Exclusive Interview: Risky Roadz talks the series evolution ahead of special ‘Best Of’ screening
Grime fans are forever grateful to the likes of Roony ‘Risky Roadz’ Keefe, who picked up cameras out of pure enthusiasm for the music scene flourishing among their peers and captured some of the most iconic moments in the music’s history on film. Risky Roadz and its DVD contemporaries helped to set formats and ideas that would inspire an online generation in SBTV, GRM Daily & co, while his music video aesthetics have an increasing influence on the mainstream.
What is clear when we speak to Roony, whose get-up-and-go attitude still stands him in good stead today as a fully licensed taxi driver, is his overwhelming pride in both his work and how far the grime scene has come, and this weekend brings an opportunity for the rest of us to celebrate and appreciate too, as the RIO cinema in Dalston plays host on Friday night (23 June) to a special feature length film The Best of Risky Roadz. We spoke with Roony in a Bethnal Green pub with his brother Beau ahead of the screening to talk the legacy of Risky Roadz, the new ideas and platforms we can hope to see it in as well as his experience on the recent Channel 4 documentary Pirate Mentality, in which he and Frisco brought grime back to the site of Rhythm Division, the legendary record shop (now a coffee house) in which Roony used to work and birthed Risky Roadz.
Let’s begin with the screening this weekend. When did this become an idea?
A guy approached me saying they’d like to showcase it, and my brother stepped up with it and followed it through. It’s exciting me now because it’s going back through the old things and putting it together in a way that is going to be a bit new, taking the best bits from all the different places and putting it together as a feature length. It’s gonna be a special moment for me to see that, and have the people who was there at the beginning with it along with the new fans who want to see what it’s all about.
It’s a testament to what you were doing back then. The DVDs are reference points, time capsules…
Obviously A Plus [Practice Hours] was there with his camera, and then Jammer come through and done his things [with Lord Of The Mics], then Risky Roadz came. Between the three of us we documented the origins of what it was, in our own different ways – Jammer had his way of documenting the clashes, A Plus had his stylistic things then me and Sparky [from Rhythm Division] came through and put together the formats. We broke it down into producers, your MCs, your radio sets and kinda of showcased all of it. You’ve got the actual origins of grime, the excitements and hunger levels of the artists. The ones at the top of their game now, you can see them at their rawest form when they just want everyone to know who they are. Ghetto’s thing is still an iconic moment in grime that we captured, and people forever talk about it.
I think it’s just a special thing because it was all done with love, we all done it with the passion and love for the music. We were just hanging around as friends with a camera, and I suppose it’s become an encyclopaedia for early grime – if you wanna know what something was, you can stick in an old Risky Roadz or YouTube it and you’ll see it. Between the three platforms I mentioned, you’ve got the beginnings of grime. We’re lucky as well in a sense that grime’s the only scene where the videographers are as important as the artists in the roots, and we’re known for it, whereas say hip-hop hasn’t got that.
It was a perfect storm in terms of technology making things more accessible to document in those early days.
Our lead up was the garage becoming grime, before grime was called grime, and we were there filming. Troy [A Plus] and Jammer were filming, and just as that started coming around I got a job in Rhythm Division. Me and Sparky were talking, and a few people came in who I hadn’t seen on other visuals. I thought ‘you know what, if I wanna know what they look like, other people will’ so rather just it being focused on that end of the scene, let’s bring a camera into it and film the whole scene. That was the moment.
My brother was a fan as well. We used to share a room and he used to have to put up with hearing the things on loop. How old were you then?
[Beau enters the convo…]
I was like 11 or 12. It’d be midnight and I’m trying to go sleep to get up for school and I can’t, I can just keep hearing this same loop over and over again. There were nights when all the MCs were around and I’m up playing FIFA with them until one in the morning! I was up for hours listening to the same bit of track, every night for about a year I reckon. That first one, he was editing constantly.
[and now back to Roony…]
Yeah, that was the first thing I’d ever edited so I was learning as I was going along. It was time then where if the tape that you filmed was an hour, you’d have to wait an hour to capture it before you could do anything with it. He had to put up with all of it!
You mentioned formats a minute ago, which I feel continues to be one of your strengths with new series in the last couple of years.
I constantly have new ideas, and I do things that I really wanna do. From back in the day, like ‘How To Make A Beat’ with the producers, they’re things I look at like ‘what do I wanna know, and how can I translate that into a format?’ With ‘The Rootz’ series, there’s so many old classic songs that haven’t had visuals, so I wanted to create a series where I put visuals to tunes I like and I think are important to the scene, ‘Creeper’ being one of those. With ‘Roadworkz’, Risky Roadz started before everyone was famous -they were all new guys coming in and if I liked them that was it – so let’s find some new talent and keeping that cycle running. To be able to do that and get the response it has means a lot. The ‘Grime Worldwide’ thing just blows me away every time I’m sent in something new. Some of the countries that know what Risky Roadz is, it’s amazing.
I’ve got so many different format ideas. I think when you love something and you’ve got an imagination, you’re only going to make new things all the time. I never want to just settle for a freestyle series and interview series, I like to do new things and branch it out. You never know what you’re gonna get with a Risky Roadz series and that’s how I like to work.
I’ve got a little notepad where I write ideas. It might be just one word that I can think about later. Some of it is stored in my mind and then something happens and it’s time for that idea to come out. It’s mad how the formats we made for Risky Roadz 1 and 2 we worked out are still so relevant today and used by other people as well as myself. That’s why I wanna sit there and put time into new ideas so that they can continue to grow. When you get bigger budgets, you can do even more special things with an idea.
What other classics do you have planned for The Rootz series?
