Category Archives: Articles

Wheel It Up: History of the Rewind

words: Laurent Fintoni

When the DJ stops the music and spins the song back, energy shoots through the crowd and Jamaican sound echoes across genres


Jamaican sound is the heartbeat of modern music. Of the many practices to emerge from sound system culture and take hold across music genres, one remains most arousing and the most maligned: the rewind.

For the uninitiated, the rewind is the act of stopping a song—generally playing on a vinyl record or, in more recent years, on a CD—bringing it back to the start, and playing it again. In Jamaica, rewinds are normally performed by selectors in response to crowd demand. You may have heard a hip-hop or dance music DJ do the same thing.

Some rewinds are smooth, the record stopping by use of the turntable’s start/stop button, while others are a little rougher, the needle hurtling across the vinyl’s grooves as a hand frantically spins the record back.

I love rewinds. A good rewind is that rare thing in life: a product of the moment. If the timing is right, a rewind will bring excitement to the dancefloor, a celebration of the music being played, an energy charge for the place and the people.

Unfortunately rewinds are also subject to abuse, with performers misreading the crowd, indulging in rewinds for their own satisfaction. As such, rewinds can be hated too; some find them obnoxious due to how they interrupt the flow of the music or seem to be a mere celebration of the performer’s musical ego, an attempt at trying to fake excitement.

And it’s not just fans either, plenty of performers, DJs and critics also find rewinds to be borderline. It’s this dichotomy that has led the rewind to become one of the most interesting and divisive sound system practices. Yet, despite a growing body of work on Jamaican music, the rewind remains largely untouched by historical thinking. Most critics mention it simply as a tool the selector has in his bag for the dance (aka the party).

I went looking for the roots of the rewind, an attempt to trace its history. Along the way I realized that, after forty years, not only is it still intrinsic to so much sound system, electronic and dance music performance, it’s also a truly democratic musical practice. The rewind allows the audience to have a conversation with the performer. It is the great equalizer, ensuring the discourse of music does not flow just one way.

But where did the rewind originate? And how did evolve? Let’s take it from the top.

read more

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Dread Inna England: how the UK took to Reggae

“Dr. William “Lez” Henry is currently a social anthropologist and the author of What the Deejay Said, a book exploring the central role Jamaican music and culture played in shaping black cultural politics in the 1970s and 80s in the UK. But before that he was a British dancehall DJ by the named of Lezlee Lyrix.

His background as a British DJ channeled through his academic career makes Henry a fascinating and informative voice when talking about the intersection of race and culture in the United Kingdom. For our program Dread Inna Inglan: How the UK Took to Reggae, Saxon Baird talked extensively with Henry about his own experience growing up in a racially-divided community of South London and the importance of sound system culture for many in the Black British communities in the late 70s and 80s.”

How did you first get involved with the sound systems?

I first got involved with sound systems probably around 1971 with Shaka Sound, which was started and ran by Jah Shaka. Number one dub-sound probably on the planet. I used to carry speaker boxes for Shaka. I was young then, about 14. I used to get into the dances for free because I would help fill the back of the van and string up the sound. Used to call us “sound boys.”

You grew up in South London, in Lewisham, which is a really interesting place because it had a very vibrant sound system culture. Jah Shaka’s record store was located there and so was the Moon Shot Youth Club. However, there was also a lot of tension. There was a National Front march in the late ‘70s and then the tragic New Cross Fire. How did all these elements come to play a role in your perception of the world and your identity?

Well, to be honest it’s a lot of the stuff I use in my writing and my work. And it was reflected in a lot of my lyricism as well. One flash point during the time I was growing up happened in the early ‘70s, when members of a National Front pub which was adjacent to the Moon Shot club–which is where Shaka Sound played a lot of their early shows – attacked us one evening when we were going home. Apparently, there was a skirmish going on between some people in Moon Shot and some people from the pub. And they ended up attacking us in street. And that is a good example of what it was like to be black then. In fact, when I was younger, we used to learn Martial Arts. We are talking 14, 15, and 16 year olds learning this because we used to get by attacked by white men regularly. And I am talking big white men, like in their 20s and 30s, attacking kids. It was a dreadful and terrible time to grow up in. Racism was rife, and it was brutal in many ways as well. For us, in the ‘70s, we were going to school and kind of running that gauntlet of hatred. Its not the only thing that was against us but it was very significant in the way we view the world or viewed the world at that time.

