Tag Archives: glasgow

Doug (Mungo’s Hifi) Interview

doug

[Photo: Bartosz Madejski]
“So I feel that what we’ve ended up doing, maybe not consciously, is somehow trying to bridge that gap between an orthodox rootsy reggae dub selection, and a club DJ. The differences being, people have shorter attention spans in general, and a desire for music to carry on. It can be very effective to have a gap in the music, but for a lot of young crowds it confuses them.”

Doug from Mungo’s Hifi was very kind to take the time to have a quick chat about his thoughts on the role of the sound system selector, and the various techniques and methods reggae DJs use when performing.

(This interview is part of an ongoing research project)

 

What kind of performance techniques do you use as an artist?

It’s a broad question. An example?

Well the performance would be for example playing records, and then you could use additional performance techniques such as an MC, or using pull-ups, or echoes like a lot of the old roots sound systems. Anything that would add to the performance, other than playing the records.

And this is in the context of a sound system dance as opposed to other forms? … I think there are a lot of different kinds of shows you can play, from being in a bar, to background music.

As a sound system session, with your own sound.

Classically a sound system session is a long thing, I mean the Shaka Style, with one selector for five or six hours… Or that could also be an hour long slot in between other selectors and acts, and all of these things influence how you will approach it, and what techniques you will use.

Because, it’s a lot about story-telling, about bringing people on a journey. having a starting place and a finishing place, as opposed to simply tune after tune. I mean people can approach it like that, just play a big tune, play another big tune… So it depends how knowledgeable the crowd is of the aesthetic; what kind of background they’re coming from, you have to gage that. And always it’s going to be a mix: sometimes you’ll have a majority of the audience that’s more into going to clubs, sometimes you’ll have a majority that’s more versed in classic sound system.

Usually it’s trying to weave these different elements in, so that it appeals both to a newcomer and a hardened veteran at the same time.

Ultimately once you’ve got a sound system sitting there, a good sound hopefully, then it’s mainly about selection and what you’re going to play. That’s the most important thing.

Is it about that, or more about specific techniques within that. Within what you play, and again that varies between dancehall tradition, dub tradition, or kind of more modern approach I would say that has more of a consciousness of club music in general.

They all have different kinds of approaches to it. In a sense the pure dub approach, which is more how Iration (Steppas) plays, and which is much bigger in France – the UK sound is much bigger in France than it is in the UK. And that is kind of formulaic with 4/4 beats, and a certain way of bringing in the bass, and building up anticipation for the bassline drop.

That is one end of the spectrum.

And it’s funny, within the world of reggae you have people who have funny attitudes towards that, kind of ‘that is the one and only’ – there is a kind of orthodoxy about that. Which I understand, objectively it’s neither good nor bad. For me, that’s like a drum build up in techno. The first time you hear it it’s amazing, and then the next 100 times less so, and then 1000 times it’s like ‘oh god not again’.

And I was thinking about this while listening to rubbish radio, that my kids insist on putting on (laugh). We seem to have moved on a lot in pop music, it’s in a sense more sophisticated than that. If they do a drum roll, if they do a build-up, it’s more sophisticated than a drum roll that gets louder and louder and then drops. I don’t think I’m answering your question though…

It’s interesting, because there is quite a bit of information from the roots and dub perspective, traditional UK dub scene, on how they perceive their role, and how they get the dance going.

But I’m more interested in how you guys bridge that, in the sense that you still have the traditional elements of a sound system, while at the same time using two turntables and going into other realms and genres that are not traditional to UK dub.

In a sense I feel we’re looking at it more from where the majority of our audience is coming from. Electronic music, dance music, in all of its various shapes and sizes is so predominant in the UK and Europe generally, that that is people’s most familiar aesthetic. So I feel that what we’ve ended up doing, maybe not consciously, is somehow trying to bridge that gap between an orthodox rootsy reggae dub selection, and a club DJ. The differences being, people have shorter attention spans in general, and a desire for music to carry on. It can be very effective to have a gap in the music, but for a lot of young crowds, it confuses them. They think there has been a technical fault if the music goes off.

Is that linked, in Glasgow especially, to the techno scene and house scene, where you don’t have gaps, it’s just a continuous musical experience.

Yeah exactly, people want to dance, and in a sense it’s a collective experience. But again, this is how sound system is different from a live band.

When it’s live, you’re watching a band. So they’ll play a song and you dance around, and then they stop and they say something. But a DJ just plays music, and doesn’t stop playing music until the next DJ starts playing, and then they just carry on.

Old sound system style I guess was coming more from a live band tradition. I guess all they knew until then was a live bands playing, and as DJing has developed people are more into a continuation of music.

doug2

[Photo: Bartosz Madejski]

So that comes from the whole dance aspect, but then for example for both traditional sound system as well as what you guys do, you still bring MCs, use pull ups… You are still using those traditional elements to an extent, would you say they still work, or do you bring them out less because of the crowd, or do you still try to use them because of the music you play?

It’s about creating some sort of work of art. It is about your artistic interpretation of that. And yes, pull-ups, and yes MCs. It’s about proportion within that. It’s something that is often commented on as irritating when a DJ pulls up too many tunes, or if there’s too much MCing.

So an MC can play a stage show where they just chat over riddims – which is more like a live band. And a lot of artists do PA sets, but we aren’t into that so much. It’s something that the MC likes, because it’s a of their work. But in my mind it’s not so much a sound system event. It’s more about vocal and version, and in that way you break up the potential monotony of having one voice on everything. As long as you keep a flow within it.

The whole continuous mixing is a lot easier with dance music and techno and stuff, but you can’t really do it in the same way with reggae. Because they are different songs.

They are different songs, I mean if you do mix, you won’t mix them in the same way, you’re not actually playing one over the other because they are more complex usually. It’s very unusual that all the chords would sound nice together. Having said that, there are ways of blending it, often reggae tunes will start with a drum roll, so you can bring a drumroll in on the beat. You can roughly match tempos, so that there aren’t big jarring jumps. Or if you are going to jump from one tempo to another, choose wisely. There can be two tracks that have the same tempo and that can sound weird together, while at the same time there a link between 90bpm and 140bpm and thereabouts, and you can go from one to the other without people necessarily noticing that change.

A lot of those comments you could say about dance Djs, and techno DJs is that there is very little interaction with their crowd, they often play their planned set which tends to be one hour of continuous music where the songs blend into one another and then once they are done they are done. Whereas in reggae and sound system culture there seems to be more of an engagement with the crowd, either through an MC chatting on the mic between songs, or arguably through pull ups and things like that which are forms of engagement.

So say if you are at a gig playing an hour showcase of Mungo’s Hifi music, are there particular ways in which you would interact with the crowd?

Yes, and I think that’s one of the things about sound system, it tries to break down the invisible barrier that exist between performer and audience. In various ways…

By performing more so from the floor, that’s one way of breaking down that barrier, by being literally within touching distance of people dancing around, and simply being another person in the room who is dancing around to the tunes.

Having an MC is a way of not only playing recorded material, you can literally interact with the crowd. You can say “oi you!”, you can talk to people, you can do call and response of various sorts. Either musically or by simply saying “how are you doing everyone’.
And the MCs that we work with are very professional, they have a good sense of how to do it. And again, you have to do it the right amount. You can do it too much and be annoying about it, and really turn people off. But if done well it is really effective.

You can see a crowd that is used to going to clubs not being sure how to react. And this is what I was saying about the aesthetic, it’s about what people are expecting, they bring their expectations to a dance, and there is only so far you can pull them away from their expectations before they start feeling uncomfortable, or stop enjoying the experience.

So you really have to have a sense of where people are coming from.

This is what I was coming to in terms of performance techniques. Are there ways of engaging with the crowd simply as a selector, without an MC?

Yes in that you can see the responses that each tune gets and that informs the direction you’re going to take. Personally I never plan a set, I have ideas and I have little groups of thing that I put together, but I never plan a full setlist.

Do you use sirens and effects?

We have a siren, a little Benidub. We use it, but quite sparingly. In a traditional dub approach there is more time, you are listening to a tune from beginning to end. In a sense it’s something for the selector to do as well, while they are listening to a tune. And yeah, it’s very much can be used to heighten the sensation. That’s mainly how I would use it, some bleeps when the track comes in.  Either as some sort of crowd interaction, or in between tracks, to fill a space, to create a bit of atmosphere.

 

It’s interesting how it became so closely associated with dub – to the point that it is now called a dub siren.

It’s like the space echo isn’t it, and having space within a track, pulling out a vocal so that there’s a lot less to focus on. So there is space for that to be done live, whereas with a fully produced vocal tune, it’s just going to make it sound shit.

There is also the thing about pulling the bass in and out. Because that’s the thrill for the dub selectors really, that they’ve got a massive sound system which when it is pumping the bass, is so physical to the point that when it isn’t there you really miss it and crave it.

