When the album New Forms won the Mercury Music Prize, Roni Size and the Reprazent massive took drum 'n' bass to the masses. Words: Fiona Shepherd
FOR A BRIEF moment in August. the musical underground popped its head overground. graciously accepted its Mercury Music Prize and scurried back to its bunker to carry on the vital work of breaking new ground.
When Roni Size and Reprazent’s debut album New Forms — an instant drum ‘n’ bass classic — heat off competition which included The Spice Girls. Radiohead and The Prodigy (’honest’ Roni’s personal tip). it was the first time in the prestige award‘s six-year history that a truly left field artist had been honoured over more commercially successful nominees.
‘To me. it must be one of the biggest highlights of our career.’ says Size. ‘The award has recognised our hard work. We‘ve been working on our own independent labels for a long time —— myself. Krust. Die. Suv. Dynamite [his fellow DJs and MCs in Reprazent]. It’s not solely for this album. The album‘s very young. It’s a skeleton of ideas which have potential.‘
New Forms is a junglist symphony. sliding hypnotically from one track to the next. Despite Size‘s love of soul and rare groove, the dominant source material is hip hop (for the beats) and jazz (for the hooks). coming together most impressively on weird new sin— gle ‘Brown Paper Bag’. which is the most cre- ative advert for drum ’n’ bass since Goldie’s ‘lnner (‘ity Life‘ infiltrated the mainstream.
‘I don’t know nothing about the overground.’ says Size. ‘When we were nominated all we wanted to do was get onstage. perform and show people about drum ‘n’ bass. People who don’t listen to jungle or don’t even know nothing about it can see there’s eight strong people onstage who’ve got some good ideas. Sometimes you need to have some impact like this to show people “yeah. if my man can do it. I can fuckin' do it!”.’
Presumably. it was some similar encounter which fired up David Bowie enough to ‘inspire’ his recent foray into the realm of the breakbeat.
‘People dis Bowie — don’t dis Bowie,’ says Size generously. ‘He’s been involved in music for years and he’s just found something which he loves and you can’t knock a man for that.’
Size’s inclusive attitude possibly stems from his own untutored musical background. He recalls childhood trips from his native Bristol to the Notting Hill Carnival. and growing up listening to whatever was pumping out the radio at the time.
‘I was pretty shit in school.’ he says. ‘I was using computers the wrong way. so when I started using my sampler. l was using it back to front. I was doing things that didn’t necessarily sound correct but it sounded good.
’I was pretty shit in school. I was using computers the wrong way, so when I started using my sampler, l was using it back to front.’ Roni Size
and when I started to put that in soul or reggae or hip hop. people just couldn’t get their heads round it.’
However. the emerging breakbeat scene proved to be the niche Size was looking for and the catalyst that brought the individual members of Reprazent together over the last five years.
‘lt wasn’t the music that really attracted me.’ says Size. ‘It was the energy, the people and the technology — the fact that I could take
Roni Size: the lord of jungle
a break and speed it up and a man would still be into it and not look at me funny like I was mad.’
Now the potential for a collective like Reprazent, working in largely virgin musical territory, is enormous. As with Bristol’s other underground collective The Wild Bunch, from whom Massive Attack sprang, it’s the collision of complimentary ideas that creates the dynamic.
‘Everyone’s an individual,’ says Size. ‘One of the reasons it works is each person’s got their own background and identity, and you can see that when we’re on stage together.’
Although Size and his cohorts are happy to continue forging the future sound of Bristol, he says: ‘I want to see who comes next. The future of this music is with the kids. You’ve probably got some kid sitting now in his bedroom with his computer. listening to drum ’n’ bass, jungle, hip hop or whatever. and he’s making what he thinks it is. In ten years’ time, we’ll hear something and think: “Fuck, what is that?”’
Right now. that accolade still belongs to Roni Size and Reprazent.
Roni Size and Reprazent play The Arches. Glasgow, Wed 22 Oct. See Glasgow rock listings.
10 Oct—23 Oct 1997 THE UST13