Renegade Brass Band are an energetic twelve-piece outfit from Sheffield, who fuse the sounds of funk, soul, jazz and hip hop, with an emphasis on formidable live performance and a desire to realise a unique style within the modern brass band world. Ahead of their return to Band on the Wall this Sunday, the band selected 12 tracks from their current favourite artists, and we asked trumpet player Andy Nesbitt about their selections, how they discover new music and their thoughts on recent developments in hip hop.
Tell us about some of your selections, the kind of music you find yourself listening to and the impact that it has on the band as you move forward.
We listen to such a wide variety, it’s crazy – we all come from pretty diverse musical backgrounds, but there’s definitely a crossing point with funk, hip-hop and jazz, so that’s where a lot of this playlist comes from. Some of these acts we’ve been lucky enough to play with or to meet at shows and festivals, and that’s really nice. But then sometimes, someone will just text round saying they’ve come across something new – either stumbled on it online, or seen them at a gig – and it can really fire something in all of us. That definitely happened with some of the US acts on the playlist, we got hooked! And it definitely impacts our writing as well – just seeing what some artists are doing within their scene can be totally inspiring, and make you think “we could be doing that!” but with brass, or samples or whatever.
There are plenty of flavours in this playlist, is it important to your progression as musicians to take in a wide variety of music?
Yeah absolutely – it’s good for our sanity as well. Sometimes the last thing you want in the van on a drive home is the same stuff you’ve heard all night at the venue! We also have lots of other musical projects outside of RBB, and that really feeds into how we are as a band too – bringing in ideas, trying them in our own style, and then adapting them until we’re really happy with it. You definitely don’t want to get stuck in a rut with your playing or writing, and listening to lots of things really helps keep things fresh.
How do you discover music? Do you trawl through Discogs, listen to the radio, keep up with particular labels…
All of those I think – social media obviously helps massively, as do platforms like Bandcamp, where you can quickly discover new tracks, and support the artists by buying direct from them. There’s also a really nice community within what we do – not just brass, but funk and hip-hop across the UK and wider, and it means you get so many recommendations. And lastly I suppose, festivals and live gigs are a great chance to discover new things – we’ve got a few overseas festivals this year, really looking forward to seeing what’s out there, and hooking up with those communities too.
You’ve supported some hip hop giants like Grandmaster Flash, De La Soul and Public Enemy. How important was hip hop in the formation of the band, and it’s stylistic approach? Which particular artists left the greatest impression?
We started out as a more conventional funk instrumentals band, but as we started writing our early material, it became obvious that the sound we were after had a very hip hop feel – we wanted to move away from purely instrumental music, and I guess take a slightly more serious approach to what we wanted to say. We all listened to a variety of hip hop, and so it certainly influenced that writing style. We brought in our MC V3xation, and DJ Zxodiac, and it has definitely allowed us to be more inventive in what we write. Obviously that MC – DJ relationship is central to hip hop, but it’s nice to widen that scope to live instruments as well. Our inspirations on that would be acts like The Roots, The Herbaliser (who we were lucky to work with on a remix project a few years ago) and Youngblood Brass Band, and it’s great to see acts like The Mouse Outfit bringing their own take on that sound too. Obviously the opportunity to support some of the icons of hip hop like Flash and Public Enemy is an amazing experience, we feel really lucky to perform on those stages.
There have been some high profile collaborations between rappers and live outfits recently, namely last year’s Ghostface Killah album with BadBadNotGood and Kendrick Lamar playing with the National Symphony Orchestra. Do you think live instrumentation is becoming more important to hip hop artists today, or has it always been crucial?
I think even in the older days of sampling and beat making, there was always a massive appreciation of where those sounds had come from – the meticulous sampling and editing of classic funk and jazz records that make those amazing hip hop tracks shows what an understanding of that world there is amongst producers. I definitely think now though that there is a pressure on any music acts to have a really vibrant live show, and so that knowledge of the minute details of a recording can get translated into a live band – look at acts like Introducing, who are recreating whole albums by DJ Shadow and Daft Punk with a live band, it’s an amazing show. It’s really great to see a resurgence of live musicians in hip hop, electronica and dance music, it all adds to the experience – and it shows kids who play those instruments the range of things they can do if they stick at it. Don’t think I’d still be playing if I hadn’t had that when I was younger!
What can we expect from you live this weekend, can you hint at any new material or cover renditions?
It’s really nice to be doing a slightly earlier show, and two sets – really looking forward to playing some of the tunes we don’t play as regularly, and we’ve got a couple of new tunes ready, which we’ve been recording but will be getting their live debut at Band on the Wall, so that’ll be fun!