And so they tease the crowd by the long intros, by pulling the bass quite a bit, and even us, we do that as well – although we’ll tend to do it for fewer bars than traditional sound systems would, and then bring it back in.

Or just pull it out for the last bar and then bring it back in just to get that impact again. Because you notice in a session if you don’t ever do that, you become kind of numb to the effect.

So in some ways using dub sirens and echoes and effects can hype up the effects of the bass?

Yeah, it’s about having peaks and plateaus

Is there anything else that you like to add in terms of building up the vibes in sessions, or ways that you have observed, or that you feel are particularly effective.

For me, as I said in the beginning, I think it’s about taking people on a journey. It’s about being in a completely difference place when you finish than when you started. Or you could be back where you were when you started, but having done that in a way that never feels like its jarring.

So working through 15-20mn sections of tempo or style, and then move on to the next one. But in a way that you would struggle to see where the join was, so that they flow.

That’s something that keeps it fresh and novel. And that’s something that I react against in the traditional dub night, because the tempo, the pace, the sound, doesn’t change from beginning to end.

But even people who are famous for doing that like Iration or Shaka, they will warm up the dance, they’ll go through different styles, although maybe fewer amount styles, and they’ll stick on one style for an hour or two… or three.

I was reading this article by Laurent Fintoni who was talking about the pull up being a very democratic technique, and used in many ways to bridge the gap between audience as passive and performers as active.

It is very democratic. But where is becomes undemocratic is when the MC intervenes. Because often you’ll have an MC shouting for a pull up, and that’s undemocratic because that’s just one guy thinking that.

Whereas in general it will depend on the moment, but if you feel there is a genuine up-surged from the crowd, a desire for that, then it’s a natural thing to do if there is a genuine sense of excitement in the room.

It’s not something you can plan for, because until it drops and people feel that excitement, you don’t know if it will happen

doug 3.jpg

[Photo: Bartosz Madejski]

Is it that maybe why you don’t see as many pull ups in dance music, where all the tracks blend into one. Whereas for a pull up you need to have tracks which are distinguishable, to really hear the particular track that gets the excitement going and that requires a pull up?

I don’t really know, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a dance event. It would be odd, wouldn’t it. I don’t know, it must happen. Because most people who are into dance music today would also be familiar with reggae tradition… maybe? Or maybe I just don’t go out enough anymore.

There must be other genres…

I guess grime, jungle…

But you wouldn’t expect to go to a house night a get a pull up. The house night usually will be a lot less about a big tune. Some nice noises going on while you’re fucked, but not a tune (laugh).

 

 

Words by AF

 

 

 

 

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

Breezak Interview [english]

breezak

Long interview with Jerome aka Breezak, the man behind Mungo’s HiFi’s sound system and his own Bass Alliance Sound System. Here he talks about the technical issues one faces when running a sound, the importance of DIY culture, and how the sound system becomes part of the crew’s identity.

So for beginners, could you explain briefly how a sound system works ?

I think we should stat even before that, that is : why do people build their own sound systems

OK, let’s hear it :

The main reason is that very often there is no sound system in venues. So when you want to organise a night, either there is no sound, or the system available doesn’t sound good. So that the main reason people bring in their own sound systems.

So that you can have that sound that is right for you

Exactly. But everyone has their own system. There are some who buy factory-built systems, so they have a very clean sound, that corresponds to the brand of equipment they bought.
But you can also go with the home-made sound systems, so like us, like Iration… the sound system in the traditional jamaican style. Thiis system is more or less home-made, with sometimes a few things that are factory-bult.

[…]

We use a digital crossover, and we feed the signal into that, which then goes into each speaker. We split the signal into 5: the sub or the low bass – whiich goes from 85Hz to 30Hz), then the upper bass or the kick – which is between 85Hz and 140Hz. And then to have a much clearer soundn, but which isn’t traditionally done in ‘old school’ sounds, we have mids, high mids, and the tops or tweeters.

Each frequency is specifically for each speaker

Well each frequency will correspond to what kind of box you feed it into. The signal you enter will be between 20Hz and 20kHz. Whether you use a digital crossover or a pre-amp, you cut the signal in ways that will give you best frequency for each speaker.

You could technically put a full range signal through a scoop, but it will sound really bad in the upper frequencies. So to have the most power and the clearest sound, we put only 30Hz to 80Hz through the scoops, because that’s when the speaker is best. You will get the best sound for that range.

[…] You can’t have one speaker that plays all the frequency ranges at high volume. Take a ghetto blaster, and let’s say it can reproduce form 50Hz to 15kHz. It might sound as thought it plays all the frequencies well, but only at a low volume. As soon as you want to play it louder, you are going to have to separate each frequency. But of course you have to make sure all the speakers and frequencies work together.

Reggae Sound Systems have a lot more colour, a sound that is – and not in a negative way – muddy. It’s warmer. It’s not a clear. And to the human ear, if it’s too clear, it doesn’t sound right.
That’s why even with new technologies, you can have a very clean sound, which one would think would be good, but that people will not enjoy. Because the human body is not used to something that clean. It’s too clinical.

So what happens with the pre-amp is that the signal at the beginning is weak, then it goes through the amplifiers, where it is amplified, and then into the speakers. But there is also something else to take into account : the alignement.

So if you take a scoop for example, the sound comes out from behind the speaker, goes through the horn. So the horn is what will amplify the signal as well. But when the sound comes out of the speaker, and goes into the room, it will not be in line with the other speakers. The horns of our scoops measure 2m20. So when you stand in front of the speaker, the you hear the sound from the scoop will be 2m20 behind the other speakers.

So the bass will be a little late.

Exactly, it’s a bit offbeat. Which will give it a certain style. But it can also cancel certian  sounds. I mean it’s a matter of taste.

So that’s why often in raves and free parties,  when they string up loads of speakers togethers some of them can cancel each other out ?

Adding up lots of bass speakers will not necessarily make it louder if they aren’t of the same design.
i’ve had the experience before, if you reverse the polarities – you turn one scoop on, it becomes louder, you add another one the volume goes up, you add a third the sound actually goes down… You’ll still hear the sound, but the volume will go down.

So that is something else that has become possible with the digital cross-overs, you can put everything into digital. You can align the sound output. So i put in the length of the horns – 2.20 meters, the length of the kicks speakers – 80cm – and it aligns it for me, so that when you are in the room, the wavelength of all the speakers come out at the same time.

So you don’t have to adjust it manually 

I enter the information manually for each speaker, I tell it the distance and it puts a delay of several milliseconds where it is needed . But it’s something that wasn’t possible on older pre-amps, and which gives a certain style. You could say it’s better, ot worse. It depends what you like.

Then you also have the equalization. The speakers will not have the same volume, they won’t have the same frequency. Big tournig companies who equip huge rooms with sound systems for gigs, they will equlize all the speakers so that all of them are aligned : all the frequencies are at the same level. That’s why it often sounds a bit shit. So the bass will be at the same level as the tops.

And that’s where in regae we tweek it much more. It depends on what you like, what music you play, but a reggae sound system will not be ‘flat’. The bass will be a lot more powerful, the tops might be pushed as well.  Traditionally in the roots style, there was nearly no kick. They simply didn’t reproduce the frequencies they didn’t need.

But it’s also in the speaker cabinet that another part the magic of acoustics happens.

Well that was the next question: how do you decide which scoop, which type of speaker and speaker cabinet is best for you?

Well it gets very complicated. But a speaker moves air. So you can have huge speakers – the biggest i’ve seen was 26 inches – and a speaker like that moves lots of air.

But it’s the combination of the speaker and the speaker cabinet that creates that. You can put as many PD18 speakers in a room, but if they are just placed with no cabinet behind them, nothing will concentrate their effect.

The most important is the combination of the right speaker with the right speaker box. You can have a really good box with a terrible speaker inside – by terrible I mean weak.. You can put a 2KW speaker in a speaker box and a 500W speaker in another, the 500W one wil sound better of it is optimat for the speaker box’s design.

Then it’s a question of volume and ‘path’, the way the soundwaves will move inside the cabinet

That’s why they expand the space behind the speakers in scoops ?

Well bass have a very long wavelength, so that’s why it’s best to have cabinets with long horns. Whereas the tops have vey short wavelengths,  so the sound can come out pretty much directly. But you still need a guide that will control the dispersion.  But bass doesn’t have any direction, it goes everywhere.

But i mean you have loads of different speaker box designs. If you take of 5cm from the horn behind the speaker, it will completely change the sound when it comes out.

That’s why on forums for example you often have people asking « i bought this speaker, i was thinking of building this kind of box » and somone else will say « no that will not do anything, you’d rather use this design… »

Exactly, and more Kilowatts do not means a better sound. It’s really the way everything is put together. Then obviously it’s also a matter of taste. Some people will prefer a certain sound, while others will go for another.