I mean that’s what Shaka and other sound systems used to do; they represented a safe haven for us. Where we could go out and hear music that more reflected our social, political and culture sensibilities and be amongst our own as African-Caribbean people or African people because that’s who it specifically was occupying those spaces at the time.


Read more or listen to the interview on Afropop

 

COMPUTER REGGAE: THE ANALOG BIRTH OF DIGITAL REGGAE

Computer reggae label

Monday 17th of February 2014: Wayne Smith has died. On the 18th of May The Guardian dubbed him as “the creator of the first computerized dancehall riddim”, referring to the song  ‘Sleng Teng’ and the riddim of the same name.  While Wayne Smith was the singer, the riddim itself was produced by Prince Jammy with the help of Tony Asher & Noel Davey. Sleng Teng was such a hit and transformed reggae music in such a way that there is big debate amongst musician / DJ / producers about the birth of the first digital reggae song. Anthony Red Rose claimed that he was the first singer to sing on a computerized reggae beat, on the King Tubby Tempo Riddim released in 1984. There are also songs like Sensi Addict by Horace Ferguson (Prince Jazzbo) released in 1984 or Paul Blake and the Bloodfire Posse’s Get Flat released in 85 that are regularly mentionned as the potential ‘first digital song’.

guardian

The debate shouldn’t be about who was the first to start the digital revolution or computerized riddims, but about what is digital and what is a computerized riddim. It is important to think about how the music evolved in parallel with technology. A Casio MT40 is not a computer, not for today’s standards, but it is clearly an electronic instrument and here lies the debate: Is the MT40 analog or digital?. It is hard to answer this and it is most likely a bit of both (in this case the digital waveform going through an analog filter and the drum section is apparently a processor triggering cheap analog circuitry). Pre-programmed drum patterns were obviously available on organs before personal computers existed, and analog synthesizer, drum synthesizers as well as vocoders were already available to make electronic futuristic sounds. Musicians and producers have always used available tools to produce more interesting sounds; from speakers, microphones, amplification and recording technologies.
They have also used these tools to transmit their sounds to their audiences in different ways (for example a sound system instead of a band). Eventually technology reached a point where it became possible for one man to make a whole song. While this process involved tediously layering tracks with tape recorders; computers, sequencers and samplers made this process much easier. But although the MT40 is pretty basic, it can play a drum pattern and a bassline automatically,  and just one man can play a melody or chords to make a whole song. Of course today, you can have a whole symphonic orchestra in your computer.

Let’s go back to what we call digital reggae and the first digital reggae song produced on the MT40, a keyboard made in Japan. Sleng Teng is played using the ‘rock’ pre-set on a D major chord, which was programmed to recreate Eddy Cochran’s rock n roll song “Somethin Else”. What makes Sleng Teng a reggae song is of course the slower tempo, the offbeat skank and a good Jamaican deejay (In this case Wayne Smith). So what we call digital reggae was in fact something half digital and half analog that was meant to be rock n roll.  Making a reggae song with this instead of using a band or studio musicians was groundbreaking indeed.

But what if digital reggae was not born in Jamaica? What if the first digital songs were not produced by King Tubby and/or his protégé Prince Jammy, but by NYC disco/funk producers?

‘Computer Reggae’ by George Nooks And the Electrons
released on the Serious Gold Label in 1983.

While the title suggests the song was produced with a computer, it was more likely produced with a Roland Rythm Controller TR808 (Computer Controlled) drum machine, in addition to keyboards, hardware synthesizers and equipment that they could afford in NYC in 1983 (and probably out of reach in Jamaica in these days). In 1983, music generated with a personal computer would have had a distinctive 8 bit sound and at that time MIDI technology was still at an infancy stage. Despite attempts to get into contact with the engineers and producers of this song, I can only speculate about the equipment used to produce it.

