The UK funky pioneer on his personal highlights from a decade's worth of RKS releases
Looking back, UK funky couldn't have emerged at a more fortuitous time. Bubbling in the background of the mid/late 2000s amid the hyper-accelerating dubstep movement, the gradually dwindling broken beat scene and the bassline explosion, UK funky's sparse, beat-heavy, Afro-minded house fusion resonated with many strains of bass music of its era, yet was largely left alone by the hype radar, allowing it time to grow at its own pace, in its own time.
One particular individual to benefit from those early incubation years was leading UK funky champion Roska. a hobbyist producer since the late 90s. Beats were his after-work creative outlet once he'd hung up his O2 phone store manager's uniform.
"I never thought I'd actually put any of it out," he explains. "Then it got to the point where I thought it might be interesting to get it out there.... but no one wanted it!"
After several knockbacks from key labels in the bass field, Roska fought fire with fire and set up his own label: Roska Kicks & Snares (RKS), an imprint that's flown the flag for the genre ever since, courtesy of beats from the likes of J:Kenzo, Murder He Wrote, Majora, Tickles and of course Roska himself, who spent the first two years of the label commanding every release.
"Because no one wanted the music at first I was like, ‘Okay, no one's going to sign this,' even when things did get interest," he explains. "I just did my own thing for two years. And because I was working a day job at the time, I had no pressure to release anything or make it work. I was in a good space to enjoy that. By the time things did blow up for me, I saved a lot of the release sales money so I could quit working March 2010 and have some money behind me. That's when things really kicked off. The madness hasn't stopped since then, really!"
The hype machine couldn't resist forever, and for every strange twist and turn UK funky has taken, Roska and RKS have been there at the very forefront. As the label celebrates with two 10 Years Of Roska Kicks & Snares EPs and a birthday bash at Queen Of Hoxton on 31 March, we called up Roska (real name Wayne Goodlitt) and asked him to pick an RKS release from each year and tell his own personal story in the process…
2008: Roska - Climate Change
"My debut release was Feline, then Climate Change a few months later. That one seemed to get picked up really well. A lot of the DJs who were playing in Ayia Napa and a few other resorts like that were playing it and saying, ‘Your tunes are really working,' but I had no idea. To be honest, I didn't have much interest in going out and playing at that point - all I wanted to do was work and make tunes. But that was definitely an early sign of things to come. And after the Climate Change 12" came out, Feline started picking up as well."
2009: Roska & Jamie George - Love 2Nite
"Jamie George and I hooked up in 2008 when someone asked me to do a remix of Jamie's Wonderful Day. I did the remix, then asked about the money - but was told there was none, which was a lesson learned! I said, 'Okay, no worries, let's do a swap' and that's how Love 2Nite came about. I sent this and Wonderful Day out to the DJs who were supporting my original stuff and it got played out so much we had interest from Ministry and Relentless. We put them on a 12", made dubplate specials for different DJs and it blew up. That was the point where I started to get bookings, and I also got onto Rinse at that time."
2010: J:Kenzo - Ruckus
"Now this was a crazy year. I was signed to Rinse as an artist so RKS took a backburner for a few months, then I decided to use it with the same musical concept but for other artists. DJ Naughty's releases were sick, but for the label, 2010 was all about J:Kenzo. He just went up and up and up from here. His dubstep stuff was kicking off but he was doing this crazy 4/4 garage stuff, basically very early examples of that stripped-back bass music that we know and love now. The Ruckus EP was especially good because we managed to get a sick remix from Brackles' brother Martin Kemp."
2011: Champion - Rain Forest
"2011 was a peak year for this particular era of UK funky and DJ Champion's Rain Forest EP is the pick of the year for me. He's such a talented producer and he's still building things up now. This was a standout record for him and all three tracks were really well supported. He came in at an interesting time for funky. He had the quality and the sound but you could feel things were turning - a lot of the original artists were moving towards house. Funky had become really MC-driven and it put a lot of them off. I was for and against the MCs - I could see the appeal but a lot of them were one-hit wonders."
2012: Doc Daneeka - Murdah Strings
"By this stage the straight UK funky vibe was changing. There wasn't a huge amount of new funky being made, a lot of people were making house music, so this was a turning point for the label. Utopia's Slap In The Bass EP was a good example of us figuring out where we stand and seeing what we can do. The music needed to go forward but it was working out how to do it. So Utopia's record was very percussive and we also had Gemmy bringing the Bristol purple sound on his Lakota EP. But for me it's all about Murdah Strings. Still funky to the core but with his own tribal twist on it. That was a big record for us."
