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Rowney goes in deep on his debut album – Defining Moments

We’ve all had some defining moments in the last two years. Some have been shared universally, others are much more personal. For Manchester’s Rowney, one has been his debut album.

A body of work building up in his brain since he first came through in the mid/late 2000s, Rowney never felt an album was worth the time to invest in. But then life threw a few defining moments his way which changed his perspective.

After splitting with G13, the label he’d run for 10 years, Rowney teamed up with long-time friend and collaborator Trigga on SDR found himself with a blank canvas and limitless possibilities. Throw in a global pandemic and imminent fatherhood and a new soundtrack began to emerge – Defining Moments.

17 tracks deep featuring collabs with the likes of Joely, Glitch City, Sammie Hall, Phadix, Deelaydee and Kezman plus long-time friends and collaborators like Diligent Fingers, Trigga and his Standard Procedure mates TNT & Toddlah, the album sees him applying his melodic big riff signature to every style in the D&B subgenre spectrum. From liquid to tech via the big, bouncy jump-up he made his name in – held together with the strong presence of MCs – it’s the album he never thought he’d get to write and it was written during a particularly intense chapter of his life where he moved house, got married and became a father!

Read on to find out more about the album, Rowney’s love for MC culture, his intense return to DJing post-lockdown, his time as a  rising house DJ and his appreciation of how jump-up snobbery is becoming a thing of the past. Get to know…

Debut album. Now this is a defining moment!

Yeah man. I used to have a lot of guidance off guys like Phantasy and everyone suggested doing an album, but I was never into it. I felt it would take too long so my foot would be off the pedal and I’d be too quiet. Instead I’ve always been on it with the singles and the EPs, but when lockdown came along it made sense to write one

There’s a right time to do an album, though, I think. Otherwise it is definitely best to be on it, on it, on it with the club releases…

Totally. Although I gotta say that I’m not a production line. I like all my tunes to have variation and for each tune to be different. I’ve always made tunes with melodies, not tunes with one or two notes. I like hooks and things that get me moving a club.

I was literally going to ask you later… You really do love a good catchy riff, don’t you?

I’ve always liked something you can hum to or remember. I’m all about the melodies. I’m not a musical person, believe it or not. I played drums at 10 then DJ’d from 18. It’s all trial and error. I wish I could spend some time learning pianos and key structure but there’s never any time.

You’ve definitely spent time thinking about the arrangement a lot. So Good at the start is a big message saying ‘This is going to be a different Rowney experience.’ Then the last track Better Late Than Never for a grand finale is perfect…

Yeah I did think about it a lot. I actually thought about having Better Late Than Never as the first track, but it’s a bit negative. It works well for the final one doesn’t it?

Yeah I don’t think it’s negative at all. I love that sample on it. Proper wholesome and inspiring way to end the album!

I had that idea 18 months before I made it. I’ve been working with Diligent Fingers for years and years and years, so I asked him to do the hook and it came together very naturally.

Speaking of MC tunes – Calling All The Shots with Toddlah, TNT, Trigga and Murdyer is a lot of fun. You love MC tracks like you love big riffs!

Big time! I’ve been making MC tracks for 15 years. I love working with MCs and I understand what an MC needs from the music, so I leave a lot of space for them to work in. Same with DJing, I’m a conscious DJ and, because I work with MCs, I know not to play tracks with MCs on or big vocals on. You shouldn’t battling, you need to work together.

Yeah, everyone says the MC needs to know when to shut up but the DJ should know when to let it roll and let the MC do their thing. Works both ways doesn’t it?

Teamwork man. I came through on MCs on tape packs like most people did. Stevie Hyper D, Skiba, Shab, Trigga, Det. That’s my childhood innit.

They were the people who brought us in. If you came in through tape packs, you’d remember the MC more than the tunes at first!

Yeah man. Tunes had no identity in that way. There was no tracklist so you couldn’t find out more about them without humming them to had to try and hum the tune to the record shop guy or play him some clips you’ve recorded onto a tape and they’d never have it. But the MC was the person you knew from the tape, wasn’t it?