Computer Reggae is a happy funky digital / analog song quite unique sounding, cheerful and miles away from the roots and rub a dub sounds from the late 70s or early 80s. Lyrics are quite light and simple, and summarise really well the idea behind this song: “Music of the future – futuristic Sound – Intergalactic beat in the cosmic ground – Computerize Reggae Bomb” (All this with robotic vocals going through a Vocoder). At first impression, it may seem that the only reggae thing in this song is in the title: Computer Reggae. Although there is an offbeat type of skank, the beat has more of an early hip hop groove, and the strings sound a bit disco. It was released and produced by Serious Gold, a sublabel of SMI International, pretty much a disco label. Even the vocals, from George Nooks aka Prince Mohammed are far from the classic deejay vocals you can hear on ‘Money in My Pocket’ (Dennis Brown) or ‘Bubbling Love’. But Computer Reggae aesthetic is still quite distinctive from the disco and early hip hop produced in NYC at that time….

Therefore a year after Prince Jammy destroyed the Invaders, It looks like George Nooks & The Electrons were ready to launch a peaceful exploration of the intergalactic sounds. It was only few years later that computers would fascinate King Jammy (who released ‘Computerized Dub’) and Mad Professor and the Robotics (In the UK) who released albums like ‘Man and Machine Dubbing in Harmony’ or ‘My Computer is Acting Strange’.

So now, we are in 2014, Wayne Smith has died as a hero for his ‘Sleng Teng’. There is no debate about the fact that it is an amazing song that really deserved its success. It was ground-breaking sounds at the time. But he and King Jammy may not be the creators of the first computerized or digital song. But of course this would depend on the various definitions of digital, analog, computers and also reggae.

Words by Lego Sounds

Additional Reading/Listening:

Frenchtown Hifi Vol. 1 Release

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Over the past several years, France has become one of the new hubs for dub and sound system culture. It now hosts some of the biggest reggae festivals in Europe (such as the Reggae Sun Ska and Garance Reggae Festival), the dubs coming out of the country are being played at sessions all over the world, and the number of sound systems and crews continues to grow (the magazine I-leaf attempted to list all the sounds in France, and made a poster of its results).

It’s with this backdrop that Ras Mykha and Dub Livity decided to put together a sample of France’s dynamic scene. Spread over 2 CDs are a collection of 35 tracks, most of them exclusive and unreleased, that show off the best french dubmakers and singers.

Quite refreshing is the amount of female voices on the compilation; from the already well known Marina P, Daba Makourejah and Mo’Kalamity, to the newer (and welcome) voices of Jazzy Lei, Sista Charlotte and Sis Irecla. But the album is also balanced with talented male MCs such as Joe Pilgrim, Ras Mykha, Yehoud I and Jacko.

The productions have a distinctive ‘french’ touch, mostly defined by a roots and dub stepper sound, but are spread out across the whole spectrum, ranging from Ackboo’s heavy “Lef Mi Nuh Babylon” to the mellow and conscious “Rise Up” by Inner Rose. There are also a few digital injections, courtesy of Creation Culture.

But whether you are curious about the state of the french dub scene, or you are simply seeking new sounds, you should definitely give this compilation a listen.
And hopefully “Vol.1” hints at a number of future follow ups.

Various Artists – Frenchtown Hifi Vol.1 (Frenchtown Records/Musicast)
Buy on Itunes

CD1 :

  1. K-Sänn Dub System – Beware (feat. Sis Irecla)
  2. K-Sänn Dub System – Beware Dub
  3. Roots Ista Posse – Tell Them Again (feat. Ras Mykha)
  4. Roots Ista Posse – Tell Deh Melodica
  5. Rootical 45 – We Are The Generation (feat. Daba Makourejah)
  6. Rootical 45 – Dub Generation
  7. Barbés.D – Stop di Shado (DiscoMix) (feat. Ras Hassen Ti)
  8. Jacin – Conscious Education (feat. Adé)
  9. Jacin – Conscious Education version
  10. Indy Boca – Hopeful (feat Sista Aude & Far Esat)
  11. Indy Boca – Hopefull Dub
  12. Dawa Hifi – War & Crime
  13. Dawa Hifi – War & Crime Dub
  14. Jahspora – We Try (feat. Humble Youth)
  15. Jahspora – Try Dub
  16. Ackboo – Lef Mi Nuh Babylon
  17. Ackboo – Dub Mi Nuh Babylon