[…]

So the difference between your sound system and let’s say OBF or Iration Steppa’s sound system is how the different parts are put together.

The principle is the same : it’s crossover – amplifier – speakers. But the combination will be different. So I use a digital crossover with my settings inside, they use a pre-amp with it’s own secrets. That the beauty of the pre-amp, you don’t know what’s inside of it. Each pre-amp is different depending on who built it, how they were designed.

Amplifiers will also give a colour to your signal, so we each use different amps. And the design of each speaker box will also change – I’m not sure what they use, but the design is not the same, so it will sound different.

So you base it really according to what you play, what sounds best for you.

What is best for you, and also according to what you can find or can afford. There are often things I would like to change on the sound system but that I don’t, mainly because of costs. Because of costs, of habit, personal reasons – some people prefer using one thing instead of another… it’s very personal. Everyone will assemble it in a different way, have a different sound, and that’s part of the charm.

But what happened with the Dub Smugglers, who have their sound system setup in a completely different way…  They have different amps, different speaker designs. But the way they tuned their system and the way we tuned ours, once we put both in a room, they sounded really similar. It’s quite impressive when everything we used is different.

The music you play will influence how you set up your sound. For us, I will often change the settings several times between the warm up and the end. If Tom plays a Roots-Ska selection on 7”, I will boost the tops and the bass, because the sound of the record is not the same [as on serrato].

Your systems has to follow what you play. If you play a recent digital production that has been mastered, well of course the settings on the sound system will be closer to the flat response, because the song itself will be have a perfect sound.

Several sounds have told me that often if you produce a tune that is meant to be played on your own system, and that you play it on someone else’s, it can sound completely different.

Tom trials his new tunes on the sound system. And it’s true that they are mastered mainly to play outside. When he masters a song for a vinyl or a CD, it will not be the same.
And that’s the good thing about having two producers here, it’s that they produce music specially for the sound system, they know how it will sound.

Dubsy and Chikuma often used to come round during the set up to test their new tracks. And sometimes it could sound really good in the studio, but it would sound shit on the sound system.

So it’s really according to what you play, to how the session develops

According to the venue, the vibe…

Regarding the venue. At the Art School you place the system in a certain way. Is that a constant layout, or do you change that depending on where you are?

That brings us back to acoustics. Part of it happens in the box, and another part happens in the room.
When you are outside, there are fewer problems, that’s why often we add stacks because need to cover more space.

Inside there are several things. With a traditional sound system, you hear the music you play directly from the speakers. That’s the difference between a sound system session and a gig. When you go to a gig, the artists are on stage, the sound system is in front on them and facing the audience. But with a sound system, the crew always have at least one stack facing towards them. You them place other stacks to cover at best the room.

What you can have in a venue then is bounce-back, echoes against the walls. If you place your stacks in the wrong way, there are times they can cancel each other out, or create dead spots – places where you won’t hear any bass.

Here are several ways to avoid that, and they are more or less personal. If you want to hear what you play, you place one stack on the side, and another one directly in front of you.
often we put one right next to us, and another one in front of the other, at the other side of the room.

And you don’t put them in front of you?

It depends how many stacks we have, if the room is big or not. If it’s a small venue, what I often  like to do is to have one in the corner – because the corner amplifies the sound too, it will send the bass into all the room. So often if you put a stack in the corner it gives you a better bass.
the easiest is with one stack.

Outside, if the crowd isn’t too big, one stack is also better. You can cover the space, it’s easier to manage. But if you have a big crowd, you have to add one, two, three stacks. And if you look well, they are always at angles; you try and avoid having them directly opposite one another.

We aren’t really fans of the single stack facing us, as opposed to sound systems who are maybe more roots. Roots sounds like having one stack on the side that gives them feedback, and one facing them. What happens with that, is that when you are DJing, the sound will have a delay.
If you select like Channel One or Shaka, you’ll notice they don’t mix. But if you mix, you don’t want that delay.
That is why we don’t often have our stacks facing us in front, because it can become a problem when you are mixing.

Yeah it makes sense. All the sound systems who play with the sound in front of them generally only have one turntable.

Yeah if you have only one turntable, it’s good to have it facing you. And you don’t really care if when you stop the tune you have a delay of a few milliseconds.

When we mix, we have monitors next to the turntables, which means the sound is aligned with the mixer. Because if you have one stack in front of you, by the time it comes back to your ears, it’s gone through all the amps, 30m of cable and across a room… that’s quite a lot of delay. And if you try to mix  with that, you can’t.

So whether or not you mix, how you select your tunes will influence how you place your speakers.

And the home made aspect, what does it bring?

It’s a sound system’s identity. If you look at old speaker boxes – one came up on ebay recently, it was hand made, hand painted…  Mungo’s started with speakers they found in the bins.
But back in the days, the sound systems in the ghetto, they would start with a wardrobe. That would be their wood, they hammer some pieces together and add speakers. Home-made gives it that DIY aspect, that you made it yourself, it’s yours. And when you take it out, people recognise it.

Nowadays, you can buy factory made speakers. The superscoopers we have are from a design that isn’t ours, but we built them ourselves, so we can add the finish we want, the grids we want.
And also you’re not as dependent. If you buy factory made speakers, you will have that brand’s sound, that you won’t be able to change.
With the home-made, you can combine things. Our tops and mid cabinets are from Voids, but I changed the speakers inside. I can add what I think sounds better.

You can improvise

Yeah it’s maintly that. To be able to do what you like, to have it look however you like.

Albah from Welders Hifi was saying that you could guess if a sound system plays mainly roots, or steppas just by it’s appearance.

Yeah from the look. If a sound has a lot of Piezos [tops] a range of mids and scoops, you will think they play more roots and dub. If they have loads of subs and tops, you’d assume they’ll be more steppas.

I think what is good with our sound and why we are often hired for festivals, is that it’s multipurpose. We can play roots, steppas, dubstep… I did a few drum & bass nights, and I noticed that old school drum and bass doesn’t sound very good on it. But in that case you tweek it a little, and it sounds better.

But the appearance is important – it’s the sound’s identity. I mean if you look at King Earthquake, it’s got a beautiful finish.

Yeah and you can see straight away that he plays heavy steppers

Yeah just the boxes, they have huge grids, it’s painted in camo. You can look at a picture of only one of his speakers, not even of the whole sound, and you know it’s a King Earthquake box.

And then you have Channel One, and it’s all in wood, the grids are round… It looks more roots.

And a mix of speaker cabinets. You can see that they are not all the same design, the same year.
At first some of our boxes were purple, so we sanded them, so that it would go with the rest. Now people can see that they are from Void, but they know it’s Void Mungo’s [laugh]

But even if you go on the forum “speakerpla”, there are people who are surprised by our combination of spakers. I’ve seen comments like: “Mungo’s do it and it sounds good”.  There are people who say it’s not going to work, but it depends on the way we cut them and everything.

If you look at OBF’s boxes, they have the stencil with the logo, their own colours.

It’s part of the logo, if you look at the mungo’s logo, our identity is based on the sound system.

Yeah it’s your brand in a way

Yeah it becomes your brand. If you want a good example, it’s Dandelion Sound in Germany. They have spent a lot of time on their system. It’s a work of art.
Another system, I can’t remember which one, they cut a star in the bottom of the scoop. It’s a purely structural feature, but they still made it into a star. It’s those small details.

Yeah it’s different from factory made stuff, where everything looks the same

In most venues and gigs, people go to see what’s going on on stage. They don’t care about the sound system.
In reggae nights, the sound system is part of the night. It happened a few times where I actually put the sound system on the stage and the DJ on the side. And that’s what people look at in those nights, it’s the sound system. You don’t have that focus on the DJ or musicians as much. Especially in France, people don’t look at the DJ, they have their heads in the sound system.

A few people have talked about that, and how it supposedly came from rave culture

Yeah because in raves they have the DJ behind the sound system. The DJ isn’t what people want to see.

Yeah people come for the sound system

And thus why it’s important to have it custom made, to have a different look.
And also the financial aspect. You can built a home made sound system for a lot less than if you bought everything factory made.
There is that idea that very often sound systems never really start with loads of cash.

And you can go further with the home made. You could even design your own speakers boxes, built your own amplifiers, your own pre-amps. That’s the more electronics side, where you build everything from A to Z. That’s the next level of home made.

We are often on the road, we tour a lot, so it’s best for us to buy something that has been tested and been in R&D before. Because if you make I yourself, there’s not that guarantee that it will last or hold.

But with the home-made you are always changing stuff. After a year of playing at session, you can still say “hang on I actually preferred how it sounded before”, or “hey this new thing just came out”. You can test it, and it evolves. You can change it bit by bit, you don’t have to change everything in one go – and that’s what you would have to do with a factory built sound. Either you keep it or you change everything.

You also mentioned how you tune your sound system during session, you said that it’s based on how it feels. Is it different from a sound engineer at a gig?

