Roni Size helped push drum ’n’ bass into the mainstream – and, Time Out learns, he could still hold the key to its future
In 1997 Roni Size’s live drum ’n’ bass band, Reprazent, won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize with their album New Forms – and in doing so became one of the first d’n’b acts to push through into the mainstream. Since then, Size has explored other genres, but drum ’n’ bass has remained the core of his career. So when we mention that former d’n’b flag bearer DJ Zinc has left the genre, claiming that it is creatively bankrupt, Roni is unsurprisingly dismissive. ‘I’m not disillusioned at all,’ he says. ‘I’ve spoken to Zinc about this as well and – I’m not going to lie – I feel a little bit sorry for him.
To move away from the thing that you’re recognised for, to go somewhere else…’ he trails off. ‘I just think that you need to put yourself into a good environment that’s going to keep you enthusiastic about your day job. I’ve never tried to pigeonhole myself, but at the same time I feel there’s a lot to achieve with this music, especially on stage.’
Indeed, now that Roni has reassembled Reprazent for a new album (eight years passed between their second LP, In The Mode, and last year’s New Forms2, a re-recording of the original New Forms), it seems that his energy is in full flow. ‘There’s nothing better than being on stage with eight people, all working together to create one unified sound,’ he enthuses. ‘We’ve just recorded a whole album live. With New Forms we tried to bring this live feel a bit, but this next one is, from start to end, a completely live interpretation that sounds as tight and direct as anything on a digital track.’
But when we ask him where the future of drum ’n’ bass lies, he sounds less assured. ‘The future of drum ’n’ bass and music in general is always the same – it’s about the kids. But I’m four decades in and the kids want different stuff now. I’m not sure my ear’s in tune to that.’ Instead of trying to mimic new styles, Roni says he’s focusing on creating the kind of music that inspired him when he was a kid, drawing on breaks and dub bass lines. But it’s not like he’s entirely divorced from popular culture – he cites the energy of popular indie rockers, such as Arctic Monkeys, as a major inspiration for the new album.
In fact, we can’t help but feel that Roni is doing himself a disservice – he stands a better chance of making an impression if he does his own thing, we think. And when we ask him to describe the new Reprazent album it sounds even more idiosyncratic than we’d hoped: ‘It reminds me of Burt Bacharach.’
Come again? Reprazent does vocal lounge pop? Not quite. ‘I mean it sounds like it should be in a movie. It’s epic music – it has to sound widescreen and it has to move. It’s all performed live and the sound is very hard, very orchestral and very funky.’ And, in this world of cross-genre mixing and varied tastes, that crazy mix of adjectives could well be what makes the album catch the attention of the public. Maybe it’ll even be the kind of pep-up that DJ Zinc was searching for.
And that sucess is exactly what the band needs right now if it hopes to survive. Roni says that the costs of keeping an eight-strong band running are so high that unless they can make it with this album it’s all over for the band. ‘You’ve got to be huge in the industry nowadays,’ he says. ‘You can’t sit in the wings any more, brother.’ But even if it’s the end of the line for Reprazent Roni says he’s happy with DJing. ‘The internet means that people don’t really have common musical ground any more. That’s why I love DJing – it’s one of the few places where you can still get that raw connection with people. It’s why DJs will be there for the rest of time. Even if the world’s going to blow up you need a DJ to play it out.’