Comprising three of the scene’s best, drum and bass producer dream team Kings of the Rollers headline the Hospitality Bristol BBQ at Motion this month. With a history collabs between them spanning more than 10 years, Serum, Bladerunner and Voltage joined forces as a trio after an impromptu back-to-back-to-back on Rough Tempo radio in 2016.
In no time the bookings were flying in, Hospital Records got on the phone, and Kings of Rollers was born. While individually all three producers share some common ground, put three of them on the dials and the result is something to behold.
We consciously wanted to do something different
‘We consciously wanted to do something different’ Serum explains. ‘We didn’t want to be coming up with a new act that sounds the same as what we’ve done as a duo, or what we’ve done in our solo careers.
‘If there’s one word to describe how it’s different to our other music, I’d say that it’s a bit more cinematic. There’s big musical intros – even on the more dancefloor tracks – that really set a scene in a different way to what other artists are doing at the moment – it’s not liquid, it’s not quite jump up. It kind of sits in its own little area.’
The fruit of this union ripened with their 17-track eponymous album, released at the end of April on Hospital Records. A true album with a thoughtful mixture of sound system bangers, jungle rhythms and walk to work rollers, with vocal tracks and hard-hitting MC features. Between the kicks and the snares, there is a highly listenable groove that means you could put the album on in the office or crank up the volume and start a dancefloor.
Between the kicks and the snares, there is a highly listenable groove
Each producer has massively upped their game on this album and for Serum in particular, this meant moving away from samples and creating authentic melodies of his own.
‘One of the things for me was being able to get that vintage sound without sampling, and just doing it all myself. I’m always looking for a sample that makes me think “wow, how did they make that?” and I’m slowly learning the answers to that.
I’m slowly learning the answers
‘When you’re trying to push your career on, if you can write original stuff without clearing samples and it still sounds as good, then why not do it?
‘We’ve got a knack for being able to create some different vibes that we couldn’t have done before. You can be more musical when you’re not relying on samples. You can you can play them in different pitches and stuff, but it’s not a substitute for just flat out being able to do whatever melody you want, in whatever sound you want.’
Another new territory for Serum was working more heavily with vocalists, with guest vocals on nine of the album’s 17 tracks. Kings of the Rollers’ go-to MC Inja takes on two tracks, with appearances from veterans including MC Bassman and Navigator, as well as a stunning vocal from Lydia Pain.
we felt very lucky to find a vocalist that no one had used
‘Lydia Plain is an outrageously talented person. She played the piano and did the vocal on The Sky is Falling. Voltage came across her on Instagram and we felt very lucky at that point to find a vocalist that no one had used. When Hospital got in touch, she was really keen to work and she was super professional about everything, delivered everything on time and the quality was always good. We’ll be working with her again, definitely.
‘Navigator is probably one of the most experienced MCs out there working in drum and bass and reggae. I’ve been working with him for a long time and we get on really well and he really did us a good job on Gringo. The way that guy works, he can write absolutely killer verses in no time at all, just right off the top of the head.’
With such a cohesive sound across the record, as well as a different sound from what they’ve put out individually, it’s difficult to guess which elements each of the producers brought to the table on listening.
‘It changes from track to track’ Serum says. ‘Bladerunner has been really good on the melodies and the chords. There are a lot of tracks where he came up with some quite musical compositions. Voltage, me and him have a lot of weird, out-there ideas. Voltage is also very good on what people are going to vibe to in a club.
‘I’ve gone more off in the direction of trying to bring the cinematic touch, to give everything a nice texture and character. Quite often either Voltage or Bladerunner might have come up with a concept, then I’d switch some sounds out to give it a bit more of a vintage sound. That’s been my contribution.
it would be interesting to see who can guess who did what on which track
‘Though saying that, I suppose there are as many tracks where one of us has started and got most of the way with, then the others have finished it off, so it would be interesting to see who can guess who did what on which track. I’d say Bladerunner was very, very consistent with the melodies. The rest of it kind of divvied out.’
Despite being one of the biggest labels in drum and bass, something we’ve heard time and time again about Hospital Records is that their artists are given the time and trust to develop a project to its full potential.
Had a less scrupulous label signed the project straight off the bat, you might question whether it was driven by a formulaic idea that a successful recording artist to the power of three equals sales, whether or not the finished product could live up to the hype.
This positive experience with Hospital is something that Serum can attest to, having spent the best part of a year in the studio with Voltage and Bladerunner, finding their combined direction and finishing an album they’re truly happy with.