It’s a matter of feeling. If it’s a long night that begins with a very small crowd, you are going to start easy. If people start arriving ,then even through the settings you can bring them into the dance. You can’t start with everything full blast, you have to ease the people into the dance. It’s as if you were bringing them in with the sound system, and once they are warmed up, then you can start pushing things.
The role of the engineer is as important as the selecta’s during a dance.

The ability to read the crowd?

Well old school sound systems often only had one person, who was the selecter and the engineer – he would push his sound system as he was pushing his tunes. Now I’ll be doing the engineering stuf behind while the DJ select in front. And we work that way. Often Craig and Tom will give me a small signal, and I know what kind of tune is coming up, at when it will drop. If it’s a big tune, that’s when you push your system.

So you have to read the crowd but also read the others in your crew.

And little by little you get to know how your system works. You know when to push it. I push it too much, but you can’t do that all the time. It’s also a risk that we see more and more now – maybe because I go to a lot more sessions now – but there is a danger in pushing it too far at the end of the night, and it becomes too loud for people.

Yeah I remember New Year’s Eve party at Stereo, downstairs with the two stacks, there was a point where I couldn’t stay there anymore.

Downstairs it’s a concrete square; it hits you from all sides. And it was too much, and that was my fault, I couldn’t be in two places at the same time. Two speakers died that night [laugh].
It’s a rig that’s not meant for a space that small.

There will always be people who will ask you to put it louder, but then the next morning they’re like “yeah that was a bit too loud”.

So you have to keep a balance between the two. I think today we are a lot more careful, we have to think about our crowd. And I think there are more and more sound system at the moment – well it’s just that I’ve been noticing it more – but more and more of them seem to be pushing their sound all the time.

Personally I like to start off easy, and then as the night goes on get louder. Some people they’ll just start straight away really loud. It’s not because it’s a sound system night that it had to be loud from beginning to end. It can be dangerous.

One comment that is often made is that sound system play above the acceptable noise limits

Often reggae sound systems will seems  really loud but that’s because of the bass. If there is a complaint, it will be because of the bass. We are often beneath the noise limits, but the bass will be a lot louder.

The frequencies that can damage your ears are those around 2KHz, and I often lower them. The mids and tops, their frequencies can cause damage if they are too loud even for a shot moment. But the bass, before you can even reach those levels… it’s a lot harder. And even then, it’s not going to damage your ears. It will seems to be above ‘health and safety’ regulations, but all the frequencies that are dangerous will be underneath.

But that’s our job, to control that. And reggae music in general is not a music that can hurt your ears. If you compare it to a rock concert, you will probably get hurt a lot more than at a reggae dance. And that comes from the signal, from the distortion. An electric guitar with distortion will have a square wave, and that kills your ears.  Whereas a big bassline, you will feel it and it will seem loud, but without entering the frequencies that are dangerous.

One study of Stone Love Sound System argued that sound systems go against general ideas of ‘modernity’, where the visual was seen as the master sense. In a reggae night, it’s sound that takes over. Even in a normal gig, if you close your eyes, you’ll still miss out.

Yeah you can close your eyes and listen. During a gig you have a whole performance aspect.

And also you also feel the music, in addition to hearing it

Yeah sometimes a tune will have a bassline, and when you feel it it gives you chills – there are so many vibrations. You feel it, and people love it, that’s why they come.

Okay, and that comes back to a question, it’s how to explain this feeling to someone who has never been to a sound system dance

You have to go. It’s an experience. After the night in Leicester where we played this weekend, we saw comments on facebook with people saying “you could feel the bass”. Every time we look at comment after our nights, they are always about what the people felt, which is not really what you get at gigs.

There are those two aspects, the music and that sensory thing which is hard to explain. But it’s also what makes me addicted to it.

AF

Interview Bass Warrior Sound System

 

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photo by Bartosz Madejski

“But that was dub music. And me, coming from the Caribbean, I wanted to hear reggae dancehall style.”

“…And as a matter of fact, I played dubplates before and people were like “how did you get your name into that song?”, because they don’t even have a clue what it is. They don’t know what a dubplate is.”

Kenny from the mighty Bass Warrior Sound System very kindly sat down for a lengthy chat with us, and shared his thoughts on the early reggae scene in Scotland, the growing dubplate business, and the difficulties in connecting Scotland with sound system culture.


So,
I guess the first question would be when did Bass Warrior start, and why?

Bass warrior started 8 years ago, so that would be 2006. But we started because we used to have to hire equipment, and most of the time the equipment was rubbish, but you still had to pay. So I decided to build some speakers, and set up a system. We started off with 6 bass bins, and some top boxes.
So after that, we just been doing gigs, it’s been quite good so far. Except nowadays it’s quite difficult to find a place to play a big sound system.
but we started may 2006, and the reason for that was just to make sure we had our own system, instead of having to hire crappy PA system. To get a good sound, to get the sound that we really wanted, that’s why we decided to start bass warrior sound system.

And it’s completely homemade ?

Yeah. Well except the amps, they are bought.

When you started, was there already a sound system scene here ?

Well I started in ’96. There was reggae music,  I used to DJ from ’96 upwards. It was good but then once I started knowing more people I wanted to put on my own night, because before then I was just getting paid to play. So by this time we were playing in the Carnival Arts Centre, in Albion Street. So after having a discussion with the people, we decided to build a system and sit it there. So that’s where it used to sit, for probably a couple of years.
So before that we were just DJing, and hire if people wanted reggae music then I just play.

Back then we had Unity Reggae. But they really weren’t a sound system, they were just playing reggae. But they were playing reggae music, which was still good.
And I think just before that I’d heard of Mungo’s HiFi as well. I wasn’t familiar with Mungo’s at that time.

So sound system was never really big here for me. Not like in the Caribbean. Scotland never really had that, besides Messenger Sound System. I knew of Messenger, so that was the only real system I knew about back then. But that was dub music. And me coming from the Caribbean, I wanted to hear reggae dancehall style.

Well about dancehall and soca as well, how did people react to that kind of music here? Were they quite warm towards it?

Well, early days it used to be really good. I think most of the people we used to play for in 2006, and even back in the 90s, they tended to go out late at night. But back in the 2000, 2001 when I used to play out there was loads of people. But I think they just got old and stop all the late night business. Because I first used to play in Edinburgh, in this place called the Mambo Club. You probably never heard, but the Mambo club was a club where if you wanted to hear like African music, reggae music, everybody used to go on a saturday night.

So I used to play there, along with Caroline from Unity Reggae. They were the ones I started out with. So that’s where we used to play then, and it was a bit of everything: Soca, reggae, dancehall. So that’s my culture.

It’s funny that.  I mean in Glasgow now reggae and sound system has grown a lot, but you’re still the only one playing Jamaican music I guess, like soca, like dancehall.

Yes well that’s how I feel, because originally the island where I’m from is mainly soca. I mean reggae has just filtered in, because if you know the islands, you have Trinidad which is soca, and reggae is Jamaica. But then most of the islands are just soca: Antigua, Montserrat. All of these are soca islands. But then reggae becomes part of the culture because of the Rastafarians.

Reggae became bigger as more and more people started getting into Rasta in the Caribbean. So that is what I kind of grew up listening to, mainly soca, reggae. Then later in the 80s I got into dancehall. So I used to feel happy playing soca and I still do enjoy it, but there’s not really a big soca crowd in Scotland.

But still, every now and then I still have to play it, just to make me feel at home. That’s what it’s all about, you know.

We talked to Rampant Sounds a while back, and they were playing in the 90s, and said that reggae and Jamaican music was quite hard to get to in Glasgow mainly because of the techno legacy. But do you have any thoughts on why reggae took so long to get here?

Well people say reggae is big here, but me personally I don’t think it’s big, you know, how reggae should be like. I mean, yes we go to Argonauts on a Thursday night, Mungo’s at the Berkeley suit.

But when I first came here in ’94, every month we used to go to this place just across Woodlands Road. There used to be a club there called Club Mandela, where they used to raise funds for anti-apartheid groups. And we used to do reggae there every month, and we used to have huge crowds. I’m talking about 500 people at those nights. And Unity Reggae used to run that, and I used to play reggae and soca and dancehall. So those people who used to come every month, there were times where we had to close the door to keep people out. I mean everybody didn’t come for reggae, but they came and enjoyed the music and gave support to the charity as well. But they still used to enjoy reggae, and it was popular.

And when you got to do smaller clubs, you still got good numbers that would come. Now, you do reggae music, if it keeps in certain areas you only get a certain amount of people.
I mean, Mungo’s does reggae at the Art school, and they do their style. You have Argonauts as well; you have me. You still have Rampant Sound, who are still about.

Then you have other reggae shows, like things that you put on at the O2. I mean you would expect bigger numbers for some of the good bands they bring. So yeah, techno is still the leading music here.

