Roni Size Reprazent @ The Custard Factory, Birmingham – 24th May 2008


I’ll be honest, I’m only a casual drum n bass fan, with a sketchy idea of the major players in the genre, not a paid up member of the junglist massive, so I’m going to approach this review with the mindset of a casual fan who’s done a smidgen of research beforehand. I will assume that my readers are similar to me. Hopefully it will serve as a bit of an introduction to what more clued up drum n bass heads regard as one of the true pioneers of the genre. I think this might be helpful as it means im not going to simply gush with praise for one of my heroes and can give a balanced appraisal. Anyway, enough of the essay…


Arriving at the ever characterful Custard Factory complex for the Eclectricity May Bank Holiday Festival and a night of live drum n bass, I expected Roni Size and his merry men to be playing at the Warehouse. However we were told instead that the night was going to be centred around the Lakeside Marquee area. While this might suggest slower ticket sales than were first expected, it definitely made for a great atmosphere with the crowd rammed into the cozier space.


There was an air of massive anticipation as the band took to the stage. I heard one chap behind me enthusing about how he’d waited four years to see this gig. The atmosphere was pretty amazing from the start. The concept of dance acts performing ‘live’ with a full band seems to be quite popular at the moment, with Pendulum and other acts having done a similar thing recently. However where Pendulum seem a bit of a perfunctory mix of dance and rock in a bid to grab fans from both camps, Roni Size and his Reprazent collective have been doing it for years and come on like the real deal. Unlike most drum n bass music which doesn’t seem to translate to live performance very well, Reprazent were really one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. The key is the more organic, nuanced style that the band play, with elements of funk, soul, hip hop and house all mashed up together. It’s a million miles away from some dumb, generic drum n bass that neanderthal idiots in burberry might smack their heads against their bedroom walls to.


It’s obviously all about the drums and the bass, and lo and behold the crowd can physically see that, here are the drums and there is the bass. The propulsive jungle beats are pulled off with style by Reprazent’s fantastic live drummer and bassist Si John alternates between upright double bass and conventional electric bass guitar to lay down the frankly wicked sub bass lines. Soulful keys and Roni Size’s skilful programming and theremin use finish off the package.

Having said I know very little about drum n bass, I did manage to recognise two of the tracks played, which says something about the massive profile of Roni Size/Reprazent and the impact they’ve had on the music scene as a whole. I doubt I could do the same with any other drum n bass artist. ‘Brown Paper Bag’ is a really great, dark and discordant slice of teetering grooves and clashing moods. Live guitar provides the clean, jazzy breaks in the aforementioned track and surfaces again to add crunch and dirt to the riffs in ‘Dirty Beats’.


The live shows this year are to promote the recently remixed version of the collective’s classic 1997 album, ‘New Forms’. Thus the hour long performance sees the band powering through a mix of junglist classics from this and other early albums, mixed up with a few new tracks. Unfortunately the crowd did actually thin out a little bit towards the end and you could feel the energy levels drop a touch, as well as the icy wind which heralds the start of a British ‘flaming June’. This was a shame. I considered striking up a conversation with Reprazent’s lead vocalist, Dynamite MC, who I spot chilling after the show, based solely on the fact that we are both from Gloucester. However, I give this up, judging myself too drunk to keep a coherent conversation going.

On the strength of this gig I would definitely like to dig into the RoniSize/Reprazent back catalogue and explore more original, dark and creative drum n bass artists. Hopefully you will too. If you’re interested, RoniSize/Reprazent are playing at Glastonbury on Saturday 28th June and the delightfully named ‘Zoo Thousand and Eight’ Festival at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park on Saturday 5th July.


Review – Adam Moffatt
Photos – Tom Horton

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