Hailing from Hackney, London, Rudimental consists of Piers Agget, Kesi Dryden, Amir Amor, and DJ (Leon) Locksmith. The quartet took over the charts this summer with the worldwide smash “Feel The Love”. Often portrayed simply as dance music producers, this interview highlights how Rudimental are that and so much more – multi-instrumentalists, performers and lyricists. In the run up to the release of their hotly-tipped debut album, the foursome sat down with IDOL to share their experience of making a record together, and their thoughts on the music industry today.
How did you become the group that we now know as Rudimental?
Piers: Me and Leon grew up together on the same road. We went to nursery together and met Kesi, who lived in the same area as us in Hackney, playing football. We have two loves, music and football. Then we met Amir about two years ago. We worked on some remixes with him in his studio…
Amir: I have a studio in Hackney. I met the three guys and we ended up getting along really well.
Leon: We’ve all had an individual journey to get to where we are. For example, Piers and myself, we did a lot of pirate radio stations, DJ’ing all over the place, doing house parties, carrying our vinyls up long staircases!
Amir: I was a producer and playing in bands, working behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer before meeting the guys.
Leon: Amir was definitely the missing piece of the Rudimental puzzle.
Why do you think the dynamic works so well between the four of you?
Amir: We’ve got so many different influences between us but there’s a unifying thing where we all love soul music and soulful vocals. We all also love clubbing and bass music as well. And then we all bring something unique to the table. Piers has played blues and piano from a young age. Leon is a DJ and has the house music influence. Me and Kesi are into hip-hop and I used to play the guitar and sing soul music.
Piers: And we all do some backing vocals on our tracks too.
So you all have a deep understanding of music.
Piers: Me and Kesi had lessons and Amir is self taught. But we’ve all got to the place where we are now and are decent musicians and when we play live it comes out.
How does that appreciation for live instrumentation influence your tracks?
Kesi: I think it’s a big part of it. We all play instruments – that’s how our songs start rather than looking at a computer. The live instruments add something you can’t replace. The brass on “Feel The Love” and “Not Giving In” – that has to be done live.
Amir: The funny thing with us is that we always write the songs first and then the hard part is adding the electronic stuff afterwards.
I imagine it’s normally the other way around?
Amir: Yeah, usually they make the beat and then labels go out and get top-liners. We write the songs first, and all the lyrics. The beat goes around that.
Why are you called “Rudimental”?
Kesi: When I used to go to piano lessons as a kid, there was a theory book, which was called “The Book of Rudiments” that I always used to forget. The name “rudiments” stuck in my head. Rudiments didn’t work for more than one person so Rudimental fitted best.
You are often described as dubstep experimentalists but listening to your new album I wouldn’t want to describe you that way because it’s got such mainstream appeal. How would you describe your sound?
Amir: We haven’t come from a dubstep background. We’re from a songwriting background. The genres that you see on the music are influences from that moment in time when we’re in the studio together. The tempo varies really wildly. The song always comes first, then if it fits the mood of a 150bpm like “Not Giving In”, it can become drum and bass.
Leon: You know what, I might flip that on it’s head. I think we are dubstep experimentalists. We are drum and bass experimentalists, house experimentalists. We work with all of them.
Who are your musical heroes?
Leon: I would say Todd Edwards, from a house-y, old skool garage vibe.
Amir: Most of my influence came from soul, so Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Soul II Soul. But also garage music. That was my generation – garage and grime. When I first heard garage, like Roy Davis Jr’s “Gabrielle” that switched me on to soul music! It wasn’t like I was listening to soul music before that. Garage introduced me to soul music.
Leon: My mum always says, “The reason why you’re in this music game is because of me”. It really is true. My first vinyl that I took from my mum’s collection was an Anita Baker record.
Piers: I think that your upbringing and what your parents are into is very important. My dad is into blues music and I became massively into unknown blues artists like Muddy Waters. At the same time I was into garage and grime. My dad was one of those 50 year olds that was into jungle because Cool FM was around the corner from where we lived.
Amir: Our studio is actually next to the old Bluenote building where all the jungle raves used to happen.
What would you say is your favourite album of all time?
Amir: “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
Kesi: Fugees “The Score” and Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”.
Piers: You took one of mine, that’s unfair!
Leon: My very first album that I bought was Dr Dre.
Piers: I’m going to go a bit out there and say when I first heard Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”, jazz music took over my life for about three years. I then studied jazz at college. I used to love Duke Ellington and big band jazz too.
“Feel the love” was your first huge international success. Did you recognise the power of that track when you were making it?
Kesi: I think that when we started making it we thought it was a big song. We didn’t really expect it to do as well as it did, but there was something about it.
Piers: When Kesi brought the idea to the studio we all took our tops off and started screaming and dancing. No one even knew why – it just put a feeling inside us. We were all hell bent on making it amazing. You never think it’s going to be number one though, especially worldwide.
Everyone will remember the summer of “Feel The Love”.
Kesi: We get a lot of tweets from people saying that it reminds them so much of summer.
Amir: We’ve seen a few tattoos of it even. The feeling that we got from that song is what we try and recreate on stage, and what we’ve tried to recreate on the album. It’s an uplifting feel.
That partnership with John Newman – who sings vocals on “Feel The Love” – has been very special. Do you think he will become a huge singer in his own right?
Piers: I hope so. I think he’s got a lot of talent. He’s working on his own stuff at the moment.
Amir: When Kesi wrote the chorus to “Feel The Love”, it was Kesi singing on the track.
Kesi: Then we saw John Newman in a pub and we knew he’d be perfect for the song.
