The Brighton trio talk about how they got together, what they do and don't conform to, what they think about the elements of hiphop, material they're currently working on and juggling sounds.
Heres a few words with Brighton trio – the Non-Conformists. I've always found Brighton a refreshing place to visit and have put it down to the sea air – I'd also say that hiphop also needs regular refreshment and feel that these kind of artists do bring that to the table – a fresh sound and good attitude…
To start, introduce yourself/yourselves and the members of the crew you represent…
Kode: Okay, I go by the name of Kode, producer and emcee. Also here is Richie Cunningham, deejay and producer. Unfortunately Real-D, the 3rd member of the crew, who is an emcee, couldn't be here. Collectively we're known as Nonconformists…
Ok no worries man… lets get it rolling…if they designed a pack of hiphop Top Trump cards and included your crew– what would be your main skills?
Richie: Porn-collecting, charity shop digging -for records, not women's clothes or anything!, getting busy on the ones and twos.
Kode: Being self-critical, adding too much to a track, occasional jiggyness.
How did do you meet?
Kode: Dan aka Real-D had a lonely hearts moment and placed an ad in Hip Hop Connection magazine's Contacts page – "MC looking for a DJ" or words to that effect. Rich and I were both equally as lonely and replied! None of us knew each other before then. Haha, I'm looking out for partners that way myself! How did the name Nonconformists come about?
Kode: It wasn't our first name (which was too rubbish to admit to!). Basically we sat around writing shortlists of names and talking about them, and Dan and I both wrote down Nonconformists. We liked the sound of it, so it stuck.
Richie: But now everyone thinks we're part of Def Jux or something, or on some left-field shit – which we're not. It's only a name.
Kode: Yeah, we never meant it to define what we do, but unfortunately as soon as anyone hears the name they get it into their heads that we're gonna be some bizarre, off-the-wall type crew or something. Which we're not – it's just a name!
What don't you conform to?
Kode: Having a name that is some kind of mission statement for the crew! What do you conform to?
Richie: Fat beats and dope rhymes.
Kode: A love of hip hop, and being part of it.
Do you think the concept of the five elements to hiphop is a played out idea? Do you think conforming to them makes hiphop too formulaic and limited in its creativity OR are they the uniting factors for our music and subculture?
Richie: I don't think it limits its creativity at all – it's just part of hip hop. It's like saying "do you think heavy metal is limited to distorted guitars". It's what makes hip hop, rather than what's part of it.
Kode: You can't say they're played out because they ARE a part of hip hop, no question. But I don't think it limits it – it's not like anyone making hip hop music HAS to include all those elements. There's plenty of creativity if you look at hip hop music as a whole.
You've just released the "Hold the Sanity" EP, tell us a bit about that…
Kode: It's long overdue!
Richie: After 6 or 7 years of making music together we thought we'd better put a release out…
Kode: It's got 3 tracks on it – "Hold The Sanity", "Noncons" and "You Know What They Say". "Noncons" is actually fairly old, but we included it because it gets a good response when we do it live. It's basically just 3 tracks that we wanted to put out there.
Richie: Although they're all Kode's beats, which I'm a bit pissed off about! It's available from your local online record store, and various record shops too. And our website (www.nonconformists.co.uk) if you're stuck.
Are you signed to a record label or distribution company? Who handles the business side of things?
Kode: No, we're not signed.
Richie: We try to split the work between us.
Kode: It's actually quite hard, 'cos there always seems to be business stuff that needs doing. It can get in the way of actually making the tunes sometimes.
Ok so do you get much interest from abroad or is your audience primarily UK based?
Kode: We haven't really pushed our stuff overseas, although that's definitely something we should do. It's one of the problems of doing everything yourself – there's always more you can do.
Richie: We get a good few hits from foreign types on the website though.
And where did you record your EP? Was it in your own studio or elsewhere?
Richie: In Kode's abode! The premier hip hop studio in Brighton …
Do you have any advice for up'n'coming artists perhaps looking to release a record?
Kode: I don't think we're in much of a position to offer advice as we're learning as we go anyway. But make sure you're confident that you're ready to commit something to a release, and make sure you know what you're gonna do with the product when they're delivered and sitting in your bedroom.
