Markee Ledge on why he’s reviving the Kosheen name
When it comes to understated OG comeback tunes of the year, Kosheen’s Noble is going to take some beating. A deep, smouldering technoid breakbeat instrumental, restrained and stripped back – it’s not quite what you’d expect an international act to break their four-year release silence with. An act who, lest we forget, have given the world five albums, and who scored Top 10 hits with a pop fusion of drum & bass a decade before it became de rigueur. No anthemic fanfare, no triumphant ‘We’re back!’ bravado, no theatrical bid for chart renaissance – just, ‘Boom, here’s a roller’. Hello.
But then if you strip back many Kosheen songs, the bedrock isn’t dissimilar to Noble. From Cruelty and the title track of their debut 2000 album Resist, to Overkill from 2007’s Damage, to Poison on the band’s last album Solitude in 2013: go back over any point in Kosheen’s body of work and those ruminating textures and roomy drum arrangements have always been consistent beneath singer Sian Evans’ vocals. Now consider that Sian left Kosheen in 2015, and Noble begins to make more sense as a comeback.
Talk to Markee, now the sole member of Kosheen, and the picture becomes clearer again. Noble is the sound of a man returning to a project that he’d first envisioned in the late 80s (and spent decades fine-tuning), with a sense of both freedom and a certain amount of trepidation. After several years exploring the UK bass and deep dubstep landscape and releasing music as Markee Ledge, he’s now rediscovering Kosheen’s place, both in his own creative repertoire and in a wider dance music context. Now without a prominent singer, he’s having to come out of the shadows (where he admits he’s happiest) and is exploring what the new Kosheen chapter will be and how it will sound. Noble is the sound of him setting the scene.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, it’s also the sound of resistance. When we last spoke to him, in December 2015, the plan was to consolidate his aliases into all things Markee Ledge. And while he never officially disbanded Kosheen – no anthemic finale, no triumphant ‘we’re off!’ salvo – certain events have led to him change his position on the most famous of his five+ alias portfolio and inspired him to bring it back…
When it comes to understated OG comeback tunes of the year, the story behind Kosheen’s Noble is going to take some beating. Just, ‘Boom, here’s a lawsuit’. Hello.
Kosheen are back! But wait – did Kosheen ever officially go away?
“Well, Sian left in 2015, which did put things on hold for a moment. But no, we never made an announcement that Kosheen were over. I just stopped writing music as Kosheen for a while, and did an album as Markee Ledge instead. It did feel like a natural end to the project for a while, but then I started to receive legal warnings from Sian’s lawyer not to use the name Kosheen.”
I thought she’d left the band?
“She did. She wanted to go solo and had been talking about leaving since 2002. But during the last few years before she left, she’d be going round offering promoters these ‘Kosheen unplugged’ shows with some random dude playing the music. We were getting calls from our agent asking, ‘How come you’re doing a show in Russia?’ when we knew nothing about it! And then to send me and Darren these letters telling us we couldn’t continue as Kosheen? No, I’m not comfortable with that.
“So I want to put it on record: I started Kosheen, I created the name and the concept and asked her to join. It wasn’t like we were all down the pub saying, ‘Let’s start a band!’. I was doing Ruffneck Ting and Breakbeat Culture in the 90s in Bristol with Darren as Decoder & Substance. Kosheen was my next project and was the electronic band I’d wanted to put together for years.”
So were you involved in this wrangle when we last interviewed you?
“It was just rumbling then. It got a lot worse.”
Has it ended up in court?
“No, there’s been a preliminary hearing, but not fully but I wouldn’t worry if it did. They sent me a letter requesting I sign my rights away, give her all my music, all the backing tracks I’d written before she sang on them and exclusive rights to use the name Kosheen.
I’m just not having that.
Kosheen was my band. I found Sian and I thought her voice would work with my sound, so I asked her to be the singer. I’d already written the lyrics for the first couple of tracks. Afterwards she wrote most of the lyrics with my help and guidance, often singing her the lines.”
How did the writing process work when you were a trio?
“Me and Darren were constantly writing music together, and we’d select tracks that we felt had the Kosheen sound and give them to Sian to write lyrics. Then Sian and I would go into the studio, record the vocals, then I’d go back to Darren and we’d finish them off working late into the night. It was more like two duos rather than a band. The three of us weren’t in the studio together, hardly ever.
“Of course, being the singer and the front of the band means Sian was ingrained in Kosheen. You Google ‘Kosheen’, you get her face. The sound of Kosheen was always me and Darren, but I’ve always been much happier in the shadows.”
The mysterious dude in the shades?
“Well, it’s not about me, it’s about the music, the vibe and identity and style of the music. I had a clear vision of what Kosheen should be. I remember saying, ‘We’re going to win awards with this!’ I didn’t know we actually would at that point, mind.”
