Liz Nicholls chats to the pioneering DJ & record producer Roni Size, 53, ahead of his star turn at Readipop Festival in Reading on 14th July
Q. Hello Roni. What’s your first memory of music?
“I’m fortunate: I was brought up in a family of music because I come from Jamaican descent. Every weekend, whether it was my parents’ house or a cousin’s house they would have a gathering with lots of reggae music, soca, Red Stripes for the adults. We’d be sent to bed early; you could still hear the beats of the bass and the chattering of voices from downstairs. The sounds helped me fall asleep, and they’re embedded into me. I’d wake up in the morning and the house would be back to normal so it would be like some kind of musical dream.”
Q. Can you tell us a bit about Sefton Park Youth Centre & what a difference it made to your life?
“Yes. This was a building I stumbled on by accident with my cousins – we used to wander around St Andrews, where I lived in Bristol. There wasn’t much to do there. I wasn’t a fan of school so I didn’t really go; they didn’t mind, they didn’t care. The youth centre had a bunch of guys and strong-willed women who would ask you what you wanted to do, not tell you what to do, like a curriculum. They got some nets for us to play basketball, but I wasn’t that good because I’m only 5ft8. They asked what else we might like to try and we said photography so some people gravitated towards that. I said I liked music so they got turntables, a sound flow, mixer, some second-hand records and I loved that. It escalated into them building a studio, which became the Basement Project.
I used to spend all my time here, and became one of the tutors. The kids would say ‘what are you doing’ and I’d say ‘well, I’m learning how to scratch, how to mix, how to work the sound flow, work this drum machine…’ and they’d say ‘oh can you show me?’ OK! That’s how I became a youth worker. That was it for me – from there on in I was in the dark basement, making music and showing the kids how to make music. We started to use it as an outreach project and that was my calling, working five days a week, showing people how to make music. So many people who are successful in music in Bristol have gone through Sefton Park.”
Q. The Readipop charity team offer a lot of support with mental health. How do you take good care of your mental health?
“That’s a great question. I’ve gone through stages. You start off making music surrounded by people who are your best friends, who’ve got your back, then you drift apart… and that’s a story in itself. It can affect you mentally. The internet and social media seemed a great way to reconnect with old friends when it came in at the beginning, but it’s not real. I think being on social media is a challenge mentally: people are clicking the camera and smiling, then as soon as the camera’s off they’re dead inside, and that is a real issue. I don’t have the answers but it helps my own mental health to leave my phone off for two days – if I can – and just do my thing, go to the studio, enjoy making music. I keep myself active, have a routine. I’ll get up and do my 20 push-ups or 20 pull-ups and then I’ll make breakfast. I make sure I’ve got something positive to counteract whatever negative is coming; the news doesn’t help. There’s a lot of stuff out there that works against us so find what works for you.”