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So you had bigger crowds in the 90s than what you have today?

Yeah. Well I think back then you still had ska. People from the ska era, who were here supporting reggae. Some of these people now they probably still love their reggae, because if you go to Toots and the Maytals at the O2 you will see them there,  but you won’t see them anywhere else.

So they must love reggae music, which is why they were supporting it back then. But some of them do grow up, past 12 o’clock they don’t want to be in a club anymore.
Also over the years, I think British people become more British. You probably get more people going to drum n bass, going to grime and stuff, than you will find going to reggae nights.
I mean, go to Messenger sound system in Edinburgh and you’ll find a lot more of foreigners. There’s quite a lot of foreigner who support Messenger. So it’s that kind of dub style, UK style that people prefer. Messenger is more UK style, it’s not really Caribbean.

It’s more like Channel One, Jah Shaka style, which is what they like. But for me, it’s not Caribbean. So depending on what type of reggae you’re thinking about, some Scottish people adapt to that (UK style) instead of the Caribbean one.

If you go to Europe, then you see people who like reggae. Going to Europe you see people who like reggae music and you realise that is what we need in Scotland, where you don’t really have it.

You go to Garance, you go to Summerjam, Benicassim… You see what it’s like.

That was something I wanted to ask you about actually because I know you went to Garance with Argonauts a couple of years back.

Well I’ve been to Garance, I’ve been to Summerjam, and I’ve been to Rototom. And the following for reggae over is so huge, for people whom English is not their first language. And it’s not even the way they follow it, it’s how they’re passionate about their reggae, you know. I don’t see that kind of passion here. So far I don’t really know why we don’t see it here, I don’t know if it’s just that people don’t take to reggae. Because some people say reggae is a bit too slow, some people like dancehall. Some people just don’t want to listen to the same music all night. It might have to do with that as well.

It’s funny because Scotland is quite closer to London, which has got a huge sound system culture, whereas France or Italy, it’s further away.

Well that is true, but the problem is if you go to north of England, even if it is closer to London, there are only certain places in England where reggae really has a Jamaican following. When I say Jamaican I mean the Jamaican style of reggae music.
Because if you go to Leeds, you’re going to be finding Iration Steppas, who have a following for their style of music. You don’t really hear about any other big reggae sounds in those parts.

If you go to London there are well over a hundred sound systems, as you can tell from the [Notting Hill] carnival. But come out of there, then the next city is Birmingham basically where reggae is partly big again. They are the only two cities that over the years you have had big sounds develop. Anywhere else you go, there are names or smaller sounds, but they never really make it big. So the culture is just still basically tied up where the West Indian community is huge.

Like Manchester, I don’t know if you’ve heard of any big sounds come out of Manchester. And yet they’ve got a big West Indian crowd there. I mean there are sound systems there, but they are just not big.

In the north of England you have a couple of ones that go to festivals, that you can see at festivals.

It’s interesting what you say about that, and that the culture hasn’t really moved. Because I mean if you look here, like the London sound systems with only one turntable and MC, you don’t find that style here.

No. the only sound in Scotland that plays the way London sounds play, how Jah Shaka play, is Messenger. That’s their style, and that’s how they play.
I mean Messenger has been around I think from the 90s, because when I came here in 94 they were already here. But I mean beyond that you get other people who play reggae, like DJs who play reggae music, but they’re more DJing, they’re not what we would classify as sound systems.

My whole idea when I started was to be able to go to a park and set up and play. I didn’t realise that the laws don’t allow that [laugh].
Back home that’s what you’d do on a Saturday afternoon if I’s a good day. You can take the system out and play, or arrange it with a bar. You only need two weeks to do that, you just need to apply for the licence. So I thought I’d do the same thing when I came here, I didn’t realize it doesn’t work like that.

So I don’t know if that’s what helps keep the sound system thing small. But now there are a few people who want to build speakers, but just can’t. Because you have to have storage, you have to have a crew. If you don’t really have crew and have a sound system, that can be a problem. You need to be able to have people to move speakers. Because even if you can roll (the speakers) out, it doesn’t roll out easy. You need a crew.
Over the years I’ve struggled with that. Sometimes it’s just me and two more people. And if you’re going to move 8 bass bins, and mid-tops and stuff at the beginning of the night and then at the end of the night… it’s quite a lot of work.

And if you do all that and the crowd doesn’t really turn up, it’s not really inspiring anymore.

Is it quite hard to find a place for sound systems to play, to book places for sound system sessions here?

Well I think it got harder.
the Art School is one of the best places that would allow you to bring a system in. Most other places, except in Blackfriars, you have to go down some stairs. Then warehouse parties aren’t really a big thing in the reggae scene. There are loads of warehouses spread about Scotland, and especially around Glasgow, in places like Govan.
But people won’t travel to them unless you really have some famous name. And that tends to be techno a lot. These free parties that the techno guys do, they do a lot more in that scene than in reggae.

They set up a party somewhere in a field, and you stick the music on and people are happy to go. Whereas with reggae, people wouldn’t come out for it. Unless you go there and provide lots of weed then they might show up [laugh].

I mean for Glasgow itself, you should at least have one sound system set up every weekend. For the reggae crowd, we should be able to have one sound system set up properly, not just like Argonauts at the 78 or Mungo’s in the Berkeley Suite. I mean a sound system set up in a venue. But you can’t get that.

So sound system in Scotland, I would say the culture is not there yet.

I guess the idea would be that people are not ready for it yet, they’re not ready for proper reggae?

No I think it’s just the britishness. I mean young people here they grow up listening to stuff like grime… I think there’s just an element of britishness about the people here. They are just into what’s theirs.
For example the accents, they can associate a lot more. Because for reggae music, a lot of the people here wouldn’t actually understand what it actually means. If you listen to dancehall especially. The part where they’re singing, some of the sentences they are parables. And if you’re not from that culture, you don’t know what they are talking about.

So the message doesn’t get across. Whereas years ago the old school artists, like your Toots and the Maytals, everybody understood what they were saying. Because they were just singing about life stories, and things like that. People would understand what they were saying. So a lot more people would listen to these guys back then, because they could still relate to what they were saying.
But nowadays not many people can relate to dancehall artists. Especially in Scotland, you know. Half the time people don’t even know what they are saying.

But I don’t know if it will even pick up. Maybe if we get more foreigners, you know. People from Europe wanting to hear that.

I mean there’s never been a really big West Indian community in Glasgow, so it’s true there never was the culture to begin with.

See that’s the thing. Well, probably back in the ‘60s they had the days when people were moving to Britain for work, but after that that went away. So I think that is part of the problem, that we don’t really have a big West Indian community.

Because most of the black people here, they are Africans, and each of their music is different, if you’re from Kenya, if you’re from South Africa… They have different styles of music, and reggae is not really their big thing.

Some like reggae, like people from Zimbabwe, Gambia… they like reggae, but you still have to play American stuff as well. It has to be like hip hop and stuff like that.
The Gambians are the only people from Africa who actually accept reggae wholeheartedly, they will be happy to go to a reggae club. All the guys I know from Zimbabwe, they like reggae but they still want hip hop, RnB as well.

Is there any reason particularly for that kind of taste?

Well I think you had Jamaicans who went to Gambia and tried to promote their system over there. Promote the whole reggae scene and that side. Into their Luciano, because these guys from Gambia they still like their roots reggae, they’re not 100% dancehall. Sizzla, Luciano, Anthony B… that’s what they still listen to. That’s what they want to hear.

It’s just because I’ve been exposed to so many of these guys from playing in Edinburgh at the Mambo club, which is why I know what they actually like. What style of music they were actually into.

Because at the Mambo club you had a floor that just played reggae and Caribbean music, and then you had a floor below that played African music. And some of the people who came to the club wouldn’t even leave downstairs, to come up to listen to reggae.
They stay downstairs to listen to their music, I think because it probably made them feel at home, and they won’t interested in reggae, period.

But the Gambians they used to be always at the reggae. They like their reggae music.

How about all the west coast of Africa, like Ivory Coast… They seem to have a reggae scene there too

Yeah you get some guys who are into that there.

bass warriorBass Warrior Sound System

Okay, back to Bass Warrior. Did you at some point have any releases, or produce any tunes?

No I’ve never gone that way. Well one of the reasons I do reggae was just for the fun of it. Because it’s not really my main bread, I have a day job. And the reason I started playing reggae was because I actually wanted to feel at home. Because I wasn’t hearing how I wanted to hear out in the streets. So I needed to play some reggae music, some soca music. Nobody else was playing soca and reggae like this.

So when I finish work at the weekend, it makes me happy to go and listen to some music.

Also, It would mean I would need to find time and help, if I had to make productions. So I just said to myself that’s not really me, I’m just doing this hoping to have some fun. If any money comes from it then fine.

Because you have some good dubplates though.