Yeah totally. They guided us in. Speaking of teamwork, there are loads of collabs on the album. Joely for example

He’s so energetic! He hit me up about two in the morning and said, “I wanna do a collab,” and we’d only spoken a few times before! He sent me over this idea, I did my thing and there it is. Well happy with it. He wants to do another one now. Joely’s wicked, he reminds me of me years ago.

He loves his 2am messages! Big up Joely. So was all this written over lockdown?

Nah a few before were done before and I could check them in the club. But most the album wasn’t tested. Usually when you’re DJing every weekend, tunes get old dead quick but I made these ages ago and they’re fresh to everyone.

What was your first gig after lockdown like?

It was really overwhelming. I was paranoid because of covid and that and people were trying to talk to me, but I was like, ‘This is a bit too much. I need to get used to playing again first.’ The second gig was the USC Festival. That was a mad one because my mate’s car broke down around 20 mins away from the venue. I had to rush and get someone to pick me up, got there with 10 mins to spare then while I was playing I was thinking, ‘When this gig’s done I’m gonna be stranded.’ I had no time to mentally prepare for the set and suddenly I was in front of a few thousand people.

Woah! You got back okay?

It was a silly one mate. The car was on some random estate near Northampton. I ended up being standard for hours. My missus was in hospital, her sister was looking after our son and she was expecting me to be back at 2am. I got back 2pm the next day!

Oh gosh. Was it a good set, though? The best sets come from adversity…

Actually yeah. I was under pressure and I work well under pressure. The crowd liked it, the boys were on fire, loads of rewinds. So yeah it was worth it.

Nice to play the album tracks to dancefloors now?

I’m my own worst critic, I’m quite doubtful of myself but it’s been great. I’ve been playing the tracks to the lads all the time I was writing it and they’re supportive. They know the tunes in the mix so they big them up to the crowd and they all go down really well man.

Standard procedure!

Literally. We’re doing a lot of live PAs and shows at the moment so a lot of tunes I’m making now are specific for our shows and I make instrumentals for Toddlah & TNT to do their thing on. I make a beat, send it to them, if they like it we’ll work on it. If not, I’ll develop it into a club track.

Or an album track when you were writing the album?

I had too many of them! It’s 17 tunes and I wasn’t sure that’s too much. I’d already cut five tracks. These are ones I had the most passion and faith in. They’re made around the same time and not stagnant.

A cohesive collection

Also one with variety, though. I’ve always felt I got a point to prove and want to show people I’m not just a jump up producer.

This album definitely proves that! Give me some defining moments from Defining Moments

Gift Of Life is a big one. I wanted to make a liquid tune for ages and I’d known Deelaydee and she’d been asking for a tune for a while. I came up with this idea and spoke to her and found out she was pregnant and my missus was also pregnant so we both made the tune this tune as a dedication to our kids. She smashed it, so I sent it to Phadix and asked him to make it epic and polish it up and he did his thing and smashed it too.

Beautiful. More Defining Moments please!

Better Later Than Never was the last tune I finished. I was watching a documentary about marathons and that’s where that sample comes from.  It fit perfectly.

I love that snippet! That’s the one I was on about. Great way to sign out the album!

It resonated with me too, man. It was perfect. I don’t how far people will get to that sample. People play 32 bars then switch don’t they? But if they do check it all the way, they’ll hear it. I don’t know if I’ll ever play it out. It’s more of a listening tune.

Not every tune needs to made to play out though does it?

I’m only just appreciating that. Like before all this, every tune had to be playable or what’s the point? But with an album, and when things were all locked down, people are listening with different perspectives and heads on their shoulders. It’s an expansion of what you can do.

Do you tinker with other styles?

I made house music for a while and that was picking up. I was getting plays on BBC and Rinse and it got to the point where I was sometimes playing house and D&B gigs on the same night. It was all a bit too much.

Wow! We need more information on this! 

