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Big Bass Man

Mercury-award winning Roni Size spoke to dj Rebop about drum'n'bass beats and breaking into the bigtime

28 November 1997; milling around outside London's Astoria Theatre are 200 lost souls who could not get tickets. I'm inside, feeling fortunate. Enter Reprazent in boxers' robes, flushed with confidence and a brand new custom-made sound system. For two hours, mainman Roni Size, djs Krust and Die, vocalist Onallee and their backing musicians rip the venue apart with bass-heavy breakbeats and live drums, keyboards and acoustic bass. When their trademark tune 'Brown Paper Bag' kicks in, the crowd goes ape.

Last September the Reprazent collective snatched the prestigious Mercury music award with their debut album New Forms. Their win boosted the fortunes of the hip-but-hitherto-ailing Talkin' Loud label, and wrong-footed the indie-obsessed music press. Roni was not ready for it either. 'They read our name out wrong so I didn't believe it at first', he recalls. 'It was only when our tour manager jumped on top of me, screaming and kissing me, that's when I realised that we'd won.'

A year ago I wrote in LM that 'drum'n'bass is the sound that could re-energise the music scene, but so far the industry has been too scared to run with it'. ('Uncool Britannia', April 1997). Six months later the industry and an image-hungry media seized upon Roni as the acceptable face of drum'n'bass (Reprazent were even invited to score a soundtrack for Armani). Roni is 'flava' of the year but he has kept his head: 'If our success with the Mercury awards means we can make a little more cash then fine. Then we can invest in more equipment, programming rooms, build more studios - just make sure the resources around us are in place so we can make more music.'

Roni has mixed feelings about being slotted alongside Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead as part of the 'Bristol sound'. For him, Bristol is 'not a hot bed of musical talent, it's a hot bed of frustration. I've lived all my life there and of course it's exciting - the sound systems, the diversity of cultures and everything. But it's also pretty tough for a lot of people'.

The young Roni was 'pretty tough' himself, kicked out of school for throwing a chair at a teacher. With time on his hands he got involved in a local music club, the Basement Project, where he learned to how to program drums and produce records. The project eventually took Roni on as a teacher, and in a gesture of thanks he handed the Mercury prize cheque for £25 000 straight over to the Basement. But the real turning point for Roni was a trip to the Glastonbury festival: 'I went to Glastonbury a few years ago and there was a site there called the Experimental Field. That's where me, Krust and Die first met. To me Glastonbury set it all off.' Glastonbury showed Roni that spacey music had a place for heavy bass, and he has been mixing them together ever since.

There are other drum'n'bass dons like Alex Reece, Photek or Bukem, but Roni and Reprazent have managed to do something which the others have not: they worked their magic in the studio and then successfully applied it in the live arena, retaining a warmth and vibrancy that harder-edged drum'n'bass often lacks.

What's next? Krust has his own solo project coming out soon, and Talkin' Loud are already lining up 4 Hero to take the same route as Reprazent. Having heard a demo of the LP, I think they may well get there. The Reprazent crew are collaborating with American artists like rappers Redman and Bahamadia, and it will be interesting to see how drum'n'bass is received Stateside. Meanwhile Roni is besotted by a new gadget called a Beam Dimension, which connects to his sampler and enables him to trigger beats and vary pitches by waving his hand through a beam of light. Gleefully he announces 'I'm not even touching anything but I'm playing music'.

Signs of the times

'Indications are that a small group of Zambian soldiers had too much to drink on Monday night and decided to take over the government'
Spokesman for the Zambian government explaining the failed military coup d'etat

'Nothing in Mr Magoo should be interpreted as an accurate portrayal of blindness or poor eyesight'
Credits for forthcoming film version of the famously myopic cartoon character

'This could well become one of the cult videos of all time'
Iain Dale, owner of Politicos bookshop, which is selling a compilation of 40 years of party political broadcasts

'What these cards do is open the doors to communication'
Rachel Bolton of Hallmark greetings cards, explaining the thinking behind its new suicide range, which is available in the States and the company is considering introducing into the UK. She added that the card was 'very much in tune with the times'.

'A typical Viz reader would be a natural recruit. Part of our theme is that New Labour has no sense of humour. Their instinct is to ban everything.'
A Young Conservatives spokesman floats the idea of advertising in Viz magazine

And talking of cult videos, a house in the South East was raided for videos of Squish movies, which feature small animals such as hamsters, mice and chickens, being stamped to death by women wearing high-heeled shoes. In another, a blonde called 'Michelle' speaks of her hatred for worms, snails and insects, and crushes them underfoot.

The American manufacturer says that he only squishes pet shop animals that are part of the food chain of another animal, although he claims that in Germany there is 'no limit' to the size of the animals involved. But he insists that his 38 respectable British customers prefer the smaller creatures. As far as we are aware, none of his customers is a son of a cabinet minister.

