By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Without any formal education in journalism and no prior print experience, Raymond Roker went from L.A. graffiti artist to publisher of URB, the most respected underground music magazine.
New Times: When you were a graffiti writer, what was it that you used to write? What was your tag?
Raymond Roker: I wrote TECK. I wrote a lot of things, but that was the last name I took from the last year of high school all the way to a couple of years in college, and then I just, you know, couldn't get arrested anymore. I couldn't get in trouble. Once you turn eighteen, it gets a little serious. I wrote from about 1983 all through to like '90 -- pretty much through the heyday of L.A. graffiti. Had a lot of fun.
To most heads URB is the zine at the front of the future music scene. Who, in your estimation, is going to break next?
Unfair question. Our editors are more on point than I am at this point. Our "Next 100" issue covers every subgenre, and usually a couple years down the line a few of those people will be real players. There is a band called Kosheen right now that sounds real good. You never know though; some bands are really poised, and you think they are really going to do something, like Breakbeat Era, and it never quite takes root. A little surprising really. Then you have bands like Groove Armada, and you have Basement Jaxx. Both were in the Next 100 a couple of years ago and have really lived up to that expectation. I think it's less about specific artists. I would say that there are music styles that will continue to be exploited, like the whole 2-step movement. You know music that you can listen to at home is really the next wave. Experimentation. Groups like Air that make mood music. That's what I'd say is going to take off.
What is your take on the super-subclassification of all the genres that occurs in the music industry, from 2-step to jungle to garage to drum and bass to trance?
As a member of the media, and as somebody who is representing the industry that is responsible for all the subgenre classifying of music, I think it's idiotic, quite honestly. The thing that makes it so wrong is that if you are in the know, if you really know music, then the subgenres don't really mean anything. They are not accurate, and you know that. If you are not in the industry, or you are not savvy of the scene, then the genres hold too much meaning for you. They make it worse for you to explore new music. Case in point: trance. Everything they are calling trance nowadays, what is it? It is a mix of hard house. It is techno. It's house without the blackness. It's hard house without the Chicago. But at the same time someone like Timo Maas is playing a much more funky style of trance that really, in my opinion, is just techno. And then you look at someone like Danny Tenaglia, who is playing stuff that borders on hard trance -- but what is that? I think the genres really get you lost. I'd really like to just go back to house. But it's a way to just get the conversation rolling as to what you like or what section of the magazine you want to read. But beyond that putting too much weight on that is just silly. We, as in the human race, like to tribe up. We like to tribe up the music that we are involved in, and that's why we do it.
With his Grammy Award- and British Mercury Prize-winning New Forms (1997), Roni Size has been credited with pushing jungle into the mainstream.
New Times: You've said you don't consider yourself political, yet you've got Zach de la Rocha [former frontman of Rage Against the Machine] on your recent In the Mode with a pretty harsh message for Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York after the Amadou Diallo shooting.
Roni Size: I don't think it's harsh at all. I mean, if he were cussing and saying, "I'll fucking go there and kill you," that would be harsh. But he's saying, "Please, Mayor, may I please say -- [imitates de la Rocha screaming]."
Don't get me wrong. I'll be the first one to say that 41 shots at an unarmed man deserves a few fuck you's.
Right, but you know it was something that happened that now has gotten national -- worldwide -- attention, and that one incident speaks of a larger problem that needs to be addressed.
You seem to work mostly with U.S. artists rather that U.K. artists. I know you've worked with Ben Watt. And Hype Williams.
Nah. You know we've worked with Ben often. But it's the U.S. artists that come banging on my door. Not like BANGING, but you know they approached me. It's not like anybody in France is banging on my door, or anybody in Germany. It's that U.S. artists want to work with me, and I welcome that. You know, once Zach and I met, we instantly knew we could work in the studio. It was obvious to both of us that we both come from an intense place with our music. We have common ground. It was great. I was recently in the studio with him in New York, and we spent three to four hours playing table tennis, just hanging out, having a grand time. The most expensive game of table tennis ever.
What do you make of the fact that New Forms, an album that you've called "a skeleton of an album, a disc whose sound is incomplete," gained critical acclaim while In the Mode, which is a much more well-rounded album, hasn't gotten much press yet, and hasn't been given much play?