Piers: Kesi met a girl and he wrote the song at the same time as falling in love with that girl.
Are you still together?
It seems like you’re really ahead of the game in spotting young talent, having seen the artists that you’re picking to feature on your record like John, MNEK, Syron and Angel Haze?
Amir: We’ve been working with these artists since before we made it.
Leon: But we do go out to talent shows all the time.
Piers: Angel Haze actually chose to work with us. She’s a really quick writer. My little sister wrote and sang the hook on that track. It all happened in the space of an hour. And since then we’ve done a couple more tracks with her.
It doesn’t sound like there’s a label breathing down your neck?
Amir: There’s always a label breathing down your neck. They found us most confusing to try and market. We’re not a band with a singer at the front. We pretty much A&R the record ourselves and organize our own studio time as well.
What did you think of the viral success of the “non-stop to ‘Feel the love’” dancer video?
Piers: It was amazing. We had two great music videos promoting our music videos.
What can the readers expect from your debut album?
Piers: You can expect lots of different styles and vibes. It will be a soulful Rudimental feel, with live instruments, base, big subs and generally us having a good time in the studio.
Amir: If anyone sees us live they will get a feel for what the album will be like.
For someone who hasn’t seen you live, they might wonder how you would translate your sound into live music – what could they expect from one of your shows?
Piers: We play them on our instruments and we really enjoy it. One of the best parts of making music is getting to perform your own songs. We do genuinely enjoy it.
Leon: Sometimes before a show I’m really moody, I’ve done a lot of travelling and I’m away from the family. Then I step foot on the stage and forget about everything. I think it’s our music that has that influence on people, that makes you forget about all your worries.
What is your album highlight?
Leon: I can’t narrow it down, but it’s given us an opportunity to express ourselves 100%, and that to me is a highlight. Do not expect a drum and bass album, or a house album. It’s going to be very eclectic and different bpms.
Kesi: Every week I have a different favourite.
Piers: I’ve been at this for years and I’m so happy to be making an album. We had the opportunity to get an 8-piece string quartet and record it in a church. Four years ago that wasn’t possible because we couldn’t afford it.
Who do you really respect within your field?
Amir: Disclosure are a group that we play with quite a lot. I’m really looking forward to their album. Emeli Sande is an artist that I really respect as well.
Piers: If we were on a main stage next year, and Little Dragon were on the same stage, and then someone like Disclosure, and then Mumford & Sons. When we did Jools Holland it was that kind of experience.
What’s your favourite record out right now?
Amir: I like Ben Howard
Piers: I really like Ed Sheeran’s song “Show Me Love”. It’s hard though, because there’s a lot of a crap in the pop charts…but we’re one of the good things in it (laughs).
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Piers: Hackney Weekender was our first ever live gig in front of 6000 people singing “Feel The Love” back to us.
Did that make you want to cry?
Piers: We sat in the food place afterwards…
Kesi: In silence!
Piers: I was so spaced out, I felt like I’d taken something. It was unreal. We’ve come from being studio hobbits.
Amir: I mean Hackney Marshes, I used to play football there as a kid, so to do that there was like, what’s happening!
What does the word “power” mean to you?
Leon: Power for me means being confident in yourself and in your own opinion.
Amir: Power for me is switching off the power in the studio. (All laugh). It does my head in! So many switches.
Piers: I’m going to say love.
Kesi: For me, it’s to influence somebody’s life.
Who has the power in music?
Amir: The Fans do.
Leon: The power lies with people who love music, support music and go out and buy it.
Amir: There’s no other way for record companies to exist. Musicians will make music but there’s no other way for them to release it unless there’s a system there for them to do it.
Leon: I don’t think it’s seen that way sometimes, though. At home, if you see Britney Spears ten times on the TV screen in a night when you’re a teenager, you’re going to think that’s what music is really about. Or X Factor. Sometimes you wish you could manipulate that power.
Kesi: I would also say there is a lot of power in up and coming UK music.
Amir: You can see that with acts like Disclosure coming through, us coming through – that would not have happened a few years a go.
Piers: It’s very important that you bring your own thing to the table in terms of writing, as well. If you get involved in the songwriting and production of your music you’re more likely to have something genuine that comes out of it. Some of the problems with talent shows are that the people are built by a machine and they don’t have anything real or genuine to bring to the table. That’s what we bring. We just bring ourselves.
Amir: “Feel The Love” got us involved with the record labels. That’s when we started to see that their power is deteriorating. They still try and grab onto this control thing but their power is crumbling. They didn’t care about us before.
Next summer will you be playing a lot of festivals?
Piers: You’ll have to watch this space. We’ve had a lot of incredible offers and this time we’ll be doing them live, rather than DJ’ing. Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, Bestival… it could be amazing.
Who are your idols?
Amir: I think I’ll go for Malcolm X. His life is a moral story for everybody, when the general status is to be all-consuming and quite ignorant. We need somebody like that now.
Leon: My idol is David Beckham. He’s had the world of knock-backs in his life, and I’m all about how you deal with those and come back. The whole of the nation had turned against him and he’s had his face in and out of papers all the time, and he comes back from that. I’d like to think I was that strong.
Kesi: Nelson Mandela. He struggled, and he never gave in. Looking at his life story is just amazing.
Piers: Prince is my idol. He was so himself. I love his attitude. His music is amazing. He was and is obnoxiously out there, and does what he wants to do.
Interviewed by Holly Rubenstein for IDOL Magazine’s Power Issue, in stores now
Photography by Samuel Bradley
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