“That’s what we need. That’s the essence of Brighton, which has died out a little in the last ten years.” Darrison, MC extraordinaire and consummate man about town, is enthusing about the upcoming Funk The Format festival. We’re sat talking in the rather funky surroundings of Trafalgar Street’s Damage Hairdressers, because he’s been made a bona fide addition to the event’s line up. Last year he made something of an impromptu appearance, joining his heroes UK hip-hop legends, Rodney & Skitz. “I’m sat in backstage eating a burrito, and Rodney P is like: ‘Yeah – Darrison! You’re coming up on the stage here now.’ I looked up and he’s hyping me up.” Impressed by his energy, charm and undisputed skills, the festival’s organisers asked him back to Hove Park on Sat 17 June. “To do things on my home turf is always a nice thing. I’m going to be doing a mixed set, with all the collaborations I’ve done.”
Without a doubt there’s a wide gamut of absolute bangers to select from. Darrison has been in the game long enough to accumulate an impressive back-catalogue. Starting out with King Tafari Love Music Sound System, he’s arguably the first drum’n’bass/jungle MC to take the form to where it is now. As a member of Pressure Crew, he established the legendary Steppaz Convention nights at The Beachcomber – a truly old school seafront venue which was swallowed up by Shooshh forebear, The Honey Club. Early on he began developing a melodic style, standing in contrast to his more militant-sounding peers.
Right now, Darrison is winding down a two-year hiatus from the D’n’B scene. The time away has seen him working through some personal issues, exploring different musical genres and filling his time with martial arts, skating and even a spot of gardening. He concedes being hurt several times damaged his faith in a scene he’d grown up with and took him to some dark places. “Everybody goes through shit. But if you’ve got your own problems, then you have to suffer more problems in the industry – where the fuck can you turn?” Wrestling with depression can adversely affect the creative process with his writing. Eventually all the turmoil may come out as lyrical honesty, but that’s not much help when you’re too sad to pick up a pen.
Perhaps it’s brutally candid, but honesty and thoughtfulness are the tools of his trade. A shift in focus has seen his skills redeployed to different musical arenas. He’s tinkering more with production, creating some singular solo work packed with ‘80s influences, synths and quirky elements. There’s even the promise of a fully-fledged rap album to come, complete with skits, spoken word and a narrative. Having once made the mistake of becoming complacent, he’s staying fresh in the face of a constantly evolving music scene. Coming soon is an EP with House Of Virus, a fast-rising act signed to Marshall Jefferson’s Freakin909 house label. He’s also moved into reggae, recording sessions with Gussie P, and there’s still been a few choice D’n’B outings with Brazil’s L-Side and Mains from Brighton’s Motive Sessions night. “I’ve been taking this time out to work with a lot of local cats and up-and-coming people. I’m already established, so let me go out and put some fire to someone else.” There’s also spots with glitch-hop duo Krossbow (signed to Krafty Kuts’ label – Instant Vibes) and innovative D’n’B star, John B. There’s now even the prospect of a long-awaited album with long-time collaborator, Ed Solo. Incredibly, it’s been ten years since these two dropped their Random Acts Of Kindness LP, bearing a record artwork shot in the very salon we’re sat in. It’s apparently something of a gathering place for local celebrities. X Factor sex machine Frankie Cocozza is cheerily catching up with Darrison, whilst waiting for a post-grooming lift home, and veteran DJ Billy Nasty runs a record shop downstairs. Darrison himself is proudly showing everyone his cool new cap from Brett Sclif. Relaxing in a barber chair, he leans forwards only when emphasising a point or breaking into song. Both things occur quite regularly.
A moving target to anyone trying to pigeonhole him, Darrison has perpetually shifted stance, moving between political, conscious, mischievous, reality and soulful. “Sometimes to be in the middle doesn’t always do you good favours in life. Because people want to be able to put you in a bracket, they want to know whose fucking side you’re on. ‘What team is he bowling for?’ I’ve never been that guy…” Neatly classifiable, or not, he’s gearing up for a hectic summer – especially his show at Funk The Format. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Hove Park, this friendly one-day music and arts bash packs in a heady blend of soul, reggae, Latin, jazz, funk, disco, D’n’B and hip-hop. For 2017 the event will bring performances from Goldie and the Heritage Orchestra Ensemble, Norman Jay MBE, The Nextmen and Neon Saints Brass Band, who will all make this summer event unmissable. “Last year it was interesting. In the middle of Hove, to hear drum’n’bass and hard hip-hop banging out with black people and white people everywhere. It’s lovely, man.” Perhaps that’s all he wants – to see music bringing people together.
Darrison forms part of the awesome Funk The Format line up when it comes to Hove Park on Sat 17 June. You can also catch his skills with Artificial Intelligence when they play Motive Sessions at The Arch on Fri 9 June.