CD2 :

  1. Scient’Sim – Change (feat. Jazzy Leï)
  2. Scient’Sim – Change In Dub
  3. Mo Kalamity & The Wizards – Majesty
  4. Mo Kalamity & The Wizards – Majesty Dub
  5. Nyabin Sound – Mr President (feat. Jacko)
  6. Nyabin Sound – President Dub
  7. B High – Beware (feat. Marina P)
  8. B High – Dubplate Born To Be High
  9. Odessa – Youthman (feat. Yehoud I)
  10. Odessa – Youthman Dub
  11. Inner Rose – Rise Up
  12. Inner Rose – Rise Up (Dub by Pilah)
  13. Creation Culture – Take It Easy (feat. Sista Bethsabée)
  14. Creation Culture – Dub It Easy
  15. ITP Music – My Enemy (feat. Sista Charlotte)
  16. ITP Music – Dub My Enemy
  17. Fu Steps – To The Next Generation
  18. Fu Steps – Dub Generation

Chronique: South Bass Attack Festival

festi

 

Organisé par l’équipe du Bass Explorer Sound System et l’association Musique 4 All, il faut dire que la programmation était alléchante : 7 sounds systems pour 48 heure de musique non-stop. Le principe est simple : une arène composée de 6 sounds qui jouent de 10h du matin, pour le reste de la journée, et jusqu’à 4h du matin; puis une sono qui prend la relève pendant les 6h restantes– pour du reggae et des bonnes vibes en continue.

A peine arrivé, on croise les têtes connus des activistes reggae du sud et autres aficionados, et la session commence donc dans une ambiance bien familiale. De plus, Il n’a pas fallu longtemps pour se rendre compte de la qualité du site. Situé entre Saint-Marcel-Les-Sauzet et Montélimar, la féria a rempli tout les critères. L’arène trônant au milieu, avec l’espace chill-out aux airs de Zion Garden et les stands buvettes et barbecue de chaque côté – un aspect idyllique, le tout entouré d’arbres, d’ombre, et de verdure.

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(Site du South Bass Attack – photo: After All)

Le premier soir, chaque sound jouant 30 minutes chacun, les sélections ont vite pris du niveau. Les Jumping Lion ont tout de suite montré leurs talents de collectionneurs,  tandis que les Lion King Dub ont ouvert leur caisse de dubplates pour notre plus grand plaisir. After All, accompagné de la talentueuse MC Pitch-up, a délivré une sélection digital à souhait; et Roots Powa et les cuivres de Fayalite Horns ont partagés leurs message conscient à coup de roots puissant.  Les Welders HiFi ainsi que Bass Explorer nous ont aussi fait découvrir leurs productions faites maison, et le Dub Fi Dub final a probablement été ressenti jusqu’à Montélimar

Pour le reste de la soirée, l’équipe du Natural Warrior a pris le relais dans une ambiance festive, l’occasion pour ceux qui en voulaient encore de skanker jusqu’au petit matin.

Le seul bémol du week-end fut la pluie, qui vint se joindre à la fête durant la journée de dimanche. Mais elle n’a pas fait peur aux massives qui sont restés – quoiqu’un peu moins nombreux mais tout aussi motivés– pour cette deuxième partie.

En somme, ce festival a été une belle réussite. De plus, après quelques années où la scène sound system aura été marquée par des festivals toujours de plus en plus grands (tels que le UNOD, Dub Camp, Outlook, Rototom…), il fait grand plaisir de retrouver un festival comme le South Bass Attack où la convivialité est le mot d’ordre. Malgré le fait qu’il n’y ait pas eu de « grand » noms, les invités représentaient tous la nouvelle génération de sound systems, nés aux alentours des années 2010; et qui sont très souvent ignorés dans les festivals de l’envergure du Dub Camp, du Rototom ou de l’UNOD.

