

“I grew up 20 minutes away from the festival in Frome, so I could always hear the festival,” he recalls. “Glastonbury never fails to make me Iove music all over again.” It may surprise people to hear that the founder of one of bass music’s most iconic brands, UKF, uses the festival to ignite his music senses, but when you’re 15 years into a venture as established as UKF’s, Luke points out “you don't always get chance to watch music as a fan anymore.” But with Glasto, “you feel inspired seeing artists you never get chance to see.”

Glastonbury is one of the biggest music celebrations around. But reaching their 15-year milestone is an even bigger moment UKF is celebrating. What started as a YouTube channel and an outlet to support underrepresented artists in bass music has evolved into a music juggernaut comprised of multiple YouTube channels, an editorial website, two labels in UKF, and a sister imprint Pilot, mixed with forays into event-promoting and stage hosting at major dance festivals. It’s a progression Luke can’t quite believe. “I remember starting UKF in my bedroom when I was 16 years old. It started as a means to share music with friends, and it has stayed true to that.” Luke pauses before explaining the brand’s origins. “I remember going to register UK drum & bass on YouTube, but it was taken. I played Call of Duty with friends from Frome at the time and we used UKF as our clan tag, so I ended up adopting that as the name with no branding – hence why all you could see on YouTube was a flaming speaker. UKF was never meant to become what it became.”

Check out UKF's 'Label of the Month' chart on Beatport.
Beatport UKF Luke Hood
Luke Hood

Despite Luke joking “people still don't know the F in UKF stands for Frome,” after 15 years the brand is in one of its strongest positions – recognised globally as an outlet that has continually championed bass music from early on. Whether it’s breaking a track on their YouTube, introducing a new artist through editorial, making music seem anything but ordinary through their UKF On Air mix series, or being the one to push genres when they’re not in focus, UKF has always sought to be a constant in an ever-changing industry. “We've never wanted to be a one-dimensional brand. That’s why we push all corners of bass music, including D&B, dubstep, bass house and other sub-genres,” Luke highlights. “Ten years ago, I'd go to America and I’d been known as the UKF dubstep guy. This year, I go over and I’m the UKF D&B guy. It's funny how things change with the perception of the brand.” He continues. “What we've always tried to do is be a consistent presence in these scenes even if they're not the flavour of the month.”

Luke admits staying relevant in a fast-moving industry has been one of the biggest tests for the brand, and it’s partly the reason why UKF expanded its operation into a music imprint. As the platform helping to introduce many of today’s staple bass music names, including Sub Focus, Netsky, Benga, Grafix, Camo & Krooked, Doctor P and Flux Pavilion, alongside breaking famous tracks such as Netsky’s bootleg of Jessie J’s “Nobody’s Perfect”, B-Complex’s VIP of “Beautiful Lies” and NERO’s “Innocence”, you’d be forgiven for thinking UKF has been a music label since the beginning. However, in reality, UKF only started operating as an imprint five years ago. “For UKF to be around for the next 15 years, we knew it couldn't just be a YouTube channel, it wasn’t sustainable,” Luke admits. While the brand originally dabbled with one-off singles, such as Modestep’s Top 40 hit “Sunlight” 14 years ago, Luke launched the label to commit to “working with artists on a non-exclusive basis, but in a way where we could really get behind them. Off the back of having long relationships with many artists, it made sense.” While some labels tie artists to exclusive deals, UKF actively encourages them to work with others, as the purpose of the label is to “compliment what artists are doing elsewhere, rather than being their sole destination to release,” Luke reveals.

Koven UKF Beatportal
Koven
Flux Pavillion Beatportal UKF
Flux Pavillion
Camo Krooked Beatportal UKF
Camo & Krooked

Venturing into the label world has been a new experience for the team, but it has a been a rewardingly organic process. While most imprints start as a label then introduce a marketing element, UKF was a marketing company first, then a label second. “We've always had our ear to the ground trying to break new artists before anyone else, so we were in a good position to put out music because we'd already built brand presence,” Luke says. Within its first five years, the label has seen a slew of popular releases. From major dubstep tracks in SIPPY & Nardean's “Takin’ Over" and Tisoki & Oliverse’s “New Life” (feat. Courtney Drummey) to D&B hits including Technimatic & A Little Sound’s “Lakota” and 1991’s “Full Send.” It’s the latter of those releases Luke recognises as a big moment in the label’s progression. “That was one of the early tracks we put out for UKF10. It was quite early in Fred's career and has gone on to do 50 million plus streams."

Compilation series’ have been an integral part of UKF’s journey, with UKF10 signifying the start of this label venture – made unique by featuring all exclusive tracks for the first time. Five years on, we’re now in the midst of UKF15 – the latest release series from the label stacked with exclusives. “We wanted to celebrate a balanced selection of artists, such as Hybrid Minds, BCee, Feed Me and Koven, but we also took the opportunity to showcase the next wave of talent we're backing, like Moore Kismet, Justin Hawkes, Oppidan and Blossom,” Luke highlights. “I feel the series is representative of where we are in this moment as a scene. We're super proud of it.”

Looking at the series, it’s interesting to see many of the early artists on UKF are still working with the brand today. As Luke recognises, “artists we first supported 15 years ago still work with us now. It’s amazing seeing artists like Hybrid Minds, whose single “Solitude" we released back in 2017 as part of a compilation, now selling out Alexandra Palace.” Maybe it’s the fact that UKF has the ability to reach a huge fanbase worldwide, or maybe it’s down to the brand’s mantra of being a home for bass music – supporting artists through every stage of their careers, no matter what fads come along. “Whether or not things are trending is irrelevant as we support bass music as a whole and will continue to do so,” Luke says before chuckling. “We're not suddenly going to launch UKF techno. We stick to our niche and do that consistently.” It’s a motivation to help cultivate a healthy scene that has been a part of the brand since the beginning, as Luke remembers.

Hybrid Minds Beatportal
Hybrid Minds
Oppidan Beatportal
Oppidan
Mefjus Beatportal
Mefjus

“I learned early on that even though you have a certain music taste, it's just as important to help people dig deeper. We’ve always tried to support things a bit out of the ordinary, because you never know, that may end up becoming someone's favourite sub-genre they'd never heard of before.” This quest for discovery has come to the fore recently, with UKF releases finding their way onto television and video games. “Seeing real world usages of our music is so exciting,” Luke beams. “We had a track on FC 24, Droeloe & IMANU’s “CATALYST”, and 1991's “Chant” was used as the sound-bed for the FA Cup Final. “These bigger usages are great for everyone as it pulls more fans in."

Looking ahead, UKF will not be slowing down anytime soon, with the next phase of the brand's 15 year celebrations approaching. From UKF stage takeovers at festivals including Tomorrowland, Let it Roll and Rampage, to UKF heading to the Barbican as part of OrchestRAVE where classic UKF tracks will be delivered by an orchestra. “And then towards the end of the year we're going to have a big show in London. But I can't say more yet…” Luke teases with a sly grin.

While the UKF imprint represents “the icing on the cake”, Luke stresses running the label is only a cog in the overarching UKF machine, and “that’s how we've always wanted it to be.” He continues. “UKF isn't there to be just a label. It's there to give voices to many different people, tell stories, and discuss what's happening in the scene. Everything we've done over the years has tried to focus on the community, asking ourselves – how can we best serve them? Hopefully if we keep doing that we’ll be here for the next 15 years!”

Luke Hood UKF Beatport Label of the Month
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