31 Mar 2017

Red Robin takes flight

From RNZ Music, 3:00 pm on 31 March 2017
Red Robin records

Red Robin records Photo: supplied

The small settlement of Te Mata, just south of Raglan in the Waikato, is the home of new label, Red Robin Records.

The label’s founders Michael ‘Red Robin’ Robins and producer Naram are in the midst of promoting the label’s first release, 'Outta Road' / 'Dem a Fraud'. The 12 inch has Naram and Art, using technology from the 80’s to take listeners back to when the dancehall and rub-a-dub genre was at its prime.

Michael and Naram spoke to Māni Dunlop about the label’s conception and their latest release.

Red Robin Records was born from a dream, thought up in a house bus in Germany a few years ago by selector and radio host Michael ‘Red Robin’ Robins and producer Naram (Tom Langford).

The small township of Te Mata, just south of Raglan, Waikato, is the home of the new record label’s distribution and organisation, where Michael lives with his wahine Renee, and their daughter Sunny. The whānau also run a small scale farm and luscious garden.

Michael's daughter in Te Mata at distribution centre

Michael's daughter in Te Mata at distribution centre Photo: supplied

The label’s first release is an '80s-inspired 12-inch. 'Outta Road' / 'Dem a Fraud' features some veteran artists from the 1980’s dancehall era, with riddims created by Naram (from Wellington, currently Melbourne-based) and Art Official (from Wellington and France-based). Naram says the pair researched that era extensively.

“We wanted to make a label that focused on a particular style of Jamaican music from around the mid-1980’s, early digital rub-a-dub sound which has a lot of synthesized elements but also still a big roots reggae sound in it as well.

Naram (L) Michael 'Red Robin' Robins (R)

Naram (L) Michael 'Red Robin' Robins (R) Photo: supplied

We both had a passion for that type of music and so we set about trying to create those sort of rhythms and finding the right kind of technology to create that sound.”

Michael, who deals with the artists and distribution, cold-called some of their favourite artists from that era, some of whom haven’t been making anything in awhile, to be on the record.

Midnight Riders, who features on side A 'Outta Road', was initially mistaken by Michael as a vocal trio, but he said after a call out of the blue and minimal information online, the mystery around the name was soon solved.

“It is just one person [Winston]. I talk to him pretty much every week on the phone. He told us the story that he was the lead singer and there were two harmonies and now they have since left in the '80s when reggae got a bit tougher for them.”

Midnight Riders and whanau

Midnight Riders and whanau Photo: supplied

Alongside the release Michael did a long interview with Midnight Riders about their story.

Naram adds that it’s common to have quite a bit of confusion around names spelt differently on records or names changing altogether, which can make it a struggle to track artists down. For example, Midnight Riders has been printed as singular, plural and under a different name, specifically on a track that did well in Japan.

Other artists include Tippa Lee, based in LA, who released an album last year on Stones Throw, and Steve Knight, who is most well known in reggae circles for his reissue of his old songs from the 1980’s, which includes the LP Orphan Child.



Red Robin records is a sub-label of German label Jahtari, which has helped  the record to gain some traction overseas, with sales and radio plays exceeding their expectations. However, still loyally NZ-based, Red Robin records has creative control over the label’s content. Back home a limited press of 100 of the 12” 'Outta Road / Dem a Fraud' is close to selling out with a second pressing on its way to Aotearoa.

A new record is set to be released in June/July with another planned to be out at the end of the year and other future projects in the midst. The goal is to keep growing the label at its home-base in Te Mata, which Michael fondly refers to as the ‘Reggae Rodeo’, with plans to expand the farm and to establish a studio to host artists and producers.

Music Details

Artist: Steve Knight
Song: Dem a Fraud
Composer: Naram, Steve Knight, Art
Album: Outta Road / Dem a Fraud
Label: Red Robin

Artist: Tippa Lee
Song: Salute the Veteran
Composer: Tippa Lee, Naram, Art
Album: Outta Road / Dem a Fraud
Label: Red Robin

Artist: Naram
Song: Fraudulent Version
Composer: Naram and Art
Album: Outta Road / Dem a Fraud
Label: Red Robin

Artist: Midnight Riders    
Song: Outta Road
Composer: Midnight Riders, Naram, Art
Album: Outta Road / Dem a Fraud
Label: Red Robin