Ces festivals souvent ne permettent pas l’interaction et l’échange qui a lieu dans des événements plus petit – et qui au final sont au centre de l’idéal du sound system : que tout le monde soit au même niveau, écoute la même musique, et partage les mêmes vibes. Il n’est pas possible au Rototom ou au Garance par exemple de se pencher vers la control tower et demander le titre de la chanson qui vient de passer, ou même ne serait-ce que féliciter ou serrer la main aux selectas.

Le grands festival permettent de faire venir des légendes,  mais les plus petits permettent un retour à l’esprit moderne du sound system et du reggae : où le clash a été abandonné en faveur de l’échange et la coopération.

Enfin bon, tout cela pour dire qu’on attend très impatiemment une deuxième édition !

Mungo’s Hi Fi – Serious Time

Mungo’s HiFi, the sound system champions, are back with their new album “Serious Time”, taking reggae music forwards ever.

mungos

What is apparent with this album is how versatile Mungo’s HiFi have become. Their debut album “Sound System Champions” had a very roots feel to it, with a lot of horns, rub a dub and ska overtones. On the other hand, “Forward Ever” seemed to be much more of an exploration, where they appeared to be searching for their own style, incorporating hints of dubstep, digital, and more electronic aesthetics.

With Serious Time, Mungo’s HiFi seem to have now found their place. The word that comes to mind is confident. Although their tunes vary from roots and dancehall to more modern sounds – it is still possible to say that they all have a ‘Mungo’s feel’ to them. While they acknowledge the influence of roots and maybe more old school stuff, they have managed not to get stuck into one particular genre. One could say this album represents Mungo’s HiFi’s ethos, which is – well, “Forward Ever”, to go beyond any attempt to pigeonhole.

Most of the songs in the album have been sound system scorchers for the last year or so, with crowds dancing to them without being able to listen to them outside of sessions (yeah, “Nice it up”, I’m looking at you!). And as always the selection of guest MCs is great, mixing established artists with up-and-coming talent.

Cornel Campbell’s “Jah Say Love” and Warrior Queen’s “Can’t Stand It” provide the rootsier side of the album. “Can’t Stand It” is especially refreshing. Recently Warrior Queen has been featured mainly on dubstep and more bass orientated tunes, so hearing her over a riddim that could have come straight out of 70’s jamaica works wonders.

Speng Bond’s “Animal Dance”, “Gunman Posse” with Peter Metro & Squiddly, and Blackout JA’s “Overcome” bring it back to the dancehall days, and you can be sure they will make any session several degrees hotter.

And then we have Mungo’s HiFi’s more modern sounds. In Dancehall School”, Solo Banton teaches us Dancehall 101 with a vocal dexterity that only he can master over Mungo’s take on Sleng Teng; while Marina P’s “Slavery” combines conscious lyrics and a deep, dubstep induced riddim.

 

To be honest, from “31st Century Song” and “Thinking of an Island’s” early digital sounds, to “Babylon A Come’s” stepper influence, it is safe to say there is something for everyone on this album.

Also, the design of the album cover. I mean come on – I would have happily bought the record just for that!  Great work from My Lord Sound’s Ellen G.

Mungo’s Hi Fi – Serious Time
tracklist:
01. Serious time feat. YT
02. Can’t stand it feat. Warrior Queen
03. 31st Century song feat. Soom T
04. Bike Rider feat. Pupajim
05. Thousand style feat. Mr Williamz
06. Animal dance feat. Speng Bond
07. Thinking of an island feat. Soom T
08. Slavery feat. Marina P
09. Dancehall school feat. Solo Banton
10. Nice it up feat. Charlie P
11. Gunman posse feat. Peter Metro & Squiddly
12. Overcome feat. Blackout JA
13. Traveller feat. Charlie P
14. Babylon a come feat. Parly B
15. Jah say love feat. Cornel Campbell

Available at Scotch Bonnet Records

AF

Interview Lion Roots [english]

lion roots sound system

 

Short interview with Lion Roots Sound System, about what it means to run a sound, the differences between the UK and French scene, and the early sound system days in the sound of France.