Haha… that's what people need… practical down-to-earth type advice! So moving on, the Non-Conformist sound in general, how would you sum that up?
Richie: Hip hop! I dunno, you tell us!
Kode: It's really hard to answer that… we just make what we make. We don't set out to have any specific type of sound, we just know what we like and try to make stuff that we're feeling. Hopefully other people will feel it too, and hopefully it stands out in some way against what everyone else is doing.
What's the hiphop scene like in Brighton ? Is it self-sufficient or largely dependent on nearby London?
Kode: I don't think we're dependent on London at all. There's a lot of people doing stuff down here who are completely self-contained, and no-one's really trying to follow in London 's footsteps.
Richie: It's completely self sufficient, a brilliant scene. There's more variety than the London scene as far as I can tell.
How do the surroundings of a small city on the south coast of England influence your music? Is it all hiphop parties on the beach with loads of fine women?!!
Richie: Yep, every night!
Kode: Mmmm, fine women… Well I wish it was like that but the reality is slightly less exciting – well, for us anyway.
Richie: I think it's more of a laid-back scene than, say, London .
Kode: Definitely. Brighton 's a laid-back, accepting kind of place, and that definitely comes through in the music. There's very little aggy-type hip hop being made down here, which is obviously a reflection of the environment when compared to somewhere like London . What has Fatboy Slim done for the Brighton music scene in general? I always remember that massive free gig he held on the beach… never went but it looked dope…
Richie: It was wack. The city was invaded by even more Londoners than usual!
Kode: You couldn't move at that party, the whole seafront was rammed. Not my type of music at all, in fact I sat way behind the main stage with some mates so we could just chill out a bit.
Richie: I wanted to go to the pub 'cos I knew it would be empty, but no-one else did.
Kode: Seriously though, it's hard to identify any specific benefit that the Brighton scene has gotten from Fatboy Slim. Brighton 's always had a pretty good music scene in general. Although it's been good that a label like Skint could get so big off the back of him, and there were some really good club nights that went around that whole kind of scene – but I think the best days of that are long gone.
Did you ever go to the Essential Festivals in Brighton ? I went to the 1999 one and remember Dead Prez and DITC playing there… they seemed to go down well with the crowds… did those events do anything for the scene in that area?
Richie: I don't know if it's done anything for the scene, but there were definitely some good acts there. There was one with Jeru and the Jungle Brothers, and Rahzel and James Brown, which was good.
Kode: They were good festivals, definitely. It's a shame they're not on any more. At the time Brighton had more regular hip hop club nights than it's got now, so in that sense the hip hop presence at the festivals may have helped maintain that.
Do you think the summer festivals cater for enough hiphop tastes or have they become too rock and dance orientated?
Kode: I've only ever been to one, and that was Reading for one day. I did see the Beastie Boys there though!
Richie: The last festival I went to was Donington, which WAS rock orientated!
Kode: From what I can tell they never have a really consistent hip hop arena – it's always split up and spread around between loads of other acts. Which can actually be a good thing as it opens you up to other types of music, but isn't good for the hip hop purists.
Richie: Didn't Glastonbury have a hip hop tent one year, even just for one day, with Ozomatli playing?
In terms of your production, I found it very distinct and tried to place it or describe it but couldn't, how would you describe it?
Kode: Probably as very distinct and hard to place! Sorry, I'm not trying to be smart, but I always find it really difficult when people ask "What type of stuff do you make then?‿. There's no formula or objective for a particular type of sound, it's just stuff that we like. Although I suppose we have got an underlying thought of not just doing the same old shit that everyone else is doing.
What music forms or artists influence your production?
Richie: I don't know. A lot of stuff I guess… more sample-based producers like Tribe and Madlib have influenced me in the way that they'll take samples from anywhere.
