Tuesday, July 12, 2011
They call him Roska
In late May I spoke to Roska in order to put together the sleeve notes for his Rinse mix CD. This is the transcript. Unlike other DJs I've dealt with, Roska is unfazed by speaking frankly. The result is an insight into the workings of the UK funky scene from one of its most successful artists.
Blackdown: Hey Roska, so where are you?
Roska: Hotel business mate, in Switzerland. DJing in about three hours time. I’m in Bern, that’s the city, literally just round the corner, a basement sort of thing, 400 people. But i don’t remember the name of the club, I’m shit at these things.
B: Too many clubs, too many cities!
R: Pretty much, yeah man.
B: So let’s start with the Rinse CD. How did you approach it?
R: I got asked the end of last year, and I was just working out the tracklist from then. I submitted the tracklist and sourced all the tracks about two months ago. From there on I was working out what I wanted to do. The same way I approached my Essential Mix it was like just getting the tracks that I play out and that I enjoy and that people have heard me play out. It’s not for the “headz that know,” its for the headz that may have heard of me, the headz have heard me out once and here’s a recap.
B: Yeah it’s a tricky one, Jackmaster was talking about it around his Fabric CD, saying how hard it was to play “upfront” when it’s going to take months for it to come out.
R: That’s what I didn’t want to do. I do like exclusivity but in this day and age everything moves so quickly it’s like, what’s the point? You might as well just do things that are current for the time.
B: And maybe then you play the tracks you feel most strongly about, regardless of when they were made or released.
R: I was looking to see if I could take it exclusive and if I did, all that’s going to happen is it’s going to be a shopping cart for the DJ who doesn’t have those tunes. Because that’s how it works: every mix CD thats up on the ‘net, the majority of time people in the scene don’t even listen to it, they just flick through, find the tunes that are good, get the track name and then go out and source it.
I didn’t want that to be the case for my mix CD. It would just be another mix CD, I could just do that and upload it to XLR8R tomorrow. I just wanted to take it and give it that crossover feel. It’s the commercial stuff on there like Katy B and “I Need Air.” So it’s a little bit in between, rather than just being an underground CD.
B: And how did you structure the mix, the arrangement, the flow of it?
R: I sat down and looked at what tracks fit what, in my usual DJ sets I always have DJ tools, vocals and bangers. So I worked around what was a DJ tool and what was not and see where it could fit in the actual mix. So I set it, did a few test runs at home then brought it to the studio and done it. Funnily enough I recorded it once, that was it and I was quite happy with that. And me, I’m not the tightest of mixers and I thought I would have to do it quite a few times but I done it once and I was happy with everything.
B: I suppose if it’s tracks you knew well...
R: ... exactly, exactly that.
B: So talk me through the producers on there, the ones who have been a big part of your set in the last few months.
B: It is my favourite producers on there: from Zinc, Redlight, one off DVA’s label, Shy One. Yeah, it’s my favourite tunes. Most of the tunes there have been part of my set for four to five months and I’ve solidly played them. And I’ve included my own tracks in there and they’re my favourite ones by me, there’s one from 2008 “They Call Me Roska” it’s called, it’s a dubplate but it’s actually Feline VIP. And then obviously “Wot U Talking About remix” right at the end, that’s sorta one of my best remixes that I’ve done to date, and it worked really well.
And the only exclusive I put on there is actually out now, “Citrus (Don’t Get Lemon)” – Mr Tickle. But I’ve had that for over six months. “In the Deep” by T Williams, that’s probably the darkest I went on the whole CD. “The Only Way Is Down”, Marco Del Horno, that’s probably one of my favourite Marco Del Horno tunes. “I Need Love” done well on the urban, Yellow style events.
B: So what does it mean to you to play on Rinse and be part of the Rinse family?
R: It’s weird, it’s like... I’ve been listening to Rinse since it emerged from being a drum & bass station 98.1. And I listened through 100.3, 100.4 to now. It’s like I’ve always been part of Rinse from always being a follower, then to being on the station and representing. To when I used to speak to Geeneus on MSN, then being on the station and doing four shows a week just to be involved.
There’s just a love for the music and you can tell the way that Rinse genuinely love the music, the back office team just want to make good music and they want to represent good music. And I feel like, what ever I do alongside Rinse, my music will always be undiluted. And it’s going to be what I want out of it, but I’ll get the best out of it because I’m part of Rinse. That’s what I feel when I’m around Rinse. I know I’ll be represented properly and I wont have to do something I don’t wanna do in order to be part of that team.
