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INTERVIEW: Drum & Bass Pioneer Roni Size on 20 Years of ‘New Forms’

DnB Pioneer Looks Back ON Trailblazing LP

Since its release in 1997, New Forms, the debut album from Roni Size and UK drum and bass collective Reprazent, has been regarded as a trailblazer for the electronic music sub-genre. To celebrate the expansive 20th-anniversary reissue of the Mercury Music Prize-winning debut album, Roni Size has returned to the U.S. for his first-ever solo tour, featuring live instrumentation and new hardware.

“This is the first time I’ve done this in America by myself,” Size tells Salute Magazine. “I’ve just come back from Australia, and that’s been great. That was a real experience. A lot of criticism, a lot of positive stuff and some negative stuff. People… they like emcees, they like the full band, they like the drummer. They like this, they like that, some people like a lot of everything. As much as I like textures and layers, this isn’t about textures and layers, this is about 20 years of New Forms and finding the most efficient way of celebrating it. That’s what this is about. For me, I haven’t even got my visuals with me tonight, all I’ve got is the music. So the music really has to stand up by itself.”

Salute Magazine caught up with the drum and bass pioneer prior to his performance at Output in Brooklyn, New York, on December 7th, to talk more about the ‘90s rave culture, modern music and the 20th-anniversary deluxe reissue of New Forms.

SALUTE: How does it feel to be playing in New York City?

SIZE: Well I was here at MoMA [PS1 in Long Island City] less than two months ago. That was very exciting. I loved it. I think everyone was expecting me to go and play 100 percent drum and bass, except… I’m booked as this drum and bass DJ, but when you play someplace like MoMA you want to do something a bit different. You want to experiment. And first and foremost, I love music. I love breaks… I love to do the unexpected.

There were some people who loved it and some people who didn’t. New Yorkers are hard. They can be very hard. Especially junglist New Yorkers, they’re like “man you sucked.” I’m like, “no, no I just played what you didn’t like.” It was good. It was a great crowd. 99 percent loved it, 1 percent didn’t like it. I’m sorry. What can I say?

Did you ever expect New Forms and singles like “Brown Paper Bag” would have such an impact on the genre 20 years later?

SIZE: Not at all. Not at all. Not 20 years later. But, for me more than anything else, it was more the fact that when we approached Universal [Music Group] about doing this project, I was going to put out on my own label. And when they realized that they never had anything on Universal, or in the whole wide world, with this kind of music that won a Mercury Music Prize. It’s the only one. They haven’t got anything else. There is nothing else like it on the whole [entire label] of Universal. So when you look at it like that. How big is Universal? And this is the only Drum and Bass dance record that won a Mercury Music Prize. So, yeah, now, I see it. I get it. But it’s taken me 20 years to kind of get it. It’s great. It’s nice to celebrate it.

How was Bristol’s dance culture different than the rave scene at the time?

SIZE: Bristol had its own acid house parties. Bristol probably started with things like Castlemorton and big universe raves, Lechlade [Free Party in 1992], outdoor parties. It’s all the amalgamations of everything, isn’t it? It’s all of it that comes together. You had to be lucky just to be there.

We used to go to a pub, smoke weed, drink beer, and then after the pub, we all get into a van or a car, mainly with [Bristol trip-hop group] Smith and Mighty. And about 12 of us used to jump into this car and go into the countryside and we’d end up standing on the roof of the car to listen to hear where the music was to know where the rave was. Ray Mighty was the expert of doing this. And we’d get to the rave and there would be 2000 people there in some barn. And, back in the day, you had to get the map out and secret locations. Crazy.  

How has the electronic music culture evolved?

SIZE: I think it was more like a dissection. People started to go out and there were parts of the music that were a bit crazy and hectic and people would say, “well I like this part, but I don’t know about that part.” So I’m going to use this part, and I’m not going to use that part. People were picking and choosing the elements of the music that people would like. Like the speeded up breaks, people would like that. The baselines, they’d like that. Some of the hardcore stabs, people liked that stuff.

It was a different amalgamation of what people would take from 6 o’clock in the morning when you hear some crazy acid music, especially people mixing, people are easy and ratty doing mixes, they were mixing reggae into punk and whatever, and you just take what you could from that. Piano melodies, great, that’s what it’s all about.

I know it has been a long time to try and ask you to recall this, but was wondering if you happen to recall how it was that you came to recorded “Destination” with the rock group, Everything But The Girl?

SIZE: That’s easy to remember. We were signed to Talking Loud and every time we used to go into the office to see Gilles Peterson or Paul Martin, they’d always give us secondary records to listen to or records that were coming out on the label, and we’d always leave Mercury, at that time,   with loads of records. We must have got home and had the Everything But The Girl album, and I heard a horse sound and I was like “oh, yeah I’ll have some of that,” and I sampled that. Back then we didn’t care about what we sampled, we just sampled it. We didn’t even think about the consequences. We just sampled it and hoped for the best.

Working with [DJ] Die, we had a couple of little old school breaks, and had this railway track and “Welcome to Harlem” and all that kind of stuff in between, which was a beautiful thing. It was just great to have that. We’ve always had this imaginary affinity with New York, I think before we’d even been to New York, we made that up. It was one of those dreams… You have to use your imagination, don’t you?

Reprazent drew a lot of its influence from modern hip-hop culture. Is that something that still influences your work today?

SIZE: No. Not one inkling. Not one bit. Modern day hip-hop is no longer hip-hop. Not to me anyway. It doesn’t inspire me one bit.

What is your opinion of “Trap” music?

SIZE: I love bass related music. Anything bass related is fine but it’s like, I’m not the biggest fan of simplicity. I like Rubiks Cube man… I like to work things out. I like the challenge of working something out but trap music isn’t really hard to work out, is it? Roll call, bassline, and that’s it. I am not a big fan of simplicity, I like textures and layers and I like edits and loops.

Trap music is for sexy girls, that’s what they say right? And that’s cool. Sexy girls’ music is all good, but my brain needs to be stimulated.

You’ve worked with a lot of amazing people over the years, including Method Man and Zach de la Rocha [of Rage Against The Machine] and you’ve done a number of collaborations. Is there anybody in particular that you would want to work with in the future?

SIZE: Someone like Kaytranada is very interesting. If I was to go down the pop road, someone like Pharrell [Williams].

You last reunited with Reprazent around 2008-2009, and have collaborated with a great many artists. I was just curious if there was any interest in doing a reunion anytime in the future?

SIZE: No. It’s difficult because everyone is so into what they’re doing. This for me is something that I thought about doing for a long time and I am actually doing it. It’s working for me. I’ve had a lot to prove to myself by where I can stand on my own two feet. I can do this and I’m doing it regardless. I’ve always stood behind an emcee or a vocalist or about 10 other people. I need to know I can do this myself and do it just as good.

Be sure to catch Roni Size at one of his upcoming performances and check out the 20th-anniversary reissue of New Formsavailable now on Amazon and Apple Music.

Stream: Roni Size New Forms (20th Anniversary Edition)

Roni Size Tour Dates:

December 13th @ Riot Room (DJ Show) in Kansas City, MO

December 14th @ Project LA / Respect DnB (DJ Show w DYNA) in Los Angeles, CA

December 15th @ Native Social Bar / Torque DnB (DJ Show) in Orlando, FL

December 16th @ Day for Night Festival (Live) in Houston, TX

For tickets and more information, visit ronisize.net.

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