Tag Archives: France

Explosion Sound System Interview

explosion

[photo by Explosion Sound System]

“If you want to distribute flyers, either you pay a licence to distribute flyers for gigs, or it’s about politics and religion. If it’s for politics and religion, then it’s free. if you want to do it for culture, you have to pay. That’s how much religion and politics there is in Belfast.”

The Explosion crew very kindly accepted to have a chat with me before their first ever session in Glasgow alongside Crucial Roots. 

So how did explosion sound system start and when ?

Neil : Well i’ll answer this question I supposed. It was myself,another guy, Paddy, who has since moved on. We started up about 2002. And we kind of started it up as reggae nights really, because there were no reggae nights in Belfast at all.
I used to be into a lot of hip-hop, punk kind of stuff back in the day, and then I just got into reggae one way or another.
I moved down to London for a few years, and loads was happening obviously.
So that’s kind of how we started up. We used to just play bars in Belfast at the start.

And when was that ?

Neil : 2003. Well before that we were playing unofficially as Explosion, 2002. And we played a bit of everything at the time. A bit of ska, rocksteady,  Roots… Just a kind of crossover. Because there was nothing at all at the time, not that I knew of anyway.

Well that was the next question, what is the sound system scene like in Ireland ?

Neil : In Ireland there is. In Northern Ireland we are the only proper sound system. But in Ireland, from Dublin you’ve got guys like Firehouse.. Worries (Outernational) as well.

Dub Foundry : I think Rootical Sound, since ’95 as well. Rootical from Galway.

Neil : Yeah, they’re from the west coast. Then you’ve got Revelation down in Cork. There was another sound, Community came from there too. I like them, they run nights in London as well.

Dub Foundry : there is another one as well but I forgot the name.

Neil : And especially with things like Electric Picnic, and Body and Soul festivals, the guys from Trenchtown, they set up reggae areas in those festivals. And they set up a couple of stages and set up a sound system arena and stuff, and that goes down well. And there’s loads of people now who are really into it.

Okay. But in Northern Ireland it’s mainly just you ?

Neil : Well that’s badly said.

Dub Foundry : well with a sound system yes, we are.

Neil : With a sound system yeah. We are the only crew with a sound system. We’ve just moved venues, to the Mandela Hall, which is Queens (University) Student Union. So for our first night we had an « All tribes gathering », with all the other reggae nights and crews, and got them all together, and play through our sound system.
I think we’ve kind of evolved now that we’re not just going out to play,we are physically promoting reggae now. I think we are trying to push the scene out, you know. Hopefully.

And how long have you had the sound system for ?

Neil : In one shape or form, about six or seven years. I don’t know, i’m really bad with years (Laugh)

Gumbo : Since about 2008-2009.

Dub Foundry : But the first scoops were in 2010.

Neil : Yeah, what you could call a sound system was more recent.

Gumbo :  The original boxes and amps that we bought were from this guy, we used to rent them off him. Once a month, to do the shows. We’d pay him 200 quid, come and collect the boxes with my brother in a van, pick up the boxes, pick up the amps.  It was a simple enough set-up. Two double 18inch kicks and then a top section. Just 4 boxes and 2 amps. And that’s what we used for a year.

But we got pretty friendly with him, so we approached him and said « we’re giving you 200 a month for this, how much would it cost to buy it ? ». He was like « i’ll sell it to you for 2000 pounds ». So i asked him if we could continue to pay him th 200 a month, and bring it back each time, but it would go towards buying it off. He was up for it.

So after like a year or so you had the sound system ?:

Neil : It didn’t even take a year.

Gumbo : Well some gigs we would give him 500£ if we could, if we had the money. But we paid it all through gigs, the original boxes.

Neil : But that’s the thing with Explosion. Everything just gets put back into the sound. We’re still upgrading. But we were talking about it with Ranking Fox the other night, about how we’re always fine tuning, and that’s not a bad thing.

Well it never really ends does it ?

Neil : No it doesn’t. As I say, I started doing the reggae nights, and the guy who started them with me – Paddy – he moved to Berlin, and I was kinda knocking on my head. And actually then through his cousin, we [Gumbo and I] hooked up, and we decided to keep Explosion going. And it was through Martin joining that we started the idea of putting a sound together. It always a dream of mine, but i’d never had the resources or the inclination.

Gumbo : He was playing on bar or club systems before that. And then we came along and started renting, and then bought one.

It’s not really the same is it, a bar PA and a sound system. You don’t really get the same vibe.

