Interview: Chase & Statusby Amy Nickell
at University of Leeds 16th May 2011 13:10:08
Chase & Status have made it big. Last year their critically acclaimed album No More Idols reached number 2 in the album charts, going gold in the first week.
Since then the pair have maintained a flawless reputation for live shows, selling out countless venues nationwide, all while managing to find time to pop over to the U.S. to sample beats for Jay Z and produce tracks for Rihanna. It’s just all in a day’s work for Saul Milton and Will Kennard.
While it’s hard to contemplate their meteoric rise in popularity, their story is pretty typical. The met as fledgling mutual music lovers, “We listened to everything, early jungle ’94, hardcore rave stuff from the late ‘80s, Joy Division, Tears for Fears through to Nirvana, Pearl Jam to people like Biggie Smalls and Wu Tang, a real eclectic mix.”
Before starting writing beats in their bedrooms and realising they were pretty damn good at it, “We were bedroom DJs and then a couple of years after that at university we just said ‘you know what? Let’s get a studio’ So we did it.”
The pair dropped out of uni and quickly infiltrated and impressed the underground drum and bass scene: “I was at Manchester Met studying English and Humanities and Will went to Manchester Uni studying History of Art. We didn’t really follow the university path as good students should. But we carried on living in the city after dropping out. It was a great place to learn our trade.”
It’s here where things get interesting. Since their 2008 record More Than A lot the pair have managed that elusive crossover into the mainstream, a feat credibly achieved by few. Chase & Status are arguably the only breakthrough drum and bass act since Pendulum, who have managed to maintain their underground applause while winning over a host of fresh young fans in the process.
Although, all it takes is a quick listen of No More Idols to understand how the sound breaks the mould, appealing to both new fans who bought ‘End Credits’ to those who raved to ‘Eastern Jam’ and ‘Duppy Man’, it’s like Saul says: “We think it’s good to be versatile in what we do, it’s boring just to do the same thing, new inspiration can come from anywhere. We’ve had mixed palettes since we were kids and just love music. We are music fans first.”
No More Idols embraces some of the UK’s finest talent featuring collaborations with Plan B, Tinie Tempah, White Lies and Dizzee Rascal to name a few: “We had a wish list of people we wanted to work with on the record – and we pretty much have worked with 99% of them. Tinie supported us on tour last year, we just wanted to do something quite raw, not a pop tune. White Lies we always wanted to work with so we approached them.”
However, with mainstream (although debatably all breakthrough acts themselves) names like that and the move from independent labels to major label Mercury in 2009, it begs the question: was the crossover tactical? Talking about ‘Heavy’ featuring someone who, fairly or not, knows all about the label ‘sell out’, Dizzee Rascal, Saul says: “If you listen to Dizzee’s early stuff it’s really hard underground grime and we just wanted to go back, back to all out roots, we love the dirt, we love the grime – that’s what we’re all about. We have never used any contrived tactics to get anywhere. If you start being tactical in music you might as well quit because that’s not how music is made.”
So what do they make of their success? “We have been fortunate enough that our music appeals to a wider audience but we still have all the kudos, all the support from the underground. Tracks like No Problem, Hocus Pocus and Flashing Lights, they are just pure underground tunes. The fact that more people like them is just a fantastic bonus. We have never tried to write music for the charts, we just bring what we do in the studio to the clubs.”
It seems it’s more about progression and let’s face it, who can really blame them for swapping decks in their bedrooms for working with some of the world’s biggest stars? They are now inundated with offers from across the Atlantic. Cee Lo Green collaborated on No More Idols. Three Chase & Status tracks appear on Rihanna’s new Rated R album and they are managed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation when in the US.
“We like to work hard and fast and get things done and the American ethos is that intense. We learnt a lot from being there. Rihanna is a cool, sexy, smart, intelligent girl. She’s fun, really down to earth. We also flew out to America to work with her, which was a great experience.”
So that’s where they are up to now. Countless sell out shows, endless hit tunes, mates with Rihanna, Dizzee and Jay Z. Like we need to repeat, Chase & Status have made it big. Not bad for a couple of drop outs from Manchester Uni.