Roni Size Reprazent, Scala, London
Thursday 21 February 2008
Reprazent's return made me uneasy. Dance music dates quickly, and jungle/drum'*'bass's moment passed when Reprazent beat Radiohead, Primal Scream, Chemical Brothers and Prodigy to 1997's Mercury Music Prize. Surely your heyday is over when your music is being sampled by a new generation of producers, as is the case with Reprazent's "Brown Paper Bag" and dubstep prodigy Benga's track "M2"?
But no. Reprazent seize the moment within seconds of taking the stage as a seven-strong band (Roni Size on keys and samples, two keyboard players, drummer, guitarist/double bassist and two vocalists, Onalee and Dynamite MC) by opening with what should be the closer, "Brown Paper Bag". Its teasing intro – double bass, jazz melodies and dreamy atmospherics – spirals into a crescendo of skittering beats and funky, kinetic bass.
Reprazent keep a tight grip, launching into the punchy hip-hop of "Dirty Beats" from sophomore LP In the Mode. "Heroes" shows why Reprazent worked so well in 1997 and still do: it's an odyssey as Onalee harmonies glide over sparkling jazz that slowly unfurls into metronomic breakbeat, satisfying both sing-along and dance urges.
There's buckets of energy and perspiration in the packed Scala, and a sense that this is a rare chance to celebrate, and express gratitude to, the pioneers of a genre that's still dominated by faceless producers. You can count drum'*'bass's icons on the fingers of one hand – Goldie, Roni Size and LTJ Bukem – yet the music, familiar to anyone under the age of 30, is as much a part of the soundtracks of global youth culture as hip-hop or Nirvana. As if to emphasise the "it's about the music, not me" point, Roni Size doesn't utter a single word all night.
The new single "Don't Hold Back" is apocalyptic hip-hop, rapped by Dynamite but sounding like Ludacris's anthem "Move Bitch". One of the classics, "Trust Me", appears on the re-edited forthcoming update of New Forms, and is performed tonight. With 15 years' experience of playing raves, Reprazent are tight, relaxed and give us a thorough workout.
The encore is breathless as "Brown Paper Bag" is rolled out again, and another classic, "Share the Fall", brings the curtain down on Reprazent's triumphant return. It confirms the suspicion that New Forms doesn't need updating because the original hasn't dated one jot. However, as the hook for Reprazent's live comeback, the best of New Forms couldn't be more welcome.
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