Gumbo : no not really (laugh)

Neil : and then a year after that, we met Damien (Dub Foundry), after a Sly & Robbie gig actually, in the Deer’s Head where we ended up having a residency. And at the end met Damien, and he wanted to do stuff with us. And then Fox came down one night and took the mic. We’d had mic men before, but not like Fox.

Are there quite a few MCs in Ireland then ?

Neil : Yeah there are.

Dub Foundry : There’s Cian Finn. He’s producing an album with Prince Fatty at the moment. It’s finished, I think it’s to be released.

Neil : He’s from outside Limerick.

Dub Foundry : Then there’s Ras in Dublin There’s Revelation’s old MC Benji… There is Larry. But there are very few, not enough.

So isn’t the scene in Ireland quite new ?

Dub Foundry : not really because in ’95 there was Firehouse with their sound system.

Neil : But there was another small sound system that operated in the 80s in Dublin.

Dub Foundry : The difference is you don’t get the Jamaican-English people who moved to England and spread (the culture) there, even in Scotland, but they didn’t come to Ireland. There are no Jamaican communities in Ireland.

Neil : very few.

So there is no West Indian community

Neil : Very little.

Gumbo : Especially if you are talking about where we’re from – so Northern Ireland and Belfast – there is very little immigration there. In the 70s, 60s, when immigration became more popular in the UK, it didn’t happen in Ireland. It didn’t happen in Belfast specifically. It probably did happen in Dublin a lot more. But Belfast wasn’t seen as somewhere to go to in those times.

So how are the crowds in Ireland, do people know about reggae and sound system culture ? or is it still quite obscure ?

Neil : In Belfast, more and more.

Dub Foundry : it’s taking time but it’s building up.

Neil : There hasn’t been anyone setting up sounds like we have, and even so far, we’ve been renting the sound out to drum & bass nights and fricking techno nights, and they’re loving it. It’s a small place if you know what I mean.

The guys from Rampant were saying that the problem with glasgow for a long time is that it was a techno city.

Neil : So is Belfast

Dub Foundry : yeah, so is Belfast.

Neil : That’s a kind of northern UK, maybe European thing. I think the colder it gets the more into techno people get.

Dub Foundry : the way I see it as well is, because of the history of Belfast, of the Troubles and all that, there was no immigration, and very little places for culture, so there was no development of music and underground activities and culture. There was some, There was punk.

Neil: There was a huge punk scene during the Troubles, and it’s always been a big rock & metal crowd in Belfast. And I think that’s kind of bred from the Troubles.

Dub Foundry: But also in Ireland you have a lot of club music because it’s mainstream.

Neil: yeah there is all the other crap, the generic crap.

In France a lot of people who are involved in sound systems came from the free party and techno scene. But there didn’t seem to be that loop as much here (Scotland). It sort of stopped at techno and raves.

Dub Foundry: were there raves and free parties in Ireland?

Neil: Yeah there was. There was always raves. And even free parties outside and stuff.

Dub Foundry: But that was all in the 90s right? So there was no bridge between the raves scene and the sound system scene..

Neil: no there is no bridge.

Dub Foundry: Like in France, in the early 2000 when the raves started, there were [reggae] sound systems already. So people could move into the scene. But I think maybe we arrived too late [in Ireland] to catch those guys.

You were talking before about places to play, as in there were no community centers to play in and stuff. 

Neil: Nah, there”s nothing like that. As we were saying, we would play in bars and stuff, but we’ve actually outgrown a lot of venues. We would get involved with the city festival, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and the do a sister festival called Out to Lunch. And we brought over Sir David Rodigan.
But those are the only places in Belfast that we can play with the sound. And even those gigs, we get complaints from the hotel next door and stuff. That’s why we’ve ended up at Queen’s now.  Because there’s nowhere else for us to play. We get noise complaints everywhere.

Gumbo: In the East of Belfast, or on the other, when we play in one (side) it’s almost like you’ve made a decision. I mean we’re not that way at all, so we try to stay neutral.

Neil: they wouldn’t be into reggae anyway, up in those neck of the woods.

Well there is the idea that reggae is quite political.

Neil: It’s not to say that we don’t care about it, but none of the politics out there, for me personally, isn’t representative of anything that I think or that i fell. But I still care about it.

But is there a political ideal or message through Explosion sound system?

Gumbo: yeah there is. it’s fuck politics (laugh)

Neil: No I don’t even thing it is a political thing. We just want to send good vibes out, really. That’s pretty much the bottom line.

