If you’re a drum & bass fan, there’s a chance you will know of Darren Decoder, Markee Substance and Sian Evans already, what with their debut single “Hide U” smashing it up on the circuit last year and subsequently voted Best Single at the recent Drum..
If you’re a drum & bass fan, there’s a chance you will know of Darren Decoder, Markee Substance and Sian Evans already, what with their debut single “Hide U” smashing it up on the circuit last year and subsequently voted Best Single at the recent Drum & Bass Awards in the UK. Even if you're not a drum & bass fan, you might also recognize their music. Kosheen are one of the few acts on the dance scene who can claim to have had John Digweed spinning their track to finish his set at Bedrock one week, 5000 ravers singing along to it the next and then have the influential Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 1 vote it single of the week . Or to have found favor with the drum & bass faithful, the breakbeat cognoscenti and the UK Garage pin up boys the Dream Teem in the space of three singles. The secret of the their success? Well, 10 years at the cutting edge of breakbeat culture obviously hasn't hurt, but Kosheen put it down to the timeless attraction of the good old fashioned song.
"We're trying to push our sound and take it into different areas," asserts Markee Substance who makes up one third of the group. "We want to show people how versatile we can be. One of the most positive things so far has been the way people in different scenes have picked up on our records. That's great and the reason it's happening is because we're working with songs. A good song is universal; if you love it you'll love it, no matter what style of music you're into".
Their ability to conjure up drum & bass cuts with a decent tune that can still destroy a dancefloor is one reason why it's worth getting excited about Kosheen and their utterly distinctive sound that has grown from finely tuned studio experiments. It’s the sound of sweet soul and folk melodies mashed up with a decades worth of urban dancefloor to create chillingly beautiful tunes to melt your heart as easily as they move your butt. It's the sound of Kosheen. And it’ll be the quintessential sound of 2002.
Kosheen was a project born some two-and-a-half years ago when Bristol drum & bass faces Markee Substance and Darren Decoder hooked up with singer Sian Evans after hearing her sing on a tune a friend had recorded. The Kosheen story had already begun long before that fateful meeting, from skatepunk bands to the free party scene and onto sweaty Bristol raves.
For Sian Evans, the story begins in Wales. The product of a long musical dynasty, singing is in Sian's blood. Her grandfather composed and conducted for male voice choirs and by her teenage years she was following in his footsteps providing vocals for numerous jazz and r&b bands, as well as immersing herself in the music of female singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell. A hip-hop enthusiast from an early age, it was perhaps inevitable that the young Sian would be caught up in the energy of the fledgling dance scene.
Sian had her first encounter with drum & bass courtesy of the seminal Roughneck Ting parties. The brainchild of promoter Markee Substance and a group of like-minded ravers. Roughneck Ting was Bristol's first full-on drum & bass rave, establishing a serious reputation around the city.
By the time Roughneck Ting was up-and running, Scottish born-and-bred Mark(ee) ‘Substance' Morrison had already been enthusiastically following the prototype jungle/breakbeat hardcore sound for several years. The move into drum & bass was as logical as his decision to abandon his love affair with the guitar in favor of the delights of electronic production. Meanwhile, Bristol native Darren ‘Decoder' Beale was also being seduced away from his career as a jobbing guitarist in a series of skate- punk bands by college mate Geoff Barrow (of Portishead fame) who introduced him to the delights of the sampler.
After a short spell releasing hardcore records as Orca, Darren hooked up with Markee at Roughneck Ting and was soon an integral part of the crew. With the parties as a focus, Markee and Darren soon established themselves as stalwarts of the Bristol drum & bass scene.(They were founding partners in Breakbeat Culture, the record shop that remains the city's premiere drum & bass outlet to this day.)
However, their hearts really lay in the studio and by the mid-90s they were making serious noise with cuts like Substance's ‘Downright’ and ‘Homeboys' and ‘Decoder's 'Circuit Breaker' on their own Breakbeat Culture and Tech Itch labels. But despite their love of the dancefloor-oriented tunes they were listening to, spinning and creating, both producers soon felt the nagging urge to try something different, spread their wings and take their music into new territories. Meanwhile, up in the Welsh mountains another musical talent was also feeling restless.
After five years partying at events across the country, inhabiting a treehouse at the Newbury bypass protests, traveling around in horse-drawn carts and generally living the alternative lifestyle to the max; Sian Evans had finally come to rest in a commune in Wales. “I’ve experienced so many things my life and that really helps out with my song writing,” muses Sian. “I lived in teepees and various communes around the country and they were brilliant times, but eventually I decided, ‘Right, I’m sitting here playing with my guitar, but I want more from this. I can get more out of music’ So I had to take myself off the mountain , down to the city and start making things happen.”
So we’re back to that meeting in a studio circa 1998. Where something a little bit special started to happen. First Markee, then Darren, booked Sian for a session and somehow they just seemed to click, so much so they had a tune down on tape just hours after they started working together. Sian wrote songs around Markee and Darren’s backing tracks. The lads played around on keyboards, dusted off their guitars and began to jam again. Sian played them tunes written as acoustic numbers, they reinterpreted them as full-on breakbeat opuses. A strong musical unit emerged from the early experiments and Kosheen found themselves sitting on a healthy stack of songs, including a deep but anthemic driving drum & bass bomb ‘Hide U’, the vehicle with which Kosheen announced their presence to the world.
Released last summer on Moksha Records, the impact of ‘Hide U’ was immediate and immense. A favorite with drum & bass jocks thanks to its rolling beats and strangely effective stuttering groove, the tune also received heavy mainstream radio play thanks to a powerful, soul-dripped vocal from Sian. The buzz continues to grow around the track to this day. ‘Hide U’ scooped the Best Single prize at the recent UK Drum & Bass Awards where Kosheen were also voted Best Newcomers. The follow-up single ‘Catch’, a classy slice of mid-tempo breaks, served to enhance Kosheen’s reputation further, winning support from breakbeat and drum & bass jocks alike. All of which makes the imminent arrival of a new Kosheen single and album a hotly anticipated event. With crisp beats, punchy subs, intricate effects matched by a soaring chorus from Sian and a clever half-speed breakdown, ‘(Slip & Slide) Suicide’, a treatise on the dangers of rampant hedonism, is impressive in itself. But it seems like there’s plenty more where that came from.
Kosheen’s debut album ‘Resist’ will be released on Kinetic Records in March 2002, presenting yet more dimensions of the Kosheen musical oeuvre, with sparkling electronic breakbeat, deep chilled drum & bass torch songs and achingly beautiful downbeat melancholia allowing Sian’s emotive voice full range. Expect it to make major waves. As befits an outfit steeped in the live tradition, plans are also well advanced to take Kosheen onto the stage. Sian adds, “It’s really refreshing and it seems to be bringing the women back to the scene, because at one stage all the girlies seemed to dwindle away and you’d just see loads of trainspotters standing round the decks. I say bring the women back to the drum & the bass, give them something to sing along to!”