Starting out on the road of musical production at the tender age of 16, music producer / DJ (and Mercury Prize winner we’d like to quickly add in there) and proud leader of drum and bass collective, Reprazent, Roni Size is a true pioneer of his kind. He’s been quiet for 15 months but now he’s back with a new album, new tour and a brand new sound.
Interview by Ben Farrin
Is this true your birth name is Ryan Williams? If so where did Roni Size come from? It’s a funny story man. Me and Suv used to hang out together, go clubbing and stuff. We would be looking at girls and he would go “Hey, look at that girl over there” and I would go “Nah, she’s too tall man” and he’d go “What about that girl over there?” and I’d go “Nah, she’s too small man”. Then he’d go “What about her? Yeah that’s Roni’s Size!”
I also read you were expelled from school…Can I ask what for? I’ll tell you the funniest thing ever. I’m working nights at the moment, so I’m in bed and it’s like three o’clock in the afternoon. I just got into bed at about one o’clock. Then the door bell goes, ding dong ding dong! I wake up and run down stairs in my boxer shorts and I answer the door. There’s this guy standing there with grey hair, about 65; He goes “Are you Roni?” and I was like, yeah… He goes “I’m Mr Williams and I think I’m the reason why you got expelled from school.” I’m standing there all dazed and confused like an idiot and I’m like “What the…?” So I invite him in for a cup of tea; He was my ex Science teacher, and he was one of those chiefs who gave me such a hard time at school. He actually went down to the council and tracked me down and came to my doorstep to sit me down and reason with me…How crazy is that! When did this happen? Three or four days ago, that’s crazy ain’t it? Yeah totally! Do you get asked that question a lot in interviews? Well sometimes yeah, but I usually say I got expelled for throwing a chair at a teacher (which isn’t really true but sounds kinda exciting). They just didn’t know how to focus on my energy. There was nothing for me at school. They were like “What do you wanna do?” I was like “Music” but I didn’t wanna play the violin! (even though I wish I could now).
Tell us about the early days of ‘The Basement Project’ where you first learnt about production… It was called Sefton Park Youth Centre and that was my school. They used to ask me what I wanted to do, and I’d be like “Music…Music!” So they bought a drum machine, then they bought a four track, then they employed this lady called Gill Sergeant and turned the basement into a music room. That was when The Basement was born. So we went out scrounging for bits of carpet, bits of old materials and made this room. Back in school they told you what to do, at the Sefton Park Youth Club they would ask you what you wanted to do! Then they would go out and do a raffle and buy decks and a drum machine, a sampler and before you knew it kids were coming down and asking me how to use the equipment. So the next thing you know I became a tutor, and that was my first job. It was a great process for me – I loved it! The Basement is still going now.
Didn’t you donate some of the award money from the Mercury Prize awards to the centre? Yeah all of it! You should have seen the look on everyone’s face when I turned around and said “I’m donating this money to The Basement”.
Would you ever consider running your own music youth group? Na – I’m done with that mate. There’s so many all over the place now and when I started out there was nothing. It’s funny because we used to have a van and we were a travelling music group. We packed all the guitars and everything in it and travelled to these youth groups all over Bristol, I still see some of the kids now. I’ll be walking into Toys R Us and have guys coming up to me going “Oi, Roni, do you remember me? You used to teach me!”
Can you tell us about your latest album New Forms2? And what you’ve been up to for the last 15 months… I’ve been DJing so much in the last few years, and I went to Ibiza every year for Carl Cox. Then one night I kinda thought you know what, what else is left for me to do as a DJ? I had just done a five hour set at Space and I loved it, and after, we went back to Carl’s villa. We always have a good one-on-one and I said to Carl “I’m feeling a bit tired of Drum and Bass, I need a change.” He goes “Roni, just take a step back, take a year or two out, step back from the music and see how you feel and you will get your energy back.” So I made a conscious decision and decided to take a step back and chill, not do anything and listen to Talk Sport and Radio Five every day. Then I got an email from Universal. They went tits up back in 2001, so I was still signed to Universal but kinda got left in the wings. This email came from out of the blue and said “Dear Roni, we’re gonna be putting out New Forms as a Deluxe Edition.” I thought that was cool and they asked me if there was any stuff I wanted to add to it and I was like “Actually, I wouldn’t mind just doing what I originally wanted to do when I first made the album.” So I went back to the archive and put it all on the computer and redone it again. So that is the point that we are at now. I have just re-mastered the whole album without taking too much away from the original.
