Mark Dale caught up with drum n' bass legend Roni Size to ask him about all various the projects he has on the go, his Full Cycle label and of course, Bristol.
Date published: 1st Apr 2016
Roni Size is about as Bristol as it gets. Well, alright, his real name sounds very Welsh, but his accent is Brizzle through and through. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Roni wasn't the best at school. Instead he crafted his own education; the soundsystems of Bristol, specifically the Massive Attack spawning Wild Bunch plus his brother's Studio One reggae collection.
A home studio enabled experimentations in dub, hip hop and breakbeat musics and by 1993 these efforts had matured to the point where he co-founded two record labels, Full Cycle and Dope Dragon, on which he could release his own music plus that of collaborators and friends including co-founders DJ Krust, DJ Die and SUV. The two labels are amongst the most revered imprints to have ever released drum n' bass music.
Roni went on to record for V Recordings and in 1997 released music by a new band project he'd been working on called Reprazent. The group uniquely infused jazz (and later hip hop) elements into the drum n bass sound, most prominently with the use of double bass and live drums. Their album New Forms won the Mercury Music Prize that year and its lead single 'Brown Paper Bag' is probably the most widely recognized drum n' bass track ever made.
Reprazent established themselves as firm favourites on the festival circuit and released their second album in 2000 before going on hiatus as Roni concentrated on other projects.
His other work has included the Breakbeat Era group (with DJ Die) and a solo album for V Recordings, but Reprazent re-emerged in 2008 with a re-released version of New Forms and have since undertaken live appearances, including at Bristol's Colston Hall with a live orchestra, where they have aired new material from a forthcoming album.
Roni founded his own record label Mansion Sounds, which released a live recording of this Reprazent performance and will release a new Reprazent album in 2016 or 2017.
For the moment though, the big news in the world of Roni Size is the reignition of his partnership with DJ Krust and the accompanying reactivation of their Full Cycle label. The pair are undertaking touring dates, have just revisited Colston Hall and are placing their entire Full Cycle catalogue online in the digital format accompanied by new remixes and eventually some brand new music.
Hi Roni! How you doin, man? How was your recent gig for the BBC at Colston Hall in Bristol?
Oh, man, it was absolutely amazing. To be involved in anything to do with the BBC is fantastic. Playing with DJ Krust after such a long time is also amazing. The environment was impeccable and we had a great crowd, the Bristol people really came out to support us, man, so it was great. Loved that to the max!
Why do you think Bristol above any other city in the UK really went down that route of breakbeat music?
Well, all I can talk about really is my own experience. London has Notting Hill carnival, Bristol's got St Paul's carnival, it has soundsystems and it has a very small community where we all influence each other strongly. It's such a small scene here. In other places, maybe like London, you have six degrees of separation. In Bristol it's three. We're all very close.
Why is now the right time to bring back Full Cycle?
Krust and myself have been on our journeys. When we got to a certain part of our careers we weren't really sure of where the label was going and everyone was trying to build their own individual presence in electronic music.
Me and Krust have now travelled the world and in that time we've actually learned a lot more about what Full Cycle represents, so now was a great time to come back and look again at our back catalogue and get that music to our loyal supporters.
A lot of them have been with us for so many years and have kept the name alive, talking online about us for years. We've got a lot of new music we want to broadcast as well.
Have you seen much of Krust in the time the label has been away?
Of course. We kept in touch regularly with everyone who was involved in Full Cycle. All the time. V Recordings as well, Bryan Gee and Jack Frost. The way that the music has been changing we always try to keep in touch with the whole scene, keeping our ears to the ground. We're still DJs, after all. We still play every weekend, all over Europe and the UK. We're still in the studio making fresh beats as well.
You toured last year with the band, so where does this concentration on Full Cycle leave Reprazent?
With Reprazent it's more about making sure the album we're progressing to is complete. We need to make sure the record that we put out is right. When we toured last year we played a lot of the new tracks, road testing them. We could hear what needs to be done, what's going to get the crowd reaction. We all want it to be right, this next Reprazent album's got to be correct. But the two things can work side by side.
Have you got a time frame for the next Reprazent album coming out?