Kings of the Rollers is the big thing for us now
‘Kings of the Rollers is the big thing for us now, but at the beginning, the label’s involvement was something that maybe played on our minds a bit. But we worked out that we’re still doing our solo material, so the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t work out. But in reality, that was probably the easiest bit of it.
‘We’ve been doing this a long time, we know that there was a lot of expectation on us with the album – that we’d have to deliver something that is special and isn’t just 17 jump up bangers or whatever. We had to come up with something that stands up as an album.
we know that there was a lot of expectation on us with the album
‘I think what people don’t take into account sometimes when they see what they think is some mega collaboration is that, yes, you’ve got like the abilities of three producers, but really you’re only going to get one mix down, there are only so many sounds you can put in the track. So if one of us is coming up with an idea, all three of us have to be on board with it. So we’re working that kind of stuff out, but it does lead down a different path, which is good.
‘I don’t think we’d have produced anything like this were it not the three of us and in that situation we were in. But what’s the point of doing an album with three of you, that you could do with two of you? Or that you could do with one of you? It has to sound different, it’s got to have another angle in there where you’re making the most of it. If people want your solo stuff, they can listen to your solo stuff.’
Though drum and bass crews are by no means new, they are fast becoming a dominating fixture of today’s drum and bass climate. The rise of groups like SASASAS and Shadow Demon Coalition has played a huge part in the current popularity of drum and bass, bringing together groups of the scene’s best MCs and selling out arenas. However, Kings of the Rollers was the first producer-led team-up and they’ve since paved the way for others, such as Kenny Ken, Remarc and PotentialBadboy’s Jungle Warriors and newcomers Distress Signal.
However, Kings of the Rollers was the first producer-led team-up and they’ve since paved the way for others
‘I think once people started seeing a DJ-based group, it made them think “we could have a go at that”. And there are people who have that same natural workflow as we do, who know each other and can make it work. It’s nice to know that some of those people have watched us and got the idea from us. It’s always cool to know that you put a mark on the scene that wasn’t there before.
‘When someone gets out there and smashes it up, it opens doors for everybody else. Big promoters actually start thinking, “people like this, let’s pour some money into it” and the scene moves on. That’s definitely something we’ve been seeing. Drum and bass is in a really good position at the moment. Everyone’s got a lot of bookings. Loads of people I’m a fan of are doing really well, so long may that continue.
It’s always cool to know that you put a mark on the scene that wasn’t there before
‘There’s a generation of kids who are bang on it – they just absolutely love it. For a long time in my career it was hard to get people to go out to a club in their own city, let alone travel. Now I can go and see the same faces – it doesn’t matter where I am in the country – people travelling around to go to raves. I was unfortunately too young to see the very birth of rave, but that’s what I understand people did, they’d get in their car and drive. It’s getting a bit like that again. Kids are really interested in the music. When the political atmosphere in the country is as shocking as it is, people tend turn to music. I think that plays a part in things, because we’re going though a good patch for music at the moment.’
Serum, Voltage and Bladerunner will be heading to Bristol this month for the annual Hospitality summer BBQ, with Inja on the mic. As well as a chance to hear the album tracks played live, you can expect fast and furious energy, and some tousling behind the decks.
you can expect fast and furious energy, and some tousling behind the decks
‘Inja is our guy. When we do our sets, he’s our MC. I work with him a lot too. He was MCing with me in Belgium years ago before I’d heard of him – and when you get put on with an MC you don’t know, the results are very up and down – but the minute I heard him, he just totally blew my hat off. Inja is always going to be a fixture of Kings of the Rollers in the sets and he’s got his spots on the album too.
‘Our sets are very spontaneous. It’s a mixture of us trying to get the best out of each other and sometimes trying to draw a tune on the other person that they haven’t heard to try and catch them out. Or playing a tune that you know the other DJ is going to play before they can – which then takes them down a different road. It makes it really exciting for us and if you catch us on one of our best sets, you’ll see us having a good laugh behind the decks – we have fun with it.’
Inja is always going to be a fixture of Kings of the Rollers
The Hospitality BBQ is only their first stop off in Bristol this summer, returning next month for NASS, before joining forces with Shadow Demon Coalition to create ultra group Kings of the Shadows at Sequences in August. And Serum assures us that there will be much more yet from Kings of the Rollers.
‘We’re all in, definitely. We’re going to have a little bit of time to regroup once we see how the album has gone. At the moment we’re writing solo material to play in the sets to make them more exciting, and to learn some new stuff for the next project and gather some new ideas. But we’ll be working towards the next album once we’re ready.’
We’re all in, definitely