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Artist Profiles :: Roni Size

Roni SizeThere are few names in British drum and bass as well known on a worldwide basis as that of Roni Size. Today, he is simply one of the scene’s elite producers, an ambassador who has taken the music to new heights and places.

First and foremost you’ll know him as a producer, whether its for his solo records under a host of pseudonyms, or, more likely, for his work as part of the Reprazent collective. More recently, he’s also attracted attention for his DJ sets, employing a sonic arsenal of his latest dubplates. In fact, he and Bristol cohort DJ Krust, have often been known to write, produce and cut a new tune on the very day that they are playing out, premiering the tune straight off the press - testimony to the sheer enthusiasm the Bristol jungle crew have consistently displayed for their music.

One way or another, the town of Bristol has always been crucial to the history of British dance music. Nellee Hooper (of Soul II Soul fame), Massive Attack, Tricky, Smith & Mighty, Flynn & Flora and Portishead all hail from the Bristol region. And it’s here that Roni was born and bred, growing up under the influence of his brother’s record collection, full of Studio One, soul and rare groove gems. US hip hop was also an inspiration, especially Wildstyle, the Charlie Ahearn film which documented B-Boy culture in all its forms, graffing, breaking, DJing and rapping. By his late teens, Roni had begun building his own sound system in the DIY traditions of Wildstyle, a system which Krust hired for a club night he was putting on. For Krust too, music was his chosen vocation, having grown up on the sounds of 70s soul and funk, as well as US hip hop. In fact, before either became known on the drum and bass scene, Krust had achieved chart success in the UK with childhood friend Suv, as part of the group Fresh Four, whose version of the Rose Royce classic ‘Wishing On A Star’ was a hit in 1990.

By ‘92, Krust and Roni had decided to work together, both hooked on the new sounds of breakbeat hardcore and jungle that were emanating from the London post-acid house club scene. Together the two would head over to the capital to check out the latest clubs, regular journeys which led to a meeting with one of the scene’s most respected pioneers, Bryan Gee. In the meantime the pair, along with Suv, had found yet another kindred spirit in DJ Die after a chance meeting at the Glastonbury Festival (in Underworld’s Experimental Sound Field). Die had already bumped into Roni at Bristol’s Replay Records, both sharing a similar taste for hip hop and hardcore sounds. All together at Glastonbury, the idea of working as a group began to take shape. Together, the four of them would become the core of the Bristol jungle scene and the collective project Reprazent.

Hoping that Bryan Gee could help them bag a record deal for their music, Roni and Krust gave him a tape of the tunes they’d been working on, a tape which instantly grabbed the attention of both Bryan and long-time DJ partner Jumping Jack Frost - another major player on the early jungle scene. But at the time - even given Bryan’s extensive connections in the A&R world of the industry - record companies were prejudiced against any sound connected with the hardcore scene. No matter: so impressed were the duo by the early productions of Roni and Krust, that they decided they would be the first artists to feature on their very own label - V Recordings - today one of drum and bass’s consistently outstanding labels.

What Bryan Gee and Frost had recognised in Roni and Krust was a whole new take on the jungle sound. Similar to the style pioneered by DJs such as Fabio and Bukem - a move away from the darker, edgy hardcore sound with its speeded-up ‘Mickey Mouse’ vocals - this was a new jazz-inflected, rhythmically complex take on drum and bass, best exemplified by ‘Music Box’, the Roni Size and DJ Die collaboration that hailed the beginning of a new era for the music. It’s hard to put into words the effect that ‘Music Box’ had on the jungle scene at the time. Even today, it remains as fresh as ever, with its shuffling rhythms and wrap-around guitar samples. Like LTJ Bukem’s classic ‘Music’ tune, it defied description - it was simply unimaginable, the quality the techno pioneers of Detroit had always defined as the goal at which electronic music producers should always aim.

By ‘93, Roni and Krust were alternating releases between Bryan and Frost’s V label and their own Full Cycle imprint which the pair had set up with Chris Wharton (who had released Roni’s first ever production on his Where’s The Party label), alongside sister label Dope Dragon (the latter being a more dancefloor/hardstep - oriented outlet for the Bristol collective’s work).

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