We had a small chat with Fede aka. KrakinDub and Troy Berkley from Fogata Sounds before their session in Glasgow. They told us about their start in the techno free party scene, the idea behind Fogata Sound, and their thoughts on the future of the sound system scene.
How did Fogata Sound start and who is Fogata Sounds?
Fede : well Fogata Sounds started in 2009. Two of us founded the label, me and my mate Hugo. Hugo is one of the pioneers of the dub and reggae scene in France. He was in the punk scene in the 80s, and was one of the first to make bridges from punk to reggae. So he grew up with things like Gom Jabbar, Puppa Leslie. So he’s the one who introduced me to reggae in the early 90s.
You were part of the Mas I Mas crew, which was mostly a jungle and techno sound ?
Fede: And reggae, yeah. I was playing reggae as part of the Mas I Mas from the start, from ’96. At that time the French free party scene was growing hugely, and it was only about hard techno. Everyone was playing that kind of music, acid, speedcore. And we wanted to propose different parties, staying in the idea of the free parties: free for the people, taking places that don’t belong to us, fuck the police… and that was all about the TAZ –the temporary autonomous zones.
But we wanted to do it not for a larger audience, but with different vibes; from reggae, to techno, through jungle, because we were all junglists at that time.
We experienced a big boom in ’96, from the first parties of like maybe 20 people in a bar, to a couple of months later, 2000 or 3000 people attending our jungle parties. But always with a bit of reggae, and then final mixes with techno. We also liked to have visuals and decorations. We wanted to complete the music with decorations and visuals. We didn’t want to have only a DJ behind a wall of sound. Because that was the idea of free parties at the time, you had a big rig and the artists were behind it.
Did you also have your own sound system at that time?
Fede: Well we had our sound system from ’99. But it wasn’t that potent, so we always borrowed more sound to make it better.
So you were doing mainly link-ups?
Fede: Of course we did link-ups. The first link-up was with Heretik sound system, from 96’ the first free parties were mainly with Heretik. Then we did parties with Furious, a techno sound system from that time. They were playing very slow techno, not that hardcore thing.
And then with many, many others, including UK people, Austria… all over Europe.
And how did reggae come into this, were you the only ones playing reggae in this techno scene?
Fede: No not really the only ones. Some people went to play reggae in some techno parties that were happening already. But it wasn’t the sound systems themselves.
We as a sound system tried to be open minded, breaking all barriers between those musics. But the free party audience was already a mix, from punks & squatters, to everyday working people, to hard core drug dealer… every kind of people were there, so we thought every kind of music should be there too.
That sort of explains the idea of « Rubadubstep », the title of your album.
Fede: Yeah Rubdadubstep is the idea about Fogata. Fogata is born because I saw the growing of the reggae scene, the so-called ‘new dub’ scene. And we wanted to put back in some parts that were somehow forgotten in their own place. Lyrics are the first thing. That’s why we call it Rubadubstep, because rub-a-dub is riddims but also lyrics. We also obviously try to have conscious lyrics. We wanted to make a bridge between reggae, dubstep, and the conscious part of the music. That’s why ‘rubadubstep’
There’s also a lot of new dub sound systems in France, and many say the free party scene in the 90s paved the way for the current reggae sound system scene.
Fede: That’s true. But we were hard core [laugh]. We fought the police sometimes during parties, I mean really fought. The dub scene that is growing now in France is not about that. They are not looking for frontal confrontation. We were, we really were. But still, they have the same feeling, the same idea of using big sound systems to get people to understand the real meaning of the music, that’s something that joins us. Also having our own rigs, and other similarities.
But they don’t do ‘free’ parties. Nowadays in France it’s prohibited, there are several laws that make it such that if you put a free party on you can have big troubles, you could see your sound confiscated, your vinyl and gear confiscated, and if you’re not lucky you could face jail.
Maybe that is why the reggae scene has become so big, because its legal alternative?
Fede: Of course, that’s the only way they could take. We tried it, at the end of the free scene, in 2003. We made a couple of semi-legal parties. We could sell beers without paying the state, that’s the illegal part. But we had police at the entrance, ambulances, and every aspects of regular festivals.
There was one big festival you did with Heretik in 2004 or 2005
Fede: Yeah, we made that big party named « Alice au Pays des Merveilles », which had maybe 10 000 people attending. A huge party, with big sounds. But we lost money, because we still wanted to keep the low prices. It wasn’t free, but it was a low entrance price, and we wanted big sounds, big names, so we lost money.