Gumbo: There’s enough politics in Northern Ireland. You can go over there and experience it yourself. It’s too much. So we stay away.

Dub Foundry: something we’ve learned recently. If you want to distribute flyers, either you pay a licence to distribute flyers for gigs, or it’s about politics and religion. If it’s for politics and religion, then it’s free. if you want to do it for culture, you have to pay. That’s how much religion and politics there is in Belfast.

Neil: They’ve obliterated flyposting, there’s nowhere to advertise your dances or anything.
It has to be online or in cafes, but there’s no designated area or anything. Licencing laws as well are really shit. everywhere closes at quarter to 1 for last orders, everywhere is out no later than quarter past one. Clubs are 3am, but the bar shuts at 1am. So we’re doing night at Queen’s where we can go on until 3am, but we don’t, we go on until 2, because who’s going to stay around when the bar is shut.
We used to do all nighters and stuff before with BYOB, but that’s past now.
We found Mandela Hall, which is a basement hall, in a big massive stone building so there are no noise complaints, so that’s perfect for us.

What would you consider makes a sound system’s identity, or what makes your identity?

Neil: I think it’s a combination of everything. Tunes… I love playing tunes, pretty much always loved playing tunes so i’d be playing them off my laptop speaker if that’s all I had. So for me it’s tunes. And now, because we’ve relentlessly been getting our sound right, it’s the sound as well. And we’ve been running with Ranking Fox for a while as well, and he’s an extra element as well. And also, just the vibe as well. There’s a lot more to it than just those who play.
It’s a vibe that can kind of carry through, which is a whole combination of everything.

Gumbo: We do it because we enjoy it obviously, and that’s the only reason really.

Neil: We’ve all got full time jobs.

Have you ever had any productions or releases?

Gumbo: Well that’s something we’re working on at the moment. We’ve got a couple of ideas. it’s something we’re working on. Probably a fair bit off yet (laugh).
There are ideas, there is definitely something there. We’ve got a vocal from Ranking Joe, who we had over at the start of the year. And we’re looking at a couple of other guys too.
There is a project, but it’s not near. Things could change a lot.

You did a gig recently with an all girl crew?

Neil: Legs Eleven yeah.  That wasn’t our session. There’s a Dj/Promoter back home  and he runs kind of afrobeat nights, and afrofunk. But he’s also involved in a lot of music workshops and stuff with schools.
He’s friends with them, and he’s brought the girls over to do workshops about females in the music business and stuff. And he wanted to put them on. So he asked us to bring the sound out.
They were good, they’re a good crew, man. They have a good selection and you get a good vibe off them.

 Well that is a comment in the scene, you don’t get that many female run sounds, or crews.

Dub Foundry: there are a couple

There are a couple. You get a few singers, but you don’t get that many female soundsystems.

Neil: yeah. They are the daughters of Joe 90, who’s a North London Sound system, from the 80s. they’re his daughters I think. Or else two of them are.

Gumbo: I’m not sure they’re his daughters, but they’re connected. But they grew up around sound systems. But they’re cool. There’s one operator, one selector, and one on the mic. They have a pretty tight operation.

I mean the only one I know who’s in a crew is Lylloo from I-Skankers, and I know there’s Bliss Zion and stuff down south, but there aren’t that many in the spotlight.

Dub Foundry: Yup, Lylloo is number 1!

Neil: Yeah man, she knows how to run a sound, serious selections.

Gumbo: But you could say the same about the dance scene, and the techno scene. I wouldn’t say that’s specific to reggae.

Neil: Actually, i got asked one night from a female DJ why there aren’t any girl on our crew. And said well nobody’s come up, or showed interest. I don’t know anybody who’s come up to me and said “can I get involved”.
So she says ‘well I can get involved’. And I say “okay, can you give it 100% of your time. And i mean not go and play other gigs if you’re playing jungle or techno all night. It’s 100%”. And she say’s “I can’t”. I says “well sorry then, but no”.
I don’t think it’s anything to do with gender.

Gumbo: I think it’s across the board. Specifically with DJs.

Neil: But it’s wierd, you see things on facebook like some big house party with a female DJ and she’s standing there in a bikini. You know what I mean? it’s like page 3 Djing. How is anybody meant to take that seriously.

Gumbo: you close your eyes and listen to the music

Neil: even the music is just…  But then you get the likes of frickin Paris Hilton.

Dub Foundry: But it’s a tough job for a woman, the reggae sound system.

