So Solid Crew are explicitly bound up in a time, a place, and a culture. Springing from London’s labyrinthine network of pirate radio stations at the turn of the Millennium, the crew represented the best of the best: the finest producers, MCs, singers and promoters.
Notching up a quick-fire smash hit with ’21 Seconds’ the collective swiftly became one of the most debated, controversial groups in British pop history. Securing fiscal autonomy, So Solid Crew took on the music industry and won, securing dialogue between the charts and the streets whilst arguably paving the way for current powerhouses such as PMR and Black Butter.
Well, they’re back. A recording session last summer saw Megaman call up his crew, resurrecting the So Solid brand. “At the beginning of 2012 I recorded a track with Skepta, and for a while I’d been thinking about what to do with the brand… he kind of just opened up my mind. We needed to get into the studio, to make some music” he explains. "‘UK Hot Wid It’ followed, finding the collective returning to that core sound of UK garage meets West Coast glamour. “We felt that if we were going to do anything with it then we should put more members on it because it only featured me and Swiss. Swiss was on the hook, so we got Lisa Mafia to feature on the hook”.
The track takes pride of place on a new ‘Best Of’ compilation, one that matches those hit singles against underground cuts. “The ‘Best Of’ cut was just us saying: you know what? I think we need to give the public a sort of farewell and a thank you for everything. Leave them with something which has all of the hits on it as well as some new music.”
Asked to take part in a one off show at Indigo2, the return of So Solid Crew seemed to neatly parallel the ambition and bravado of their first incarnation. Yet the group are aware that there is an undercurrent here, of a new generation returning to the 2-step swing which bore them. “Two years ago we saw that there was a lot of demand in the club scene for garage music again - that sort of sound in dance music. There was a lot of grime and hip-hop artists worldwide who were looking to that dance music. We’ve had discussions with a lot of top DJs, I’ve had discussions with Spoony and a few other people and it just seems like a time on the club scene when people just want to have that feel good music again.”
However for Megaman, it’s important to state that despite its international popularity garage remains – for him – a defiantly UK sound. “With us, releasing that first track was saying that everybody loves that UK feel, that European dance festival type of feel. We’ve never tried to go to the US and break in the US, never tried to collaborate with US artists to hit the charts. We’ve always stayed UK and British. We felt like that’s the type of tune which was ideal to present us. Sometimes when you go see a change in the festival scene, in the underground scene it doesn’t always transcend into the UK or the charts or radio. You don’t get us pioneers doing something different, going against the grain. It’s a harder task to prove that this is where everybody should be going. Time will tell, time will tell.”
First appearing amidst a flurry of mixtapes and a hugely popular Sunday afternoon session on the pirate scene, So Solid Crew ignited the fires of a new generation. Those ice cold flips helped to inspire grime, while dubstep producers such as Benga recall fondly falling in love with those early cuts. “The way we’ve looked at ourselves over a period of time maybe it was a little bit more motivated to push a culture, not just as music but the culture that we grew with and we inspired a lot of people to see that there was this other door” insists Megaman. “Regardless of what music you do. If you don’t pass your grades in school or get a job, you can actually try to be somebody whether it’s a model, a video director – all these avenues are now open. So many new genres have opened up and a whole load of new companies: from radio stations to TV stations that are now capitalizing on the underground market and the internet. I feel yeah, we’re one of those iconic figures in the UK. We definitely encouraged that.”
Yet Megaman does have some regrets. Thrust into the glare of the public gaze, So Solid Crew gained – perhaps unjustly, in retrospect – a reputation for being tied to violence, to gang culture. “I mean, when we look back on all the mistakes that we made in our lives, there are a lot of things that we would do differently. I wouldn’t say that we would change the amount of people we came into the business with, or would have done it with less of a crew, or spoke different lyrics. I don’t know if I would have done that but the things we’ve done in our lives because those were the things that were around us during our careers. There’s a stage from separating our community lifestyle to your career lifestyle, you know what I mean? And I don’t think we actually managed it that well. So I definitely would have changed that.”
Still maintaining the brand, Megaman is steering the current line up of So Solid Crew through a mobbed UK tour, while the ‘Best Of’ comes accompanied with breaking material. Working on their fashion line, the collective are marked by a rare independence – a desire to seize both creative and financial control. “The plan is to keep So Solid together but more enter the creative side of the business and keep other careers moving. I know solo artists, each individual has different skills. Some are producers, some are songwriters, some are actors and they’re going to continue doing that and those producers, DJs will now have the power of the brand in their hands, to continue producing music and just getting people to feature on it even if it’s just solo members of So Solid. As a collective, another So Solid album... I doubt that very much. We have some other things to do next year which I feel will add some missing pieces to the puzzle, until I decide to surface then I’ll let you guys know.”
Words: Robin Murray
So Solid Crew are set to play the following shows:
13 Manchester The Ritz
14 London The IndigO2
16 Sheffield The Plug
18 Norwich Waterfront
19 Birmingham The Institute (The Library)
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