Inside Rudimental’s Roaring Arena Tour With Ed Sheeran
On the Sunday of the second weekend of Coachella this year, Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow posted a live performance photo of Rudimental he took at a squashed angle from the audience on his Instagram with the paraphrased caption: “…this is what @RudimentalUK having the most fun I’ve ever seen a band having looks like… Incredible show too, just totally fly… Perfect way to finish #Coachella…”
McMorrow, whose beautiful, soft tones could not be more at odds with Rudimental’s colorful, party smashers, accurately summed up Rudimental’s effect on pretty much everyone who has ever seen the British dance/pop group live. Once you’ve experienced the bombastic performance of Rudimental’s core four: Amir Amor, Piers Aggett, Leon Rolle (AKA DJ Locksmith) and Kesi Dryden, along with their expanded live band which among others included trumpeter Mark Crown, drummer Beanie Bhebhe, and a revolving door of vocalists, you are guaranteed to get caught up in the party starting vibe. Rudimental is currently supporting Ed Sheeran—with whom the group did some recording previously—on his arena tour. The set time might be early and the seemingly youthful female-only crowd may have no prior exposure to Rudimental, but from the vantage point of 10 rows from the ceiling of the Staples Center on the Los Angeles date, the packed general admission pit area is rippling with the same kind of fiery energy Rudimental generates at a festival where it is the headliner.
For its part, Rudimental is putting on a full-on performance. Locksmith is pushing his cardio stamina paces racing around the stage and shouting encouragement like a spin instructor. In response the audience is roaring, making its own chorus to the infectious, high-energy numbers from Rudimental’s debut album, Home. Included are guaranteed crowd-pleasers such as Brit Awards best single winner “Waiting All Night” and the uplifting “Right Here” to the stickable “Feel The Love,” where the Rudimental performers all stand in a row at the edge of the stage conducting the audience through the lyrics very successfully.
Rushing from the Staples Center to Sound Nightclub in Hollywood, Rudimental has been ending most nights on this tour with a DJ set featuring their DJ duo, Locksmith and Aggett. The two bring the extended Rudimental family along, which includes their friends in each city. This being Los Angeles, that number is greater than the average stop. It feels like the Rudimental posse picks its friends based on how “up for it” they are because the Los Angeles behind-the-decks VIP wristband-ed bunch are seriously having it, egged on by the Rudimental boys—and girl. Rudimental’s recent find, vocalist Anne-Marie Nicholson, clad in a skin-tight white dress which rivals her platinum pulled-back hair, is the rowdiest of the bunch starting ice fights and faux picking fights with anyone who accidentally bumps into her. She looks good doing it too, glowing like the strobes-and-water dance scene in Flashdance when the club lights hit her.
Discovering and developing untapped talent is one of Rudimental’s strong suits. Other than Emily Sande and Alex Clare, the vocalists on Home were all unknowns that Rudimental turned into instant stars—at least in their native UK—by featuring them on radio- and club-ready bangers. Cases in point: John Newman, Foxes, Angel Haze, Ella Eyre, MNEK, Sinead Hartnett, Becky Hill, Syron. This made record company executives jobs super-easy as their work was done and packaged nicely, ready-to-go. Where’s your next big thing? On the next Rudimental single of course.
“It has become we’re the go-to thing to break an act,” acknowledges Aggett, weighed down by a formidable, ginger-edged beard which recalls that of Sons Of Anarchy’s Opie, pre-gig in Sound’s not quiet at all offices located above the club’s dancefloor. “You’ve got to be on a Rudimental record or a Disclosure record. The industry has shifted to the producer-artist. We’ve set up our own label, Major Toms, like our studio. Now we can sign a new artist we’re excited about.”
“We’re breaking those artists, now we get to keep those artists on our label,” concurs Locksmith, his pent-up post-live gig/pre-DJ gig energy radiating in the small office space. “[Nicholson] whom you saw tonight, she’s going to be on our album. When the time comes for her album, we’ll be able to launch her, people will be able to start following all of the culture and the family we have around us.”
“We’d like to create our own little Motown,” says Aggett. “That’s a label that inspired us, the way they had their structure and the music they created. We’ve got a dream to have Rudimental albums and all these amazing projects to come out of that.”
A couple of songs from the still-being-worked-on second Rudimental album were performed at the show this evening. Not as party-hearty as what we’re used to from them, one horn-driven track even had a ska bent to it, aided by Crown’s playing.
“The new record is not going to be one style—which I’m sure our fans wouldn’t be expecting,” says Aggett. “It has the eclectic-ness of the first album. We never think about a direction, but a lot more soul in us has come out in the record. We’ve just started scratching the surface with us as a team in the band.”
“The ethos is going to be the same: positive vibes, uplifting music that you want to rave to, go out clubbing to, clean your house to, drive your kids to school, to work to, whatever, all that combined in one stays the same,” says Locksmith. “The way we’ve been creative this time around has been amazing. We know each other more now, and we’ve grown in the way we work as musicians. The way we’ve created this record, it’s more organic, more natural. We can’t wait to get to the argument stage where we argue with each other about what should and shouldn’t be on the record.”
Following the group’s Rudimental and individual social networks, over the last year or so they have been working in some legendary studios with a diverse array of superstars, including Sheeran, Nas, Kelis, Steely Dan, DJ Premier, George Clinton, and Will Heard. While the studios are legendary, they are chosen more because they fit in with Rudimental’s hectic touring schedule rather than their history. Whether they are at Westlake in Los Angeles, birthplace of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or in a small, cold room in Eastern Europe, as long they have their instruments, speakers, and are together, they can generate a Rudimental vibe. The new album is in its final stages with the tour bus functioning as a mobile studio where the foursome is furiously trying to finish it up for a 2015 release.
“We had a long list of pop artists we could have worked with and sold ourselves out to mainstream, but we’ve stuck to our guns,” says Locksmith. “We want to work with people who have influenced us. One of our dream people to work with is Lauryn Hill. We grew up listening to the Fugees and the Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. That got us to where we are now. We still keep knocking on the door to get her in the studio to try to revisit that whole era and revamp it.”
Revisiting the past is the theme of Locksmith’s and Agget’s opening DJs’ set who are playing some gems from the ‘90s, setting the right mood for the Rudimental boys’ slot. They, in turn, run the gamut from classics to current favorites including a generous sprinkling of their own tracks and remixes, and even numbers like “Bad Boys” and “Hit The Road Jack,” which they manage to make sound relevant, important, and just right. It doesn’t hurt that Crown selectively plays his trumpet at certain points, heightening the experience that much more, and that Locksmith is so hyped he looks like he’s on the verge of losing it at any moment. The Rudimental impact is strong, live or DJing.
“It’s happened to me where I’ve listened to an album and didn’t quite understand what it’s about,” says Locksmith. “When I see the performer live, I get it, I’m in it. We’re one of those acts in certain respects. Four average guys who have grown up with each other, when we are on stage we express all the negative and positive times we’ve gone through in a positive way. People see that and want to get involved. It’s a vibe. It’s a culture.”
“We’ve gone through a lot to get to this point,” says Aggett. “Every time we get on stage, it is a release for us. With Rudimental, it really explains what we’re about. That’s what’s great about touring around America, you get to show that story.”