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Austin Chronicle Rollers Redefined

JUNE 1, 1998: 

Rollers Refined

In a perfect world, the Spice Girls would have already been relegated to shoveling suds at a Bristol bistro and Austin's Rollers Redefined would be a global sensation, touring for die-hard jungle fanatics, managed by Goldie, and debuting their new A-Team ripoff show, Fox Force Four, on (where else?) the Fox network this Friday. But hey, the world is fucked and that just ain't the case.

Instead, this local all-girl jungle crew is holding down Thursday nights at the Red Room, spinning parties, and rapidly making a name for themselves in a scene previously thought of as a breakbeat bastion of b-boys and testosterone. And although Siren, Curly, Katy "Firewheel" Walker, and Reverend Kathy Russell officially united under the Rollers banner less than a year ago, they've already brought jungle music to the fore in an Austin scene more accustomed to the groove and flow of deep house and skittery trance. Granted, there have been some ruffled feathers:

"Here's the real deal," says Curly. "People that are not DJs will give us respect and people that are DJs, a lot of them, will not give us respect. I've found that the average raver in this scene, someone who goes out just to listen to the music and to go to the parties and have a good time, they're totally into us and are totally floored by us in the best way by the fact that we are four girls spinning jungle. They love it. They give us so many compliments, and they're really excited by it. But a lot of men DJs give us a really hard time. They feel like we haven't paid our dues and that we don't deserve our success because we haven't been together long enough."

Adds Russell: "Normally the DJ is like a masculine, buff macho DJ guy and the girlfriend is this frou-frou, 'I'm with the DJ,' and all that stuff. And I look at those kind of couples and I know I have no place in that mythology because I'm that couple all in one, you know? I've got that male energy, especially with the jungle and the kind of style that I play, the jump up, hip-hoppy kind of stuff, but at the same time, hell, I wear tampons, too.

"Rev. Kathy Russell"
photograph by Bruce Dye

"My experience on the one hand is that as a female I've had to work twice as hard to get the same sort of response that a male DJ would. On the other hand, it's just being a strong woman and they think that the minute you get off the tables you're going to kick their ass or something. Or sometimes people are just too intimidated to talk to you."

Though "jungle" (drum and bass if you're over 28 or a music critic for the Village Voice) has been tearing up the U.K. club scene since Goldie's groundbreaking Inner-City Life and his subsequent formation of the all-jungle Metalheadz label (Dillinja, J. Majik, Doc Scott), the propulsive stop/start, breakbeat-strewn staccato rhythms and rolling bass lines that make up the genre have only recently begun to catch on with stateside audiences.

photograph by Bruce Dye

The less-than-stellar domestic sales of Mercury Award-winning Roni Size's recent double CD and the apparent popular indifference to critically acclaimed groups like Spring Heel Jack (showcased during SXSW 97) bear witness to the notion that jungle is still a Brit thing. As usual, though, nobody bothered to tell Austin, where the gamine Rollers are spreading the jungle gospel, mixing it up with equal parts good old-fashioned sex appeal, girl-power righteousness, and the ultimate DJ Commandment, "Thou shalt make thy booties move."

"We're really only buying English music," says Siren. "Actually, 100% of my tracks are English. You've got American DJs spinning English music, though, and that's not going to help America, because it's like, if people really want to hear international, they might as well get the English DJs."

Curly: "But it's on the rise. I know a lot of people now who are making jungle tracks. In England, jungle is like their hip-hop; it's considered urban music. The scene here is really different. Here, most of the kids that are spinning jungle are suburban white kids. It's a bunch of disgruntled, white 16-year-olds, and that makes me paranoid. I'm just like, 'Does that mean I don't have soul?' But that's another reason I'd like to see the hip-hop scene get into it, because the hip-hop scene is much more diverse racially."

"DJ Rap was my first experience with jungle," adds Katy. "It's kind of random, but you know what it was? It was the Internet. I was bored, typing away, reading URB magazine religiously, and then all of the sudden I was reading about this new form that combined hip-hop and rave culture and that was jungle."

Ask the Rollers about the Austin scene and a flurry of intersecting opinions splatter all over you, but the main concern these women have is with getting the city's jungle scene up and running, whether that means packing the house at the Red Room or playing out at local raves and house parties.

"At a lot of these raves so many of the kids in town think we have to bring in these big names from Timbucktoo to have a good party, and that's not true," says Russell. "There's a lot of quality talent in this town. There are a lot of people here doing stuff that has not been done before and who are very much in touch with what's going on in the rest of the United States and very much in touch with what's happening in the rest of the world. They're doing quality stuff and getting denied simply because they're from Texas. We should recognize and we should appreciate the talents that we have in our local scene, and there's a lot of it. A lot of it."

photograph by Bruce Dye
Will Rollers Redefined single-handedly break jungle in Austin, replacing house's longtime Central Texas stranglehold on dance music and DJ culture? Let's face it, being an all-girl crew has its advantages, commercial, market, and otherwise, but as Curly is quick to point out, that estrogen tsunami you're seeing shouldn't scare off the boys.

"We love men," asserts Curly. "We do. The fact that there's four of us together or that we're an all-female crew does not mean that we hate men, does not mean that we are not about men; I love male DJs and if it were not for male DJs I wouldn't be working today. But, there's something about four women working together and supporting each other and being all about seeing each other succeed. That's why it's all girls. Not because we don't like men, but because - for a woman - there's something special about having these things all come together."

"Also," adds Siren, "if being four girls in a crew is going to help us get booked more, then by all means."

"Oh yeah," finishes Curly, "four girls get a hell of a lot more attention than one girl on her own."

How true it is. - M.S.

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