Anybody who first encounters Kidda, aka Ste McGregor, on a social networking site would conclude that he was a bit of a grumpy git. His tweets are acerbic, while his Facebook status updates veer from self-deprecation to cutting sarcasm about popular culture. This differs remarkably, however, from the genial giant Ste McGregor is in the flesh, and – crucially – the uplifting, catchy, accessible music he produces too.
“People ask me quite a lot why my music is so positive sounding,” says Ste. “It could just be that it’s like an escape. I don’t really revel in the darker side of things, I’ve never really been attracted to that. It’s kind of a yin and yang thing, I suppose. A bit of a grumpy tosser in real life, and then my music isn’t.”
Kidda’s music is positive, joyous, life-affirming, and now very much pure, unadulterated pop. It’s still dripping with soul though, which is what marks it out from the disposable X Factor karaoke that litters the charts. “Soulful isn’t throwaway, “ Kidda correctly asserts, “it’s political in its attitude, its positivity goes forward rather than being reflective. Its forward thinking nature can be hedonistic as well.” Ste McGregor’s brother called him Kidda, and the name stuck. He got into hip-hop as a kid, started breakdancing and buying records, and hip-hop became an education for him. “Then you listen to James Brown, and then something else, and you understand where it came from,” he says. House music inspired him too: there was a small but dedicated scene for house in Middlesbrough, where he grew up.
Kidda moved from the north-east to Nottingham in the Midlands region of England in the early 1990s, to study fine art. “I was academically not really good at school, but I was always really good at art and drawing and painting and stuff, and I was good at English as well as art, so starting to make hip-hop was like a continuation of that,” he says.
Ste started messing around with the industry standard sampler, the Akai S-900, making instrumental beats and pieces. When a friend moved back to Middlesbrough to do an animation course, he soon followed him. “If you did it on Teeside, you got all the fees paid,” he recalls. “And I wanted to do music videos.”
Moving to Brighton around the Millennium, he moved in with Skint recording artist Danielsan. “He said, ‘why don’t you make a video for me?’, so I did,” says Ste. “Then I went into Skint and gave them my reel, and they said there was loads of stuff I could do.”
Riding off the incredible success of Fatboy Slim, Skint commissioned Ste to do loads of music promos. As well as a skateboarding video for Danielsan’s beatsy funkathon ‘Force Ten’, he produced one for Midfield General (aka Damian Harris) featuring a surreal ramble by the then-unknown Noel Fielding, and some for big beat superstars the Lo-Fi Allstars, house trio X-Press 2 and Irish techno don Phil Kieran.
Concurrently, he produced two music EPs for Brighton-based hip-hop label Catskills, and carried on writing a lot of music himself. “I had a bit of wind in my sails, and I’d done a track with Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol,” he remembers. “It sounded great, like a proper record! Catskills were kind of winding things up a bit and weren’t prepared to clear samples, and when we went to see Damian [Harris] – who loved the two EPs – he said Skint would clear the samples.”
The vision of a Kidda album for Skint was formed, and Ste started collecting guest vocalists. The album took a while because Ste wanted the samples to sound as close to the originals as possible – even though everything was re-recorded.
Kidda’s debut album ‘Going Up’ was released to almost universal critical acclaim. “With infectious hooks, tasty beats and soul-tinged melodies, Kidda’s debut feels like the natural sequel to The Avalanches’ universally acclaimed ‘Since I Left You’,” said MOJO magazine. It was awarded album of the month status in DJ magazine, album of the week in DMC Update, while BBC Music said: “Somewhere between funk, pop, hip-hop and old skool rave, ‘Going Up’ is the perfect soundtrack to this summer’s festivals.”
Ste personally produced a video for first single ‘Smile’, the one that turns into the Ski Sunday theme, and breezy single ‘Strong Together’ has been a Top 40 hit in much of Europe. The Hervé remix of ‘Under The Sun’ was one of the biggest dance tracks of the next 12 months, while the original of ‘Under The Sun’ was picked up by Bacardi to use in their huge TV and cinema advertising campaign.