 

How did you discover reggae and what pushed you to build your own sound system ?

Yes-I, greetings. Well what pushed me to build my own system, was the fact of going to London and seeing the sound systems in England. En terms of reggae, I was listening to some before but not with the sound system influence. It was more traditional bands like Israel Vibration… the foundations. Bands that allowed reggae to have today’s status.
Then sound system came a lot later.  I discovered that movement 15 or so years ago.

And since when have you been active?

Well in the area, because I was born in Cannes, it’s been nearly 15 years. I tried to get things here to move a bit in the South-East, because there wasn’t anything in terms of sound system culture and Jamaican reggae. There was nothing. But besides that there were a lot of people that would go to concerts, with the foundation bands. With famous bands like that promoters are sure people will know them so they go. But when it’s a bit more obscure, it’s harder to make people discover things.

You are the ‘oldest’ sound system in the south of France that I know of. Is your sound system home-made?

Yes, it’s completely home-made

And what does having a home-made system add?

Well it’s kind of the sound system’s identity. It’s true that now with more accessible means, internet and all that… we were talking about that just before with Aba Shanti, today it’s easier to get such and such equipment, whereas before, you had to build everything yourself. And it was even worse when Aba started, where everything was home-made. I mean everything from A to Z. From the amplifiers  to the pre-amplifiers.

Talking about identity, what makes a sound system’s identity? What creates it?

The identity also comes from the quality of the preamplifier. It’s the preamplifier that reproduces the sound. You also need decent speaker so that the sound can be heard well, and that’s the most important I think. Then you experiment with the boxes, try different models. One builds other models on the foundations that have existed for a long time. Si in that sense we are lucky to have the internet. It helps a lot.

In your opinion, what is it that makes this music special; that creates that vibes. A reggae session has a vibe that you can’t find anywhere else.

That’s true. Part of it is the acoustic pressure, the fact of listening to this over-sized music. But that is how it is supposed to be heard. We are not used to listen to music with that much acoustic power. Even at a concert, unless you go and see the big bands, U2 or stuff like that, but otherwise, in small venues, there isn’t the quality of sound that you find in sound system sessions.
That pressure and the quality of sound, that comes from the knowledge of building your own boxes. It’s a chain – if you have amplifiers that are at the end of their life, but the rest is good; the result will be average. It is a whole that allows the sound to be good.

So sound is the most important?

Yeah, during a session.  When you aren’t used to listening to this kind of music, when you listen to some tunes you have previously heard at home or on a small hi fi system, and you hear them at a session with big kilowatts and a huge bass, it’s another dimension. That’s the thing.

Someone once described a reggae session as if you were swimming in the music

That’s it, you are completely within it. Sound sends a “wave”, that’s how they call it. So it’s exactly that, you should feel the waves of the sound in the dance.

When you organize a dance, you bring the music of course, but is there something else you try to bring?

A sound system session isn’t only about playing music and spinning records, well in my opinion anyway. It’s about message you try to pass on through the music that you play, with the artists that you may invite. It’s a message of peace, unity. Those are the foundations; if we don’t have them, then unfortunately we aren’t going to go very far.
And then again, I think we have a responsibility, for the future generations, to show that there aren’t only bad things. It may be because of this that reggae has difficulty gaining attention. Because it’s a really strong message, and maybe that the elites are scared of it. It doesn’t push you to start a revolution, but it does make you think.

About that, in Jamaica and in England, at first the movement was very political and social. Is it possible to find this in France as well?

Well there are two categories, I think. Those who see the thing and say to themselves this movement is quite good, and who have some money so they say “we’ll start”. And then there are those who struggle, and who really want to do something and will do anything to make it.  The fact that the owners of a system have the finances behind them or that they struggle and organize nights to make a bit of money and pay for a scoop, it’s not the same. But in the end it’s the message that is the most important.

I imagine you have noticed this but for a while the sound system scene in France has been evolving quite a bit. Would you have an idea why?

