Freeform Five has just four members: lynchpin producer, multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter Anu Pillai and vocalists Cabba, Tamara Barnett-Herrin and Nick Decosemo.
Perhaps more than anything else, it was the much admired and oft-compiled re-fashioning of Isolee's 'Beau Mot Plage' from minimal techno gem into Brazilian-acid-funk-Key-Of-Life house belter that alerted many to the fact that Freeform Five was no ordinary production outfit. Issued on Chicago house hero Derrick Carter's Classic label – 'Beau Mot Plage' featured no less than 11 musicians, and the vocal stylings of moonlighting journalist Nick Decosemo.
Pals for years, they met in the sixth form at school in Newcastle. Anu, originally from Kerala, Southern India, lived in the posh end of the Toon, while Nick hailed from a depressed mining town further north 'in Billy Elliot country' – but found common ground in music, forging a friendship over the three Ps: Prince, P-Funk All Stars and, perversely, the Pixies.
So Anu and Nick formed their first band. Playing a timely stew of Funkadelic and Stone Roses, The covers, the boys where still only 16 when they found themselves supporting Desmond Dekker.
But then just as it was getting good, it was all over. Nick headed off to college in Scotland while Anu stayed in Newcastle to do an art foundation and put his record collection to good use with his first DJ residency - Friday nights at the (then) Riverside club. By chance, up in Dundee, Nick and two of his new friends, Gary and Roy, were about to attempt something similar with a night called The Spaceship. 'We we're mixing up house, guitar music, hip hop and whatever else, in a small venue with an incredible, loyal crowd. Because we were in Dundee no one took any notice.' Nevertheless it served all three of them well, Gary is now a bonafide rock star with Snow Patrol and Roy is now better known to millions as bootleg mash-up pioneer Freelance Hellraiser.
By the time Spaceship was taking off, Anu had also left the Toon, heading for Cambridge 'to DJ and do a degree on the side'. At the same time another Cambridge student, Tamara, was having similar extra-curricular experiences, discovering the joys of dancing around like a loon to house music. Despite diving headlong into the scene, throwing shapes to some of Anu’s infamous house party sets, the two didn’t really get to know each other until after they left. 'After Cambridge I was searching. I wanted to continue performance but I didn't want to go back to dance training. It was too late for that anyway...and then I bumped into Anu and the rest is history'.
At this stage Anu was working in music full time – on commercial soundtrack work by day and his own house productions and remixes by night. But was already brewing up a long-term plan to scale down both in favour of founding a conduit for his own song-writing skills and pop sensibilities. Keeping a constant lookout for new vocal talent was his way of investing in his future. 'I had an idea for a song, 'Break Me', when Nick dropped into the studio. I got him to sing the chorus as a dummy vocal track to work with, but on playback it sounded great so I thought 'Fuck it! I’m keeping it'.'
The final piece of the jigsaw was another chance meeting, another post-acid house musical vagrant and another exotic background. 'I was born in London,' Cabba begins. 'But we moved to Sierra Leone when I was six, then to Australia when I was eight. I had been in a hip hop band in Melbourne before I came over here. I was going mad in Australia so I had to leave and I ended up in London, I was seeking out the electronic scene here. I met Anu at a party. He helped me straighten my life out. I was looking for myself and I bumped into him on the way.' Almost as soon as he heard Cabba's voice on his tape, the idea struck him. 'I though 'This would work all together'. It made sense with the range of music to have three different voices for it. It's been a kind of haphazard process, but at the end, it all just fell into place.'
Freeform Five, the band, are confident that what they’ve made stands up as unique document of who they are and where they’ve all come from. As well as co-writing a song for the album with his old friend Gary from Snow Patrol, Nick was even vindicated in his provincial childhood music taste and got to record with his hero Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode and Erasure. Meanwhile Anu himself was able to fulfil a personal dream, flying out to the States to work on the final touches to the album with funk and hip hop mixing legend and Timbaland's go-to-man, Jimmy Douglass.