In Dubai to promote a new album, Roni Size says that performing in front of seven or 70,000 people is all the same. The same amount of energy goes into it.
For Size, it's the music that matters
For its size, the south-western UK city of Bristol has had a disproportionately large impact on the global music scene, most famously spawning trip-hop in the early 1990s. It is also the hometown of the drum 'n' bass legend and leader of Reprazent, Roni Size, who was born there in 1969. As a teenager, Size, who was expelled from school at 16, attended many house parties thrown by The Wild Bunch, a group of DJs that included the three founding members of Massive Attack. Size took what these earlier Bristolians had done and made it his own. Darker, faster and melding an interest in hip-hop and a childhood filled with reggae, Size named the first Reprazent album perfectly; it was indeed New Forms, and it inspired a generation of musicians.
After the album won the Mercury Music Award in 1997, Size became the poster boy of the drum 'n' bass scene. In the years since, despite releasing many solo albums, he has never achieved quite the same level of success. But, he said he has no regrets. "I think if you live inside anything for too long, it's not good for you. But I've realised that I do do stuff a little bit different to everyone else and New Forms doesn't really sound like anything else, even now. That's why I think it stands alone. It doesn't sound like new music or old-school music. It kind of sits somewhere in the middle there. I feel like it has stood the test of time."
Despite the dispersal of Reprazent after New Forms, Size never stopped DJing and collaborating with vocalists as varied as Beverly Knight and Method Man. Approaching his 40th birthday, he is still excited and passionate about his music. "You've got to do what excites you and put in as much energy as you can and have a love for what you do, otherwise there's no point," he says. Last year, New Forms was re-released as a deluxe bonus package, and Size's DJ sets started to become more frequent. A little while later, the reformation of Reprazent was announced and suddenly Size and the gang were appearing on festival bills all over the world.
This year Reprazent have hit the Good Vibrations festival in Australia, the Ultra Music festival in Miami and in April they headlined the final night of Coachella in California. "We're just putting the finishing touches to the second Reprazent album. We didn't want to do our own full tour until we put the record out at the end of the year. But it's still exhausting with live shows and DJ sets, going all over the world," he says.
The new album is, Size says, a more mature follow-up to New Forms. "It's very different, in the same vein as drum 'n' bass, but it includes more of our soulful history and our soul roots. There's a lot more musicianship involved, it's a lot more orchestral, there's a lot of movements and it's very vocal based," Size explains. "It is a different set-up now as there are more musicians involved and the ideas are more organic rather than just hooking up instruments to a computer and pressing go.
"I used to be really into computers and technology when it really was something so new. It made a lot of things more accessible. But now everything is starting to sound the same because everyone's coming at music from the same way," Size says. In September, Size and Reprazent will team up with the classical composer William Goodchild in Bristol for a one-off concert in which they will collaborate with a 40-piece orchestra and a gospel choir to perform a brand-new composition as well as tracks from their second album.
"I'm nervous just talking about it," he admits. "It's a massive challenge, but I'm so looking forward to it. I've always wanted to incorporate strings into what we do and do something that sounds more universal and a bit more grand." His gig at Alpha at Le Meridien hotel in Dubai tonight, unfortunately, won't be quite so musician heavy. But his DJ sets, accompanied by his long-term friend and collaborator Dynamite MC, are as popular as they ever were. In August he will play six countries with eight DJ sets, on top of the Reprazent concerts. So how does a globe-trotting musician and artist keep going?
"I've been doing this for 15 years now. I know what I'm about ... I'm set in stone," he chuckles. "And I don't have much of a social life. I still live in Bristol, it's my home and I spend a lot of time cooking in my kitchen." Not quite the image of an underground legend his fans might have had in mind, but Size doesn't care. "We always get a great reception from fans and people that don't really know what we're about. It doesn't matter to me whether we play to seven people or 70,000, we put the same amount of effort into it. I'm looking forward to people getting this new record and coming along and dancing to all the songs and just getting in the middle of it all."
Roni Size plays at Alpha at Le Meridien hotel in Dubai tonight.