An archive of previously published and unpublished writing.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

MC Tali

Lyrical Trails

MC Tali is struggling for words. "I don't know. That's a question I can't answer, I honestly can't," the exhausted vocalist muses in an odd Kiwi via Bristol accent. Not the response you'd expect from someone who has made their name delivering hyper-confident word sprays to manic drum'n'bass crowds. But the problem is a universal one, and something she has to deal with everyday. While Tali, christened name Natalia Scott, doesn't have a handle on why drum'n'bass is such a male domain, she knows it shouldn't be. "If you're good at something it shouldn't matter what sex, race or religion you are, but it does. It’s pretty sad because drum'n'bass is supposed to be so progressive."

Scott has found out the hard way, breaking through the prejudice to become the premier female drum'n'bass MC internationally. Not bad for a girl who grew up on a sheep farm in Taranaki, insecure from being hassled at school about her diminutive frame. She always had that mouth and words that came quick and easy in the form of retorts to her chastened tormentors. And ambition.

"She was quite staunch about succeeding as a musician," says Matt Harvey, a member of New Zealand's other big drum'n'bass export, Concord Dawn. "There's a lot of girls who try and get into the scene as vocalists thinking if they get a superstar boyfriend that'll help them. They don't much respect. Whereas she got respect, as she never played the fact that all those guys wanted to pash her. "

This has been ignored by those crudest of critics - the male drum'n'bass fans who waste their lives in internet forums - she calls them 'haters'. "To begin with I was reading a lot of those things," says Scott. "I realised that those people don't add anything to my life, so why do I need to have that?" Most of what they say about Scott is unrepeatable, but a common thread is that she couldn't have achieved what she has without compromising her morals.

Just what has she achieved? The MC Tali debut album Lyric On My Lip has just been released on Roni Size's Full Cycle label. Produced in collaboration with Size and fellow Full Cycle artists, it’s a diverse collection of dance floor drum’n’bass and futuristic torch songs. Now Scott is touring the UK in support of Size, the sell out crowds singing her songs back to her. The magnitude of this comes into focus when Size's achievements are examined.

The Bristol based producer won the prestigious Mercury music prize in 1997 for the Reprazent album New Forms. That album was the first drum'n'bass foray into chart territory, its combination of live performance and precision programming spawning such cafe favourites as 'Brown Paper Bag'. In the closed world of drum'n'bass, Size and friends are royalty, yet Scott managed to woo them with one life-changing performance.

This story of how she manufactured her big break has been rendered as legend in drum'n'bass circles, and Scott is thoroughly sick of recounting it. "God, do I have to?" she laughs. Well, no. Lyric On My Lip effectively chronicles this and the other events that contributed to her ascension through the drum'n'bass ranks.

"I've been heavily into music since I was ten years old," says Scott. At that age she turned her piano and vocal training towards song writing, a talent that permeates Lyric. "I wasn't too sure if it would become my major career, but it turned out to be a good decision." The introduction to drum'n'bass came at the wrong end of an all night rave in Christchurch, where she had moved to study Performing Arts in 1996. "I fell in love with the music totally. I started going out with a DJ who introduced me to lots of drum'n'bass and educated me about the music."

As a hip-hop fan, Scott was aware of the puppeteer’s role of the MC, and used her vocal prowess to infiltrate the Christchurch drum'n'bass clique. Soon she was fronting shows with Salmonella Dub and Shapeshifter, and the name MC Tali was being hyped as someone to watch. Performing with these acts at Dunedin's Odeon cinema in late 2000 her vocal gymnastics - part sassy hip-hop MC, part soulful R&B chanteuse - eclipsed the headliners. "People in Christchurch have been saying 'we knew she was going to be a star' for years," says Harvey.

Having outgrown the opportunities at home, Scott jetted to Melbourne in 2001. Established within months, the vital connection with Size was made in 2002 at the after party for a Reprazent show. Cornering him backstage, Scott's impromptu performance so impressed Size that he immediately put her on stage with DJ Die. It was an academic decision to move to England in the hope that this relationship would pay dividends. "Everything has always been a bit of a gamble - I'm a Sagittarius and we like to gamble because it always pays off."

It didn't take long. After MCing for Full Cycle DJ/producers Die and Krust at London club Fabric, she was brought into the studio to lay down vocal tracks for various producers, including Size – a rare occurrence. "They're one of those labels it's really hard to become a part of,” says Harvey. “They're all Bristol dudes who went to school together. It's a big deal and those guys are going to look after her."

Scott agrees that she is lucky to have these wise heads around her, always ready to offer advice to their protégé. “I surround myself with people who are positive and like-minded, who are passionate and have creative sides to them.” And the reason Full Cycle has invested so much in this antipodean outsider is because they know she’ll do the job. "I’m given opportunities because I'm so willing to take them. I've always given Full Cycle one hundred and ten percent, to the point of exhaustion. But that works for me because I like to live life on the edge."

Gavin Bertram.


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