Neil: Really?

Dub Foundry: yeah i think so.

Neil: Well physically yeah, i suppose. But that’s the thing with Legs Eleven, they’re lifting boxes even with their nails done and stuff. I don’t how they do it.
They really had a good show.

Are they based in London?

Neil: yeah they’re based in North London, Tottenham I think.

Another question which is quite interesting is how would you describe a sound system dance to someone who has never been to one.

Dub Foundry: It’s a physical experience.There is some sort of trance to it. You don’t get it after 15 minutes, you get it after a few hours, when you get into the vibe. You really understand the mindset you can get into when you really get into the vibe, and start just to forget about everything and just get into some sort of trance.
You don’t get that when you walk in the room and start dancing, you get that after a few hours.
And the bass of course, which everyone knows about i think, but which is more than just bass. It’s something else.

Neil: I’d even like to think that lyrically we try to put a message. I mean we play a lot of songs, and a lot of Ranking Fox’s lyrics and stuff all try to be positive lyrics.

Gumbo: We don’t play slack.

There is a conscious idea behind it?

Neil: yeah completely

Gumbo: It’s the fact that we like it, i don’t really think of it as trying to make a statement or something. it’s more than we like playing it, and people enjoy it.

Dub Foundry: Talking about sound identity, one of ours i think is, we don’t play UK steppers like 90% of the sound system in the UK. Or in france, in Europe.
We play lots of 70s roots, most of it now. But then we are a bit more open minded and we can go 80s digital, we can modern roots, we can play some more steppers stuff as well. But more open minded than just a UK stepper sound system.

So there’s not that much of the London influence?

Dub Foundry: No. There’s the Belfast influence.

Neil: I’ve been to a couple Jah Shaka session and that’s probably about the only influence from there. But there have been bigger ones.

Gumbo: At the start we started playing everything, a bit of ska, a bit of roots, a bit of 80s, whatever. Even more modern tunes. But i guess it’s more of an evolution. Because a couple of years ago I would of put on big ska tunes. And I guess that we’ve kind of evolved and fine tuned. But as he says, it’s not a steppers sound.

Dub Foundry: We narrow it down. We started very large and we are narrowing down. We quite like the influences. We have 3 different selectors, with 3 completely different tastes.
And we’ve been trying to merge everything together and find common ground.

Neil: we’ve all come from different directions really, which is the really interesting thing.

It’s true steppers does create, another vibe. It’s very techno.

Dub Foundry: It can go very techno.

Gumbo: there’s some nice stuff too, but for me a lot of it can be just too much too hard. Too repetitive. It doesn’t break down really.

So there is a certain vibe you try to set through your sessions.

Gumbo: yeah definitely.We try to build it a little bit to be honest. We start off with some slower rootsy tunes, 70s stuff. Then we’d go into some early 80s digi stuff as well.

Neil: That’s the idea. It’s not as if it’s a narrow genre to play. There’s a vast amount. You’re always finding something new. And that’s the just old stuff. And some of the new stuff as well, some of the news Tuff Scout stuff is quality. And even some of the Partial reissues are really nice i think. Although I think he’s a bit all over the shop in what he releases. But there’s a couple there that I really like.
So yeah, we try and always kind of play some of the modern stuff as well as the classic stuff.

I think that’s about it, unless there’s anything you’d like to add?

Gumbo: Maybe just one shot from Foxy? warm up those vocal chords.

Neil: You’ve been very quiet Fox.

Ranking Fox: i’ve been very quiet indeed. Listening to you guys talk.
Well for me, i’ve always loved the music man. Always loved it from when I was a young man, and meeting these guys with the sound was just the best thing that happened. Now, with Dub Foundry we are doing some mad work in the studio, got lots of productions coming in. So from my side, coming in and being able to get a record out -well, Big up Explosion Sound System!
I’ve always loved it, and meeting people with likewise minds. And getting something like this forward.
It’s nice to know that it’s all about the ‘one love’.  All the tunes that I try to write myself as well, it’s just all enrichment. So for me that was the big call, meeting these guys, getting this sound, getting on with the works.

Dub Foundry: The first night I played with you guys Foxy showed up.

Gumbo: So we’ve had two more people, it’s an injection of energy.

Neil: We’re pretty much a six man army.