Yup. Well I have a few dubplates from over the years. I think the first dubplate was from Macka B. The reason I never had more dubplates was because I never thought it was fair for me to be promoting artists and still be paying 200, 300 pounds for one song.

But, after having a discussion with some of the guys, you can’t really have a sound system and have no dubplates. So it’s kind of a hard one.
Because I’m thinking some of these artists won’t really get a hit out of the sound system and are still charging enormous prices for dubplates. I don’t know how familiar you are with how much dubplates cost, but you can pay 250 for one song. And I would have been happy to buy dubplates if it was the original way – when you had a dubplate which was only for one song.

But now you pay 250 pounds for a dubplate, and another sound system could buy the same dubplate. Now if you go to a sound clash, you can’t play back. See if you pay 250 for that dubplate, you may never get to play it in a soundclash, because if the other sound play that song before you, then you can’t play it. It will simply mean you are a weak sound.

So the whole thing is just not right to me. I think guys should be happy that you are asking them for a dubplate, to promote their music. But they don’t see it so. They see it as money for themselves.

Dubplate business as bit?

Well dubplate business. I mean 50 sound systems have the exact same dubplate. That’s not dubplate anymore, that’s the same as just going to the shop and buying a record.
Years ago what Kilimanjaro had, then Jammys want to have. That was then: a dedicated song for that sound. He would play that song that the other sound couldn’t play it. It couldn’t play it back.

But now it becomes a money business.

Couldn’t it also be because today we have digital, anyone can take a song and just record over it?

I mean, me personally I have to get dubplates as I go along with Bass Warrior. Sometimes, if the price is not right, I just tell them no. If I play a dubplate in Scotland, how many people are even going to recognise it [laugh]. How many people would actually think “oh that’s a Bass Warrior dubplate”.

And as a matter of fact, I played dubplates before and people were like “how did you get your name into that song?”, because they don’t even have a clue what it is. They don’t know what a dubplate is.

If I was in London, it would have been a different story. It would have been compulsory. If I wanted to run a system I would have probably had to. Especially if I’m doing Jamaican style music.

Because, I mean, I’ve been to Channel One dances, and I don’t think I’ve heard a Channel One dubplate. I mean I don’t know if you ever heard a Jah Shaka dubplate.
I think it’s only if you’re tied up in the Jamaican side of things that dubplate is really important.

It’s just because we play West Indian style, and West Indian people expect to hear if you’re spending money. Because if you have good dubplates it makes your sound system sound bigger, like you have more ratings.

Whereas ‘dub’ sounds, it doesn’t really matter to them, they just need to play good music. Of course as you know dub sounds they can play a track four times. They pull up, they play the main song, then they play a version, then they go back and play the instrumental.
Dubplate no work like that.

These dub sounds are still bigger than most sounds that you get here. Because the sounds you have in Britain are mainly dub sounds. Your Channel One, Jah Shaka, Iration Steppas… They are big name sounds. And they are British again.

So far, I don’t think you have that many Jamaican orientated sounds I could say off my head, that are big in Britain.
Except… you used to have Saxon back in the 80s. They were a big sound. But they then decided to start doing their own style, which made them bigger, by having Tippa Irie and all these guys chatting in the British way.

That’s what they decided to do to make their own style, that’s how Saxon became bigger, by being British. All of the music sounded Jamaican, but the rapping at the time was British. They were speaking in a cockney accent.

But any sound who would come out of Jamaica would only have a Caribbean / West Indian following or people who are into that west Indian style reggae. Scotland doesn’t have that.

I talked to Wayne as well from Argonauts and he was saying that if some of the European systems went to play in Jamaica, Jamaican would not really catch on. The European systems have gone in such a completely different way from the Jamaican ones.

Well I mean you still have a few. If you really follow some of the sound systems, like guys from Germany… There are a few sounds who go over to Jamaica and clash in order to make a name. But because they are now spending lots of money on dubplates, and Jamaican people relate to the dubplate, they are making a name over there. It’s just like Mighty Crown. I mean they are Japanese, but they have dubplates galore!

So they can play a track that most people can relate to. Because who they are playing for understand it. I mean they can go to London, they can go to Jamaica to take part in a sound clash, and they can play dubplates and know how to play them.
Whereas if they played up here, people would not know what is going on. Only the likes of me and you, people who know about dubplate, would think “oh that’s a big track”.

And that’s another thing. If the artist is not even recognised, then the dubplate doesn’t really mean anything. It has to be an artist that everybody knows for a dubplate to be recognised.

So I think what really keeps Scotland’s reggae scene to a minimum, is that there is no radio station played here. We have no pirate stations, and most radio stations that play reggae here are internet radios, like an African internet station. But there’s no reggae station, and that is what kill reggae music up here.

It’s true here you mainly hear rock, folk or techno and dance.

Yup. And the reggae you do hear would be your Bob Marley, just old school guys. Say if you listen for instance to Clyde Radio, if they play any reggae, it’s exactly the same songs all the time, year in year out.

They play the same Bob Marley songs. You might hear ‘One Love’, you might hear ‘No Woman No Cry’. And I think that is what makes reggae not big, because nobody grew up listening to reggae on the radio, because no radio plays it.

See in England, in Birmingham there’s tons of pirate stations that play reggae music, where you can just turn on your radio and listen to. So that’s where people can get into that culture.

Here it’s not like that. Over in Europe I don’t know how it is, how these guys get into it.

Well I mean in France we do have a few stations that play proper reggae, or have special reggae hours.

Right, so that is an advantage. I’m not sure about the north of England. I think they have them.
The only way Scotland could listen to reggae music used to be BBC 1Xtra, Chris Goldfinger. But you had to stay up until 12 o’clock, to hear from 12 until 2am. And that was all you would hear. Once he’s off there’s no more reggae or dancehall on the radio for the rest of the week.

So that’s what’s killing it up here. Pirate station is what makes it big down south. Everybody knows that. But all of the stations here they play techno, or rock music, or indie.

You want to people to be here for the music. In the Caribbean, when a DJ plays a big track, everybody goes ‘Woooi! Pull up pull up!”.
When they (in Scotland) are there, and the DJ pull the track up, they are like “the DJ must have made a mistake” [laugh]. That’s not the best vibe you know. I mean it’s good that they pay money to get in, and you make back the money that you used to promote the night. But at the same time you still want to get the real vibe.

I mean Mungo’s would probably say the same thing because they would like to be able to just drop  a track and everybody just go crazy, and when you drop another one it’s still going, the whole place buzzing, like a honey hive [laugh]. That’s the vibe I really like!

But I don’t know if that will ever happen.

Well that whole thing about the pull up, and that way of responding to music. That’s also due to a lot of people here being used to techno, and that whole idea of continuous music. There’s not really that whole idea of stopping the music is the tune is good, playing it again… you don’t really have that culture.

No you don’t have that culture. When I went to Cologne, I went to see – what’s the guys from Germany… they do productions as well. I think it was Pow Pow. Well when they were playing in Cologne in a club, and I went in on a Friday night, I was absolutely shocked to know how the actual people relate to the music. And these are German guys I’m talking about.
I just felt like I was back in Montserrat, the way the crowd react to the music. The way the DJs were carrying on. I don’t know if you’ve been to Summerjam lately, because they have a dancehall arena, which is just set up in the woods away from the main stage. And I went there last year, and I was like “this can’t be right” [laugh]. The guys up there with their flags, over soca tracks. And they are talking between English, Jamaican patois, and their language. So everybody knows what’s happening, even those who can’t understand English. And I think “oh man, why can’t we have this in Scotland”.

And when I went to Rototom this year, they had lots of people there, lots of sound systems. I mean they had Pow Pow, Sentinel, all of these guys. You have a dancehall tent, you have a ska tent, another reggae tent, and you have a dub station tent.

And even the ska stage, where they play only ska, there is a big crowd, and everyone is into that. When a track comes on that they think is a big track, they react. And over here, it’s really just dull.

And as I said, reggae is not big in Scotland.

So there’s sort of a lot of people playing, but not a big crowd?

Well most of the people who like reggae want to be DJs because they think there’s no reggae playing anywhere else [laugh]. There’s so many reggae DJs, but there’s not much reggae things happening, you know.

I mean, I know Mungo’s, they work really hard to promote their stuff, which is very good. But Scottish people don’t have the same click up here, as down south. They have people coming to the Art School when they have nights, and they probably have to put big acts. Whereas, with the amount that Mungo’s do now, them alone should be able to just bring a crowd in.

Reggae should be about jumping about a lot more than what you see here.

It’s funny, a lot of the people who come here to reggae nights, a lot of foreign people when they come here they specifically look for reggae nights. I know in France for the last 7 or 8 years, the scene has become really big, especially for dub reggae – you have Dub Stations in pretty much every town in France now. So when they come up they’re like “oh there’s reggae, there’s Mungo’s!”. And you recognise them, they are the first ones to go mad when there’s a pull up, because they know how it goes in a way.

