Of all the musical hyperboles, seminal is one characteristic thrown about at an alarmingly high frequency. A seminal record doesn’t have to be a polished body of work from start to finish, as the criteria of many critics would often demand. Influence and stature within a particular scene in many ways outweigh a perfect recording or a meticulous final master. Therefore when & Reprazent’s 1997 album New Forms is called into question, placing the record upon the seminal pedestal will rightly be faced by little to no opposition.
Lauded for playing a key role in drawing new listeners over to drum & bass, the 1997 Mercury Prize winner brought an emotively charged human touch to the genre through a stirring combination of live vocals, drumming and adept sampling, in turn launching the career of now Bristolian legend Roni Size.
To celebrate 20 years since the record’s initial release, Roni will be playing a number of live hardware shows throughout the year. Ahead of the spate of shows we jumped at the chance to speak to Roni about all things New Forms.
2017 marks 20 years since the release of your seminal album New Forms. In spite of the milestone birthday, to many the record still sounds futuristic in the way it graciously blends elements of drum & bass with jazz. Can you give us insight to what the record means to you?
New Forms has been a marriage to be honest. It always seems to come up in conversation wherever I go. Even when I travel all over the world people are still coming up to me and mentioning that New Forms was the record that got them into drum & bass. At times the album has been more of a rocky marriage due to the many human elements that have made up Reprazent over the years, but here we are 20 years later still talking about 1997's Mercury Prize winner.
What factors played a part in the decision to commemorate the release with a brand new live hardware show?
In 2015 we toured the band quite a lot. This was to try and draw in new fans while also giving something back to the fans that have been there from the beginning. However, it's a double edged sword playing with the live band; the older generation can sometimes feel the music isn't as good as it used to be, and the newer generation think the live show sounds a little old compared to current drum & bass. So I decided to take myself away from that and go out alone with a brand new concept - something completely different from what Reprazent was about, something different from 1997, or even 2015 for that matter.
The new show is more of an experience. It's also versatile in the sense I can take it on the road very simply - no drummer, no vocalist, just a celebration of a seminal album.
By opting to tour without Reprazent, did you feel it was necessary to tell the story of New Forms from a different angle?
The logistics of touring Reprazent is such a phenomenal task. I made the decision that I wanted to commemorate the anniversary, but to do it with the whole band would have been financially and logistically impossible without the backing of major record company. By incorporating the new hardware show I wouldn't just be doing the record justice, I could bring something new and innovative to the performance. In terms of telling another story I feel the music still has longevity, life and legs.
After my first few shows with the new concept there were a few chin scratchers standing around hoping to see something similar to Reprazent, but that's not what it's about. It's about celebrating the record, from first track to the last. When the new Reprazent record comes out in a year or so we'll bring back the live show. For now it's all about New Forms, and touring on my own is the only way that it can logistically work.
Do you think the sound of New Forms is ingrained in 1997?
For sure. Before we all earned a bit of money we were using Roland S 330 samplers or S 550 samplers which each had around 14 seconds of recording time. So a lot of the time the end of a tune was dictated by actually running out of sample time, rather than now where we have technology that allows you to keep recording and processing. The beauty of 1997 was that you got to a point with a track and then you stopped, and what you had at the end was going to be the track. That was the romance of New Forms; it is what it is - none of this take 97 mix with take 101 style of recording.
Moving away from live instrumentation to hardware, can you still connect with the music on the same emotional level without a band surrounding you on stage?
It's difficult to replicate the human element. You can't reach out and touch somebody - it's a completely different experience on the whole. If we had come back with the band for the anniversary people would have felt we were doing the same thing again, so developing a new live show that incorporates visuals and a completely different stage presence enables it to stand out on its own.
2016 roughly marked 25 years since drum and bass emerged from the underground and began to turn heads on a wider scale. What are your thoughts on how the genre has developed in that quarter century?
Drum & Bass will never die, despite what everyone says. People have been saying drum & bass and jungle is dead for years, but it doesn't wash. The genre will always mutate and become something else, as has been doing so for the past 25 years. Kids in school can listen to drum & bass and then experience it on a whole other level when they're able to go to the clubs. This is a key process in helping the genre change and develop on a recurring four-year cycle.
Given how D&B is critically received at current, do you think there is Is there still potential for a Drum & Bass artist to follow in your steps and pick up the Mercury Prize?
No, I want to be the only one! No, of course there is, most notably Goldie who is just about to put his new album out - he's been a legend and pioneer of the scene for years so he more than deserves it. Other than that I can't really speak on behalf of what else is out there. Looking back at when we won the prize, it was a shock more than anything as we weren't clued up on what the Mercury was. We just grabbed the bull by the horns and run with it and enjoyed every minute. You know I've never won anything aside from the Mercury - actually maybe a couple of quid on a scratch card, but that can just about buy you a bag of chips.
Moving on to your home of Bristol, where you’ll be playing Saturday for Hospitality. Multiculturalism is one factor in the city’s thriving scene. Having been brought up by Jamaican parents, how important is it that Britain continues to project an open attitude to cultures and differing ways of life?
Well we seem to be going through more of a rough patch in the UK at the moment, but it's important that we remain open to culture. It's got to a point now where people have realised welcoming in Jamaicans along with their reggae music, soundsystems and wacky backy wasn't such a bad thing after all! Bristol in itself is a cool place with a real multicultural outlook on music and food, so it's a great place to be.