Published on July 18th, 1999 | by Gerry Galipault0
Freestylers have all the right moves
There’s a buzz building for “Here We Go,” the rollicking hip-hop groove by the British group Freestylers, but leader Aston Harvey hopes it goes beyond that.
“Hopefully it’ll be a hit. It costs an awful lot to keep this band on the road,” Harvey said recently, with a laugh.
The Freestylers, all 13 of them, are quite the collective. Some are DJs, some are rappers, others are musicians and champion break dancers. No musical stone goes unturned live and on the band’s debut Mammoth album, “We Rock Hard” (released in late May).
“The partner I make the music with (Matt Cantor), he doesn’t tour, but I do,” Harvey said. “It’s like being at school with 12 of your mates, going out to summer camp. It’s a good laugh. It’s a great way to get away; I don’t really have any troubles, but it’s great to get away from shit. I always look forward to doing shows. Each show is something new; you never know what’s going to happen with the technical side of things or what the crowd’s going to be like.”
Harvey and Cantor first collaborated in 1992, conjuring up rhythms and rhymes in the studio for London dance clubs. They pieced together a group purely out of necessity; club hoppers wanted to experience them live.
“I’ve been making music about 10 years,” Harvey said. “I come from the studio-based producer background. I had never been involved in a band. I made music that went straight out of the studio to vinyl. When I originally started up the Freestylers, it was me and Matt and we had samplers and keyboards and our DJ and some great dancers. We had a DAT player and we were just playing the music, joking and jumping around. It worked.
“Then ‘B Boy Stance’ hit and we had to do things more properly. It developed into a band. As a traveling band, we’ve only done gigs just in the past year and we’ve done a lot in that time. I think what changed it all for us was doing all these festivals, like Glastonbury and Reading. It gave us a really good buildup.”
A little bad press helped, as well. “B Boy Stance” liberally sampled Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” but when Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher caught wind of it, he threatened legal action. The Freestylers returned to the studio and reworked the track, eliminating the offending sample.
Despite the setback, the Freestylers thrived, Harvey said.
“The band as a unit, everybody’s gotten tighter and knows what to do,” he said. “Each show is different. You never know what’s going to go on, really. We rely on technology; it’s not like a normal rock band where everyone has to play with my loops. Once, the main power source for my equipment was in the middle of the stage, someone stepped on it during a show and all my beats went down. The musicians, being the professionals they are, they carried on playing and no one realized what happened.”
Though the album does justice to the Freestylers’ boombastic sound, the band is best experienced in person, Harvey said.
“I describe our performance as a 3D version of the album; it just comes out at you,” he said. “There’s a lot going on. You have great dancers, the two vocalists, great performers in the band. It’s something you have to be there to experience.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I think the B-side was something like ‘Dirty Rotten Bastards.’ I was 7 years old, and I didn’t know what it meant, but I liked the sound of it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I saw Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. That to me was a total changing point for the whole hip-hop culture in England. There was this program on TV called ‘Hip-Hop History.’ It showed all the main characters and it was all new to me. Then a year later, I went to see the Def Jam tour, with the Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J, Whodini and Run-D.M.C., in London at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was amazing.”