Bart: and it goes for so many other people from other countries

Yeah, most other European countries know how to do it, and how to react.

Well, for instance when I go to Germany, or I go to France, all the MCs on the mic they are talking Jamaican patois, even putting on some form of accent.
When guys in Scotland try to talk like that and they are white guys, people criticise them. You have guys here that tell you “it doesn’t look right to see white guys with dreadlocks, that’s not right”. That’s the kind of mentality that some people here do have.

You see for you, you probably just go to the dances and listen to the music. But like for me, because I’m at the front. I don’t know if you knew Rudy Alba. He used to sing quite a lot, and people used to come up to me and say “why is he talking like that, why is he pretending he’s black”. People actually take great offense for him to be talking patois. They do! You wouldn’t believe it.

He did a show once, I think he supported Toots & the Maytals at the O2, and the engineers who were working there while he was doing the show were just like “why is he talking like that, he’s from fucking Scotland”.

Bart: somehow it doesn’t work either for people from Scotland who do grime and stuff, and talk with a really big London accent, you’re just like “that’s not you”.

So people take it quite personally then?

Yeah, some people do.

Bart: we can go ask Charlie P what he thinks about it.

Well I know Sean (Campeazi) once told me “it’s appreciation, not appropriation”, and I think that’s quite true.

Well what people seem to forget is that even if you’re white, if you grow up in a black community and all your friends are running around you talking in a certain way, then that’s how you’re going to talk.

My oldest son, if you listen to him then he sounds proper English. But when he’s talking to me, it’s just pure dialect. But if it’s anybody else, he just talks the way he expects people to understand him. But that’s because he grew here.

But some people would probably comment if they hear YT. They’ll probably ask why he is talking like that. Because I remember a girl, she’s from Birmingham living in Scotland, and she was offended when she went to the (Alexandra) Park and heard YT. She was like “why is he talking like that, he’s not from Jamaica”.

For us, coming from the Caribbean, it’s not a problem, because we kind of thing that’s cool that he can adapt, that he can talk like that. We think it’s quite impressive. But people here in Scotland seem to take offense to that.

Well YT grew up around that whole culture.

He grew up around sound systems. Yeah, and that is what you’re going to get. But some people here they never left Scotland, and they don’t really know about much else…

My boy, he said to me that one of his friends told him“reggae music is not for white people” [laugh]. I was like “what?”. Because we went to Wickerman this year, and he came with his friends to show support. And some of his pals are like: “we like the music, but it’s not really white people music”.

Bart: it’s great when people say that and then go play some blues.

Or rock n roll.

Well even soul, it’s not really Scottish culture, but there’s tons of people who seem to like it.

Well in the end what do you call “your music”.

But as you could see, it started from a long time ago. From the days of ska, when people change it in Britain to call it ‘two-tone’. It’s actually ska, but they decided to put a British thing to it and call it two-tone. Just to make it their British thing as well. There are lots of people who hear some tracks and they don’t even realise that those tracks originated over in Jamaica…

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This would be a wider question. Reggae and Dancehall  in Jamaica, and even in England, had quite a political or social message to it. Do you think that still exists today, to some extent?

Wow [laugh]
If I’m being honest reggae is not that political. Well… reggae itself might be, the actual reggae. But the dancehall, no. You would still get some of your reggae artists who would still try. I mean, you get Sizzla who still try, you get Luciano who still try… Some of the guys, mainly the singers and the roots guys they still try to keep some of it a bit political.

But you see in the 80s, everybody was poor. When you’re poor, you feel for something. And that is what inspired you. When life starts to become a little bit better, struggles are not the same. Some of these guys they don’t have nothing much more to sing about. Because they are touring the world now and getting big money. Whereas when these guys were singing in the 70s and 80s, they were only singing in Jamaica. It wasn’t going anywhere else. They weren’t making much of a living. Every morning they would wake up, life would be the same for them. All they had to do was go to the studio, and try and find something to sing. And often there would be a hundred people at the studio.

So… You still have some guys in Jamaica who are still struggling, but life is not as bad, in a sense. These guys were musicians, but they weren’t making any money. Now, the guys who are making lots of music nowadays just do it with computers, with laptops. So it’s easy for them.
But back then, why you get these good political guys is just because they were talking about their daily struggles, and they were singing with feeling because they actually felt what they were singing about. Nowadays, guys just make noise just to see if they can become an artist, or become popular. So that’s the big difference.

I mean, as you probably know, most of the old guys they are now living a better life, touring and all. They are getting recognition, because Germany, and France, and Spain have festivals; they are now getting to come out of Jamaica and perform. Like the Israelites and all of these guys, they used to be popular in the Caribbean, but they never used to be touring.

There used to be a struggle: one, being poor. And two, being Rastafarian as well.
They weren’t able to get anywhere. It was hard for them because people used to hate Rasta hard back in the 80s and 70s. It’s just because reggae started to get a little more recognition worldwide, that Rastas started to get more recognition as well.

It wasn’t such a bad thing to be seen as Rasta after a while?

If you were a Rasta in the Caribbean it was a bad thing man. In the 70s and 80s, Rasta just meant that you’re just a lazy so and so, an untidy so and so [laugh]. But some of it really, the Rastas have themselves to blame. I mean, I have dreadlocks, but will still go to work, I still like to move around.

Back in the day you had Rastas, and as far as they were concerned they were not going to work for the Queen’s head, which is the pound. I mean, when you talk like that, who’s going to take you seriously. And people would think that talking like “I’n’I”, and “Fyah fi dis”… That kind of talking never really would inspire people to accept Rasta, in a sense.

But now, as the youth who grew up during Rasta time, we come to the years where we start accepting these things, because we grew up understanding what it meant. But our moms and dads would have never, because they grew up believing that you have to have your hair looking shaved and wear a jacket and tie for church on Sunday [laugh].

But as reggae got recognition, Rastas got recognition as well. So that is how things change.
But if you didn’t really grow up in the Caribbean, you probably wouldn’t know that much about it, unless you really read into it.

Early in 1983 I used to listen to loads of Culture and stuff like that. By that time there was only a couple of tracks that would have been known worldwide. By the time Culture had been accepted worldwide, then they practically all passed away.
But back in the days, these guys were big guys throughout the Caribbean, because everybody understood what they were singing about, they were actually singing about the politics that were going on around them.

I don’t really know how Europe is, how Europe got into reggae.

Yeah, I’ve been trying to find how reggae got into France especially, but it’s quite hard to pinpoint it.

Bart: it’s funny when you thing about reggae in Poland it did have quite a lot of relation to the punk scene, but it was all just because the left was really bad politically, and people felt like they were oppressed. It was kind of naïve in terms of musical style, but it was still relating to it, and I think people associated with the message.

Well what used to help was that people could go to a reggae club and get a smoke, if you into smoking. It chill everything else around you, the worries go away for that moment we’re having the party. Everybody is in the same boat here, everybody is happy.

And that is what is really good about having reggae festivals, that people can go to these and just relax, enjoy themselves. All the political side of things goes out the window for a few days.

But Scotland doesn’t have that kind of festival, except the Wee Dub Festival that they do in Edinburgh, and that’s only a weekend thing.

Is there a particular message, or vibe that you try to promote through Bass Warrior?

Well, I wouldn’t say really a message, because some of the music I play is not really message music. It’s more of I vibe that I try to promote, have a good night, be happy – it’s supposed to be fun. It’s good to just put stress aside and just enjoy the night and the music.

Sometimes, to be honest it’s probably more of a stress having to play [laugh]. But at the end of the night you still think “oh well, the night is over, we still had a good time”. But I’m just doing it more to promote enjoyment, to have a good time.

I mean I personally enjoy reggae music, good reggae music that has some good roots, some good lyrics that I can relate to at times. But I like my dancehall too, and my soca because when I’m feeling free, then I can just jump about.

But message-wise, for there to be a message I have to be feeling a struggle. And the people who come to reggae here in Scotland they’re not really struggling. They might think they are struggling, but they do not see struggle. For some of them they’re just happy it’s reggae music, they like it from their past, maybe when they were struggling.

But life in Scotland is, for me, good. It’s not 100% or how you’d like to be, but it’s good. You can wake up every day and have something to eat, you don’t have to worry about breakfast or dinner. Me personally I don’t.
And Scottish politics at the end of the day… I live here so it’s got something to do with me, but on the other hand it’s not got that much to do with me either. Maybe for my kids then I have to think about politics, for my children who are growing up here. But beyond that…

Well, I think that’s about it. Anything you’d like to add?

If I talk about reggae in Scotland really, and even in Britain because I’ve been to places down in England. I’ve been to shows North of England and it’s only certain artists that still bring a certain amount of people. I mean we had Raging Fyah in Scotland, which I think is a really good reggae band. And they were playing at the Rum Shack for free. But you probably had about 30 people. I think Raging Fyah is a very good band, and I think they might get recognised someday, because they’re not really dancehall. They have some political elements about their music, and they have a bit of an old school style… I think they’re really good.

