Roni Size didn’t invent electronic dance music (EDM), but the British DJ and producer surely can be considered one of dance music’s early innovators.
As the leader of the drum-and-bass collective Reprazent, Mr. Size helped shape the sound of the 1990s dance scene. His album “New Forms” (which turns 20 this year) has long been considered an innovation of beat and sound.
To mark the album’s two decades, Roni Size is hitting the road for a series of live shows, including a stop at U Street Music Hall on Friday. In advance of that, I caught up with him to discuss all things dance music, then and now, and the one CD people would be shocked to know he loves.
Question: Do you consider yourself a founding father of the EDM movement?
Answer: No. Absolutely not. EDM is a term which I find difficult to associate with the music that I’ve come from. But I do find myself as someone who has contributed to electronic dance music, so definitely a contributor, but not necessarily a founder.
Q: Do you get the respect you deserve from the current crop of artists making dance music?
A: That’s a difficult one because opinions are spread quite throughout the community in different areas, and I don’t tend to spend too much time looking at the areas — but, I think it’s 50-50. I don’t think people appreciate the amount of work that we had to go through back in the day compared to now, where it’s a lot more accessible.
Q: You’re always referred to as a DJ/producer. Which title do you prefer?
A: Producer. I’m not a DJ, or else my name would be DJ Roni Size. I just DJ for fun because I like it, and I was tired of hearing other people playing my music badly — so I thought, “Well just let me show you how I want to hear my music being played.”
Q: What do you think of the recent mainstream explosion of dance music?
A: I always knew it was going to become the new rock and roll, it’s the only music which commands those amounts of thousands of people, and I just always knew it was going to be as big as it has been. It’s funny because the creators who started it never, ever reaped the rewards of the enormity. I haven’t played the main stadium at any festival since 1997, so it’s also kind of weird.
Q: Has technology made making music easier for you?
A: Not for me, but for everyone else it has.
Q: Tell me about the early days. How did the drum-and-bass sound come about?
A: Jungle and acid and reggae and salsa stems, and hip-hop — all of these influences were basically responsible for giving you a pallet to be able to try and find this identity for the UK. The sound came around from like-minded people just feeding off each other and just putting these different identities together. People were struggling, they wanted to find their own identity in the UK, they were tired of making hip-hop because that was American, tired of making reggae. I really think that’s how it came about.
Q: Why do you think “New Forms” was such a revelation when it came out?
A: Because it won an award which people didn’t really know about, which everyone knows about now. It went under the radar for the first few months. Nobody even gave a damn — but it won an award which the equivalent to a Grammy here in the UK. It then exploded. I think people didn’t just get to hear the music, they got to see the people behind it as well and they were like, “Who are these guys? They’re gangster!” It was also quite a visual thing.
Q: What did you rediscover listening to it again after 20 years?
A: I’ve rediscovered the love people have for the album, touring and seeing how much it still means to them after 20 years.
Q: What is the one CD/LP in your collection you treasure the most and what is the one that would surprise people that Roni Size owns it?
A: Arctic Monkeys, that first record might surprise some people — but I love it, it’s different and it’s funky. As far as what I treasure the most? Nat King Cole’s box set.
Q: Do you have any favorite new EDM producers/DJs?
A: Jarreau Vandal is one of my favorites, and Snakehips. Anderson Paak, I think he’s a really great producer, I like his sound. Stuff like Skrillex, which is tried-and-true, and those people are still around today doing it.
Q: What can people expect when they come see you live in D.C.?
A: They can expect to see a solo live performance and great energy.
Q: How will you spend your downtime in D.C.?
A: Sleeping, I need to rest so I can do my shows the way I do them.
Q: Besides equipment what is the one thing you need on the road to stay sane?
A: A book, I definitely need a really good book on the road, that’s very important to me.
Q: Are you working on any new music?
A: Definitely. I’m always working on new music and I’ll be working more heavily on some new music in March.