By Kat Bein
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By Shea Serrano
By Jeff Weinberger
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By Terrence McCoy
It has been more than 11 years since Roni Size and Reprazent released the full-length New Forms. The seminal drum 'n' bass album, which won their native UK's coveted Mercury Prize (awarded to only one album per year), will be re-released stateside next month via Universal. And while the d 'n' b genre has already seen its heyday and been crowded for competition with its dubstepped children, New Forms stands out from the pack now as much as it did then.
But with the dip in the genre's popularity, there were fewer promoters willing to book a large drum 'n' bass band from overseas over a considerably cheaper DJ. So it has been more than seven years since Size and Reprazent have performed in Florida (or anywhere else in America, for that matter). Luckily, Ultra organizers have the resources and knowledge to take a chance on something not so risky.
"Ultra has always been very kind to us, and they invited us to perform this year," Size says over a transcontinental phone line. "We haven't been to America for a while, and we're in the process of putting a new album together, so we feel it's going to be a very exciting live show with elements of hip-hop, reggae, and jazz, and will still be jungle."
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Reprazent numbers eight strong onstage, including the original bassist Si John, vocalist Onallee, and the dashing Dynamite MC. And the band never takes shortcuts, Size is quick to point out. "When we're onstage, one of the reasons we refuse to use a click track or backing track is because of the human element," he explains. "We make mistakes, like all humans, but out of those mistakes will come new ideas for the show. And when you watch the show, you can recognize that it's quite organic."
For the most part, he says, Reprazent's live presentation is much like it was a decade ago. But the group has been road-testing snippets of new material along with the enduring classics "Watching Windows" and "Brown Paper Bag." "I'm definitely more now into orchestras and symphonics," he says, hinting at his current musical direction. "It's always been about the drums, and it's always been about the bass, but it's gotten to the point where I don't know if I can hear another bass line." TAMARA PALMER
Santigold isn't pop. She isn't electro. And she sure as hell isn't hip-hop or R&B, despite what some narrow-minded critics have implied. It's a position she continues to defend, though one listen to her music should allow her to rest her case. Rather her music is a blend of underground sounds, leaning heavily on dub and New Wave, with elements of electronica and what she calls a "psychobilly" groove. The smartest thing would be to avoid classifying it altogether.
"I decided to just switch my focus to just making my music," she says, "with no expectations of what I needed to make or what it needed to sound like — not try to say, 'Can this be played on radio?'" Being true to herself, and refusing to compromise her creativity, has paid off in spades. Santigold is ubiquitous — her music is heard in commercials, she recently opened for Coldplay on a national tour — yet has retained her underground cred.
Her influences are as diverse as one might expect: She cites artists such as Nina Simone, the Smiths, and Devo. And the liner notes of her debut album, Santogold (self-titled using her artistic name at the time, prior to the change to Santigold), feature a diverse showing of producers and collaborators. However, she insists she took measures to maintain some uniformity of vibe in order to avoid putting together a mere compilation of collabos.
"It wasn't the typical 'one producer does this song, which sounds like this; another does that song that sounds like that,'" she says. "I primarily worked with John Hill consistently throughout the entire record. Then I pulled in people like Switch and Diplo to come and work on some songs with John. And I think because we did it like that, it was easier to have it all flow together."
The very clued-in might have caught an early Santigold performance at tiny PS14 before the release of her album. But her performance at Ultra will mark her first large-scale appearance in Miami. "It's like the best DJs and there's so much going on," she says, "and the nice outside vibe, and so that sounds fun!" CHRISTOPHER LOPEZ