Who Is Rudimental?
Rudimental’s ‘Feel The Love’, topped the singles chart and, though they were still some way down a bill that included Jay-Z, Kasabian and Nicki Minaj, when the organs signalled the start of its headlong charge through drum ‘n’ bass, soul and that incredible, unexpected trumpet solo, you could see the place erupt. Arms were raised, bodies bounced, neck hairs sprang to attention and throats went a little lumpy during their show in London.
Piers Agget – Hammond, Keyboards
Kesi Dryden – Percussionist/Keyboards
Leon Rolle – DJ
Amir Amor – Guitars /Keyboards
Not only was this the feel-good hit of the summer, it was stamped Made In Hackney, home to three-quarters of Rudimental and still their number-one hangout and recording base. It’s the place where Piers Agget, Leon ‘Locksmith’ Rolle and Kesi Dryden grew up, went to school, played football, learnt how to DJ and make beats – mostly in each other’s company. The fourth and final part, Amir Amor, came from nearby Somers Town. Though they had vague connections, when Amir was first asked to work on one of their tunes he’d mistaken them for “some drum ‘n’ bass act from Bristol”.
That track – the gorgeous deep house Spoons – immediately made it clear they were something else entirely. In fact, all four Rudimental members have histories as wide as they are deep. Piers learnt about music playing piano in his dad’s blues and ‘60s covers band, but coupled that with grime instrumentals under the name Darker (“a white kid called Darker making grime,” he laughs). Amir was making garage beats in a Camden community studio and collaborating with Plan B (as Analog Kid), but also playing bass in “post-hardcore” rock bands as a side line. Kesi got the bug after picking up guitar aged six and was making hip hop beats in his teens, while Leon was spending his pocket money on grime 12-inches, dj’ing with Piers on pirate stations and scratching up his mum’s Anita Baker albums back at home.
He, Kesi and Piers have been together as Rudimental since late 2007, making music reflective of London’s eye-wateringly diverse street scene. But it was 2011’s low-slung track, ‘Deep InThe Valley’, that was, in Piers’ words, “the first time Rudimental started to sound like Rudimental”. With the arrival of Amir, everything suddenly gelled.
“When we first came together it was like it was meant to be,” he says. “It was like he’d been there all our lives,” concurs Piers. “Before then we were coming up with good ideas but there was always something missing,” adds Kesi. “Once Amir got on board, it had that finishing touch.” Amir, like the others, had been growing frustrated. Marginally the oldest of the quartet at 27, he’d worked on half-finished projects for others that his heart wasn’t in, while that Plan B mixtape – Paint It Blacker, was shelved after running into clearance issues with Leonard Cohen.
Most of all, perhaps, they were all fed up with the modern way of working – make a beat, give it to a singer to write to, await the results and the inevitable sinking feeling when stars don’t align. Now Rudimental’s work is all hand-crafted, singer and producers in the studio together working on the song, whether it’s relative unknowns, such as Sinead Harnett, who appears on the incredible ‘Hide’, or 2012’s superstar Emeli Sandé, co-writer and singer on ‘Yeah’ and ‘Free’.
“Emeli lives in Hackney and she came to our gig when we supported Maverick Sabre. She came down to the studio a few days later and we had a lovely idea on Free. When she came in and worked on it we were so excited,” says Piers. “It was such a simple kick drum and guitar and me going ‘oh oh oh’,” adds Amir. “She heard it and started making up words, singing, putting it together.”
The result is a soaring ode to resilience and independence, tinged with gospel and shot through with Sandé’s powerful soul, an anthemic but reflective flipside to the battering-ram ebullience of hit single, ‘Not Giving In’. Sandé’s is the biggest name of the many guest vocalists, but all – including New York rapper Angel Haze, who appears on ‘Hell Could Freeze’ – were Rudimental’s choices.
They’ve proven themselves adept A&Rs when it comes to hunting singers: John Newman, whose old-school soul-boy voice powers ‘Feel The Love’ and ‘Not Giving In’, was discovered performing in a pub. MNEK, singer on ‘Baby’ & ‘Spoons’, wandered in from the next-door studio while they were laying down the track ‘Spoons’ and turned it into a modern house classic. Sinead Harnett is another newcomer, yet her ‘Hide’ & ‘Baby’ are album favourites. The title track ‘Home’ is her 3rd appearance and kicks off the album. It begins as sparse and soulful, but with a sub-bass throb, before slowly stepping up into a clash of 2-step and Mark Crown’s trumpet. “This track shouldn’t work but it so does,” smiles Kesi.
