Kosheen: Hiding Above Ground
by Shannon Petrick
Kosheen seem to have come out of nowhere. They were virtually unknown, and suddenly their tracks are topping charts around the globe. They may seem like newcomers to dance music fans, but they've been working toward success for years.
The U.K.-based trio, consisting of Sian Evans, Markee Substance and Darren Decoder, has lured thousands of dance music fans into the world of drum and bass. Their current hit, "Hide U," has become a global sensation, being played by the likes of John Digweed and remixed by John Creamer and Stephane K.
Kosheen has managed to blur the lines between the infinite numbers of dance music genres by producing music everyone can relate to…and they're only getting started.
This interview took place with Kosheen's keyboardist and producer, Markee Substance, on March 19, 2002.
Lunar: Let's start at the beginning: how did you get involved in music. Was it at a young age?
Markee Substance: Yeah, it was from an early age. I don't remember when I actually became interested in music, but I picked up the guitar at 10. My uncle had a guitar so I began to play it. From there, I basically began to write my own songs because I was never interested in other people's tunes.
Lunar: What bands or performers did you listen to before dance music?
Markee Substance: All sorts. I was really into Paul Wellerhe was a big influence. I listened to a lot of indie stuff, you know? And I liked bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, U2 and The Police. At the same time, I liked classical music like Chopin. I've always had broad interests in music. I just like music that's fresh and new-music that's always progressive.
Lunar: You've released a lot of your own tracks, like "Rude Girls" and "Own You." Before you became involved in Kosheen, were you primarily a DJ or a producer?
Markee Substance: I've always been primarily a writer and producer. The first and most important thing in my life has always been writing. You know, I started playing the guitar and then I bought my first sampler and it progressed from there. The DJing came afterwards. I don't know if it's a selfish thing, but I'd rather write and produce. DJs just play other people's stuff. When I met Darren [Decoder], we would always DJ our own tracks and that was really satisfying.
Lunar: You began a drum and bass night in Bristol [England] in 1993 called Ruffneck Ting. Was that Bristol's first exposure to drum and bass?
Markee Substance: Yes. I mean there were other small nights before Ruffneck but nothing big. We brought well-known DJs and that was a new thing for Bristol. London had always been the center of that music. We brought people like Fabio, and it was really exciting for people in Bristol because before that, everyone had to travel to London to see people play. We had to travel there all the time to see the A-WOL night in London.
Lunar: Did Ruffneck take a while to catch on in Bristol?
Markee Substance: Yeah, it took a while. You know, there was the hardcore crew who were really into Ruffneck, but for everyone else it took a while. It took about a year to build it up, and by two years, the parties were massive. 1996 and 1997 were its peak years.
Lunar: But the Ruffneck Ting nights are over now?
Markee Substance: Yeah, we had to stop doing the night because everything got so busy. After we started it, everything just escalated. We started a record store/label called Breakbeat Culture and a label called Techitch. Then we started a magazine called Knowledge. It was too much, and I was running around mad! I couldn't write music, which was my first priority. But we started Ruffneck Ting for a reasonto bring drum and bass to Bristol. We did that and the job was done. Ruffneck had run its course. The whole night is a legend though. I still have people coming up to me with praise.
Lunar: Didn't you meet Darren at the Ruffneck nights?
Markee Substance: Yes, he used to come to the Ruffneck nights, which were held at a club called Trinity. Darren and I became friends, but we didn't work together initially. We began to play each other's new tracks, and eventually we said, "Let's do something together." The first track we did together came out really well and it went on from there.
Lunar: Were the early makings of Kosheen in the works between you and Darren before you found a vocalist?
Markee Substance: Well, we both started making tunes. I was really making tunes for the club, but then I started doing slower stuff. Darren began encouraging me to do slower tracks. It was stifling to be in the confines of drum and bass. We felt we had more to offer. As for Sian [lead vocalist for Kosheen], she was involved in many other things before Kosheen. She was in a rock band and doing other projects. I listened to the stuff she was doing and I told her it was rubbish because they used her as background vocals! I told her she had a strong voice and it shouldn't be put in the background. She should work with a better producer, like me! [laughs] I just kind of wooed her away from all her projects.
Lunar: You heard Sian's voice on a tape a friend gave you. What was it about her voice that intrigued you?
Markee Substance: There's something about music that you can't describe how it affects you. When it touches an emotional part in me, that's when I know it's good. Her voice did that for me and it felt right. We're just on the same wavelength when it comes to music. It was a feeling, really. I have respect for her sound, and all I wanted to do was enhance it. She's quite a driven woman, but I pushed her harder musically.