B: It seems to have had a massive effect on your profile, being part of Rinse. It’s really got you out there, and they’ve done that with Katy B but it’s a much harder challenge with a DJ/Producer.
R: With me, I’m always willing to learn something new and so if you check my first productions and then listen to “Sqwalk” or my album, if you listen to the production level you can tell the difference. So just by listening to what Geeneus says or taking little bits of advice, and actually taking it on, that’s what changed me. What I think Rinse like about me is I don’t rely on Rinse, I’m proactive as well. I’m not going to sit there and wait for Rinse to do something for me I’m going to go out there and do it for myself. And then Rinse will help me along the way somehow. Cos anyone can sit there and be a label slave and sit there and expect people to just do things for them but you can get up off your arse and do it for yourself. It just helps you get that much further.
Even the stuff I did last year, Rinse were a big part of it as they put my album out but off the back of that I pushed myself, I made sure my DJ sets were the best I can make them, which enables me to get another booking on top of that. Just being professional as well, it’s all helped.
B: So you’ve written an album, mixed a CD and run a label but the one thing I’ve not seen you do is tackle a grass roots London club night. Have you ever thought about being a promoter?
R: You know what, I done one night alongside Robin from Dirty Canvas and it went really shit and it kinda put me off because he was really half hearted. But I have considered doing it, and once my label’s profile is raised a bit more, I’m gonna get it on board and I’ll be bringing through the people on my label, rather than it being just a Roska night. Since my album to now, the following and levels have definitely risen. I’ve put out two release with one in June and from those I’ve noticed that people are watching the label and watching me, and it easier.
It’s like knowing someone who’s already in there and them bringing you through, so at the moment I feel like I’m that person who’s bringing people through. I just want to bring out good music, I’ve just got the same values as Rinse. And obviously from good music comes good talent. Just bringing talent through that represent the same values that I have.
B: So what do you make of the state of the general house & funky music at the moment? I’d say just ‘uk funky’ but there’s stuff around this tempo like the stuff Circle played or you’d hear at Yellow that doesn’t call itself UK funky...
R: It’s good you know but there’s no general market for it, if you’re a newcomer. House is so big and the umbrella is so massive that it’s like, if you’re coming in to do deep house now, it’s not going to happen because there’s so much people doing it at the moment, you’ll be one of many. So it’s good to listen to and the urban market is representing it but it’s like they’re just fans of the music who make it. But when funky came through and was doing it, that was our own branch our own take on house. For anyone to come through, it was so easy. When I came through I was doing my 9-5, but I was doing it because I wanted to make and release music. It was so easy: I did three releases and everybody knew who I was in that scene. Looking at house now and people that do deep house now and moved from funky, you’re just wasting your time because you’ve gone from being at the front of the queue to being at the back, because no one is going to notice you unless you make some groundbreaking tune that just hits every market in house and everybody looks at you, it’s not going to happen.
B: It’s funny because I remember interviewing Supa D and Geeneus about four years ago and they were saying the same thing. Ie if you compete as house you’ll never establish your own space. But in UK funky you’ve got your own rules and space to work in.
R: Yep, that’s what funky had and funky had it so much that because there were no rules in funky, shit tunes came through, unmastered, so poor in quality they weren’t even mixdown worthy. That’s what happened and if you look at funky now it’s pretty much non existent, because no one wants to call themselves funky and all the DJs that are playing funky that don’t make music, the tunes are a myth because all the fans of the music can’t even by it. All of the labels kinda just fucked off, after 2009 after the skank tunes were all sold out.
B: I think some of the funky guys have been a bit better recently at getting their tunes out to sell. What do you make of people like Ill Blu? Do you think that style of percussive stuff could be bigger?
R: Yeah definitely, everywhere I go in Europe, people talk about Ill Blu. And they talk about Funkystepz and who else? Champion. There’s a little niche market there, they’ve got something going but there’s not enough of it, and there’s not enough coming through, but they can work it.
B: It’s strange, a lot of people want funky to succeed but a lot of things don’t seem right. There’s so little club infrastructure, outside of If bar...
R: You know what it is? Everybody wants to be a leader but no one wants to work together. I’ve been there before: you can ask a load of funky producers that went. When funky was popping in 2009 I done two meetings. I tried to get everybody on board, I had everybody there who was involved with funky, first when it was really small. And then after that it started getting really silly.
