''Your 15 minutes begin now!”In lieu of standard salutation, Roni Size kicks off the interview with a bark full of prima donna attitude. It’s tempting to shoot back, “And yours are almost up.” But the drum ’n’ bass ambassador quickly appends a bit of dry laughter to his command, not so much to recall it as to suck back some of the venom. There’s a palpable weariness in his voice, and it’s obvious he’d rather be doing almost anything than granting yet another interview. (His funky vibe is contagious, even across international phone lines.) As the session progresses, though, he begins to thaw, and it almost doesn’t even matter. Truth is, the retort that sprang to mind when Size inadvertently introduced himself as a dick is a lie. The man and the Bristol-based collective that he fronts, Reprazent, have dropped an album, last year’s New Forms (Talking Loud/Mercury), that assures he’ll have more than 15 minutes of fame.
New Forms is a soul album. It pulls freely from R&B, dancehall, hip-hop, jazz and drum ’n’ bass. It links all those genre offshoots through the memory of movement, through the memory of funk. It’s like a Rorschach test: Depending on your mood, you’ll hear it differently — meditative soundtrack, dance-floor workout. Like Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Tricky’s Maxinequaye, and the work of Por-tishead and Smith & Mighty, New Forms reflects the place that spawned it.
“I’ve been all over the world,” says Size, “and I didn’t realize how multicultural England was compared to a lot of places on this Earth. It really is. What I think happened is that Bristol is a port city, and all these groups of people who had a musical vibe in their ethnic country landed in Bristol and brought their cultures with them. And all those cultures have mingled and been passed on through the years. Almost subliminally. There was a cultural landing that slowly developed, and it’s only now that it’s really starting to shine.”
One of the reasons New Forms reverberates so powerfully — and with a soulfulness that most drum ’n’ bass (having devolved into New Age dreck) can barely simulate — is that it’s a far-reaching progression that hasn’t lost sight of its rugged roots. But perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the album is the term used to describe it: drum ’n’ bass. The confusion is deepened when the media dub Size a junglist, though he takes pains to make it clear that what he’s doing is drum ’n’ bass, not jungle, and explains that the two are definitely separate entities.
“They’re two different eras of the movement, man,” he explains. “When this thing first started out, it was jungle. It started off as hardcore, then went on to rave and different things. Jungle is a certain sound with a set formula which works. To me, when you use an Amen Brothers break with an 808 sub-bass, that is jungle. Drum ’n’ bass is when you start adding layers of strings, sounds and layers of melodies. This is one of the many ways to describe this sound to those who know. But jungle is definitely a term that is still valid, because we’re living in a fucking concrete jungle, mate. You go through certain paces, just moving, and there’s life flashing all around you. That’s what creates your energy — that’s what the music does.
“But, you know, people shouldn’t get so hung up on names. It’s all about progress, growth, change. A name is a name. I know when breakdancing first came out, it was called pop-locking. What kind of move is that where you jump up in the air and land on your fuckin’ back? Who ever thought that was a dance move? I remember a stage when people were calling pop records new wave. New wave? What is that? I’m just waiting for the next one after trip-hop. Or was that chip-shop?”
When asked what fans who turn out to see Reprazent’s live show should expect, Size lets out a long, deep laugh. “Fuck, we haven’t rehearsed in about three months. We’re getting a bit rusty now. But what can they expect to see? You’re gonna hear just over an hour of riffin’. They can expect to see eight hard-working people onstage with live drums, live bass, some real energy and good vibes. We feel like we involve the crowd in what we’re doing every step of the way. There’s not a moment where the crowd is left alone just to stand there and stare. There’s always something going on that people can latch on to, you know wa’ I mean?”
Roni Size Reprazent appears at
the Roxy, Saturday-Sunday, March 28-29.