Kode: Anything and everything is an influence. I've been listening to hip hop since Pac Jam came out so there's a massive amount of influence there, but I also like loads of other music too. People like Gary Numan for that electronic stuff, and loads of old funk like The Meters and pre-disco Kool & The Gang. Hip hop wise Ultramagnetics were a massive influence, but more recently I love stuff by Kutmasta Kurt, Visionaries, and I'm also feeling quite a lot of more mainstream production like Neptunes.
Are there any particular producers you admire?
Kode: Historically, Ced Gee from Ultra, the Bomb Squad, Mantronix. And now, Key Kool from Visionaries/Writers Block, Kutmasta Kurt… there's probably loads.
Richie: All the classic ones like Dre, Premier, Pete Rock…
And what about emcees, who would you like to work with?
Richie: A few local MCs maybe; Buzz from Digitek, HP from Lost Souls, Brainiac.
Kode: I dunno… because we're a crew I haven't really got anyone in mind like I might have if I was a freelance producer. I suppose I could say people like Planet Asia, Grand Agent, Wordsworth. But if I'm going for people like that, there'd be hundreds!
In terms of your own emceeing, what's the main reason you started to write and spit lyrics? Is it about story telling, social and political commentary or perhaps just getting the crowd hyped?
Kode: I started just through a love of the music, after listening to the early Electro LPs and watching the Beat Street movie. At that point it was about all sorts of things – we had a track called " UK 's Fresh" about being from the UK , we had braggadocio tracks, just whatever we felt like writing. Now we're split between getting the crowd hyped and more introspective tracks. We haven't done a whole lot of social or political commentary or storytelling, but we're starting to incorporate those things.
In tracks like "You know what they say" you do talk about political issues, how far do you think music and politics mixes?
Kode: I think it can mix in a very powerful way, but I'd say there's very few artists who can do it. Personally I don't think I have the kind of background where I could be a strong political commentator – I just haven't grown up in that sort of environment. But you know when it's working – you can listen to Public Enemy's "It Takes A Nation Of Millions" now and it still sounds as powerful as it did 15 years ago.
In that track, you talk about gun crime and apportioning of blame onto hiphop music and culture by the government – who is primarily responsible for this association between hiphop and violence? Misinformed politicians or elements of the industry who cynically glamorise violence for profit?
Richie: You can't really blame the record companies for putting that kind of thing out. Listening to a violent record doesn't make you a violent person, just the same as watching a violent film doesn't. It's a ludicrous idea trying to link the two.
Kode: I think it's both. The authorities pick up on the violent content of hip hop and see a convenient place to pin the blame, so in that respect hip hop could help itself by removing that violent content. But the authorities always pick on the easy target, which hip hop is – there's plenty of violence in other genres like rock, and in films and TV, but because it's so clear-cut in hip hop it's the easiest thing to blame. I know I got into hiphop through 2pac and Biggie and I can admit that at 16 years of age these rappers did seem quite exciting and appealing, they were almost like action heroes to me– my parents were always cool with it but can you see why some parents might be disturbed by their kids idolizing people like Fifty Cents?
Richie: Yeah, but it's been the same throughout the years. With every form of music – from jazz to Elvis to the Rolling Stones to punk – kids want to listen to stuff that pisses their parents off.
Kode: Young people always want to rebel, so they're always gonna go for idols like Fiddy. And of course the parents don't approve – he basically represents the image of a gangster and a pimp, which most parents aren't going to want their kids to aspire to. But isn't that what heroes are – people that are beyond the lifestyle you live yourself?
Moving on, what's next for the Non Conformists, are you planning a tour or another release – maybe an album?
Kode: There'll be another 12" in the next few months, and various gigs around the country. After that, maybe another 12", maybe an LP – although I think the LP might come sometime next year, after a couple more 12"s.
And finally, any shout outs or final words of wisdom?
Richie: Shout out to all the Brighton heads, I guess, if we must! I'm not gonna list them 'cos there's too many, – they know who they are, and they'll be pissed off if I miss them out!
Kode: I dunno if it is wisdom, but the beauty of hip hop is that it can be anything you want it to be – it's always been built on pushing the boundaries and doing your own thing, so don't be limited by stereotypes or what is considered to be conventional.
Richie: Thanks chaps for the interview.
Related Links: www.nonconformists.co.uk