Born in Bristol to a family of Caribbean immigrants, Roni Size was surrounded by as many different types of music as he cared to seek out.
Grabbing his first turntables at an early age, Roni threw himself into club culture. Absorbing funk, soul, reggae and more, it was ultimately hip-hop which really struck a chord with the nascent producer.
“I was always a massive hip-hop fan, so I used to love people like Eric B & Rakim, I loved KRS-One,” he says. “There were lots of hip-hop albums that came out, so to do just five is almost criminal in itself, because back in the day we bought any album we could that had new music on it!”
With his live collective Reprazent making their stunning return to the stage, and Size releasing new solo album ‘Take Kontrol’, Clash decided to sit down with the Mercury Prize-winning drum ‘n’ bass legend to talk about the albums that comprise his Foundations.
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‘Brown Paper Bag’, from the Mercury Prize-winning ‘New Forms’ (1997)
‘Power’, from ‘Take Kontrol’ (2014)
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Michael Jackson – ‘Off The Wall’ (1979)
“The first album that I ever owned myself, and I played it every single day because he was the only black artist at the time. It was basically the first album that I could buy – it was a time when there wasn’t a lot of black music around, and I played it over and over again. I was too young to go out, so while my brothers and my sister were able to go out to all the clubs, I could only imagine what it was like going out. So that was like the album for me, man. It was when Michael was still Michael.
“I actually mimicked it, in one of my sleeves. I did the same kind of sleeve as ‘Off The Wall’, where I’m up against a red brick wall. I did it ages ago. It was ‘Out Of Breath’, I think. The sleeve was just me against a wall, I think, but with the same grainy texture, which I really liked.”
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Chic – ‘C’est Chic’ (1978)
“My second one is keeping it pretty close to home, on the same kind of vibe – it’s a Chic album. Now, every track on this album is fantastic. The first time I heard orchestras and symphonies, together with the funk and vocals, that big sound of tape and reel to reel – just such a great sounding era. Love that era.
“I just like what they did back then. I like the sweat in the room, I like the sound of the tape, and I like the fact that they didn’t even know what they were doing. The sound that they created – if they tried to create it now, they wouldn’t really know where to start. That whole vibe back then, it was like how it is now: they were pushing for a new sound. Pushing for something original, something which sounded new, and that’s the beginning of disco.”
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StreetSounds compilation series (1982 to present)
“Now, my third album is not really an album. It’s more like a compilation of albums, and it’s ‘StreetSounds’. I collected every single one – that was my education. I loved it to bits. My craft as a DJ, I learned everything from these records. I can still smell the wrapper on the vinyl now, that’s how much I love these records. They were great to have an education with, because they were compiled from all the up-and-coming artists, which I really, really loved.
“I remember I watched Wild Style, saw Grandmaster Flash cutting up in the kitchen and said: I want to do that. I got my turntables, brought them into the kitchen and my mum said, ‘Get out! What you doing with those in here? Take those back upstairs!’ It was perfect. All I ever wanted to do as a kid was just cut up breaks in my mum’s kitchen.”
D Train, ‘Music’, from ‘StreetSounds 4’ (1983, pictured)
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4hero – ‘Two Pages’ (1998)
“I loved what 4hero did with that record: with the orchestration, with the live drums, using those sounds but still sounding like 4hero; that vintage-reinforced sound but just done with an added maturity, an added edge. What Gus (Lawrence) and those guys were doing, for me, was so ahead of the curve. It was fantastic. I loved that album, and it came out at a time when my album (the Mercury Prize-winning ‘New Forms’) had just come out on Talkin’ Loud, too. I’m very grateful to have been a part of that history – and fair play to Talkin’ Loud and Gilles Peterson for having such a great record on their label.
“I was very fortunate. I mean, I’ve always been inspired by 4hero. Always. I’ve always loved what they’ve done and I just wish they were a prominent sound in drum ‘n’ bass today like how they were in the 1990s.”
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Stone Love sound clash tapes (1990s to date)
“I’m so influenced by my reggae, and I love my bashment. I want to throw in an artist album but there’s not very many. So I would just say, rather than talk about an album – which is kind of close – I love my sound tapes, I love my bashment tapes. To me, they were like any album.
“It makes me move, it makes my body move and I like that. The sound that I’m thinking of is Stone Love. To me, they are probably still the number one sound system in the world, and they had a great palette of artists who would shine on their sound systems.”
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As told to Robin Murray
‘Take Kontrol’ is out now. Roni Size/Reprazent online. See them live as follows:
6th – Village Underground, London
6th – Motion, Bristol