Then I done the second meeting and people were complaining about MCs and stuff. It just fell apart. Everybody was saying “yeah lets push more releases out, do this do that” and throwing all ideas out but after that you just kinda realise that it weren’t going to happen. People started complaining “why wasn’t I invited” and shit, and it just got out of hand.
It worked out like people thought I was blocking them out of the scene and stuff and then I thought fuck it and after that, if that’s the case, I’ll just do what I do. That’s why I’m just doing my stuff and not worrying about a scene.
B: Where did you do the meetings?
R: I did one at a bar in Waterloo. Me, Geeneus, Crazy Cousins, Invasion Records, Hard House Banton, Fuzzy Logic... quite a few of us there. This was late 2008, early 2009. And there was another one middle of 2009 and that was when the MCs started jumping on. The other meeting, Sami Sanchez, his dad owned a hotel and he had a conference room, so we just borrowed that. He said we could have it for free.
B: Did the MCs come along and express their point of view?
R: Nah, it was meant to be a producer thing, that’s what it was, what it turned out to be. And the funny thing was it wasn’t even my idea to do the meeting, it just ended up me organising it. And then I took all the flack for it after and took loads of shit for it. Obviously I learnt a big lesson there, not bothering with that. Everybody wanted to be the leader no one wanted to push the scene.
You’ve got things like the Sound of UK Funky three disc compilation, if you listen to those three CDs it doesn’t tell you nothing about funky. It doesn’t tell you where funky started and it doesn’t tell you where funky is going. It’s just a load of tunes. If you listen to the one Rinse brought out you can understand where funky was and where funky is at the moment, because its got a wide range of tunes. And the three DJs that mixed that Ministry of Sound CD, they were the pioneers of the scene. So it shows you how much they knew about the scene.
B: It’s funny, because there’s been a history of these kind of behind closed doors “scene council” meetings over the years, from jungle, garage, grime and now you say UK funky and they seem like they’re super important but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone change anything through them.
R: Nothing changes because what you see in that room is loads of people who just want to control a scene and not really push it forward as a unit. And that’s how it always breaks down. Grime’s at that stage where everybody just wants to be an artist and the actual roots of grime, where it’s at in the underground, there’s not really much there. There’s only really a handful of DJs who are getting the tunes, it’s crazy man. It’s sad as well because I followed grime, I followed dubstep and I followed most genres and you look at them and the only one that seems to have succeeded and is doing well, is dubstep. Drum & bass is always going to be there. That’s why dubstep deserves the commercial success that it’s getting, regardless if people hate it, they’ve got every single aspect of dubstep on lock and it works and it’s a balance.
B: The weird thing is though, you’re an interesting exception because the one thing that dubstep has done is tapped into that global club network, through booking agents etc. A lot of funky DJs haven’t, but you have. People know who you are and you’re in Switzerland as we speak. So it shows it is possible.
R: It is possible but it feels so weird because I feel like I’m the only one doing it. But, I don’t know what I’ve done differently... it’s weird, and I still don’t understand it myself. I still feel shocked when I go out somewhere. I’ve played in front of 20,000 people, do you know what I mean? I still feel like, how did this happen? All I’ve done is made a few tunes out of my own enjoyment, in my own spare time after work and I’m here.
B: Tell me about the way you make tunes because, there’s a sparseness to your tunes that’s different from other funky. We talked about Ill Blu and Funkystepz for example and the thing that unites them for me is really dense layers of drums. But your sound it different to that. How did you get to your sound?
R: I don’t know, it’s weird... like, some people say it’s an unfinished track, but some people won’t. I don’t know. I just sit there and over the last two, three years I’ve started my tracks with a drum pattern. But now I’ve switched it over and I start with a melody. But when I was doing them then I just wanted to do a skippy drum pattern. Anything that was skippy. I’ve spent my years listening to garage and broken beat, listening to house and grime, hip hop. Just listening to those genres of music and making my own thing from everything. That’s all it is really, but simple. I’ve always gone with: keep it simple. If you keep it simple, people understand it more.
B: For me, it sounds like you use a lot of compression or limiting so it means the sounds you do use in your tracks, sound not loud but really confident. So you don’t need more elements over the top.
R: Sometimes I use compression, on the drums. I might use it on the snare. I’ve raised the gain on the bongos and congas, whereas some people would use it just as a bed. I listen to a lot of tribal stuff and keep it as a roller. So I use compression on the snare but not so much on the kick but also try and keep it as raw as possible.
-- Rinse: 15 mixed by Roska is out very soon.