Beatmaker’s Corner: Roska

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

As much as one sound can define a producer, they are also afforded the freedom of trying something new. Their musical confines aren’t as closed off as their rapper counterparts, meaning experimentation and finding pockets is more accessible for them. But sometimes, when a beatmaker and a wall of sound collide, the bond is too strong to be broken. This would be a great way of describing the relationship between UK funky and one of its pioneers, Roska. The producer from South London has stood at the forefront of one of the UK’s most inventive genres—an amalgamation of funky house, bass-heavy club music, dancehall and more—for over a decade, riding through the sound’s choppy waters with a brute force that is highly respected.

Much has been made about a potential mainstream resurgence for UK funky—we even wrote about it recently—but the genre almost begins and ends with Roska. A true leader, he has not only pushed the boundaries of the genre during its so-called ‘dead’ phase, but challenged voyeurs to reconsider the hasty ways in which the genre was dismissed after its late 2000s peak. Much like grime had its purists who kept pushing during its darkest days of the early 2010s, Roska was one of a few who were relentless in pursuing the funky route. Even as I speak to him, he maintains a cooler-than-thou demeanour as he runs down UK funky’s perception.

“The first time people started saying it died I was doing loads of DJ sets and they weren’t interested,” he says. “Like they were turning their backs on it. But those were just people who listened to it on the surface. If you asked them what their favourite funky tracks were, you’d probably get Egypt’s ‘In the Morning’, Crazy Cousinz’ ‘Do You Mind’, Donae’O’s ‘Party Hard’, Hard House Banton’s ‘Sirens’ and that’s all they know. They probably wouldn’t say a Roska track because it’s too underground. I just laugh, because I was still playing in America, Asia, and I bought my house when everyone said it was dying! I just let people say what they want to say because those who say it’s dead or dying don’t care about it anyway. If they were, they would be researching who’s doing it.”

Indeed, Roska’s name is a weighty one in UK funky’s hallowed halls, and he has done his bit to keep it alive among diehard fans who refused to believe the genre was done. Though he describes his sound as “percussive and fun”, this description fails to do justice to his powers. One listen to his music and you are immediately transported to a heady, exotic setting, in the middle of the dance, with his tracks serving as the background for a bop. This is true of all his releases via seminal labels such as Tectonic, Rinse and his very own Roska Kicks & Snares, which celebrates a decade of relevancy this year. His attention to detail has come a long way from his youth where, despite having musical parents, he wasn’t immediately drawn to what would become his calling.

“I know people enjoy my interpretation of UK funky and I try to stick to that.”

“My mum used to listen to soul and my dad was a DJ holding events,” he explains. “He loved lover’s rock, ragga, reggae, and my mum listened to hip-hop as well. I found my musical taste quite late, in my late teens listening to jungle, garage, grime and later on broken beats and house.” However, his ascent in the late 1990s and early 2000s—crafting distorted hip-hop beats with a hint of what was becoming known as grime—wouldn’t last. “By 2004, when I realised that a lot of people were making funky house early on,” he says, “I thought, ‘Let me see how I feel about making this type of music’ and then it became more than I expected. I was still in experimental mode and finding myself musically.”

UK funky’s following was growing, and Roska found himself in the middle of what was a burgeoning movement and exciting new chapter in UK music. “I didn’t think about how [UK funky] was going to last or what would happen to it, I was just about making the music and enjoying it,” he admits. “Even when I released my first songs in 2008-10, it was more of seeing whoever liked it.” Though he had been a presence as a DJ long before his first tracks, one of which was 2008’s “Feeline”, a 9-5 as a manager at a mobile phone shop was the only border blocking his full commitment to the craft. But since quitting, he has been flying high.

Outlining his creative process, Roska does not mince his words. “I usually start with the drums and then I’ll think of a melody,” he explains. “But it varies depending on what vibe I’m in. The last few months I’ve been starting the other way around, where I work on melodies then come up with the drums after. Whatever way works best. They’re never emotional beats—I just tend to stay in a certain mind-frame until I want to do something completely different.” It is this creative space in which his most recognisable track, 2010’s “Squark”, was born. An upbeat, squelchy record that treads several musical lines, it represents Roska in his purest form; daring, adventurous and unhinged. And, while not necessarily funky, the track speaks to Roska’s unrelenting need to explore. “I wanted to merge as much as I could of a few different genres and see what would become of it,” he says. “[‘Squark’] was grime, UK funky and dubstep and I feel I pulled it off well.”

And it’s this willingness to try new things that has led to more shelly collaborations with the likes of Mz. Bratt, Sweetie Irie, Swindle and refixes of tracks from Donae’O and more across a number of releases. His work surpasses your normal producer—he definitely deserves the ‘remix king’ title—but in an age where beatmakers are taking more credit for their work, does he feel his contemporaries are getting the shine that has been lacking in the past? “I feel like, recently, more and more of them are fighting for what they deserve,” he admits. “It’s one of those things where it’s new to people because producers were always in the background. Producers weren’t seen as artists or DJs, and more of them are now becoming their own brand.”

However, as he stresses throughout our conversation, Roska has never been one to follow the trends of the day, looking only towards his own journey, one which has helped form his own imprint in a scene where he has found a deep pocket. “I know people enjoy my interpretation of UK funky and I try to stick to that,” he says, a nuanced and thoughtful retort speaking to the modesty of the man.

Roska mentions an upcoming EP with one of his current favourites in grime, Jammz, in June, before unleashing a new album in September—further proof that this workaholic has no signs of stopping. But in spite of his successes and ongoing popularity, Roska has never lost sight of what has got him to his position; his passion to challenge himself through his music, funky or otherwise. “When I was coming through, I realised my music was going way beyond funky and people were enjoying it.” He concludes. “I go to so many different countries and enjoy playing and people enjoy hearing it—that’s when I realise the power of my music. Half of these countries I wouldn’t go to if I was working a 9-5, so it shows what the music can do for me.”

Posted on May 01, 2018