I was known as Essro and did tracks with Trigga who called himself TRG. We released on Sam Supplier’s label. It was quite good fun but my D&B was getting neglected when I focused on house and the house was getting neglected if I focused on D&B. I got a daytime job, as well, so it wasn’t possible to do both. The plan was to live off house then do D&B on weekends. It didn’t work out though.

Awesome plan if it had worked. D&B requires you to be on it all the time. That’s the edge. House is more universal – you can play old records a lot more and stuff.

I realised that! 70% of a house set is tunes that are already out. That’s unheard of in D&B. You got to be super fresh all the time. I didn’t realise that when I was playing house so I was playing fresh all the time when I could have played more classics. I was going alright at it. It was around 2014 – 16 when deep house was big. I lost interest when it went all techy. I enjoyed it but it’s hard being in two scenes. At Innovation, for example, I was playing house in the back room then playing D&B in the main room. A few people were like, ‘Are you going to fuck D&B off!?’ I was never going to fuck it off, was just going to try and balance the two. It was also around the time when Belgium was big for us all and I missed a Belgium gig for a house gig over here.

Worth it?

No not at all! I regreted that one.

I love a good house night but the dancefloor is nowhere near as rowdy as D&B or jungle!

You’re right. I made house like I make D&B. Catchy basslines, riffs, vibes. It was making me move but the crowd just aren’t as lively.

Mainstream vibes. D&B is niche so there’s much more passion. Fans really appreciate the mix, they know when things are a dub, there’s the MC bringing the hype. House doesn’t have those aspects really does it?

It’s weird. For example in house music there are ghost producers everywhere. You don’t get that here. You get found out and you’re out! There are a lot of things in house that just wouldn’t be accepted here. But it was fun. I met some different people doing it and I’d never say never. But I can’t do both. I was going to put some on the album but, like I say, I had too many tunes on there anyway.

So let’s sign out with one more defining moments. I was going to ask about your Glitch City collaboration. It wasn’t a collab I expected to see!

Well he started in jump-up as Sammy Nicks. He was sending me tunes for a long time then he disappeared. Few years later, I’m getting promos from The Prototypes and I was like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ Then The Prototypes had a gig on a Shadow Demon night and he was there. He told me he was Glitch City now and I had no clue! So we started sending tunes to each other and he’s been talking about a collab and I had this thing which was quite techy so we worked on that. I’ve always loved the techier side of things. I play bits of it but it’s not a sound I’m known for.

Tech and jump-up are now very good friends!

That’s pretty much all down to guys like Annix and Turno. I remember talking to Turno about it in Switzerland once. At the time it seemed like they were two different worlds.

It was very divisive for a bit. Tech people liked jump up in secret but never said because it wasn’t ‘cool’. But jump up people thought they were stroking their beards. I’ve always followed and love both. All D&B!

Totally man. People like what they like and make what they make. And it’s good to check out things you don’t know about before instantly dismissing it. I remember seeing the awards and Etherwood won something. I’d never heard of him but checked him out and saw he definitely deserved to be recognised. Not my style, but respect to him. He’s very talented. People should do that more instead of be like, ‘Who’s that? Never heard of them, this must be wrong.’

AMEN! I prefer the side of D&B where knowing your shit carries the most value. Don’t ask stupid questions, do some research!

Yeah definitely man. Actually I’ve got to say, one thing I’ve liked recently when it comes to the whole jump-up thing, is that jump-up people crossover a lot more now. People start on jump-up and, in a few years, they’re making big hits. Before these times if started in jump up then you’re jump up from day and it’s hard to get respect. like Heist – he’s so diverse and one of the best in the game but people class him as a jump up producer.

Yes! Madness. And you’re right, it’s nice to see Bou, Turno, Dutta, Kanine and guys like that develop their sound and explore new ideas and not just get tagged as jump up. That’s broken some boundaries…

Yeah it’s a lot better now. There’s a lot more respect between artists and fans about the styles people come from and it= hasn’t been like that before. It’s exciting to see.

And it exactly what your album is all about really isn’t it?

Totally. It’s a defining moment!

Rowney – Defining Moments is out now on SDR

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