Riot Jazz Brass Band

Manchester’s Riot Jazz Brass Band have been doing their bit to revitalise traditional brass sounds with electronica and hip hop. We quiz Steve Pycroft from the band to find out how…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 18 Sep 2014
  • min read
Manchester’s Riot Jazz Brass Band are part of a new wave of groups looking to the sounds of electronica and hip hop to inform their horn blowing.

Beginning life over five years ago, this sprawling musical collective take their inspiration from Young Blood Brass Band and Hot 8 Brass Band. Blending the flamboyant New Orleans traditions with hip hop and funk has led to the group becoming the toast of the summer festival circuit. They’ve played a series of incendiary shows at the likes of Big Chill, Bestival and Soundwave and are currently concentrating on writing new material for a second LP on Leeds label First Word. We quizzed drummer Steve Pycroft on how the band and their music...

How did you get together?

Originally we were all studying at Manchester Uni. A couple of guys asked a few of us if we could put together a New Orleans type brass band. They’d got the idea from the Young Blood Brass in the US.

We ended up playing this one off gig. It went really well, then we played at Mad Ferret which went on to be Parklife Festival and it just grew from there.

So the New Orleans sound was the inspiration?

Yeah it was taking that style and combining it with hip hop and dubstep – using those sounds and trying them out in a live band environment. What got us noticed was this live brass with echoes of New Orleans, plus classical and electronic elements.

Is it hard to write in this style?

It can be a challenge although a brass band of this set up is not that unusual. At the same time it is, in the way of just having brass, and no piano or bass and drums so it can be quite hard to know what’s going to come across through a PA at a festival.

Writing for a concert is harder. It’s more difficult to find interesting ways to do something different but still make full use of the sounds of the band. Sometimes you can end up stuck, just sitting there just thinking what you can do differently when writing with these sounds.

What is it about the brass sound which is so appealing?

With brass instruments, it’s the power. Even in classical music, the brass smash out these epic melodies or give dramatic effect. To then take that aspect and think about the power - that works so well at festivals. There are nine of us on stage at so live it’s a wall of brass sound. There are no synths or anything else. Just hearing that is something people respond and dance to. The instruments are fun to look at and listen to - crowds connect with a bunch of guys on stage blowing into an instrument.

In a way, not to talk down about electronics as I love them and the things you can do with technology, when you look at a stage, it’s the difference between watching someone programme a heavy bass line through their keyboard and play an instrument. If you look at someone blowing their guts out face red, through a trombone, you can tell they’re giving it their all. You can’t help but respond to that. Our gigs and the interaction we have is testament to it.

What is the cultural significance of brass bands?

As a kid I went to a lot of brass band competitions. When the mines got shut, a lot of these bands lost funding and couldn’t do the competitions like they could before so it’s quite nice to show that brass bands are still relevant.

What are you currently working on?

We self released an EP back in 2009, then worked on an album for a good couple of years. We thought it’d be good to have a release out there, have people access our music outside the gigs. We released that outside First Word Records last year as well as another EP.

We love doing the gigs, so we’ve been writing loads of new materials with live shows firmly in mind. So we’ve just come back from Soundwave in Croatia, Kendall Calling. We know how crowds react and write music with the aim of getting them going.

Next we’re looking to make another album. Because half of us live in London and half in Manchester it’s quite hard to get together to work on new music. We always structure rehearsals around gigs and we’re keen to get this happening more often, to keep playing new music as well as keeping the brass band sound fresh and interesting.

Visit the band's website for more information.