You’re pleasing both fans aren’t you – The original fans and your new fans to come… Yeah – I was chatting to my friend the other day and I was like “Yeah, I used to love it when I did New Forms back in 1996” and he goes “Roni. I was 11…” The people who will remember and like the original will maybe enjoy listening to the new one. I believe I have made the record I wanted to do today. It sounds like a record that was made today and the tracks have done the test of time. I took some tracks off and put some tracks on, like the Brown Paper Bag vocal version which never made the original album. I hope I have put together a record which is still a great long player. I’ve got it out of my system now- I can sleep at night!
Do you think this album will surpass any previous Drum and Bass sound to date? All I can say is that this represents me. Before, I was playing a lot of music that I liked but I was compromising who I am as a DJ, as an artist. So I had to come back into the lab and science it and make music which represents me so I can stand there and say “This is me; this represents me.” Because some of the music that was coming out didn’t represent me but it’s what the kids wanna hear.
Do you have a favourite re-edited track? ‘Share The Fall’ for me is the one where I reckon I nailed it.
Are you looking forward to getting your new sound out there? I’m very nervous because I don’t want to be playing in a half empty room… I’m sure that won’t be the case! It’s been a long time and I can’t expect to come back into it and have people just turn up. It would be great if they do, I’d love to see all the old faces and it to be the same but it’s not. We’re in 2008 now, it’s different, people have moved on. So if we can entice some of the old faces and some new faces to come out it would be great. But I’m very nervous and excited about it at the same time and can’t wait to hit that bass on the keyboard and shake the building.
Do you have a favourite place to play? Yeah Bristol man. My mum can come, my kids can come, my granny can come, y’know, everyone can come.
Is there anybody new on the scene that you have your eyes on? To be honest I’ve taken such a step back from the Drum and Bass scene that I don’t know. It’s quite fickle; it’s quite hard work now because it’s all online and I never really go online. It’s about opinions, and people being quite critical. I come from the days of Music House so I don’t really know much about the scene anymore. I know a little bit about it in Bristol but maybe now I’m a spectator. I’m a contributor too but I’m not at the forefront anymore. So I’m going to have to claw myself in at some point. I couldn’t tell you what happens on forums and that’s where Drum and Bass really lives. So, no is your answer!
Do you have a favourite memory from the whole of your professional career, be it playing live, at the Mercury awards or having the opportunity to remix for some of the world’s biggest artists? All my memories are from being around people like Krust, Die, Suv, Onallee and Dynamite MC and being on the road. Being on the bus, coming back after a good gig in Switzerland, France or America. All my great memories are about the people that I share them with. Those are the memories that I will always carry with me.
How do the fans react in the different countries you have toured? Japan is a bit different, they all cheer at the same time. They are very quiet though, you can stop and you wouldn’t hear a thing. Brazil is just the sexiest crowd in the world; you find it hard to play your instrument because the crowd is so sexy. LA is great because you look into the crowd and you see Mexicans, Blacks, Whites, Spanish, Latinos, Jews…there’s just every walk of life in LA.
You have achieved so much in your professional career and as Dynamite MC says in your track ‘Dirty Beats’ “you can’t expect to reach the top without a little climbing”. On the back of this do you believe anyone can achieve their goals if they put their mind to it? You always have to have that belief; you’ve got to believe in yourself, you can’t expect someone to have that belief for you. I’ll be honest with you; I’ve not been this excited for a while. Taking the time out for me has made me realise how much I want to do this, I just wanna get back out there and roll with the beats man.
How do you relax? I find it easy to relax. I listen to Talk Sport and it makes me feel good about myself. I’m like “You guys are just having a laugh.” I’ve got great people around me who help me relax, I have children and they help me relax. I’m very lucky that I still live in Bristol and Bristol is a very relaxing place. I can kick back and don’t get caught up in any hoo-ha. I go to the gym too, I went there this morning. I need to join! I tell you what, once you get into that routine it’s great. I talk to all the old ladies down there. You get ‘nuff old people down the gym y’know. Some of those ladies are like 60 years old but they got some big ol’ muscles you know. If they punch you you’re gonna feel it!
Marmite…Love it or hate it? I don’t love it or hate it…Time and place. But I have a friend who loves it and she’s got a T-Shirt and with a jar of Marmite on it and she reckons it’s gonna be worth money in time to come….