How we made: Roni Size on the Mercury-winning album New Forms
Roni Size, AKA Ryan Williams, producer
I was born Ryan Owen Granville Williams but, because I was lighter-skinned, everyone called me Roni, after the only white character in the film . I was quite short and if my mates were talking about a girl, they’d say: “Oh, she’s Roni’s size.” So that’s how I came up with the name Roni Size.
Getting expelled from school in Bristol was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I started going to the city’s Sefton Park youth centre and they had a drum machine. Suddenly I had something that excited me. Then they got a sampler and I was in the basement all the time, making tunes.
I got to know [female vocalist] Onallee after she did some jingles for me. We formed part of a collective, Reprazent, with DJ Krust. We’d go to raves, recreate the parts we liked, then use them to build our own music, which could be drum’n’bass, breakbeats, , jazz. I sampled everything from James Brown to Everything But the Girl and put all this into New Forms
We wanted to make music that sounded like the future. So the track Beatbox was just us making drum patterns with our own voices. Brown Paper Bag started off as samples of double bass licks. I chopped them up on the sampler and suddenly there was a song. The title didn’t mean anything. It was just something that came to me after smoking herb, which I did back then.
At first, the album went right over people’s heads. One reviewer described it as: “Kids in a bedroom on drugs fiddling around with computers.” But when we started touring, with a bass-player and a drummer, people went: “Wow.”
We found out we’d been nominated for the 1997 Mercury prize just after we’d played the Montreux jazz festival. We were up against Radiohead, the Prodigy, the Spice Girls and the Chemical Brothers. Because we were so tired, we moaned all the way to the ceremony, and just scoffed all the free food and alcohol. Then Eddie Izzard said: “I think you’ve won it!” And all the cameras started moving towards our table.
We were broke, so winning was the stuff of dreams. When I announced that I was donating the £20,000 cheque to the Sefton Park youth centre, my crew looked at me as if to say: “You’re doing what?”