Ranking Fox: You know going around trying to be an MC and getting a mic, its not difficult, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s what I found out. I was going along in Dublin trying to jump on the mic but the mic is not always available (laugh). But the first time i met these guys, there was an MC there, and he was just like “yes man, jump onto that mic”. That was how it started wiith Explosion.
And I was asking myself why didn’t I know these guys the last few years i’ve been here.
It has all been genuine, and now we have to keep on going.

Dub Foundry: The night we met, when he took the mic after one minute i was like “wow, he’s wicked”. So I got his phone number and a week later he comes to my studio and does what became “Don’t You Worry“. That was one week after we met. The very first tune we did together straight after the first session.

And how long had you been MCing before that?

Ranking Fox: Before that, it had not really happened before. Growing up, I always liked writing my own lyrics. I come from a dancehall scene you know. Elephant Man, Beenie Man, that was me growing up, dancing to all that.
And then coming to Ireland in 2002, listening to reggae, but still always writing a little bit here and there. I always wanted to sing. Then by listening to more reggae in Ireland, I used to go to Outer Worries Outernational. They used to play every sunday night in the Temple Bar Music center.

Dub Foundry: For 10 years or something. One of longest going reggae nights

Ranking Fox: I went there for  6 years. And they knew that everytime I could get a chance I would get on that mic.
That’s when I became more into roots/reggae. And my first recording was actually in a house with the mic tied to a broom (laugh). My friend who is in Cork now, the first time he heard me sing he went and bought a mic and a computer straight away, and plugged it in the flat, downloaded some software to record, and he said “We have to record that song”.
So it was always in the background, I just never reallty got to put it out. But I came to Belfast, met Explosion Sound System, Damien (Dub Foundry) with his studio, and this is how it’s been going since.

Okay, well that’s about it.

Dub Foundry: Big up Crucial Roots for getting us over!

Ranking Fox: The men like Laurie and Cammy.

Dub Foundry: and Big up I-Skankers

Ranking Fox: And everybody out there promoting the sound system culture.

Many thanks to the Explosion Crew for their time, and thank you to Crucial Roots and all those involved in the event.
AF

“Une Soirée Sound System”

Depuis une dizaine d’années, le sud de la France connait un renouveau de la culture sound system et des soirées reggae. En effet, la région Sud-Est abrite maintenant plus d’une douzaine de sound systems, de Cannes jusqu’à Montpellier, en passant par Avignon, Aix en Provence, Toulon et bien sûr Marseille.

Les Dub Stations mises en place par l’association Musical Riot sont une des principales raisons de ce renouveau, et ont permis à un public plus jeune de (re)découvrir le reggae et le dub.

Par conséquent, il n’est pas étonnant que plusieurs ‘jeunes’ sound systems sont apparus au cours de ces dernières années, bien décidés à promouvoir cette culture avec l’aide de leurs aînés. La nouvelle  génération (Welders Hifi, Lion King Dub, Jumping Lion, Natural Bashy…) partage maintenant les affiches avec les vétérans de la scène tels que Lion Roots et Salomon Heritage.

Et pour voir cette nouvelle génération à l’oeuvre, il ne faut pas chercher très loin. A  Aix en Provence, c’est l’asso CMAE et le Jumping Lion Sound System qui sont à l’origine des Skanking Foundation, le repaire mensuel des amateurs de reggae et dub-addicts de la région. Et pour comprendre l’enthousiasme de ces artistes, collectionneurs et autres amoureux de cette musique, voici un court métrage réalisé par Guillaume Trapp qui suit le déroulement d’une des Skanking Foundation et explique les fondamentaux d’une soirée sound system:

AF

Mahom Dub – The Skankin’ Cat

bann_FB_album

Mahom Dub have been making their way through the French and European sound system scene since 2006, and anyone who has seen them live knows that they bring with them a fantastic live act.
They have now released their third album at the start of October: “The Skanking Cat”, named after their mascot and good luck cat figurine that follows them on all of their sets.

Their first release « Underground Dubwise » was a deep, very meditative album; filled with a slow, quite minimalist stepper dub. Their second album « Dub by Sub » further cemented Mahom’s particular style but built much more on electronic sounds.

Interestingly their third release seems very different while at the same time staying true to their ‘original” sound. The Skankin’ Cat remains a heavily stepper album, and tracks like “Sous Les Etoiles”, “Cerbere 2.0”, “Inna Di Red”, and the soothing “Earth” (feat. Art-X on the melodica) quickly remind us of the earlier work.

