Roots Manuva: Beats manouvered

Roots Manuva is one of those artists who was at the forefront of the burgeoning UK hip hop music scene in the 90s, kicking at the doors of the establishment demanding to be heard. The Jamaican born UK rapper pushed at the boundaries of UK hip hop in the mid 90s, and commands respect even to this day. “It was most frustrating being a fan of British hip hop artists” he tells me of his origins. “The initial impetus when I started was there wasn’t a ready made platform for British artists. The core drive was to create something out of nothing and there were no rules, no guidelines to follow.” This, he believes, is why his almost unclassifiable, genre spanning and genre expanding albums and singles do so well in the British charts

Being picked up by the amazing Ninja Tune label, he slotted perfectly into the Ninjas way of doing things, being allowed to experiment and fiddle with his music at his own pace. “My recording process is not like a making of an album,” he states. “It’s more like experimenting with new programs and new musicians and developing songs. It’s more like a song writing master class. It’s always in full swing, it doesn’t stop, and this process goes on all the time. Normally at the end of the process someone comes along and patch along something that makes a decent and cohesive body of work.”

“Messing about with sequences and drum machines is what takes up my time, what turns me into a bad friend, turning me into an antisocial hermit!” he laughs. “I thrive on getting new programs that I get frustrated with and don’t know how to use until about 5 or 7 years later. I’m a gannet for picking up new things and experimenting and abusing them.”

He has tried using more traditional artists and recording methods in the past, but his exacting nature has seen him resist the temptation to go completely ‘traditional’. “It’s the biggest tussle with my music”, he confesses, “and I do want to want to extend the musicality of it by adding real musicians. I like to write out the initial sketches of the score,” he explains, “but when it gets duplicated or replicated by actual trained musicians just the mere fractions of movements of what is considered ‘musical correctness’ turns the piece away from the thing I envisaged. I still got a pretty warped sense of musicality because I didn’t finish off my training,” he grins.

His experimental side comes out in his videoclips as well, although he lets me know there’s a far more practical reason for the clever and quirky clips he makes. “Often the ideas are quite grand, but my video clips come about normally due to a lack of finance,” he chuckles. “That’s usually how we stumble onto these quirky things. I don’t like to make just music videos, I want to make a little film, but with deadlines and budgets we seem to accidentally keep landing on these quirky little sketches.”

He’s about to hit up Australia, although after last tour he said he was about ready to quit. It’s not that he wants to give it all up, but rather he wants to create an environment that’s not just touring but actually living. “Rather than going and doing a bunch of shows, I want to explore!” he enthuses “After 14 years of touring I want to do more than just turn up, make some money and go home. I want to try and be a part of the international creative community.”

To that end, he’s willing to work with anyone. “I’ll record with anyone. If you had a beat I’d like I would record something and send it back to you and be up for getting it out in the old ether.” I assure him I will hold him to that. “I don’t discriminate,” he replies, “you know, whether you’re Timbaland or a granny with a drum machine, I’m up for it!” he laughs.

I ask him if he finds conflicts going on the road with the band, whether the differences in his musical sense of things cause frustration at times. “It’s easier with a live band because we cross reference the recordings, and the whole live context turns the track into something else,” he says. “We don’t just duplicate what’s on the record. If you want to listen to the record, listen to the record. When it comes to the live environment it’s it own entity.” That, and he’s worked with the core grouping of DJ MK and Ricky Ranking for a while now, and they’ve got things pretty much sorted.

Catch Amp Fiddler at the Days Like This! festival in January, as well as the following dates across the country:

Thu 31st Dec – Origin, Perth

Fri 1st Jan – Days Like This! NYD show, Brisbane

Thur 7th Jan – The Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Sat 9th Jan – Soundscape Festival, Tasmania

Sun 10 Jan – Days Like This!, Sydney