Saul Milton is keen to remain in the background as Chase and Status hit the big time
Saul Milton (r) with Will Kennard (Status) and front man MC Rage
Chase and Status are the most successful electronic music duo in Britain, having assumed that mantle from The Chemical Brothers. Their albums and singles regularly reach the higher echelons of the charts, they have remixed the great and good of UK dance from Plan B to Tinie Tempah and they are the British collaborators of choice for international music royalty including Rihanna and Jay-Z.
This summer, they went up against The Rolling Stones when they headlined the Other Stage at Glastonbury and their UK tour culminated at London’s 02 last month. If that is not enough, they run their own label, MTA Records, and the Status half of the duo, Will Kennard, founded his own academy, the East London Arts and Music school, to help prospective musicians and producers from deprived backgrounds achieve their potential in the industry. You could easily walk past them in the street. Their front man, MC Rage, is recognisable, but the duo tend to recede into the background, more technicians than pop stars. But they dominate the scene.
It’s pleasing, then, to discover that Chase himself is a good north London Jewish boy, Saul Milton, who last year married a nice Jewish girl, Holly, in St John’s Wood — a union duly recorded in the JC’s Faces and Places page. “I was thinking that maybe Jewish girls weren’t for me,” he admits. “But the instant we met I knew that I’d marry her and here we are today.” Turns out he had known her through north London Jewish circles since he was 14.
“I met her in 1995 on Yom Kippur. She was fasting and I wasn’t,” he laughs. “Now I couldn’t be happier. It’s made me realise how important faith is to me — maybe not the practice of the religion, but the unspoken bond that ties us together. I’m very proud to be Jewish.”
He does not hesitate before naming Larry David as the world’s greatest living Jew. And although “not a jealous person”, Milton admits that he did turn a little green on discovering that a DJ friend of his, Beni G (aka Ben Geffin), and the US dubstep artist Skrillex shared a bowl of chicken soup in Las Vegas with the Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm mastermind.
But that is a tiny negative in an excellent year for Chase and Status. Milton acknowledges their successes, although, being a typically self-deprecating Jew, he also notes the negatives, such as “being away from loved ones for long periods of time. I’ve basically been away every weekend since May,” he says. “I try and bring my wife wherever I go, but it’s hard. People don’t see that.”
He insists that his is hardly the life of the jet-setting pop star. “People think you gallivant around, drink champagne on tap and fly by private jet. Life isn’t like that. It would be surreal and amazing if it was, but it isn’t. We have the same struggles as anyone else.”
It helps, he says, that he and his musical partner never allow their achievements to go to their heads.
“We’re very grounded. We’ve never been celebratory types. After the 02 shows we might have shaken each other’s hands, but that’s about it. We’re not like: ‘Let’s crack open the Cristal and drink it all now!’ We’re more about work. We never want to rest on our laurels.”
Chase and Status emerged 10 years ago out of London’s dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass scenes, both worlds usually associated with characters from tough working class backgrounds. Milton — who describes the dynamic between himself and Kennard as “good cop/bad cop”— was brought up by his single-parent mother. Things were never that easy, even if he always managed to swathe himself in his beloved Moschino and Versace.
Yet he and Kennard attended the prestigious Westminster and St Paul’s schools. As it happens, he was something of “a naughty boy” who “wasn’t good with authority”. As a result, he was expelled from Westminster and later, from Oxford’s Carmel College. And he and Kennard dropped out of Manchester University after a few months to pursue their musical interests.
Has the duo’s educational background caused friction in the dance community, where authentic street credentials are key? “We’ve never had jibes about our education,” he replies, adding that times have changed. “It’s cool to achieve now. There’s a huge difference from when the music began in the early 90s, when it was street music.
Back then, yeah, if you wanted to go to a rave and get punched in the face you could do. Anything could happen. There was trouble and people walked round with an attitude. Police would get called, places would get shut down. There were moody people with weapons. It was street culture. But these days, the doors have been blown open and you get all different types making dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass. The sort of prejudice you used to get has been literally blown out of the window.”
Milton does concede, however, that there have been digs at Chase and Status for some of their more commercially-minded moves, such as deciding to remix a record by 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke.
“We have had some childish remarks about selling-out,” he says. “But what is selling out? How do you define it? It just means that your music reaches more people, surely. If that constitutes selling out, so be it.”
Chase and Status have the best of both worlds. They are extremely popular, yet enjoy the luxury of anonymity. “He [MC Rage] gets mobbed everywhere we go. He looks really individual — a black guy covered in tattoos. He’s the face of Chase and Status. I don’t get recognised that much. People come over and ask me to take a photo of them with Chase and Status! I’m like: ‘No problem! Thank you! Bye!’ Sometimes they know who I am, sometimes they don’t.
“I do look more distinctive these days with my ponytail and my tailored Moschino outfits, and people do go: ‘Is that so-and-so?’ But I’m not doing this for the notoriety, the recognition, the freebies or the invites to parties. I’m here to make music and run our label. We’ve got personal lives. I’ve got a wife who means everything to me and a dog. Will has a long-time girlfriend. I’m not in it for the fame. I couldn’t be happier.”