Kidda wasn’t quite quids-in, though. Laura Vane’s original vocal on ‘Under The Sun’ was cleared and re-recorded, but because the notation was the same he was stung for publishing royalties by EMI — the major label took the lion’s share of the fee from the Bacardi TV ad. “It was a baptism of fire at the hands of those c**ts, EMI,” he growls.
Lesson learned the hard way, for his new album he’s written everything himself – it’s all come from his own head. “It’s a lot more fun, the results are better,” he says. His ear for a catchy hook has helped Ste develop into a fully-blown songwriter, with no need to do the sample thing anymore. Lyrics, melodies, choruses, toplines, beats, production, the sound… everything is down to Ste and co-writer Lee Baker, and new album ‘Hotel Radio’ is testament to Ste’s ability to craft irresistible feelgood pop. Lyrically, the album swings from traditional ‘I love you’ sentiments to other real situations in Ste’s life. “‘Down 4 U’ is about the last four years of not having any money and trying to justify carrying on to my girlfriend, which was a very real situation,” he shares. “I spent a lot of time beating myself up about it, which wasn’t very helpful – but made it easy to write!”
“It’s about confidence, giving yourself the room to explore ideas and not really being afraid of doing that,” he continues. “It’s like feeling you’ve got nothing to lose, and trying different things – opening yourself up a bit. There are bits that are quite raw.. People might not connect what some of the words are about from a load of situations, but I’m happy for it to be out there – I think my voice is valid.”
Over the past few years Kidda has become a significant name on the international DJ circuit, playing electro-house and the ghetto bass sound popularised by DJs like Sinden & Hervé and Crookers. He’s currently on a hiatus from DJing, as he became a bit jaded with aspects of the lifestyle. “The turnover is too quick, it’s like the pop conveyor-belt, it’s a functional music,” he says. “Everything I play when I DJ I’m really into, and I really enjoy playing music I like really loud, but schlepping up to Cheltenham for a gig where there’s 50 people who don’t know who you are… that whole thing is a bit pointless. I’d just go back to the hotel after the gig and think, ‘I just want to go home’.”
It was after one such mediocre gig in Sheffield that the idea for the title for his new album came about. “After the gig I got back and put the telly on, and the first thing that came on was this Ceefax logo which just said ‘Hotel Radio’,” Ste says. “That was the only thing on in the whole room, there was just this mad glow. It was funny that they had to tell you it was the radio as well, in case you got confused and said, ‘Where’s the picture?’ So I took a picture of it on my phone, and it looked mad. It had the same sort of effect as a real fire, it was as close to cosy as you can get in a f***ing Travelodge!”
To promote ‘Hotel Radio’, Kidda is formulating a live set-up involving an animated screen show, Ste doing live sequences synched to what’s on the screen, and various vocalists from the album effectively making up Kidda the band. He’s also going to have a bespoke ‘Hotel Radio’ gig area on virtual life music site Reslive.com, and appears unphased about being thrust into the pop world: “I’m going to show them how to do it!”
The new album is rammed full of complete radio-friendly three-minute pop anthems that zing with joie de vivre. “I listened back to the first album recently, and it just seemed to have gaping holes in it where words should’ve been,” Ste reflects.
“They’re filled in now, I just feel this time it’s more substantial – everything’s there. So is it ironic that when people turn on their radio and hear some of his sunshine pop tunes, they wouldn’t guess that they’re made by a grumpy, acerbic bloke? “Well, I’m not, it’s just my Twitter really,” he states. “It’s only making people laugh, people seem to really enjoy it. It’s a public service. I see it all as part of the same thing, especially lyric writing: you come up with something short and sweet and to the point. It’s not definitely trying to be deliberately funny, just about getting to the point – I enjoy that. But there’s a difference between a throwaway comment about Katie Waissel from X Factor or whatever, and submitting something to a record label and trying to get it on the radio.”
Written By Carl Loben
Released by Skint Records 12 September 2011. First single, ‘Wanna Be Loved’ out 1 Aug.