Old school aerosol artist, graffiti doyen, experimental hip hop visionary, - Req has been tagged by others almost as many times as he's 'tagged' himself. Attempts to pigeonhole either his art or his music, however, are consistently confounded by his innate ability to go off at a tangent. Even as a fledgling graffiti artist he was considered rather avant garde by his piers and this independent attitude is equally evident in his music. 'The two (music and art) are just different methods of saying the same thing, says Req, 'so whilst One' is my first musical creation I feel as if I've been researching the material for around ten years.
Born 20th February 1966, Req always had artistic leanings. Encouraged by his father he studied art through school and into Art College but it wasn't until hip hop arrived that his passion was really ignited. Req embraced this exciting, vibrant new culture that had exploded out of the Bronx into inner city areas on both sides of the Atlantic. Films like 'Beat Street' with its depiction of showdowns between break-dancing crews and 'Style Wars' which documented the thriving renegade art scene became powerful influences on Req. Brighton may not have been the Bronx but it still had multi story car parks and plenty of kids to hang around in them. With like-minded converts to the hip hop and electro scene, Req immersed himself in all the rituals that came with the territory, from break-dancing and cutting up records to rapping and graffiti. In between practising his body popping moves, Req 'tagged' everything that moved and even more that didn't. Evading arrest was part of the fun and although he never really got into trouble with the police it was a tagging spree at a party that led to him adopting the name by which he has been known ever since.
'When I first started I was known as Slick Joe but I got really drunk at this party in someone's house in London and ended up tagging the whole place - the walls, the bay window, even the side of the sofa. The next day I heard that the owners of the flat were on the warpath so I had to change my name quickly. That's how I came to known as Req.
Req's natural instincts however were to find his own style within the scene. Inspired by New York artists like Case who had featured in the 'Style Wars' documentary and had opened Req's eyes to 'wild style', he began experimenting with spray can art in ways that at first seemed strange to those around him and represented a departure from established graffiti art. Req developed a more portrait style of his own within the spray can medium. He called it 'photo-realistic' because it often involved copying photos or artwork with spray can paint whilst adding his own unique twist. Sometimes the photos were his own, sometimes they were from books or r ecord sleeves. Rounder Records, a local store, began commissioning him to imitate current big selling album sleeves on the side of the shop - a feature of the Brighton Lanes that continues to this day. More recently Req's raw spray paint aesthetics have reached a much wider audience in projects like last summer's Fosters Ice live art promotion which featured a giant billboard in Camden, live painting on the Mo' Wax tour and numerous commissions for record sleeve artwork. Back in the mid Eighties, although the work was much more modest, it was enough to provide Req with the base for which to continue developing his talent without worrying too much where his next cup of tea was coming from. It was around this time that Req met and became close friends with Norman Cook. Both shared the same enthusiasm for break beats and together explored the every obscure old record they could find for new sounds. Norman was already busy with remixes and his Beats International project and would invite Req into his long studio sessions to help him find inspiration. Whilst Norman cruised ahead m aking records, Req was content to observe and absorb whilst helping Norman in the creative process. He'd dabbled in cutting and scratching at home but felt that he wasn't ready to express himself on vinyl. Instead Req would become part of the Beats International roadshow which traveled across the UK and to Africa and Japan, leaving his identity in the form of spray can murals across three continents. As well as getting to see the world and experiencing two very different cultures, the trip developed Req's awareness of the transitory nature of his means of expression and how it eventually came to shape his music.
The idea of always having to leave my work behind me really appealed. You don't have time to get attached to it and you don't have a chance to think about it too much or change it. It really focuses your attention on whatever you're doing at that moment. With my music it's the same thing. It's relevant to me when I make it and then I just like to give it away, to leave it and move on. Like leaving a mural behind, once something's recorded on vinyl or CD you can't go back and change it.
For Req this parallel between painting and making music is also reflected in the actual process of creating a track. Req uses a drum machine pattern as his 'wall' or 'canvas' and then 'paints' sounds by cutting them in over the top in a spontaneous manner from his palette of previously selected soundtrack clips, breaks or noises from his favourite old Wasp synth kit.
Understanding Req's attitude to his art is to understand his music. To Req the two are just two means of expression amongst many, and whether it's painting, music, cooking or making clothes, the creative process is the same.
Keeping everything simple is essential to capture the expression of that moment. When we recorded '8 Models In A Sauna' it was done on to an old pre-recorded cassette. Rather than redo it on DAT and lose the spontaneity of the scratching we left it and that's the version that appears on the album.
I spend a lot of time searching for ways of refocusing sounds to get that raw, bootleg tape quality. It comes from years of listening to DJ mix tapes over the years I guess.
Although his core influences stem from hip hop and electro, Req found himself drawn towards techno in the late Eighties, particularly the Detroit sound of DJ producers such as Carl Craig as well more abstract artists like Aphex Twin and Black Dog. Req's debut album 'One' clearly draws these two musical strands together.
Techno is much more of a spectator thing whilst with hip hop you get involved in the whole culture. I've tried to create a balance between the two. It's been a long process - I've been messing around creating weird things on 4-track tape machines for years but it was a necessary process for me to explore the limits before feeling comfortable enough to put together an album.
'One' is indeed an extraordinary record. A continuous journey through a hazy lo-fi world of murky beats, scratching and warped sounds that conjure up vivid soundscapes and jazzy freaked-out grooves. Req has clearly proved to be as individual with his music as with his art but then that is no real surprise since to Req the two are just different means of expressing himself.
The next Req album 'Car Paint Scheme' to be released Summer 2001.