Yeah, for the last 5-6 years it’s started to grow. Even 7-8 years. After I’m not sure why, but it’s good. Things are being built, it’s moving. It’s good.

One observation I have made through this research, is that France has begun to level with England in terms of the number of sound systems, of production…

For sure. There are good labels in France. Good French live bands. Good dubmakers, and good sound systems. In the reggae-dub scene there is quite a lot. But I think it’s still harder to organize dances here than in England. Here concerning the law it’s harder.
In England, I imagine considering the amount of nights there are, that people can bring their system everywhere. In a small nightclub they bring in 4 scoops. It’s not in a small bar in Cannes that you will see 4 scoops. Despite this enthusiasm, people in the sound system scene – like everyone else – we struggle. It’s different from when we get booked and play for other people.
It’s different when you want to organize your own thing and there aren’t any venues, well you can’t do anything. It’s a lot harder in France I think.
There are some towns where it’s more or less open than other, but still…

When you organize a night, does what you play change according to where you are, or according to the crowd?

Already, it depends a bit on the place. Especially in the region, because you really need to show people what reggae is about.  So you have to play more or less ‘commercial’ tunes, get people to dance a bit, and then venture into more obscure things.
I play mainly according to the feeling. I don’t have a prepared selection that I decided on at home – “that one is the first”, “that one is the last”. We were laughing about that with my friends earlier, because I always bring a ton of records and in the end I’ll only play 40 or 50. 50 records with a version, a couple of singer, you can easily make it 3 or 4 hours. It goes really fast.

It’s essentially according to the vibe. In July, I did this thing for the “nuit de la glisse” in Cannes. In that case there were young kids everywhere so it was more to let them discover it. But there was a stack next to the water. When I’d push the sound up a bit they were amazed.
The future mayor did his speech on the sound system. It was fun.
It creates a link with the town hall. They were the ones organizing that, so now they know I’m here. Every month they organize a ‘night neighborhood’ as they call it, and in july it was on boardsports.
So they had put a mini-ramp for the summer open to everyone, right at the end of Cannes, just near the sea. A great spot.
It created a link with the town hall, so we’ll try make it last. The guy was up for it.
I think we have to now. I could try and be more or less official, so that people decide to come. I think you have to go through city councils. So that there can be a message passed on through them as well, that can reach more people.

It’s true that is a bit in their interest

Of course. If it works, they see that it doesn’t cause any troubles. I have never had any issues in the sessions. It’s a conscious message.

And the fact of building your own sound system, being autonomous in organizing your night, is that still possible?

The hardest part is to last. Being 100% autonomous, having your own generator so you can set up anywhere, that’s a bit more difficult. Generally all the reggae nights in France are official I think. It’s managed by associations, either there is a profit or there isn’t. Often there isn’t any profit. It’s often very tight. Often we lose out, very often.

But the plus side is that they aren’t considered as rave parties. And I say that without criticizing raves.

And vinyl, it’s a central part of sound systems. Now that we have serrato, mp3… how come it has stayed around for so long?

Vinyl is the basis. Then having everything on vinyl when you have exclusive tunes, pressing everything on vinyl or on acetate discs, it costs a fortune. You have to be realistic.
I have my laptop for everything that is dubplate or pre-release. I can’t go ahead and press everything. When you add up the system, all the other equipment that goes with it. I think I’m one of the only (sound system) to have my own truck, for example. That brings in costs.
Pressing everything on vinyl I don’t think that would be possible. Having ‘collectors’ on the other hand, that’s something else.

I generally juggle between the two. I play a lot of records, and when I have things that I don’t have on vinyl I play them from the laptop. I preferred to switch to laptop because I find it easier than having 50 CDs, which also means an extra turntable. So might as well have a laptop, and everyone tends to use one these days. If it’s well encoded, it sounds like a CD, the sound won’t change.
As long as what you have behind it is good.

Something that differentiates a concert or a DJ set from sound system session is the interaction between the sound system and the crowd. How do you view this interaction?

