For some it was a fat mayor on a zipwire or that triple-golden Saturday night in the Olympic stadium. But for others, East London’s incredible summer of 2012 began one month earlier when Hackney Weekend was struck by a storm whipped up onstage by four local boys and their band of friends.
Rudimental’s ‘Feel The Love’, had just topped the singles chart, arms were raised, bodies bounced, neck hairs sprang to attention and throats went a little lumpy as thousands of voices sang along on a grey London day on the Marshes.
Not only was this the undisputed feel-good hit of the summer, it was stamped Made In Hackney, home to three-quarters of Rudimental and still their number-one hangout and recording base. The fourth and final part, Amir Amor, came from nearby Somers Town.
Piers learnt about music playing piano in his dad’s blues and ‘60s covers band, and also as “a white kid called Darker making grime,” he laughs. Amir was making garage beats in a Camden community studio and collaborating with Plan B (as Analog Kid), but also playing bass in “post-hardcore” rock bands as a side line. Kesi got the bug after picking up guitar aged six and was making hip hop beats in his teens, while Leon was spending his pocket money on grime 12-inches, dj’ing with Piers on pirate stations and scratching up his mum’s Anita Baker albums.
He, Kesi and Piers have been together as Rudimental since late 2007, making music reflective of London’s eye-wateringly diverse street scene. But it was 2011’s low-slung, ‘Deep In The Valley’, that was, in Piers’ words, “the first time Rudimental started to sound like Rudimental”. With the arrival of Amir, everything suddenly gelled.
“When we first came together it was like it was meant to be,” he says. “It was like he’d been there all our lives,” concurs Piers.
Rudimental’s work is all hand-crafted, singer and producers in the studio together working on the song, whether it’s emerging talents, such as MNEK, who appears on the incredible ‘Spoons’, or 2012’s superstar Emeli Sandé, co-writer and singer on ‘Yeah’ and ‘Free’.
“Emeli lives in Hackney and she came to our gig when we supported Maverick Sabre. She came down to the studio a few days later and we had a lovely idea on Free. When she came in and worked on it we were so excited,” says Piers. “It was such a simple kick drum and guitar and me going ‘oh oh oh’,” adds Amir. “She heard it and started making up words, singing, putting it together.”
“The beauty of it is that we’re still in the same studio using the same crappy equipment,” says Amir. “The process hasn’t really changed. All the artists on this record are people we’ve worked with before in some capacity. We met John Newman in a pub and ‘Feel The Love’ just fit nicely with his voice so we put him on there.”
Like Soul II Soul, Massive Attack or Basement Jaxx before them, Rudimental are a front person less dance act with a strong supporting nucleus. “Not to say we have a circle we’ve created and no one can access it,” says Leon. “What we’re creating on this album is a family vibe. People like Mark Crown, who follows us everywhere, Sinead, Syron [who also sings on Spoons and the beautiful title track], MNEK are all family we can just call on.”
Family, community and indeed home are themes that are stamped on Rudimental as surely as rollicking rave tunes and a sense of adventure. They’ve all benefited from community music studios, learning their trade on cheap equipment and picking up pro tips, while Leon and Kesi have both had mentoring roles in schools. And this sense of music as a healthy distraction from the inner city’s less productive pastimes informs everything they do. Think of the award-winning ‘Feel The Love’ video, which is shot in Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street project that gives disadvantaged kids the opportunity to ride and take care of horses against the bleak backdrop of North Philadelphia. Or for ‘Not Giving In’, which uses the tale of a Filipino break dancer to illustrate art’s power to transform lives.
Amir says, “The sad thing is the focus is always on the negative side of youth. In our videos we show the positive side.” Leon adds, “Where we came from there was negative things all the time – drugs, violence. Music was a means of escape. Fortunately I had a parent who funded and supported that. A lot of the people didn’t have that. We consider ourselves real people, we’ve been around real things.”
And it was music (alongside football – Leon played semi-pro until Rudimental took off) and the wider sense of musicality that proved their outlet. “There was definitely a moment when I was all about riding Dizzee Rascal for about two years,” says Piers. “But at the same time I’d go and do a pirate set with loads of really aggressive MCs, get really into it, testosterone all over the place, then I’d go home and sit down with my dad and play blues. At school I used to hide my iPod ‘cos it was full of blues and jazz.”
“We’ve all gone through so many phases,” adds Kesi. “The unifying thing is raving and soul music. Blues and jazz and guitar music and house and hip hop all come together. We really love soulful vocals and sing-a-long parties.”
That sense of playfulness, of variety, of ‘what are they gonna do next?’ is what makes Home such a stunningly rich, constantly surprising album. It’s something reflected in their live shows, where they play as a 12-piece band (Piers admits he’d like to go even bigger), including Piers on organ and synths, Amir on bass, keys and guitar, Kesi on keys and percussion and Leon on “MPCs, shouting and getting my top off”.
‘Feel The Love’, of course, wasn’t just a one-week wonder in Hackney. After hitting the top spot, it spent months in the UK top 10, then toured the charts of Europe and went triple platinum in Australia. It also took four mid-20s lads from Hackney and Camden and gave them a new lease of life. Says Leon, “We always go on about Hackney Weekender, but it’s given us the licence to show we’re not just a drum ‘n’ bass track, we can do a soul tune or an Angel Haze track at 119 bpm.”
Dropping ahead of the album, the new Ella Eyre vocalled single ‘Waiting All Night’ went straight in at no.1 in the UK singles chart, selling more in its first week than any other track this year so far. Check out the new video – another incredible addition to their award-winning collection of music videos, which between them have seen Rudimental’s official YouTube channel receive an impressive 35 million views.
The band have taken their carnival-esque live show – complete with extended Rudimental family – on the road, on their current UK headline tour. Kicking off in Glasgow on April 23 last week, they have taken in Liverpool, Nottingham, Birmingham and Oxford so far, with Norwich and London’s Electric in Brixton (May 2) to come, before finishing up at Manchester’s O2 Academy on the 8th.
The summer is packed full of festival appearances including Glastonbury, T In The Park, Global Gathering, Bestival and more. The band have also just announced details of an autumn headline tour, which will include a date at London’s prestigious Brixton Academy in October.
As you’ll discover on their debut album – HOME, there’s not much they can’t do.