Before the police are called in, animal lovers might be interested to hear that the RSPCA and the National Canine Defence league have stopped supplying animals for training as police dogs, following investigations into allegations that a dog died from being kicked by a police officer. Whether the dog or the policeman was being trained is not clear.

'I don't like football as much as I used to because the game has been tailored for the wine-bar fraternity. The culture's been gradually eradicated'
The artist and self-confessed 'soccer nut' formerly known as Nigel Kennedy (now plain 'Kennedy')


Not bad enough?

No other bike causes such polarisation as the Harley Davidson. Some bikers love them, the rest of us hate 'em. In order to 'know my enemy', I visited the Art of the Harley show which is part of the year of American culture at the Barbican Centre in London.

In pursuit of rugged individualism, Harley fans are often as keen on customising as they are about the machines themselves. Accordingly, this exhibition focuses on customisation. Not just a motley collection of factory bikes with bits bolted on, these machines have been stretched, chopped and raked beyond recognition. A case in point is the 'Two Bad', named after its two 900cc engines which have been shoe-horned, in a double V-formation, into a frame that bears no resemblance to the factory-made original. No sign of extended forks here; this machine has hub steering. Equally remarkable, and also customised by Arlen Ness, is the 'Ferrari' bike. Adorned with two superchargers, four carburettors and nitrous intake, a 2100cc V-twin engine graces a beautiful, Ferrari-red frame. Unique.

The appeal of Harley lies partly in its history. Included in the exhibition is a replica of Peter Fonda's 'Captain America' chopper, as seen in Easy Rider. Traditional biker styles dominate the customised paintwork on display. Videos and posters of classic Harleys (in The Wild One, for example) form the backdrop to the bikes; and the final room in the show turns out to be a shopping area where you can buy into bikelore by spending industrial amounts of money on various Harley-branded products.

No performance figures were given, but these bikes are more for pose than performance. Staged at the Barbican, the show is close to Harley's clientele - City rich kids. These machines are beautiful to look at, but give me a gut-wrenching Japanese sports bike any day.

Roy Crosland rides a Honda VFR 750, with a Fireblade on the shopping list.

The Art of the Harley is at the Barbican, London EC1 until 28 April


Spielberg's edutainment

'If you want to send a message, call Western Union.' If only Steven Spielberg had been reminded of Sam Goldwyn's aphorism before making Amistad, the true story of mutiny aboard a slave ship in 1839 and the mutineers' attempt to be legally recognised not as slaves but as free-born Africans. It might just have stopped him from making a dull film.

Amistad seems to have been conceived as more of an educational project than a movie. Spielberg says he feels aggrieved that his own children never heard the story in class. Likewise producer Debbie Allen says she 'felt robbed and cheated that I had never been taught about it in school'. In the USA, a teachers' pack was released along with the film so as to facilitate its immediate incorporation into the curriculum. From now on, every student will get the shocking message that slavery was a bad thing, brought to them by the Hollywood school of American history.

Compared with Spielberg's other historical dramas, Amistad is simplistic. In Empire of the Sun (1987), the boy protagonist identifies with his Japanese captors; in Schindler's List (1993) the lead role is highly ambivalent. But in Amistad the characters are literally black and white, and the moral lines are so obvious as to undermine the story-telling which is usually Spielberg's forte.

Toby Marshall teaches media studies


Trekking to the Walnut Tree

I have been pony trek-king once in my life and I am in no rush to repeat the experience. The horse bolted, I clung on, and I have never been so scared in my life - or so happy to get to the pub. Not just any pub. The Walnut Tree in Llandewi Skirrid, three miles north-east of Abergavenny, was once an ordinary tavern, but for the last 35 years it has ranked as one of the best restaurants in Britain, gaining the same rating in the 1998 Good Food Guide as Raymond Blanc's Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Although I have yet to visit M Blanc's manor (I am still saving up), I cannot imagine arriving there covered in horsehair, red-nosed and shivering with cold, and being let in. But the informality of The Walnut Tree is a welcome relief from the pomposity with which wonderful food is so often served.

This white-washed inn with its outside toilets is as relaxed as they come. Although there is a slightly more formal dining room with tablecloths and linen napkins, the best fun is to be had in the bistro where the proximity of the tables and the excellence of the wine mean that you are unlikely to leave without having made new friends. The food, however, is serious stuff. Franco Taruschio, chef and co-owner with his wife Ann, uses the freshest ingredients with an emphasis on seafood and game. Our spring lunch included a dozen oysters with chili vinaigrette, home-salted cod ravioli with tomato sauce; Vincisgrassi, an eighteenth century pasta dish with prosciutto, porcini and truffle oil; and brodetto, a fish stew from Franco's birthplace in the Marche region of Italy.

