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Interview: Roni Size

12 February 08 interview: Jared Wilson

"Working with any established artist is a next level thing. You learn as a producer that there are stages in a producer’s life and working with those guys you realise that you’re in first class."

Roni Size is something of a legend to anyone who loves drum and bass. His name is synonymous with the ‘Bristol sound’ – a scene that helped to form the roots of UK jungle and drum and bass. Mr Size, however, took it all to a new level setting up the live band Reprazent and releasing New Forms, an album that went on to claim 1997’s Mercury Music prize (beating off competition from Radiohead, the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and… erm The Spice Girls). Now he’s back reworking that classic album and playing at a venue near you. We caught up with him for a chat...

You started out in music by attending Wild Bunch parties. What was the Bristol scene like back in those days?
Absolutely wicked. I’m a lucky guy to have been there. Nowadays I drive through St Paul’s and I can look back in time at all the people and the parties. Those days were phenomenal. It was so wicked to be there. I carry that history with me, man! There were a lot of people who used to travel down from the outskirts like Goldie, who were involved too. But Bristol was kicking, man!

It’s been a decade since Reprazent won the Mercury Music Prize. Is it still hard to take in that it all happened?
I suppose so. I won a MOBO, the Mercury and also a Q Magazine award. They were really exciting times for me as prior to that we’d been working really hard trying to build something. To get all those accolades was great for me and hopefully for drum and bass. It was never necessarily a goal to win anything, but that’s my mark in history. I’ll always have something to leave behind when I’m not here.

So how did the Reprazent crew first meet?
Well, it was mainly coincidence, but we bonded through a love of music. I met Krust when I went for a job interview, I met Die when he was skateboarding, I met Suv because he used to come to my studio, I met Dynamite through DJing and I met Onalee because she used to sing jingles to me for my radio show. Most of us met through coincidence and the love of music. We first got together as the Full Cycle band (the name of their label) and did a load of stuff for V Recordings. New Forms was made during that time, through the process of us working each other out and learning to play together.

So you’re re-releasing New Forms?
Yeah. Universal decided to re-release the album as a deluxe copy with new tracks and videos. So I suggested that we put a whole new coat of armour on the album by re-editing it. I’ve been in the studio and taken all the best elements from the first record and basically remade it. It’s the way I wish I’d made it in 1997 and I’ve thrown in a few new tracks as well.

Are Suv, Die and Krust still involved? I ask since the Reprazent touring group is just Roni, Onalee and Dynamite MC.
No, not really. The whole live show is geared around Dynamite, Onalee, myself and the band. The other DJs like Die, Suv and Krust are now engaged in their own projects and they’re happy doing that stuff.

What was it like working with Method Man and Zack De La Rocha on your In The Mode album?
Working with any established artist is a next level thing. You learn as a producer that there are stages in a producer’s life and working with those guys you realise that you’re in first class. I’ve learned so much from working with them, as well as Cypress Hill and other A-list artists.

Can we expect any more from Breakbeat Era in the future?
No. That was a one off project and it will never happen again. Actually, never say never. I suppose if they wanted to sit down and talk about what could be done then I’d be happy to negotiate, but to be honest with you we left it behind. That was then and this is now.

Which other artists are you feeling at the moment?
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve just taken a whole year out of music entirely. For the three years before that I’ve been DJing and it got to a point where I felt the music I was playing didn’t represent who I was. It really came home to me at one point when I went to Ibiza and played a five hour set. Afterwards I was sitting there questioning what I was doing and Carl Cox, who I was staying with, said to me that he thought I probably needed to take some time out, switch off from music and go away and get some enthusiasm back. So I haven’t really listened to anything over the last year.

What’s your opinion on the ever increasing beats per minute (BPM) of drum and bass?
Drum and bass is the energy of the youth. When you go to a club like Fabric and the bass drops it just sounds fat. The kids love it! It’s always been like that. As a producer I always think that different things happen at different tempos. So when you’re searching for the new groove, maybe it’s 160 or 170 or 180 BPM. But the music has been around for long enough now and it still keeps getting faster and faster. That’s the way this shit rolls, baby…

So, do you prefer doing DJ sets or the live sets with Reprazent?
It depends. Sometimes I’ll have been doing the DJ sets for ages and I’ll have had enough. But sometimes I just like to sit in the studio and clean my palette. So now I can’t wait to get out there and start playing live again as I have a massive amount of new stuff to play. There’s a saying in Jamaica that ‘too much of nuttin is good for nuttin’ and I agree with that.

What music do you put on the stereo at home?
It depends what mood I’m in. Sometimes I’ll listen to an Ibiza tape and sometimes I’ll listen to a Saxon tape. I still listen to cassette tapes at home you see. I’ve got an iPod, but to be honest I don’t use it much.

Have you been to Nottingham much before?
Yeahman. I got family in Nottingham. Half of my family live there. My boy Junior Agogo plays for your football team now. He used to play for Bristol Rovers, but now he’s at Forest. I haven’t seen him for while now, but I know he’ll be doing wicked!

Have you ever received anything in a brown paper bag?
Yeahman! Plenty tings! On the legal side a pair of socks and a council tax bill.

What’s the greatest bassline ever?
For me it would probably be an old reggae rhythm like Sleng Teng by Wayne Smith. But different basslines work for different eras. More recently it’s something like The White Stripes bassline for Seven Nation Army.

Describe the Amen break in five words...
Absolutely lashing! In fact if you want five then ‘the most amazing break ever’.

How much does Size matter?
A little bit. I feel like I fill my role and bring something to the table…

So what can people expect from your gig at the Rescue Rooms?
A bit of nostalgia. For those people who were there first time around, we hope they can come and reminisce on what we had. For those who weren’t then it’s your chance to check out a truly classic show.

Roni Size Reprazent play Detonate at the Rescue Rooms on Wednesday 13 February.

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