Lunar: How do Kosheen songs come together in the studio?
Markee Substance: Well, it varies. Sian writes the lyrics. Sometimes something is written on guitar and we go from there. Sometimes Darren and I start making a track, we give it to Sian, and she comes up with good lyrics for it. Everything's very fluid and there's not a rigid way that we work.
Lunar: When you wrote "Hide U," did you have any idea it would take off so well and become such a hit?
Markee Substance: We all knew it was a good track, but we didn't say, "This is obviously a worldwide hit." It's not as much of a song as the other songs on the album. It's just really a simple groove with a chorus on top-but it's dancey. It was actually done really quickly. The beats were done by me and Darren, and Sian just added the vocals. That's an example of how we work so well together. We don't fight when we're writing songs, and each of us has our own strengths. I think we realized it was going to be big when it was played on the radio and we heard that a lot of the DJs were playing it.
Lunar: If you turn on the radio in Miami, there's a 50/50 chance that you'll hear "Hide U." You've probably heard that song a thousand times. Are you tired of it yet?
Markee Substance: No, not really. It's still fresh to me, so I'm not bored. I think I feel that way because it's such a simple track. I think if it were more complex, I would have been bored with it a long time ago.
Lunar: "Hide U" has not only made dance music more mainstream, but it's also brought drum and bass into the open. I've heard some people criticize you for bringing the underground into the mainstream. How do you react to that?
Markee Substance: Really? I haven't heard anyone say that. I don't know, I mean, everyone I've talked to has been really supportive. I don't know why people stop liking music because it's no longer "underground." We've had full-on support from DJs. I've also heard people say that drum and bass was dead and that "Hide U" gave it resurgence. In general, I think people have been really supportive.
Lunar: John Digweed played "Hide U" one night at Bedrock. How did you feel when you heard about it?
Markee Substance: I thought it was great. I get so pissed off because dance music is so fragmented. The genres never cross over, and people always stick to one type of music. For someone like John Digweed to play a drum and bass tune…well, it was really quite amazing. That just proves that a good song is a good song, and no matter what kind of music you like, you'll realize it's a good song.
Lunar: John Creamer and Stephane K. remixed "Hide U." Do you like what they did with it?
Markee Substance: When we first heard the remix, it was nice. Basically, what they did was took the track and slowed it down. They made it more accessible to other people who don't listen to drum and bass. It brought Kosheen to a wider audience. We all liked it because it still sounded like drum and bass but slowed down a bit. "Hide U" is such a simple song, so if they took away the simplicity, we wouldn't have liked it. But all they did was slow it down and it sounded really good. Because of the tempo, a lot of DJs were able to play it more than the original song.
Lunar: Because of the success of your music, you've been touring non-stop. Are you getting along with each other, or is it difficult?
Markee Substance: Yeah, we have our little squabbles, but everything turns out okay. It's not easy spending time with the same people everyday, but we get along most of the time.
Lunar: Your first appearance was in Miami in November. How did you like it?
Markee Substance: It was really cool and there were a lot of good reactions to our show. People think all we're going to play is "Hide U," but when they see us live, they hear a lot more. They see how different each one of our songs are. The more people hear our stuff, the more they like it.
Lunar: This is your first time playing at the Winter Music Conference. Are you excited?
Markee Substance: Oh yeah, we're very excited. The time is right for us. We're playing at Ultra, and it's going to be massive and so much fun. It's definitely time for "Hide U" to make it in the states.
Lunar: Okay, I have to ask thiswhy the nature motif on all your CDs and flyers?
Markee Substance: [laughs] Well, you know, we're all really animals. No, really, part of the reason we picked the nature and animal pictures is because we were running out of time to choose something. They kept trying to send us this concept artwork, and we just had one look at it and knew it wasn't for us. Then we were sent the animal pictures. It's really interesting because the nature scene in the background is a painting, and the animal in the picture is a photo of a stuffed animal. It was different from anything else we had seen, and I think it reflects what we're doing. The pictures are very natural and simplistic, but they've got an eerie, dark twist. That's how I'd describe our music.
Lunar: Interesting. Last questionis there another album in the works for Kosheen?
Markee Substance: We're working on some stuff right now. But I think that we have to concentrate on our album that's out now [Resist]. It's still fairly new, and we're still out touring for it, and we're still getting a big reaction. We have to focus on what we have out now before we look forward.
Thanks to Jonathan from Formula P.R. and Markee Substance.
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