“The beauty of it is that we’re still in the same studio using the same crappy equipment,” says Amir. “The process hasn’t really changed. All the artists on this record are people we’ve worked with before in some capacity. We met John Newman in a pub and ‘Feel The Love’ just fit nicely with his voice so we put him on there.”
Like Soul II Soul, Massive Attack or Basement Jaxx before them, Rudimental are a front person less dance act with a strong supporting nucleus. “Not to say we have a circle we’ve created and no one can access it,” says Leon. “We like great vocals and even before we started we were going out to talent contests and checking new artists. What we’re creating on this album is a family vibe. People like Mark Crown, who follows us everywhere, Sinead, Syron [who also sings on Spoons and the beautiful title track], MNEK are all family we can just call on.”
Family, community and indeed home are themes that are stamped on Rudimental as surely as rollicking rave tunes and a sense of adventure. They’ve all benefited from community music studios, learning their trade on cheap equipment and picking up pro tips, while Leon and Kesi have both had mentoring roles in schools. And this sense of music as a healthy distraction from the inner city’s less productive pastimes informs everything they do. Think of the award-winning ‘Feel the Love’ video, which is shot in Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street project that gives disadvantaged kids the opportunity to ride and take care of horses against the bleak backdrop of North Philadelphia. Or for ‘Not Giving In’, which uses the tale of a Filipino break dancer to illustrate art’s power to transform lives.
Amir says, “The sad thing is the focus is always on the negative side of youth. In our videos we show the positive side.” Leon adds, “Where we came from there was negative things all the time – drugs, violence. Music was a means of escape. Fortunately I had a parent who funded and supported that. A lot of the people didn’t have that. We consider ourselves real people, we’ve been around real things.”
And it was music (alongside football – Leon played semi-pro until Rudimental took off) and the wider sense of musicality that proved their outlet. “There was definitely a moment when I was all about riding Dizzee Rascal for about two years,” says Piers. “But at the same time I’d go and do a pirate set with loads of really aggressive MCs, get really into it, testosterone all over the place, then I’d go home and sit down with my dad and play blues. At school I used to hide my iPod ‘cos it was full of blues and jazz.”
“We’ve all gone through so many phases,” adds Kesi. “The unifying thing is raving and soul music. Blues and jazz and guitar music and house and hip hop all come together. We really love soulful vocals and sing-a-long parties.”
That sense of playfulness, of variety, of ‘what are they gonna do next?’ is what makes Home such a stunningly rich, constantly surprising album. It’s something reflected in their live shows, where they play as a 12-piece band (Piers admits he’d like to go even bigger), including Piers on organ and synths, Amir on bass, keys and guitar, Kesi on keys and percussion and Leon on “MPCs, shouting and getting my top off”.
You should expect the unexpected from a group like Rudimental – but the fact is, going from ‘Spoons’ to ‘Feel The Love’, even they were amazed. “When Kesi had the very first rough idea for that in the studio, we actually trashed the place. Tops off, threw kit all over the place,” recalls Leon. “People were like (open-mouthed),” says Piers. “Once we’d played it to a few people they didn’t see the light. ’You can’t pull it off, you’re not a big enough name, get Cee-Lo Green to sing it, make it more of a harder drum ‘n’ bass thing, get rid of the trumpet from the middle…’”
‘Feel The Love’, of course, wasn’t just a one-week wonder in Hackney. After hitting the top spot, it spent months in the UK top 10, then toured the charts of Europe and went triple platinum in Australia. It also took four mid-20s lads from Hackney and Camden and gave them a new lease of life. Says Leon, “We always go on about Hackney Weekender, but it’s given us the licence to show we’re not just a drum ‘n’ bass track, we can do a soul tune or an Angel Haze track at 119 bpm.”
As you’ll discover on their forthcoming album – HOME, there’s not much they can’t do.