The next one I’d really like to do is the vocal of Pay As U Go ‘Buss Mic’. They along with N.A.S.T.Y. Crew were a big pull to me listening to grime. Obviously ‘Know We’ was powerful, but it doesn’t feature all of them whereas ‘Buss Mic’ does, and it’s one of those tunes that’s ahead of its time. I’ve spoken to the guys on it and they’ve given me the blessing to make the video, so it’s just about how I can bring it together. I sat with ‘Creeper’ for a while and then one day it clicked, and this is the one now I’m just sitting with it until the right idea.
The way grime is consumed, and the music itself has changed over the years. How do you assess things now?
The good thing about grime now is that the fan base is so versatile, so no matter what your idea or what you do next is, there’s an audience for it. There are so many different fans, there’s always a place for everything so do something in the right way and you can bridge the gap across all these classes and generations. It’s powerful and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger. Us as a channel want to grow our ideas with it, and think outside of the box a bit more. That’s a big thing with my formats, I’ve got so many ideas going forward that are a little bit out of the box but now is the time for it! The same goes with the artists making the music.
Grime’s given a voice to kids, even with the election. I suppose MPs before wouldn’t have given grime a second glance. Now they are thinking it’s so powerful they need to get involved in this. The kids have a voice now and grime is a big part of that voice. It’s not as bad as what they thought it was. It gives a lot of people hope, because they see their favourite artists come from nothing, and just the way the media has tapped onto that now they can see the power of it. It’s something we knew from the beginning.
There was a GQ documentary on grime where Ratty of LOTM showed his garage, which was an Aladdin’s Cave of grime artefacts. Do you have a lot in storage?
I tuck my tapes away. There’s just bags and bags of them along with old magazines like RWD, articles I’ve been in and vinyls we released through Risky Roadz Recordings. Everyone’s got their own nostalgia hub, and it’s mad to look at that and see where you’ve come from. If anything I miss the tapes, because now it’s just a memory card and you delete it. It’s a little bit throwaway, or hidden away on a hard drive whereas before you’d have a physical tape. I miss having that.
How much of your older footage has been digitised?
Not all of it. It’s hours and hours, you’d be there for days. I remember filming stuff that you think you’re gonna use but you don’t, and there’s tapes of stuff I can’t even remember. One day I will bring it all out of storage! There’s also tapes that I might find in my house rather than storage, so I’ll have a look through and think ‘that was cool’. I come across stuff all the time, like in an old drawer there’ll be a tape with something scribbled on it. That was a mad thing as well, where it was just a hobby back then, nothing was labeled. There are bags of tapes with nothing written on it, so it’s a lucky dip!
We never expected it to do what it done. Now it’s gold dust because you can’t get those memories back and everyone wants to look in at where it started. It’s a proud moment to sit there and think about what you’ve done, and it’s an honour to still be here calling these people my friends and family as they continue to grow.
You mention family, there. Did they back you from the very start or did they need convincing of what you were building?
My mum and nan are proper supportive. They came round from day one, it’s like they could see what we were all working towards. I don’t think they were ever surprised that it got so big, like they might not have understood it all but they knew who was good so they always had that inkling. If someone’s on TV they’ll call me. ‘Oh, Skep’s performing’ or ‘Quick, Bashy’s on telly!’. They still know who everyone is, and they know the lyrics. I was talking to my mum recently and she’s so proud of how everyone’s doing, because she’s seen where they’ve come from. They always gave that encouragement, and they never asked me why I’m doing it. Certain times I was going to places I maybe shouldn’t have, but they just wanted me to have fun. It’s like they’re the mum and nan to the scene. Ghetts calls her ‘nan’, it’s a special thing.
A couple of years ago you dropped a trailer for Risky Roadz 3. What’s the status with that?
I had that idea that I wanted it to be shot from first person, from my view. I wanted to put out there the idea of it [with the trailer] but it’s too big a project for me on my own. It’s something I will definitely pursue but I wanted to see how people would take to this view. It kind of got labeled as another Risky Roadz style, especially after the Kano video when we used parts of it in ‘Hail’, which I wanted to cement.
How does that feel, when people recognise certain effects and style as a Risky Roadz staple?
It’s rewarding. I got a call the other from The Guardian about how my videos for Skepta’s ‘Man’ and ‘It Ain’t Safe’ – the VHS look – affected the pop world. It’s just like, wow. You just do something for the vision that we’re on, you don’t see how it affects others and to people looking in. We’ve done something right!
The Channel 4 documentary with Frisco must have felt rewarding too. How was that to do?
I know they’d been talking about it for a little while, and then they brought Frisco in who then gave me a call. I sat down with them, they said they wanted to do a set and I suggested Rhythm Division. Frisco was like ‘yeah that’s crazy’ but the team working on it needed a little while to get their head around it. Even when we were doing the interviews, they still weren’t sure where the set was gonna happen, and I forced it upon the interviews saying we wanted to go back to Rhythm Division. When they could see the artists me and Frisco lined up who had taken to the idea, it happened.
For everyone to go back there was a special thing, I hadn’t walked in there since I stopped working in there. None of us saw what it was like now, it felt like what it was years ago. I’m glad Frisco gave me the shout for it because between the two of us and Tobi the director we got an epic documentary out of it.
Has that given you the taste for bigger and better things in the future?
It was the first thing I’ve produced outside of Risky Roadz. Using Risky Roadz, if that makes sense. That’s something I definitely want to do more of. I‘ve got so many formats, shorts and documentary ideas that I wanna be able to take Risky Roadz into a production company and make happen on that scale, where I don’t have to hold the camera anymore to make these things happen. I could see I could take an idea, actually be in front of camera and know I can be in a sense a presenter, producer and put it together in the way that we did, to make something pretty iconic.
Relive some classic moments from Risky Roadz history on Friday 23 June 2017 at Rio Cinema, East London.