So Troy Berkley, next question is for you. When did you first start MCing ?
Troy: Oh God man. It was a really really, really long time ago. I guess i started when i was about 13, which was ages ago.
Fede: Early 80s to tell the truth
Troy: I’d say the late 70s.
And was it always on reggae sound systems or did you begin on something else?
Troy: Let’s be honest – shit man you take me way back. When we was 13 we would be doing kung-fu fights in the street and shit like that – so he was able to imitate the sounds of the kung-fu fights. So he started doing that but we couldn’t sing over that, so we weren’t really interested. And then he started doing proper beatboxing.
Do you remember Joey Lickshot? Well he used to imitate Joey Lickshot – and everyone was like « shit, he does it better », so he became Lieutenant Lickshot. I guess I was about 13, something like that. So yeah, thank for that memory lane.
So you started with Hip hop and then moved on to other stuff?
Troy: Both at the same time actually. I was singing in my bathroom when i was well young, when I could hit those high notes. Then of course your balls drop and you can no longer hit those high notes [laugh]. And then I guess around 13 I found myself in my first reggae session, in a big dancehall. We used to listen a lot to Saxon MCs. I used to imitate the Saxon greats, like Senior Sandy, Tippa Irie. These were my secret teachers, they were teaching me the fine style of MCing. So basically we would get these cassette tapes, and I would sit up all night putting it on rewind like « what the fuck did he just say » ! And then you’d get it down to a pattern, you’d switch it up, you find yourself somewhere along that line. Or you don’t, but you keep going anyway.
Trying to figure out your style?
Troy: Yeah, and then you figure out there is none. But that’s another story.
About the art of MCing – MCing is something quite hard, especially in sound system, it’s all about reading the crowd.
Troy: yeah it’s true, you’ve got to be synchro. It’s best to be synchro. I mean there’s no law, you don’t have to be, but you’ll have a better time if you are. It’s like, there was a game we played when I was a kid. We had this little game where the DJ would try to find the shittiest music he could find, to give to you to sing on it. And there you were, mic in your hand and you just had to go for it. So what happens is, it make you develop your ability to ride the riddim, to find where is the groove, instantly, and to sit your ass down, because it’s coming, you only get one look at it, and if you don’t take it, it’s dead. So basically this thing kind of develops your impro skills. When I think about it that’s pretty much the only professional experience I had. Even though it was a joke with friends, in actually fact it does develop, it helps you a hell of a lot. Because instantly you have to find your place, right away. So If you want to play the game, well you get better.
It must also help your ability to hype things up Even if it’s a shit tune, you singing over it has to make it good.
Troy : Yeah, you’ve got to make it a wicked tune. It’s your responsibility, if you don’t, well you flopped. You’ll get over it, but you flopped. And you don’t want to flop, so you go searching yourself to bring out what’s wicked.
It appears that in the sound system scene in France you don’t get all that rivalry that was found in the early sound system scene in the UK. There seems to be more focus on ‘meetings’, ‘in combination with’… stuff like that.
Fede: well that’s the outside point of view. No, there is competition, as there is competition everywhere. There’s no big brotherhood in the dancehall scene, that doesn’t exist. If you’re not friend with such person, then you won’t play on his sound. I mean some sounds have open minded stories to tell, and they are bringing different kinds of acts to play in their nights, but that’s not everyone.
The scene grew on the Dub Station scene. Dub station is a franchise, like MCdonalds. So in France, some towns said « ok, we accept your deal, we book your artists, we pay you for the flyers because we use your name », and some other towns said « no, fuck you Dub Station. We are going to make our own dub meetings ». So it’s complicated in France. We have so many different actors on the scene. Some of them coming from techno as you said. Some of them just born on new dub, and they don’t know shit about techno, or reggae roots. But still, they put on parties.
So I don’t know, we’ve been playing for several dub sounds in France, but still it’s a few of them that are open minded enough to open their arms to us, to say welcome.
I guess that’s one comment that comes back quite a lot, that France is still quite conservative, in the sense it’s very focused on roots and stepper.
Fede : that’s true. And a lot of ‘new steppers‘. A lot of them don’t even know about the huge UK scene, like Jah Warrior – 90s stepper – or Zion Train, Universal Egg. For me it’s foundational for techno-dub. Because they call themselves ‘dub sound systems’. But in reality they are not really playing dub, they are playing a new music – I’ve got nothing against it. But it’s not dub. It’s a part of dub music, dub music is so much more.