2013: Bakongo - Demi God
"This was an interesting year. House music was just everywhere and everyone was doing their thing. Champion was really beginning to pop with his F1 label. Jamie George became an artist, joined Rinse after me and also released a lot of records as Tickles which absolutely killed it on the download charts. We were touring with Katy B, I was gigging three times a week and had to take on an intern to help run the label. For me personally, though, my own Bakongo releases really stand out. That was my first project before the Roska one kicked off, and it was fun to have a different musical outlet where I could have much more of a house sound."
2014: Distro - Thug Girl
"Another really interesting year, looking back. Bass music was fully in effect and Rinse had gained their licence. This meant that the show had to be a lot more structured, which was a shame for me. I was so used to the pirate way of thinking and doing what I liked, being turned into a polished studio show took away some of the vibe. So we did these sections and one that was really popular was called Unsigned Vibes, where we'd play a minute of each track from unsigned artist demos. Off the back of that I signed beats from Tony Tokyo, Nudist, Jello, Distro and Alex Parkin. But in terms of a favourite, it has to be Distro. He really smashed it, and still does to this day."
2015: Flava D - Closer (feat Miss Fire)
"In 2014 I left Rinse: first the label, then the station. Jamie left Rinse, too, because there was a feeling like we'd been shelved a bit and the music we wanted to push just wasn't of interest to them. So I kinda went back to my roots a bit this year and released my first RKS EP in years - The Wave EP - which I was really happy with. I also released more music by J:Kenzo under his Jodo Kast alias, a new guy called Frederique and one of Flava D's earliest releases, Closer. It was on a proper garage vibe, and a sound that you weren't hearing much because house was still dominating… but it smashed it. It was one of our biggest sellers."
2016: Murder He Wrote - Stopwatch
"This was the year I stood my ground and said, ‘Fuck it, I'm doing the funky thing and making it happen'. It took me a while to find my own person and sound again after splitting from Rinse. I was able to focus on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to develop the label and its artists. Murder He Wrote had been sending me tunes for a while so we eventually released his Stopwatch EP this year, which was a turning point for him and a sign of how the label was developing with new artists. I was also talking to Majora a lot at this stage, and I semi-managed him and Murder He Wrote for a while.
"I've always wanted RKS to be a label that nurtures and develops artists and releases music they're proud of. Over these last few years I've found my role as a mentor and love answering questions and giving advice. Just like guys like Zinc and Zed Bias did for me."
2017: RKS All-Stars - RKS All-Stars 6
"Last year was great. I was able to bring Jook 10 back into the fold, Tickles came back with some amazing tunes, me and Champion put out a record, then me and Serocee put out In My Zone. That one absolutely popped and led to the recent Str8 Rum EP. Every release felt very personal and has a story to it. But for me it's all about the RKS Allstars 6 EP, it just summed up the energy and vibe of the music and the talented new artists I'm working with, Majora and Murder He Wrote."
2018: Roska & Serocee - Str8 Rum
"We're only three months in but 2018 has been the maddest year so far. I've released new remixes of my first record Feline with a bunch of mates: Bash & T, Mark Force, Murder He Wrote and even Scuba's side-project Spectr, which we haven't seen in years. We've also had Murder He Wrote's Nasty EP, and Serocee and my Str8 Rum EP which explores the more Caribbean fusion that kinda sums up where the music is at for me.
"We're back at that exciting stage where so many things are happening at once: there's the Afrohouse style with some incredible sounds coming from Ghana and South Africa, there's also the gqom stuff and all kinda of tribal and garage-influenced things. My next record was made with a tabla player I met on tour in India. It's exciting, I feel it could go anywhere and while it's still very underground at the moment, it's only a matter of time before it blows up."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Roska and friends celebrate RKS's 10th birthday at Queen Of Hoxton on 31 March. Event page here.
Tags: Roska, Roska Kicks & Snares, RKS Records, Rinse FM, UK funky, Afrohouse, gqom, Murder He Wrote, Serocee, Scuba, Spectr, Jook 10, Tickles, Champion, Majora, DJ Zinc, Zed Bias, J:Kenzo, Jodo Kast, Frederique, Flava D, Tony Tokyo, Nudist, Jello, Distro, Alex Parkin, Miss Fire, Bakongo, Gemmy, Utopia, DJ Naughty, Brackles, Jamie George, Ayia Napa, Doc Daneeka