With their Riddim Commission project, DJ Swerve and Marco Del Horno are carving out a unique musical space for themselves
Rewind! It’s July 2016, and Riddim Commission - known separately as DJ Swerve, Kiss FM's hip-hop and R&B main man, and Marco Del Horno, whose dance music CV includes managing AC Slater, Shift K3Y and Chris Lorenzo and working at Defected/Strictly Rhythm, as well as his own production career - have just dropped Dem Tings Dere, a bouncy slice of bass-ridden house topped with the iconic Newham twang of D Double E. It thumps.
Fast forward. It’s August 2016 - a mere three weeks later. Riddim Commission give the world Intimidating Love, with vocalist Judge and none other than Roger Sanchez under his S-Man guise. It slaps.
Consider that for just one second. If there’s another act who can follow up a collaboration with a Newham General with another featuring a certified house don in the space of weeks, without it seeming at all contrived or forced, we’d like to hear them. And while they’re at it, we’d like to hear them follow it up with singles with Sinden, then Neutrino and Scrufizzer. Then a whole album with the likes of Eve, Rye Rye and MC Neat. And for it all to make total sense.
Welcome to the singular space Riddim Commission occupy. Not just sonically - although it has to be noted very few other acts, besides the likes of My Nu Leng and T Williams, were mixing grime with house when Riddim Commission emerged in 2013 - but professionally and culturally too. Between them they’ve invested decades into their respective scenes in all manner of capacities, from event promoting to artist management and running labels. To put it simply, they’ve been elbow deep in their games since the early 2000s; if any act has both Eve and Neutrino’s number, it’s these guys.
This is why it works. Swerve’s 15-year service to Kiss FM as their chief R&B/hip-hop tastemaker and Marco’s roots in house and garage at Defected/Strictly Rhythm (and body of work in the bass and grime scene) not only creates the opportunity to fuse ostensibly disparate musical worlds but has the facility to do it, too. These stripes and commitments have also influenced Riddim Commission’s incubation.
They first collaborated on Black Butter in 2010, with the dubstep-flavoured Ho Riddim, and have been sharing ideas ever since. But because of their work as individuals (Swerve’s touring and broadcasting schedule and Marco’s dual role as an artist manager for a whole host of acts such AC Slater, Shift K3Y and Chris Lorenzo), their melting pot has been simmering for years, giving them time to gradually settle into the sound they share between them. A sound that’s experienced at its fullest on their aforementioned guest-galvanised debut album Riddim.Bass.Life, an album that slaps and thumps unapologetically between house, grime, hip-hop and bass.
It’s a sound we called up Marco to find out more about. Fittingly, he was last spotted in iDJ on the cover in January 2011, when we released his debut album Wake Up Call - a personal trip through London, his past and his musical DNA.
Last time we spoke, six years ago, we released your debut artist album. That feels like a good place to start…
"Yeah, that was an important moment. Doing an artist album was really important to me full stop. That thing of having an idea and executing it. It wasn’t about profile, touring, selling units or anything. It’s important to establish yourself as an album artist and not an artist who makes sounds for particular labels and follows genres."
Now you seem more interesting in fusing genres. Like house and grime...
"That’s the great thing we have between us. Swerve is a hip-hop and R&B DJ on Kiss, I’ve got my background with Strictly Rhythm and Defected, so we’ve got those two worlds of experience and influence behind us. We connected through a shared love of DJs like Kenny Dope, Armand Van Helden and Todd Terry, who all have those strong hip-hop roots. When we started writing we were thinking, ‘Should we actually be writing house records?’ but when it all clicked we thought, ‘Fuck it, we’re loving this! Let’s make house records but put some interesting features on them’."
You use the word 'feature' but that term always feels like they’re not actually connected with the music. That’s far from the case with you guys - it feels real.
"Yeah definitely. We’ve never paid for a feature by the way. We’ve had Eve on our record. Such an incredible talent and superstar. Swerve had her manager’s number. We called her and she wanted to be involved."
The power of Swerve!
"Yeah, we’ve earned our stripes if you like. Plus you have to be straight with people. The record has to work for them and we’ve had successful singles. People respect a bit of a legacy. We’ve known these people for years and worked with them and looked up to them. Like Neutrino. We took him to 1Xtra, he was MCing and I knew all his bars inside out and knew which records to wheel up because I’d been listening to him since I was a teenager. It’s a culture thing. That’s why we invited him - because we love him. It’s a bit self-indulgent, I guess, but in a good way."
In an authentic way?
"Yeah. It’s also a case of only getting the right people on the right songs. Like with Judge, on our single with Roger Sanchez. We knew he would enjoy the record and be able to add that 10 percent and really clout it up. But we had to know him and know what he’s all about before we send it to him. There are so many kids who talk about stuff who don’t live in the scene. You have to go to the raves, listen to them, party with them. You can’t just get an MC to feature - that’s disrespectful. It’s not how it works. You have to put something into a scene before you can get anything out of it. I think young fans forget that."
Is that an age thing, though?
"Things are definitely different now, yeah. Blowing up on the internet means you can bypass earning those stripes. I always think of going to Big Apple buying records as a teenager: there was Hatcha in there, Jon Kennedy, Benga, Skream, MC Viper, Mala, Plastician... everyone was in there all the time. You couldn’t just say ‘Nah that’s shit’ - if you didn’t like it, you’d have to really qualify that with real thought and stand by that comment. It’s the element of cutting your chops, which I think still does exist. It’s the same with DJing and a lot of things. It’s an age thing, yes, but it’s a culture thing.
"Especially in the US. Look at Dirtybird, or AC Slater’s Night Bass - they’re scenes to themselves. Everyone playing at Night Bass is a friend or a friend of a friend. Big DJs can be in town but if it doesn’t feel right and there’s no connection there, we don’t do it. It doesn’t matter how big you are, you have to understand the culture. A lot of DJs are out for themselves: gimmicks, memes, anything but the music. Everyone wants to be a superstar and the music doesn’t lead. For us, and everyone we work with, it has to lead."
Does it feel like the music is leading more now the album is out?
"Yeah, definitely. We’ve made it very clear what we’re all about and that’s important. Like with the first album I did, it’s about doing an artist album and capturing something we’re doing that’s unique. We’ve deliberately not tried to follow and copy stuff. You do an album to define your sound and what Riddim Commission is. We’re an act. I look at guys like Groove Armada and Basement Jaxx as a good reference point in this way. Not in their sound so much, but in their remit and style."
And in the fluidity and evolution both those acts have had over the years…
"Yeah, evolving but having a running theme and keeping things different and fresh. What they do is incredible. And this is our take on it. Good, fun party records with really interesting features and collaborators with a twist. For example, we’ve got no interest in writing a garage record with Neat or a dancehall record with Doctor or a grime record with D Double E, because they’ve already done that. How can we do something that's interesting and different, but still reflects our roots?"
There’s a lot of roots to reflect between you, Swerve and everyone you work with. So many options and fusions!
"Just like London! Riddim Commission is everything we’ve grown up with in this city. If you walk down a street in London you'll hear house music, dancehall, rap, dubstep, garage. Not just on the radio or online but it’s the physical soundtrack you hear all day. It’s our interpretation, our big melting pot. There’s always new ingredients being thrown in the mix."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Riddim.Bass.Life is out now on Bullet Train Records Hear/buy it here
Tags: Riddim Commission, DJ Swerve, Marco Del Horno, Roger Sanchez, D Double E, Eve, Sinden, MC Neat, Neutrino, house, grime, garage, dancehall, hip-hop, Newham Generals, Kiss FM, Defected, My Nu Leng, T Williams, Judge, Eve