As if any further excuse were necessary to make the trip to Wales this month, 1 March is of course St David's day. I will be going by car along the B4521, not on horseback.

The Walnut Tree, £60-70 for two with wine (T 01873 852797)

© 1998 Neil Haidar is a chef


Watching the detectives

In an extract from his new book, Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score, Gary Armstrong monitors police surveillance of the Sheffield United supporters known as 'the Blades' A basic problem for police was that they frequently arrived at hooligan incidents just as they were ending, and therefore could not catch Blades 'at it'. However, they realised that if they could capture the occasions of disorder and conflict on celluloid, then they would have evidence to make serious charges stick.

Thus from the mid-1980s police began to scrutinise and photograph Blades' movements, both inside and outside the ground - sometimes overtly, but much of the time covertly. Some of the technology used was obvious and advertised, and was paid for by private enterprise, as when Sheffield United were given a £25 000 grant by the Football Trust to install 15 CCTV cameras. In 1989 the Football Trust donated £30 000 to South Yorkshire Police to purchase mobile video cameras to monitor fans. They then paid for self-congratulatory adverts in the club programme over the next nine years that told of the good work the cameras had done. [Football] Trust posters that spoke of the potential of the technology were also displayed at the ground.

Despite the all-encompassing nature of this electronic scanning the police escalated the surveillance, and Blades watched as from 1989 to 1994 three officers (or civilian personnel) operated a camera from a TV gantry. From 1991 they in turn were supplemented by three plainclothes men who located themselves opposite this camera in a cordoned-off part of the John Street stand, with yet another camera on a tripod. We might ask: what wild and unimaginable villainy was this overkill intended to prevent? For as the account shows, hooligan activity was negligible; and as with the increasing use of police helicopters to control football crowds, we might ask what is the cost of this technology, and what is the ultimate aim of it all?

Later again, the FIO [football intelligence officer] would be seen on match-days with a small hand-held camcorder held to his eye as he videoed anybody he considered dubious and later spoke their names into a dictaphone. Other mobile surveillance cameras were placed in premises in the city centre and London Road premises (both commercial and residential). These were requisitioned by police to gain vantage points to record the comings and goings of Blades, the obvious aim being to build up a dossier and hopefully capture them in flagrante. Much work went into this, and by the 1990s there were some 350 mug-shots of Blade suspects held in one Sheffield police station, some taken whilst the individual was under arrest, and the rest a product of covert surveillance cameras in the streets or at vantage points in the Bramall Lane ground.

Surveillance was subsequently combined with intelligence-gathering to become the leading mantra of police targeting from the mid-1980s. From 1987 onwards the move to combine surveillance, intelligence-gathering and targeting saw payments to inform becoming part of the techniques of control. Blades in police custody for various matters would be offered cash for information, with inducements ranging from £25-100 as the norm. Another incentive offered was to reduce some possible charge a Blade faced, by 'having a word with an officer in charge of the case' or the custody sergeant. This held out the possibility of a 'binding over' instead of, perhaps, a prison sentence or fine, or might well reduce a charge of supplying drugs to one of possession.

No doubt some took the bait, and many in custody were urged to put names to pictures, for the police wanted data on those they had photographed for their intelligence systems. The problem with this was that many Blades were only known to each other by nickname; but even this was sufficient for police purposes, as they sought to fill out their dossiers with 'street-names' and other information, such as 'drug user/dealer', 'new member', 'leader'.

The combination of police intelligence and surveillance enables a process of demonology. Surveillance apparatus ranks and differentiates because, whilst photography has no identity, it is invested with power relations. Like Foucault's prisoners, those watched are the object of information never a subject for communication. Blades had no opportunity to dispute what was held against them, and the police did not wish to hear that their intelligence was wrong.

Gary Armstrong lectures in criminology and sociology at Reading University

Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score is published by Berg £14.95 pbk


Too hard on Microsoft

'Where do you want to go today?', asks Microsoft's advertising campaign. 'None of your fucking business' is a common reply. Bill Gates is a global hate figure. But what has this apparently moistureless fellow done to deserve such odium that game-hackers have taken the leaked-floorplans of his new mansion and put them into the Doom game engine, so that you can virtually prowl his dwelling and blow him away with the weapon of your choice?

Microsoft's product is not all that good, of course. Windows NT is the only Microsoft operating system that serious companies will trust to run their critical software, and it took donkey's years to get it right. But Windows, even Windows 95, is perfectly adequate for desktop applications. It delivers wonderful value for money, not because Windows is a great product but because Windows plus chip-manufacturers Intel constitute a whole economy. Its big user-base means that small software houses will write specialist applications for Windows, safe in the knowledge that there will be enough customers. Meanwhile big houses will use Windows to publish important software cheaply. And for these reasons more end-users will naturally choose Windows. This is a case of 'product lock-in' (cf the growth curve of VHS videos).

