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Soulful: The 405 meets Rudimental

Soulful: The 405 meets Rudimental

by Huw Oliver, 15 March 2013

Village Underground in Shoreditch feels like the perfect place to be catching up with the most talked about, of-the-moment urban music act in the country. Appropriately arty (there's a spray-painted tube train on the roof), hidden away somewhere down an otherwise deserted backstreet and overlooking a grim, wire-fenced car park, it really does put the empowering, realist mood of one of Rudimental's music videos in a nutshell.

The dressing room heaves with a nattering miscellany of friends, collaborators, label reps and the band themselves. Audibility is low, vibes are high. Sitting opposite me at a table in the corner are Amir Amor and Kesi Dryden, two quarters of the chart-topping Hackney four-piece. They seem exhausted, but cheerful nonetheless.

The band has just travelled up and down the country on a mammoth arena tour in support of Plan B, but two days ago they returned to London for the BRITs, nominated for Best Song, their second time at the O2 in the space of a fortnight.

"Really good, really surreal," replies Amir when asked about the touring experience. "You'd see camera flashes from what felt like a kilometre away".

Kesi quips, "It wasn't until 'Feel The Love' that I looked up and I just looked around and I was like 'W-ow. This is massive. What's going on right now?"'

What might have made the whole playing in front of 15,000 people a night thing feel even more surreal for Amir was his previous work with Plan B (alter-ego of fellow East Londoner Ben Drew), because they go back a long way: "We used to go to a youth club together and he actually taught me how to play guitar there. We used to make tracks together: garage, grime, hip-hop, even cheesy R&B stuff which we would sweep under the carpet."

"Before he got signed we did this mixtape called Paint It Blacker in his studio up in Archway and we sampled things like Leonard Cohen and Radiohead and the Rolling Stones, but we couldn't get any of it cleared. It was a bit of a nightmare. We once got a letter from Leonard Cohen's estate telling us how much they hated the song. Like, personally really hated it."

Some of those songs were reworked without the samples and even made it onto Plan B's debut record. But times have changed, drastically: "it was totally weird just seeing him again ten years on, and we were playing the O2 together. It was completely nuts."

Rudimental has been a thing for over six years now, but they've only just begun to kick off. Starting out a as an unserious, part-time collaboration between childhood friends Kesi, Piers (Aggett) and Leon 'DJ Locksmith' (Rolle), it's obvious the band has morphed into something completely different since the arrival of Amir a year and a half ago.

It appears they've discovered their identity, their uniqueness and their soul: an amalgam of the tastes of the individuals that make up the band. And the results are unprecedented.

They're all East London boys at heart, but their musical upbringings are opposing. Amir was into Marvin Gaye, the Family Stone and Funkadelic from a young age, but later - peculiarly - formed a post-hardcore band "like a cross between Glassjaw and Coheed & Cambria." The original trio, despite growing up on virtually the same street, also have differing inspirations. Kesi was surrounded by a number of contrasting cultures: "my next door neighbour was a Rasta who used play reggae, there was a teenager upstairs who was always playing garage and I had an Indian family next door." Leon was a bass-head, a devotee to garage all the way, whilst Piers was into the blues.

Diverse and febrile, it's this all-encompassing melting-pot of influences which has produced the multicoloured Rudimental sound you'll hear everywhere in 2013, mixing D&B beats, soulful vocals and powerful live brass, never confined to the limitations of one genre, all their songs imbued with an ebullient carnival atmosphere.

They've also got a knack for choosing the right guest vocalist, and they claim this is the one, constant trope of their sound, as Kesi states, "we're into unique vocals. John Newman's got a very unique sound, quite a vintage sound. You hear it and straightaway you know who it is. He's just got so much soul in his voice. He just transforms the record."

"Our music is so eclectic that it has to have that unifying thing, and it's soulfulness that unifies it all. The soulful vocals just glue it all together."

Newman is the collaborator on everyone's lips (he features on both their hit singles 'Feel The Love' and 'Not Giving In'), but soon everyone will be talking about Ella Eyre, one of their two live vocalists, yet another name presently unknown to most but one guaranteed to have her three, catchy syllables etched firmly into the public consciousness before she, or anyone else, can do anything about it. This is because latest single 'Waiting All Night', to which she lends her sultry, balmy tones, is by far their best yet.

"Ella's got an amazing voice," confirms Amir. "We only realised how big that song is when we were playing it live on the Plan B tour. We started off like, 'all right, cool, we'll play it' and then every night people were tweeting about it, asking 'what was that song?' and by the second verse people had already started singing it back. It's such a simple song as well."