And you’re right in saying that it’s really conservative. But not in the right way. Not in the way that conservatives look at their roots and project them to the future. They are conservative about this new thing, without looking backwards or onwards.
Going back to the free parties, like you were saying, the early raves were quite political, focusing on autonomy and all that.
Fede: yeah, in that sense every free party was political because of the confrontation with the police and the state. But 98% of sound system didn’t really give a fuck about politics
Reggae as well at the start was very political – do you think the current reggae sound system scene has kept a bit of that political engagement, or is it a bit like the free parties?
Fede : well thank god Macka B exists, that kind of person. Macka B can put out a tune today, and the youths will play it, and Macka B has always been a conscious artist, telling a message to the people. Not only singing ganja tunes or love tunes, it is always with a point. So of course some of the youths in the scene are growing with a message, but still I think most of them lost that political engagement. And forgot that the entire reggae foundation is built on ghetto issues, political issues…
It’s a bit like you were saying with dub stations, in the sense a lot of people in the crowds are there just for the beat.
Fede : not all of them of course. A crowd is made of many different people. You can say that crowd is shit, or that crowd is just sheep. A crowd is made up of different people. Sound systems are made up of different people. I mean if everyone in the sound system is a sound man, then you have no promotions, no good flyers, no good singers. You need a whole bunch of different aspects and people to build a sound or a crowd. And those crowds are not bad, but of course a big part of them come just to jump up – as they say today, they come to skank, and that’s it. But they don’t listen to the lyrics; they don’t know what the song is about. So it’s half-half.
It’s funny, if you look at sound system nights in France and in the UK. In France the crowd focuses on the speakers, and in the UK they focus on the crew.
Fede: Sometimes you go to play, I swear, and we are playing, he [Troy] is singing and everyone is just looking at the speakers. So it happens sometimes i just cut the music and say ”hey folks, it’s happening here!” this man came all the way from the Bermudas ».
Troy: And on my side I don’t really care, because I used to sing in techno shows, where I wasn’t allowed to be there. I fucking loved it, because you take the mic and you have to sit in the background, and don’t let them see you because otherwise they go like « what the fuck ! An Mc ? bla blabla ». So you give them a little bit of lyrics, and they notice it at the end, like « holy shit there was a guy singing this whole time? ».
Fede : And that was one of Troy’s abilities. To be part of the vinyl playing. Merging with it. It sounds as if there’s no MC, it’s just on the vinyl.
Troy : Sometimes I’d be sitting down, and nobody could see me [laugh]
Fede : But a big part of what you say is true. A big part of the crowd is looking at the system, the speakers.
Isn’t that a legacy of the techno scene?
Fede : Maybe, but at that time the live acts, the DJs, they were behind the speakers. So everybody’s secret will was to see who was playing, go behind the speaker and see who was playing. And experience what is a badman sound system person’s life. But now, instead of being behind it, it’s in front of the speakers. But the people are still only looking at the speakers
Troy : But it’s humbling, you know…
Well that was something else i wanted to ask, about MCing over techno – a music where you don’t really have the MC tradition that you have in reggae. How was MCing in the techno scene?
Troy: well drugs helped [laugh]. I mean the problem with drugs is that they work right? so it helps yeah.
Fede: In the techno scene at that time, we had a lot of people who were against MCs. I mean jungle MCs have always been boring to me. Too much blabla, too much non-stop talking
Troy: All over the place
Fede: and the first time I met Troy, a friend presented him to me, he said « I’m going to present you a wicked MC ». And I was like, « pfff one more of those boring motherfuckers » [laugh]. But I had the good surprise to meet Troy and to experience what an MC actually is. Someone who knows when to sing, when to keep his calm, when to check the crowd… and all the other MCs abilities.
It’s true it’s an art to feel that there’s a dub you should just leave, and then another moment when you feel you have to hype up the crowd
Troy : Yeah you feel the vibes. You just have to follow the vibes. There’s an expression in Britany : « tout est bon dans le cochon ». Everything is good in the pig… Now how do I explain why I’m using this expression. I mean you can’t really go wrong with if you’re following the vibes, if you’re riding with your feelings, you’re going to be synchro with it.
It comes back to the idea that sound system is emotional; it’s run with an emotional feel, not only a technical one.
Troy: It’s definitely emotional. It’s 100% emotional.
Bart: Looking from back, today with everything like in the internet, how do you see the scene today, is it expanding?