Bill Gates loves this loop and his managers are doing everything they can to enhance it. But they could not have stopped it even if they had wanted to. Microsoft is not in charge: the maths of the marketplace is. Nor has Microsoft ever done anything spectacularly clever. If you float a dozen paper boats down river, and only one of them makes it to the sea, there is no secret about how it got there. It is just the one boat that made it; and Bill Gates is that boat.

'Evil' Microsoft has been slated for trying to dominate the internet with its new browser, but Gates knows he has to carve out a big chunk of the Internet because his business is of such a size that it will deflate if he is not always into the next big thing. Gates is not the Devil: he does not have the eyebrows for it. He likes simple things: prestige, access to celebrities, and a genteel place to shit - just like any middle-ranking businessman from Solihull.

Nigel Burke is a dissident technologist

In my business (the provision of web-content) it is very trendy to be anti-Microsoft. The artistically-inclined insist on using Apple products rather than Microsoft's (what will they do now that Microsoft has put money into Apple?), and some people refuse point-blank to download Internet Explorer 4. Meanwhile the American courts are clogged up with anti-Gates litigation and consumer rights hero Ralph Nader organised a conference specifically to put Microsoft on the spot. Has Microsoft done anything to deserve all this?

Microsoft brought the best minds of the young computer generation to work in its Seattle plant. It continues to buy into smaller companies whenever they come up with good ideas. It has been responsible for the development of low cost, high performance software, which is making the Internet part of everyday life. Moreover, the concentration of resources and brain power which Microsoft is able to bring to bear is more likely to lead to technological breakthroughs than any number of smaller companies going it alone.

It is understandable that competitors like Sun and Netscape would campaign against their much larger rival. But anti-Microsoft sentiment is much broader than that. As Nader pointed out in his letter to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates last year, scholars, commentators, writers, public officials and many customers are anti-Microsoft. I think this widespread hostility is not because of anything that Microsoft has done but is fuelled by a general distrust of wealth and power.

Microsoft offends against the Small is Beautiful ethic which dominates today. Instead of being humble about its success, in the manner of the Mother Teresa soundalikes who now seem to run corporations like Virgin and CNN, Gates is unapologetically expansionist. Because he is successful, rich and clever, he is considered evil. I too aspire to be all of these things. To paraphrase Gates when asked to describe his greatest fear, the 'evil' I abhor is mediocrity.

Rob Killick is CEO of Cyberia Online


Les is more

On the train to Newcastle where he taught art, Les Coleman started sketching his students - or, more accurately, he sketched their excuses, evasions and alibis for poor work. The result was Meet the Art Students, which began as an exhibition and is now available as a book from Arc Publications. What do his students think? 'They like them', says Les, 'but they never think it's about them'.

Coleman's drawings and aphorisms are high philosophy and low cunning. His great talent is unthinking, stripping ideas and associations down to their absurd elements.

The accompanying text to the 1996 exhibition of Meet the Art Students explained that the drawings are 'set against a background of increased student numbers and staff cuts', adding 'they reflect not only...student psychology and habits but also the new approach to management within further education'. Or it would have said that, if the management of St Martin's College of Art had not objected to such 'inflammatory' stuff. The text was exhibited blacked out in the manner of a censored letter; so it's not just the students' excuses that get exposed in Coleman's work.

James Heartfield

Meet the Art Students, Arc Publications, £4.95 (T 01706 812338) Coleman's drawings sometimes appear in Point magazine.


From shock to schlock

I shared my first flat in Glasgow with two guys from Maryhill. The first drunken night I heard about their friend Sid, a punk who blew his brains out with a handgun. Sid will be turning in his grave when he hears about Destroy, the exhibition of punk graphic design now showing to the cappuccino clientele of the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank. Or maybe he did know where punk would end up, and that's why he shot himself.

It is entirely appropriate that punk should now be on show in the premier art institutions in the land, because it began in the art schools in the first place. No Goldsmith's, no Malcolm McLaren, no Sex Pistols. The idea that 'anyone felt they could be designers', as claimed by the curators of Destroy, is as empty as the suggestion that anyone from the dole queue could form a three-chord band and swindle the world with rock'n'roll. The iconoclastic designers of the period, such as Jamie Reid, Malcolm Garrett and Neville Brody - all exhibited here - went to art school where they learned what rules to break. But 25 years later, rule-breaking is the rule, and the urge to 'destroy' is cosy rather than creative.

Alex Cameron designs LM

Destroy is on at the Royal Festival Hall until 16 March

Reproduced from LM issue 108, March 1998

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