Other features on the album will come from up-and-coming talents Syron and MNEK (who shares a studio with the band in Hoxton Square), who contribute to the vastly different 'Spoons', a down-tempo house number so named because Amir happened to eating his lunch at the time.

"I was eating my lunch and I had some spoons, because I eat with my fork and spoon... I'm Iranian [laughs]. Anyway, I started banging these spoons together and making this sort of percussion sound on it. That became the basis of the track."

"MNEK was coming round really just to say hello because he was next door. He came down and in about ten minutes, he'd written the lyrics."

Elsewhere you can expect verses, choruses and yelps from the likes of Angel Haze, Sinead Harnett, Foxes and even (omg) Emeli Sandé. The band repeatedly describe this sundry assortment of guest vocalists who surround them as their "extended family", valued not only as wrist-slashingly talented musicians but more importantly as dear, close friends.

But even (omg) Emeli Sandé? "That's someone who, to be really honest, I didn't think I'd like that much before," Amir lets on. "But as soon as she started writing with us, it was like, ‘wow', she's a proper amazing singer-songwriter. We write lyrics and stuff as well so to work with someone of her ilk, you know, was pretty amazing."

"We weren't even taking this that that seriously and now we're writing with someone like her. So, yeah, massive respect to her."

When asked who else they have respect for, Amir immediately declares that Plan B is "without a doubt the most hardworking guy in music." But it turns out they also have admiration for the other little known support act on B's recent tour, as Kesi explains, "respect to the musicianship of Labrinth. I went to school with him. He's just an amazing musician: he can play a bit of everything, he can sing, he can rap. Growing up with him, he'd spend like two weeks on guitar, master it and then move on to something else. It wasn't fair."

"This tour we just did was wicked actually because it was like an old school get together: Plan B, Labrinth and us. The East London reunion."

They used to hang out and play football on Hackney Mashes together, so I ask them what they think of the coverage their area has been getting over the past twelve months, starting with Radio 1's colossal party on the marshes.

"Hackney Weekender was the highlight of last year for me," says Kesi. "I can see Hackney Marshes from our kitchen window. I remember the day we came off stage, we missed Jay-Z because we had another show. But I got ready, getting dressed while watching Jay-Z from my window."

"People expect there to be trouble at these kinds of things because it's in Hackney, but it was safest thing you could ever imagine. Things like that bring out the good feeling in these kinds of areas. It's a great way to change people's perspective on where we live."

"I almost feel like it did more for the local area than the Olympics," continues Amir. "I loved the opening ceremony. The beginning of the Olympics was sick, but by the end it was a bit shite. I feel they could have done a lot more to involve the local community."

"It was all glitz, really. I look at it now and I'm like, 'well, what's really happening?' A lot of it's not being used now and everyone's forgotten about it."

But although our memories of London 2012 now start to fade, that all-important, passionate sense of community still blazes on in the shape of Rudimental's forthcoming Home, quite possibly the most uplifting, summer-oriented album you'll hear this side of festival season. Dealing in turn with family, society, happiness and above all, what 'home' actually means to people, it could potentially be the sound of the Olympic legacy that never was.

"Community just shapes your perspective on life, you know," Amir reiterates. "That's what we try to show in our videos as well. It's kind of positivity and hope for young people in dark times. Our album represents all that posivitity. It's got a warm, feel-good sound to it."

"I guess in the popular media or whatever, people look at youth and young people in a negative light, and that's the difference you know. It's not all gloom and doom; there's a lot of positivity to be found. And a lot of good music."

Of course, Rudimental may just be the prime example.

On stage this evening, they're an energetic delight: a real carnival, but a neat and tidy one at that. Kesi and Piers are the cheeky boys on synth at the back, Amir provides the guitar lines to their side, and a full-of-beans DJ Locksmith plays the in-house hype-man in front, inciting dance after dance for the full 45-minute set. What we hear is certainly warm, certainly feel-good, it may even be happiness incarnated in bassy, four-piece form.

Eyre (wearing dashing Mercedes hoop earrings), MNEK, Newman and trumpeter Mark Crown are all here to chip in and chirp when needed.

Yet perhaps most striking is how this collective, numerous and diverse, accomplish the seemingly impossible task of manipulating underground, laptop-based genres like house, garage, funky and D&B, pulling them all off with a live band. Most people couldn't tell these genres apart but when you see them visually dissected, arranged and brought to life like this, it really does help.


Rudimental release Home on April 29th. Head to rudimental.co.uk, for their forthcoming tour dates.

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