Sixteen years ago, Ben, Sam and George started a jam that would soon become the ever-evolving musical collaboration that is First Degree Burns. Members of the band have come and gone, yet the FDB presence and energy has never faltered. Their self-named genre of ‘skip-hop’ encapsulates their fusion sound of ska, hip hop and reggae, which the seven-strong band have blasted out to delighted fans at their exhilarating shows. You may have spotted them at Boomtown last summer or in and around various venues in Bristol and indeed, Europe! They have also shared the stage with Bad Manners, The Beat, Zion Train and The Wailers!
So how does a band so big manage to keep its energy up for so long? What exactly is skip-hop? We talked to Ben, the drummer, after his day of gardening, who filled in the gaps and explained how this crazy journey has taken him from acting, to screwing handles onto doors, to gardening, all the while creating an electric and colourful soundtrack that is First Degree Burns.
Hi Ben! So what have you been up to today?
I’m a gardener! I’ve been doing that for six years now. I sort of blagged my way into it actually. That’s kind of my main bread and butter I suppose. Obviously we do as much music as possible but we’ve all got day jobs.
So from what I’ve kind of gathered you guys have been going for 16 years now is that right? Have you been there from the beginning?
Yeah I have. There were three of us. Myself and my brother Sam; he’s one of the vocalists and the clarinet player, and the bass player, George.
Over the years, many people have kind of come and gone. But yeah essentially it started with myself and my brother Sam, just jamming with music at home together back when we were both at school. George was Sam’s best mate, and we needed a bass player! So, even though he couldn’t play bass, it was one of those “do you wanna bring in my best mate?!” Haha
Sounds like that somehow worked out remarkably well then! Over the years would you say that your sound has changed at all?
Oh god yeah, absolutely. There are certain things that we’ve kept without necessarily meaning to. Certain rules that we’ve applied, and how we actually deliver the music. We always seem to have an understanding in having the right vibe and creating the right atmosphere. Creating things that make people move. We know what works. You can see it in front of you! We feel it ourselves. You either look around and we’re all sort of bopping our heads getting really into it and feeling some kind of groove, with a bit of a snarl like “Yeah that’s great”. Or, we’re all slightly awkwardly farting about and it’s just a bit half-arsed. Especially after doing it for so long, you pick up on those kind of points.
Is it hard to get everyone together to practice? Obviously you all have day jobs!
Yeah you hit the nail on the head! It only gets harder! Most of us have grown up together so it’s been interesting to see it all happen. We all know that the older you get, the more responsibilities you have. Naturally it becomes harder to fit certain things in, even though that doesn’t affect our love for what you do. We are at that point in our lives now, that people are becoming parents! We lost our guitarist after 10 years, but he became a dad for example! But we all understood that and it’s just a case of adjusting to it really.
Our general love of it has just carried us through it!
You describe your sound as ‘skip-hop’, what is that exactly!?
Skip hop is just a term that we started using years and years ago to define our music! It’s always one of those slightly annoying things, that when you play such a broad range of things you struggle with the question of, ‘What kind of stuff do you play’? Part of the problem is that there are so many different pigeon holes these days, for different styles of music. Find of too many really! Most of what we play is ska, reggae and hip hop, with other things thrown in between. That’s how we would describe it but then one day decided to shorten it down. Ska and hiphop are probably the main ones – so skip hop – why not?!
Does skip hop kind of describe the vibe of the crowd as well?!
Well maybe yeah! We do often see some skipping and hopping about! Among those other shuffles and jigs going on!
What has been the highlight so far?
Wow, um, I think playing with some of our idols. Supporting them has been one of the most amazing experiences. Naturally you grow up listening to these people and you find your influences and everything else. To find yourself in a position where you’re suddenly sharing a stage with them.
Probably the most amazing one was when we supported The Wailers two years ago in Bristol.
It was all a bit of an adventure really. We were playing out in Germany at Fusion Festival. The more we’ve started gigging abroad, that’s where it starts getting exciting, that’s definitely been a massive highlight. That’s the ultimate dream, being able to travel around playing music.
What about the biggest challenge?
Good question! Probably, communication can be difficult with so many of you! There’s technically been 17 band members. It’s not a bad thing and it’s never been a problem, but that’s a bit of a challenge when someone leaves and you need to get someone else on board. Like when we lost Martin, our guitarist of ten years. When he left there was this initial sort of draining like “Oh my God, is this it? What do we do?! We’re never going to find anyone else!” But you just kind of get on with it and carry on!
Great! So you’ve just released a new video for your single “Reason”. It has some great effects in it, where was it filmed?
It’s from St. Werburghs Festival in Bristol. We’ve played there quite a few times actually over the years! That was a really nice year actually. The sun was shining, had a headline slot – it was great!
The lyrics of the song are really emotional and really evocative. Is there a message there about someone in particular?
Yes. It’s about a friend of the two vocalists. A fan of the band. They were friends for many years and shared many good times together. He unfortunately took his own life, which is always a very difficult thing to comprehend and deal with. That song, ironically, was one of those songs that was already written, musically. The guys were coming up with lyrics when all that happened, and to them, it turned into a very personal message. A kind of goodbye that they wanted to give. Equally we have also dedicated it to a number of friends that we’ve lost over the years, for various reasons. It’s never easy. We try to keep the love there as much as possible.
It’s a beautiful song. You can tell that there is a lot of emotion there and that there is a message and a lot of heart that has gone into it.
You guys performed at Boomtown! We saw some crazy outfits on stage that day! Is that something you guys do a lot, dressing for the occasion?!
We’re definitely not a shy bunch! It’s an occasion thing! We like to switch it up a little bit! Sometimes we get hired as a wedding band, so we wear something a little bit more smart. But Boomtown is all out carnage! We’ve always done that.
On that note, did you guys do anything for Halloween?
Usually we play, one year I was painted as a dead badger…! One of the more interesting outfits I’ve had.
That’s hilarious! What would you be doing if not this?
I reached a bit of a fork at college, where I had a choice of music or acting. I was beginning to do pretty well from it as well, in terms of getting quite a lot of work as an extra and lots of auditions for main parts. But for me it was a no-brainer. Music was always going to win! Nothing else stands a chance.
Either way you’re on stage right! So what’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I spent two weeks building caravans! I really didn’t think it through at all. In my mind I had a fantastic vision of having to build an entire caravan. Obviously when I turned up to work there, I was just on a massive assembly line. For the entire day, my job was screwing handles onto doors. I think it’s the most tedious thing I’ve done.
Would you cook for us? What would you cook?
I would definitely cook for you! I’ve got Sunday roast down now! I would do you a pork belly with massive, chunky, fat crackling on it. Rosemary roast potatoes, gold and fluffy on the inside. With all the trimmings. There you go!
First Degree Burns will be turning up the heat on New Years Eve at The Golden Lion in Bristol!
Izy Radwanska Zhang @izaradz