Yeah, hopefully it should be the back end of summer, August or September. We've got a great template of what it should sound like, it will be great. We've got Onallee, Dynamite MC, Si John's still there, live drums, live bass, it's going to be a very classic Reprazent-sounding album.
Will the full back catalogue of Full Cycle be made available digitally?
Absolutely. We are in negotiations right now just making sure all the tracks from Full Cycle and some unreleased stuff from the original era are going to come out. We're compiling it now and it's a daunting task because we've got so much stuff archived on DATs or on computer. We're literally working night and day. It's a relentless task. Alongside doing interviews. I wish there was another ten hours in the day.
On the first release you've brought some of that classic music up to date by offering producers from a younger generation opportunity to remix it. Who have you got lined up to remix some of the future releases?
You know what? Full Cycle has got so much support it's unbelievable. From so many people in the scene. I don't want to give too much away, but literally everyone we've offered remixes to from the things that are in the archive, they've all been keen to get involved. We've got people like Om Unit, a lot of the Bristol crew, DLR whose done a remix of Formulate, which I can't wait for people to hear.
Will there be any vinyl reissues?
Ooooh... you're going to have to ask management about that! I hope so. Eventually, I'd like to think. But at the moment we're going to concentrate on getting the back catalogue and the new releases onto a digital format.
Will you be reactivating the sublabel Dope Dragon and releasing that material digitally also?
Of course! You can't have Full Cycle without Dope Dragon, but there has to be a story. It's all going to happen, but it's not going to happen overnight.
Who will be the artists that produce wholly new music for the label?
Obviously myself, but we have a lot of new artists who have put their tunes on the table and we've been going through them, seeing which work for us. Once we establish release dates and what's going to happen for the rest of the year we can tell people more about who exactly is going to be on the schedule and when.
You seem to be a guy who likes working. So, why did you take a break from your musical career and what did you do in that time?
You know what? I do work so hard. Last night I was in the studio until 6am this morning, even though I knew I had to be up at midday to start these interviews. The thing was we were working so hard and it was great work too. I was in there with a vocalist called Cobra. I do love what I do, but also I work hard.
When I took that break? Well, I've got a family, I've got children and I think sometimes you have to prioritise what you're going to do with them. If you miss out on your children's lives you can never go back, you can never make up for it. Sometimes you've got to take some time out and focus on things that are more important than music. I do love the music. You know that. But sometimes family comes first.
When you started Full Cycle there were four of you at the core. Will DJ Die be involved at all in tours or new music on Full Cycle?
You'd have to ask Die yourself what he's doing. I think he's got his own stuff going on with Gutterfunk and Clear Skies. We've spoken to everyone that's involved in Full Cycle about what it is we're trying to do and the door's open to them all.
The immediate focus though is on making sure the back catalogue is released, that the unreleased stuff finally gets out there and that the new artists get some attention.
With all this activity, where does that leave your own Mansion Sounds label and Krust's Rebel Instinct?
Well, again, you'd have to ask Krust about where he's up to with Rebel Instinct, but Mansion Sounds is going to release the next Reprazent album.
We just released the live Reprazent album which was done at Colston Hall with William Goodchild. That was such a great project to do, with the live orchestra. Now, we have so many avenues, things like V Recordings and Philly Blunt, we have a lot of places to put out good music.
You're going to be playing at the Loves Saves The Day festival in Bristol in the summer. How different is a home town outdoor show to one you might play elsewhere?
Well, we're fortunate enough to have done enough shows this year and last year in Bristol. Colston Hall, we did Love Saves The Day last year, we've done so many and it's great.
There's no better feeling than playing in front of your home crowd, looking into the crowd and seeing your mum, your friends, all the people who have supported you for years. It's very daunting, seeing the whites of their eyes. But many of them are the reason you want to keep on doing what you're doing, day in, day out.
I couldn't help but notice on your address, your real name. That's one hell of a Welsh sounding name Roni! Which side of the family's Welsh or are you all?
Ahahahahaha. Yeah, that's my real name. If I'd have been born five minutes down the road you would've been calling Newport today. You can ask me about the family next time, brother, OK?