You know, winning that [Mercury] award was like the best thing that happened to us. Not for the award, you know, but because before that award nobody gave a shit who I was. All it took was for twelve people in a room to decide to give it that acclaim, and all of a sudden people knew about us. You know, that record still hasn't sold much. I think it sold a humble 700,000, but it's not ever about selling records and selling out shows. It's about making good music.
What's your opinion of all the labels and subclassifications that electronic music is given, whether it's jungle, 2-step, garage, or drum and bass?
I haven't got a problem with labels. Call it whatever you want. That's what people have to do in order to explain it. I've had people tell me they hate jungle. They hate drum and bass. And I'll play them something of ours, and they say, "But I like that." Well, you like jungle. You like drum and bass then.
What do you say to critics who write that drum and bass is dead, that it's time for 2-step? That that's the next hot thing?
Nobody has said that to me. Here we are making jungle and drum and bass. No one can say that any of this music is dying. It's always changing. That's true for music always. It's always been changing and evolving.
MJ Cole fills his CD Sincere with soulful jazz and R&B riffs, while keeping true to the big beat sound. What does he have to say now that 2-step has been crowned the next big thing -- and he's the king?
New Times: When did you start with classical music?
MJ Cole: I started playing the piano when I was about six. I come from a very musical house. My mom and dad play the piano, and my dad is a singer, so there was always music around the house. That was all classical music, and I did a lot of performances and won some awards, so I got into doing competitions and started the oboe when I was ten. I got a lot of music at school and went to the Royal College of Music every Saturday. Really I was a pianist. I don't play the oboe anymore because it is a classical instrument, but my piano skills I use every day in the studio. Anything with black-and-white keys, I'm there.
So at some point you jumped from classical music to doing production work?
I didn't really jump. When I was about thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen, I got into drum and bass and started living a sort of double life. I would study at the Royal College all day, and then I'd be home with my Atari computer and a little sample, starting to make tracks in my bedroom. I was doing both all the time. I didn't really get into the studio until university. When I left the university, I went to work as a tea boy at a label called Sour and basically ran around getting everyone tea and such, earning 20 pounds a week. And they soon found out I had quite a bit of studio skills, so I started engineering some tracks. Ed Rush and Trace, Blim, Freak Nasty -- yeah I worked on a lot of different things. That was a good time for me. I learned a lot just keeping my ears open as an engineer. Discovered the way people worked, and I grew myself. And then I started using the studio at night to record my own tracks. Recorded a couple of drum and bass tracks. I got started doing the garage thing quite by accident. Just one day I had to engineer a few garage tracks, and then it just went from there.
In the United States the marketing geniuses have decided that everything has to have a special name.
The pigeonholing. It doesn't really bother me, because I'm not really a consumer; I'm a creator. I get into making tracks and being creative. The whole categorization happens after I'm done, so it does not affect the way I make music. I am interested in how different people in different parts of the world define this music. In the U.S. it is all dance -- like one huge category where everything else fits. In the U.S. there is pretty much hip-hop, rock, dance, and then country and whatever else.
What about your music?
Well it's my music. But yeah, I guess it is definitely 2-step. I try not to worry about whether it is going to be trance or garage. I'm concerned with making good music.
South Beach sucks. I hate it down here, and the conference just sucks these days in the sense that it has become just a tourist trap. It's just bad. And I've always said that Miami door staff are a bunch of pricks; they're fucking assholes. Last year I was on the guest list for Space to see Danny Tenaglia, I always go see him. And I'm in line, Dimitri from Amsterdam is in front of me, and he is the number one DJ in the world, in line with me for three hours. The way he got out of line and inside was by buying a $700 table. I don't know. The weather is good, but it's so expensive for everyone that is not in the industry.
MJ Cole: "Give us some National Radio!" You know, the radio system is so segmented, I think he should set up a nice national radio station. And I'll come and host the show.
Roni Size: I'd tell him to just, you know, quit. Just step down. He knows that he is not the people's choice. That people don't believe in him. If someone said to me, "You know, Ron, we think that maybe you should bow out; we don't really think you have any business being up onstage," I would respect that. I'd just go home, you know, and chill.
Raymond Roker: Well, the fake question would be, "Dude, why are you such a hater?" The real question would be, "Yo, can you hook me up a meeting with Clinton?"
DJ Storm: "You are a punk."
DJ Sandee: Probably ask him if he wanted to do a line, and then I'd moon him.
DJ Omar Santana: If there are really spaceships flying around, can he get me on one of those things. Get me the fuck out of here!