“This was a culmination of everything I’d done in music at that point. I’d wanted to have an electronic band since the late 80s, when I started writing songs on guitar. Then in the early 90s I got bitten by the D&B bug, got a sampler and learnt how to produce. My production skills were developed in the 90s, then I brought it all together in the late 90s with Kosheen.
“I wrote songs on guitar, then we blended it with samples and transposed the chords to play on synths. It had been brewing in my mind for a long time and I loved writing in
that way. It’s tempo-free. When you’re producing you set the tempo before you start, but this was different writing process.
Yet most people file Kosheen under drum & bass…
“They do! Hide U had a lot to do with that, but there are actually only four drum & bass songs on that first album. Even less on some of the others.”
The first drum & bass tune to go Top 10! It’s quite a historic track…
“It actually came about from a tune called Suspicion that I’d written as Substance. The intro is basically Hide U. We’d been writing a lot of tracks like that, with a dancefloor drop, and I wanted to do something more minimal, so I stripped it back and locked that staccato groove on the guitar and told Sian to sing on the notes. To be honest I was worried that we’d made something that was too mellow and would get overlooked. For ages I didn’t know who to send it to, but then thought Fabio might like it. Next thing I know I’m getting a call saying he’s cutting it at Music House.”
Big up Fabio!
“Yeah, he really got behind it, I can’t thank him enough. It just kept growing and growing and got re-released. That’s when it went in the charts. It was mad. What track gets released a year later and gets into the Top 10? I’d never experienced anything like that before. Normally a track builds up to release, you sell however many thousand vinyl and then it’s on to the next one.”
It was a very different landscape to how things cross over now, wasn’t it?
“I think it’s a lot harder now for a tune to get any recognition, full stop. Back then there wasn’t so much dance music on the radio and very little internet. If you wanted to be at the forefront of music, you’d have to be in the club. Now you can hear anything at the speed of a click. It’s hard for tunes to come through. There’s so much music, things get lost.”
So you’re coming back with the first Kosheen track in four years. Doesn’t that scare you?
“I don’t know about scared, but part of me does think, ‘I’ve been through this for the last few years – is it worth it? Do people even know about Kosheen now? Have the new generation even heard of Kosheen?’. But then I get asked for DJ sets and shows so I know there is an interest.
“I think the biggest decision for me was which style to come back as Kosheen with. We’ve done everything from drum & bass to house to techno to triphop to downtempo to guitar-based stuff. In more recent years I’ve been doing dubstep. So that was a tough choice. I’ve got quite a lot of tunes in the tank but Noble felt like the right tune to come back on. I think it was important for it to be instrumental.”
You’re pretty prolific. The last two albums came out in 2012 (Independence) and 2013 (Solitude), which is a very close succession in the grand scheme of things. Were those albums a release of creative tension, after a few quiet years since releasing Damage in 2007?
“Oh, we’ve always wanted to get music out faster than we did. We had an album’s worth of material. Independence represented four years’ work and came out 2 years later than it should have.”
What was it like doing gigs, then? Was there tension?
“There was minimum contact towards the end. It’s a shame, because we had such a good creative relationship initially.”
Like many colleagues in many lines of work, then…
“Exactly. It wasn’t frosty, we had a laugh but there were times when I would get very frustrated with the speed we were moving at. I never wanted to build up a body of work and then wait and then eventually release something that’s five years old and doesn’t reflect where I’m at creatively any more. Music moves too fast for that. The upside of that now though is, having held back for a such a substantial amount of time, it feels like the dams have busted… I just want to do fresh tunes and get them out.”
You need immediacy!
“I do. I want it fresh off the press. Like back in the day when we did Ruffneck Ting. We’d finish a tune, get it down to DAT, get down to Music House and get back that night with the dubplate. It was like the touchdown of a new tune. It had excitement and enjoyability. I want to bring that back to my own process again. As Kosheen and as any other name I put things out under.”
So what else do you have coming up?
“There’s a few things I’m working on. I’ve got a 160bpm track called All For Nothing with a deep, kinda jungly vibe with an old school break, which I’ll probably remix as
Markee Ledge. I’ve been doing some stuff with Youngsta and there might even be some Decoder & Substance remixes.”
Kosheen, Markee Ledge, Decoder & Substance… you just can’t keep away from the aliases, can you?
“I know, it even confuses me sometimes! But the names signify different sounds, and they help me work out the direction or home for the music. There’s a lot of freedom doing it this way and it’s been like that since the start: we’d have around four remixes of each Kosheen track when we first started. Just getting deep into the studio and seeing what we could come up with. That’s the vibe, man, and that’s what doesn’t change more than the aliases or projects… all I’ve ever wanted to do is write music and not put up with any other bullshit. It’s important that I’m able to do that.”
Noble is out on Zonal on 29 September
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