The drum’n'bass genre has long been the unsung epitome of musical innovation. Where other underground movements have floundered or sunk, d ‘n’ b has maintained an ever-youthful exuberance and imagination.
Roni Size and band Reprazent hit the big time in 1997 with his Mercury win for the superlative New Forms LP, and Size’s Bristol-based collective, Full Cycle, have been the standard-bearers of off-kilter divine tunes since. Like Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the ’50s, breaking and moulding genres, Full Cycle has adopted and encouraged d ‘n’ b talent to full expression.
One of its protgs is Natalia Scott, aka Tali. The New Zealand-born vocalist and MC first hit the boards in the late ’90s and moved to Australia, quickly becoming celebrated as the only Oz-based female MC. She came to the UK in 2001 and, whilst seeing Size DJ-ing, begged a spot with him. She so impressed that she was thereafter accepted as an honorary member of the tightly woven Full Cycle crew.
Hence my excitement at this, her first major UK gig with a full band. Supporting Size’s Live In The Mix tour, Tali took the stage with keyboard/bass players, drummer and two other vocalists and started the set to a packed house with Blazin’, a roaring d ‘n’ b tune. The band swung in with heavy bass and pacing vocals until a slightly slower ebb was introduced with Don’t Let Me Wake Up, with guest Dynamite MC, which delighted with the crossing vocals and mesmeric lyrical dances.
Airport Lounge was softer and more jazz-melodic, but still hit the beat with a dance tune of pulsing bass lines incapable of slowing the euphoric feeling down. Lyric On My Lip also hit the mark, tripping but fluent vocals gliding along effortlessly, and the audience, gleeful and smiling, was enthused.
My only dissatisfaction was that the beats did not divert. My love of d ‘n’ b is borne out of the jazz element that allows distortion and amendment to beats, taking you from the norm and into the surreal. Tali’s MC-ing is lithe and expert, but her set was full-on straight d’n'b or a slower version of, with little variation or beat cuts.
The woman and her fronting vocalists can sing however, and Tali has a class stage presence. She is also just beginning her UK journey with her debut Full Cycle album Lyric on My Lip, and there is a huge hope that this woman can bring a female light to a predominately male pasture. That alone is hugely exciting.
Dynamite MC was the main man with Roni Size tonight and the first tune, Dirty Beats, was beautifully nasty. His rhythmic and eloquent vocals pumped the audience to fervour. There was no room to dance, but still bodies flailed and joy enveloped. The beats broke and twisted to gorgeous turmoil and the smiling was incandescent as the band previewed several tracks from Size’s forthcoming LP Return To V.
The treat of Brown Paper Bag with Tali guesting broke riot and there felt a glory to this music. However, the weight given to MC-ing over the tunes distracted slightly from the more serious musical invention we know them to be capable of.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that d ‘n’ b has long heralded new beginnings, and Full Cycle are at the heart of this. Frank Zappa, The Cardiacs and now Roni Size: innovation, sometimes genius, and nearly always supremely joyous.