But the album also widens its scope considerably, and ends up being much more energetic and upbeat. The more electronic incursions (such as « Deep in Your », the title song « The Skankin’ Cat », and the apply named « Rough and Tough ») lose the meditative vibe that we were used to on the previous albums, and bring in a heavier tone (yes, it’s possible) and a faster pace.
Most importantly though, Mahom have managed to keep the album varied. It does not just dive into deeper shades of stepper. The very rootical « Tricking upon di Track (Feat Simple Spelim) » allows us to catch our breath for a bit, and « Don’t Say You… (feat Jolly Joseph) » is quite a relaxing blend of world music and melodica infused dub.

The last 3 tracks of the album are a series of remixes from fellow french dubmakers Panda Dub, Gary Wilde, and Fabasstone (from Dub Invaders).
Fabasstone’s rework of “Bigvood” sounds like King Tubby entered the21st century, using echoes and reverbs over a sub that could shatter your spine. Panda Dub’s remix of « Tricking » leaves behind all things rootikal and instead ventures into the realms of electro-dub.
Finally, Gary Wilde introduces « The Skankin’ Cat » to basstrap sounds, and it seems like both get on famously.

The Skankin’ Cat is a welcome addition to Mahom Dub’s discography, proving that they indeed deserve their spot in the ever-growing french dub scene.

Mahum Dub – The Skankin’ Cat
(ODG/FlowerCoast)

Available as free download on http://www.odgprod.com
1 – Don’t say you have never been told feat. Jolly Joseph
2 – Cerbere 2.0
3 – Inna di red
4 – Bigvoods
5 – Earth – feat. Art-X
6 – L’étrange skank de Monsieur Jack
7 – Rough & tough
8 – Tricking upon di track feat. Simple Spelim
9 – Sous les étoiles feat. Flo
10 – The skankin’ cat
11 – Deep in your
12 – Bigvoods – Fabasstone/Dub Invaders Remix
13 – Trickin upon di track – Panda dub Remix
14 – The skankin’ cat – Gary Wide remix

OBF new album ‘Wild’ announced

OBF

OBF are probably one of the most well known french sound systems at the moment, on par with the rootikal warriors Blackboard Jungle.
Based in Geneva, and active for nearly a decade, the OBF crew have only produced a limited amount of records. Their first release, “Wicked Haffi Run” alongside Danman, was a huge success, and has now become somewhat of a collector’s dream. It was soon followed by “United We Stand” featuring Kenny Knots; and then by the collaboration with Sis I-leen and Warrior Queen. Last year, they also released their first 12″ on the new label Dubquake Records, featuring Weeding Dub & Inja, while they took care of the B-side.

So it was quite exciting when for the most part of this year, the OBF crew kept mentionning an album in the works, often playing some of these new tracks at their sessions.

But this week they finally announced the official release date and dropped a teaser mix. Guest MCs include Charlie P, Danman, Shanti-D, Fogata Sound’s Troy Berkley, Mikey General and veteran Lone Ranger among others.
True to their style, the album sounds rough ‘n tuff, a collection of stepper-induced electronic dub tunes.

Over the years, OBF have constantly been exploring the more electronic and darker side of steppers dub, and this album sounds like its going to be a collection of their best findings.
Can’t wait!

OBF – Wild
Release date: 6th October
CD / WAV / MP3
LP Release date: Mid-October

‘United We Stand’

Reggae and sound system culture has been growing more and more these past few years, both in the UK and across Europe, so it’s no surprise that there has also been a desire by many to explore the more recent developments in the scene. Set up by frenchman Alexandre Goanach, ‘United We Stand’ is one of the lastest projects that attempt to dive into sound system culture in Europe.
As he explains, the aims are:

– “To do justice to a culture that is too often boycotted and caricatured by the mainstream media and cultural world by giving a voice to the artists of the underground roots, dub, stepper and free party techno scene, all united by their love of music and sound systems.

– To discover how this alternative way of listening to music, through the medium of sound systems, has become entrenched in Europe and especially in England and France, by talking to 3 generations of artists who are part of this scene.

– To find out how the sound system becomes an art and a way of life for these artists, and how Roots and Dub music heard through this medium can reach us deep within our subconscious, and what this implies for our role as audiences in modern society.”

A teaser for the documentary is now available, and features already several interviews of leading sound system crews as well as footage from Garance Reggae Festival 2014 and Dub Camp 2014. The hope is of course to be able to explore the scene across Europe, not only in France.

The project is crowdfunded, so if you enjoyed the teaser and want to help, you can visit the United We stand page on KissKissBankBank

AF.

Fogata Sounds Interview

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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

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