I talk, but more because I have to, especially if there’s only me. Otherwise I have 2 or 3 friends that are quite good. What they do is ok. Because it’s hard to find someone that can do things well, that can get a vibe going.
So because I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I got quite a lot of contacts, and now I’m in the habit of getting singers to come over, to play with me. And it promotes them too. They are happy as well.
So with Jah Marnyah we’ve known each other for nearly 10 years. He comes from Montserrat. He arrived in England after the volcano’s eruption.  And he’s been singing since he came over.
Of course, having someone to pass on a good message with the people, make it more interactive is important. It’s another way to make the people aware of the music, of the message. Because not everyone understands English.

Does having someone who interacts with you allow the people to appreciate the sound more?

I think there is a way of doing it, that’s certain. When a tune is running, you have to let it run. The guy that’s constantly talking over records, I can’t stand that. You have to be reasonable, find a middle ground. That’s the hardest thing for an MC I think, being a singer is something else.
It’s a ‘know-how’. Not everyone can be a singer.
The special feature of sound systems is that generally there is only one turntable. So when you change a record there a small time lapse which leads to calling out to people. They aren’t DJs.

I used to do some juggling at first. I always enjoyed that way of playing on one turntable, but at first we only had Jamaican records. We couldn’t find English records. If you didn’t go to England you wouldn’t find a distributor. That was back at the beginnings the internet, in 2002.

That’s starting to date back a while

Yeah [laugh] We’ve been doing this since 1998. The first time I saw Aba Shanti was in 98.
I lived during 3 or 4 years in the south west (of France) and during that time my wife was in England for her studies. Due to that, some friends and I we had a house in the Lot & Garonne. I was already listening to reggae, I had a friend that was a rasta. But they were albums, there weren’t any 10 inches, 45s. They were mostly albums. So we would listen to that.
And from then on, we learned that there were some nights in Bordeaux, because we were only 100km away. So we would go to Bordeaux to hear sound systems.

Who was active in Bordeaux at that time?

There was King Jammin. Big up by the way, because he’s still there – on internet in any case, he’s still got his website. So I began buying Jamaican records off him, because he used to do albums, CD and Jamaican records. He didn’t do English records. There wasn’t that link yet to buy them.

Even though it’s closer?

It’s crazy! There were links with Jamaica but nothing with England. Only 7”, Jamaican press. So I would go up regularly to England to see my wife, and one day we were walking around and we saw some flyers for Aba Shanti. So we went to see him for the first time, and it was a shock.
When I went back down to France I bought two small full range speakers, in the countryside we were on the edge of the Garonne, there was no-one around us. We would put the speakers on full volume all day, at was awesome.

And then my wife came back down to Cannes, and I came back down too. And we decided to set up an association, to get a small studio. My friend in Bordeaux who owned the record shop gave me all the tips, the suppliers. And we started a small record shop in Cannes, when there wasn’t anything else. That was in 2000. It was Lion Roots Records. It worked relatively well, it was cool. There were two or three DJs who bought Jamaican presses, who played in Pubs in Nice, or sometimes in nightclubs. They were more hip-hop, ragga, jungle, a bit of dancehall. You know, Jamaican.

So that would pay the bills and the costs. And so I would also play in pubs in Nice to get things going. And so that’s how it began. Then from Nice we went back to England. We went to the Carnival for the first time. We saw Aba again, and that’s where we made a link. We had him come down in October after the Carnival. And there was a demand, so I got him a gig in Toulouse, one in Bordeaux. And then I organized a gig in a pub between Nice and Antibes that closed at 5am, in an industrial zone. It was a good set up. At the time I didn’t have all that. I had four 15” scoops, and the chromed speakers that are over there.

And to finish, do you think there is either a difference in the message or in the vibes between a more roots dance like Aba Shanti, and a more technoid style like Iration Steppas?

No it’s good, I think it allows a mix of people when you vary. There may be young people that go to see Iration because it’s more “jump up”. But Aba can still turn up a dance with roots.

The thing is knowing how to bring your selection, how to spread your message. And what’s good about that ping pong effect is that you don’t have the same thing for three or four hours. It’s good when there are different sounds and it’s varied. It gives energy to the people who are there as well.