Why British is best for the aces of bass
Chase & Status could have had the pick of the US A-listers on their latest album – but they went native instead, they tell Elisa Bray
Friday 21 January 2011
Afew years ago the production duo Chase & Status were credited with reinvigorating the drum'n'bass scene. Now in-demand producers, they had a Top 10 hit with their single, "End Credits", featuring Plan B, and praise has been heaped on them from Rihanna and Jay-Z – to whose Roc Nation label they are signed as producers. Such is their reputation that they had their pick of rappers and singers to guest on their imminent sophomore album, No More Idols, an exciting dance mash-up of hip-hop, dubstep and drum'n'bass .
We meet in the offices of their label, Mercury, who signed them following the success of their debut album, More Than Alot. Will "Status" Kennard is telling of his awkward Larry David-esque internal dialogue when he met Rihanna for the first time, to produce her Rated R album. " When she walked into the room, there was that nervous moment – do I kiss her, do I shake her hand, do I bow? What's the protocol here? Obviously she came in with heels like this," he says, extending his arms widely, "very made up and her hair was incredible. You don't want to accidentally ruffle her hair, so you're a bit wary."
Kennard, 30, is suave and laid-back, with a pressed white shirt tucked into trousers, while his 29-year-old bandmate, Saul "Chase" Milton, is more Mod-ish. It's all part of their stage look. But they didn't always look like this. When the duo met through friends in their late teens, drawn together by a mutual love of DJing from their bedrooms, they favoured tracksuits and trainers.
"I guess we were chavvy before chavs existed, when that dress sense was actually quite fashionable. It's definitely not how I dress now – I think I had a hooped earring in my left ear," Kennard winces. "Saul had a skinhead – we try and forget those days." It's a look they recreate in their latest video, for the single "Blind Faith", as they channel their nostalgia for the warehouse raves which they frequented while studying at university in Manchester. "It was quite grimy back then, lots of attitude," recalls Kennard. "It was really street music, so we were more like public school boys trying to act cool and not get beaten up at these things. But it was really exciting."
While everyone else was starting to feel the pressure at university, Milton and Kennard were "living the dream" as DJs, honing their skills. They spent the next four years holed up in the studio, learning how to produce music, and trying to copy their heroes, such as the Prodigy, and drum'n'bass pioneers Goldie, Andy C, Bad Company and Roni Size. They learned how to write music and were soon hooked. Then they signed to JHO Management.
"We had no idea how to write the simplest beat," says Kennard. "We realised we had to write music to get DJ gigs; you can't just DJ – everyone's a good DJ. So that was the end of our social lives. We were massive geeks, literally bearded men in the studio all the time, and we lost touch with everyone. I had a girlfriend up there and I neglected that relationship quite badly."
There is still no time for girlfriends, although Kennard is partial to playing golf whenever the hectic Chase & Status schedule allows him. "Although my mum always says 'if you wanted to, you could make the time'," says Kennard. "I'm a bit reclusive. But it does take its toll. A lot of my friends are getting married and some are having kids. I've got this fear of being 40 and sitting around at a dinner party with all my old friends, and they've all got 10-year-old kids and wives and I'm wearing a leather jacket with loads of stories, but not really doing it anymore... "
Their hardworking attitude has seen them tour relentlessly in the past year. After More Than Alot they expanded to a full live show with a band, and, against their expectations, it was so successful that they sold out a headline tour and enjoyed a summer full of festival appearances. It was this which went on to shape their new album, which has more of a guitar sound.
"We'd be sitting in the studio and rather than thinking, 'Is this going to do really well in the club', it was 'Is this song going to work when we play it at a festival?' And that definitely changes the sound of the album and the range of songs."
Chase & Status gigs have become known for adrenaline-fuelled crowd moshing – and the title No More Idols seemed to fit the punky vibe and their view of the music industry. "The music industry is so slick now and all acts are very professional. You don't get many stories of bands trashing hotel rooms, just being reckless musical geniuses. It doesn't feel like there are the kind of idols that there used to be." Do they trash hotel rooms? "Not intentionally... There have been some pretty horrendous debauched moments in hotel rooms."
They also wanted to build on the success of their debut album through the use of vocalists, while retaining the dance vibe and club-friendly feel of the first record. They penned a list of singers and rappers they wanted to feature, most of whom ended up on the album. The names Jay-Z and Kanye West were mooted, but their goal was to retain a strong British identity which they could take to America. "There was talk about working with the Rihannas, Jay-Zs and Kanye Wests – it would be hard to turn that stuff down, but I was quite glad that in the end it ended up the way it did. Cee Lo Green is American, obviously, but we love the fact that he's talking about British culture – and they're quite punky-sounding vocals. He's a big fan of London, so it made sense. There's definitely a British vibe." Above all it was the chance to work with rising British artists that most inspired them – so much so that they have launched their own record label, MTA Records, to sign new acts.
As well as Plan B and four-time Brit nominee Tinie Tempah, Clare Maguire, who made it on to the BBC Sound of 2011 shortlist, also features on the album, alongside Mali, who was signed to Warners off the back of his contribution to their album, and rising rapper Tempa T.
"We have the opportunity to work with all the top A-listers, but there'd be something contrived about it at this point in our career," says Milton. "There's nothing more exciting than finding new artists and being a part of their rising success; we've known Plan B for years and to see him rising beats working with any multi-platinum-selling artist.
"We really want to be the best of British music and to push the UK forward. If you look at the charts you've got Jessie J, the UK's equivalent of Lady Gaga. We're going to find this tailor-made music-by-numbers falling off the charts. 2011 is the year of the UK and if we can be a part of that we'll be very proud."
The album 'No More Idols' is out 31 January. Chase & Status play KOKO, London NW1 (www.koko.uk.com) on 26 January and Onyx, Folkstone (www.onyxnightclub.co.uk) on 28 January
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