Fede: I’ve been playing different continents, lots of countries all over. And one thing about the cyber part of it… It’s an illusion. It’s just some pictures, and some things on the net. It’s not true, anyone can pretend anything. So I don’t really look at it like a real thing, even though I find a lot of my bookings and a lot of people find me on the web. And then there is real life, where you have some real people, some fake people too, and each country has both of them. Each country has people trying to build a thing because of their love of music, and some others are just following the fashion
Troy: I mean it all pulls each other, so it would be a big yes to the question « is it expanding ». I mean I’m listening to Fede here and thinking about Steppa (Style), who’s in Russia, in Moscow ; and that Mc from Indonesia…
Fede: yeah, we’ve been working with lots of international acts. Not international in the way that they are moving from their home, but they are all looking outwards. And that is the basis of what we always did. We do the things for the world, not just for our neighbourhood. You don’t do music just to keep it for you. You do it to spread it.
Troy: It’s a wicked feeling, I mean you think that you’ve got guys in Russia singing over your riddims, you know what I mean? It’s fucking wicked.
Fede: Steppa Style he was on our first album already, and now he’s on the next Fogata 10 inch, which also has Troy on the A-side with ‘Matta’, a good hit. And Steppa is on the same riddim on the B-side. And it’s come together only now, because things are complicated, vinyl is expensive. We’re not rich people, we are humble people.
Troy : So Humble [laugh].
Where would see the scene growing to, or would you see it stopping at some point? Now you have sound systems trying to have as many scoops as possible, is that maybe a tipping point?
Fede: That’s not really true, I think a sound system sounds good even if you have a large amount of boxes. Of course, there is always a competition. If you’re a beginner, things look lost from the start, and that’s sad. I mean you look at Blackboard Jungle with 26 scoops, and you just have 3… So of course it’s hard. But there’s not going to be an ending to it. I don’t see why there would be an end. It will just mutate, it’s going to be something different.
I mean tell me if I’m wrong, each and every year in the dancehall scene, the real reggae scene, the youths discover the Sleng Teng riddim. Each year you go to sound systems and they can play the full fucking Sleng Teng, I mean you want to kill them because you know them already and you’ve heard them so many times before [laugh], but it’s good for them. Because they need to know about it.
So you know, it’s always about different paces. You may not always be in sync with others, so the good thing is to take the boat with someone for a while, do a part of your journey with them. I mean here with Argonauts who invited us, that’s a part of our journey. Tomorrow we go our separate ways, but somehow we stay together for ever. You know, at different paces, in different ways, but we are all in the same boat.
Troy: yeah the joy is in the journey not the destination. That’s pretty much it. The joy is definitely in the journey, than trying to focus on some sort of destination
Fede: for real! A young sound beginning today doesn’t need to get his 26 scoops to enjoy himself, you can enjoy it with your stereo at home.
Troy: it’s accessible to everyone
So even though you’re saying that the sound system community online is a bit of an illusion, but at the same time i mean, it does make it more accessible. If you want to build scoops you can go online, you don’t need to go to a dance and take the measurements there and all.
Fede: and find someone who can teach you, so you do the thing maybe better than with just plans from the web.
Bart: but there wouldn’t always be someone around. I mean maybe it would then just spring around centres where there would already be someone but not anywhere else?
Fede: there are always teachers. Inside sound system school there are always teachers, there are people that did it just to spread it, always. And they have shared their knowledge; they always shared what they knew. It’s not about keeping it for you.
I do workshops when I’m traveling. Not this time but often, and everyone is welcome and any questions I will answer. Any part of my knowledge I will share with people, because I don’t see the point of keeping it just for me.
But that’s the point of putting it online though, that you share your knowledge with everyone
Fede : yeah, and in that sense it’s pure positive. Of course. But now the statement that a big part of the reggae scene believes, the statement that says « the only good system is a sound system ». Well I don’t agree with that. A sound system is just an amplification of what you’re saying. If you’re bad minded then only shit will come out of your sound system. So the only good system, is the system where we are brothers, we are equal, there are real sharing vibes. Not every sound system is a good sound system. And that’s the problem with the internet thing. It leads you to believe that the only good system is a sound system, and that’s not true.
It comes down to what makes the identity of a sound system. Is it the system or the crew?
Fede : It’s definitely the crew behind it. Because the records can be played in many ways. The same boxes can played on in many ways.
AF & Bartosz Madejski
Fogata Sounds website