In Europe they seem to be doing well, but they come to Britain, nope. Even in London, even in their own community, their shows still get cancelled. So I don’t know. Maybe everybody in England now is happy, living good lives. They just want to party, just want to talk about this and that, their clothes and all this nonsense.

Also you said that in England what seemed to happen was that you also got jungle, garage, dubstep… so all the energy moved to other places. Which is maybe why in France and Europe it just stayed with reggae. So it sort of stayed with roots, and they kept it maybe more ‘traditional’?

Yeah but what I find in France as well, is that… Say for instance, OBF, Blackboard Jungle, how those guys start out: they are big. In the sense of big sounds. And it has an impact if you have that big a sound. If you walk into a building and you see that stack of speakers, and you get that sound, it makes a difference.

If we could do that in Scotland, where people could come in, listen to something that sounds that good… Where they could feel the vibes.

Really experience what it is all about?

Yeah! Well it would make a big difference. I mean say for instance when Mungo’s go to the Art School, the young ones lurch on to that style. They like the big sound, and they come to hear it, but I wouldn’t say that they are 100% into the music. If you look throughout the night, most of them are just in and out the door. When you are there for something, you are THERE. But I look at them at the Art School and they just go up and down the stairs, up and down.

Scotland has that kind of thing, the idea that where people are is where we should go, because that’s where it’s happening. It’s kind of a trend thing.

If you could find a venue where like every week big stacks of speakers sit there, you’ll find that whoever is genuinely into the music will come. Because that is how Messenger managed to get where they are now. They sit in the Bongo Club, and everyone knows when they go to the Bongo Club exactly what music is playing there, and they go just for that.

But it takes time to build that up. Messenger just didn’t suddenly get that kind of following overnight. It took him quite a few years.
But in saying so, it’s not just them alone. The club owner was happy to persevere with them there. Whereas in Glasgow, most venue if no money comes through the door, they start thinking “oh we need get something else. We need to get another night“. That’s the problem here.

Well there’s the Rum Shack that does a lot of stuff for free. How does that work?

Yeah because the guys who run the Rum Shack they love their reggae music. And what they do is if they want to put on an artist, they try and get funding to do it. Because everything they have done so far, like getting Tippa Irie, Cornell Campbell

Yeah they got Dawn Penn as well

Yeah Dawn Penn. What they do is they’ll get a sponsor – either through the lottery, or Red Stripe… Because you have to remember the guy who owns the Rum Shack owns Macsorleys too. So they own a pub, and because of that they deal with distillers. And Red Stripe would be happy to sponsor something. Same with distillers, they are happy to put money where it’s going to suit them.


AF

All photos courtesy of Bartosz Madejski

Telerama Dub Festival #12

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The Télérama Dub Festival has now become one of the biggest French dub festivals. During one whole month, it tours the country with some of the finest french and international dub acts and sound systems.
For this year’s 12th edition, the Telerama Dub festival stopped in 12 towns, including Marseille, Besançon, Montpellier, Bourges and Lyon. At each of these stops, the sound system(s) would be set up and the nights filled with heavy bass and skanking crowds.

But it is this weekend that the grand finale is taking place. The last town is of course Paris, and it looks they are bringing out the big guns.
This saturday will effectively host two of europe’s biggest sounds – OBF sound system from Geneva, and Mungo’s HiFi from Glasgow (in one of their rare appearances in France on their own system). Each sound will have a separate room, and will welcome a number of acts throughout the night, from 8pm until 5am.

The OBF hall will host a very european line-up: Bristol based Dubkasm featuring Solo Banton; France’s Kanka & Biga Ranks, Weeding Dub, and MC Shanti D; Spanish MC Sr Wilson; as well as the collaboration between Ackboo, the Bush Chemists, and S’Kaya.

On the other side of the venue, Mungo’s HiFi’s system will bring the more international flavors. Tour de Force (Dub Stuy) out of Brooklyn will showcase their Battle Cry sound on their first ever french tour; while Sak Dub from Japan will share his distinct style of steppers. Radikal Guru from Poland and Deng Deng HiFi from Sweden will also join the party, alongside Mungo’s HiFi regulars YT and Charlie P.

So if you are in Paris this saturday, you know where to go.

Tickets for the night can be won with Musical Echoes

Rampant Sound Interview

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“You have to remember that in the early 90s that was when things got really clamped down in Glasgow. You had the Criminal Justice Bill coming in; you had a curfew in Glasgow, you had to be in the clubs by 12. The illegal parties and illegal gathering were really clamped down upon, with the whole repetitive beats thing and all that. It was quite heavy in those times.”

I had the opportunity to talk to Paul and Alan, aka. Doctor Dub and Professor Collie, the original Rampant Sound, at their first return behind the decks in over ten years. We discussed how they began as a sound, the Glasgow music scene in the 90s, as well as their thoughts on the current sound system culture in Britain and Scotland. 

So what was the glasgow scene like when you started ?

Alan : Well there were a few things. There were a few a guys with connections with Rubadub Records, they played out in 13th Note originally. They had an event, like an ambient night as well called Sonar I think – with people like Dribbler, and Dave Heart and State of Flux played at it.
Before us, there was a guy in the kind of 80s…

Paul: There was Joseph too. He was from Edinburgh but he was more of an eclectic mix, it was like soul, funk, a bit of reggae. His DJ name was Joseph of Babylon.

Alan : I heard he’s become a muslim now, and he’s really into acid jazz, and funk and stuff.
But there was a guy even before that, quite a long time ago – in the 80s – from East Kilbride ; and that had Dillinger, and Steel Pulse and all sorts of people playing in community centres in East Kilbride. But that was way before us. When we started in ‘91-‘92.

Paul:  ’92 probably because we got that gig in January – in the place which is now 13th note, when it was on Glassford Street… That was always a good venue. And yeah, in January of ‘92 – because I arrived in Glasgow in ‘91. And we did a mix night with Joseph a couple times, he came down from Edinburgh.
Then we went from under Ventura to a night at the Art School. A few soundclashes with Soundclash,

Alan : we also played with Mungo’s who were called the Dub Dentists at that point. And we played a few gigs with them.

Paul : that was early 2000 though

Alan : oh yeah that was second time round. I’m getting ahead of myself. So yeah in the early 90s we played at the Art School, and then we had Zion Train up, Revolutionary Dub Warriors.. and who was the other one again ? With the ex-specials in them ?…
Anyways, we had a few guys coming up and playing with us.
And then we went down and played in London, at the St George Robey. It was a pub, with a dance space in the back. And then we played at quite a few parties, with connections from Pussy Power – Terry and Jason.
Terry got Twitch’s first gig – Keith – from Optimo. And we also did a few things with this band called State of Flux, which was a guy – Dave Clark – who now records for Optimo and Numbers under the name Sparky. We did a few parties with them. The Beach Coma party…

And that was all early, mid-‘90s ?

Alan : Yeah. And then we took a rest. Had kids…

Paul : Yeah, life got in the way (laugh).

Alan : And then we got back into it, continued to play.

Paul : You know, we’ve only been dub-jockeys, dub DJs. We grew up listening to Shaka, going to Shaka gigs. But we didn’t have the equipment. Glasgow’s a techno city, it was a lot of dance. And you’ve got to try and mimic that, the way they play the records and tunes, so we mixed and scratched the tunes too. Then we got an echo box, an echo chamber, in order to make it sound like a sound system, over whatever we were playing. And then when we came back in 2002 and started to move more into using a sound system, we had a guy that we knew, that would upright the sound, he was our sound engineer. And he was responsible for the system. That limited it a bit, but it also opened it up to some new people.

But then it meant we were always reliant on running our sound system, and where we were in our lives at that point it was a bit too much. Because you know, it’s having a van, and it’s being on the road a lot. And after a while it was just too much, we didn’t have the time.

Alan : The one thing I regret not doing at the time is going in the studio.

Paul : I still want to do it now. I’d do it tomorrow if we could, because there are tunes there that need remixing. We always had a particular style as well, we like our dub. We like our vocals, our version, and we like our dub. We don’t like ska, or whatever.

Alan : We don’t like it when it’s too diluted.

Paul : It’s all about the bass line to me. I mean you can put anything you want over the top, if you get that right, then that works.
You know, I can play you a tune that’s maybe 40 years old and you’ll go « well that’s drum and bass ».

Did you have at some point any releases ?

Paul : No we didn’t, but we recorded a lot of our session, and even now they really hold up.

Alan : but that’s the one thing I regret is not releasing anything original, you know. And I think if we had kept our relationships with the likes of Zion Train and stuff, it would have probably come to that at some point. One friend of mine in particular still makes tunes, and had 2 or 3 releases on R&S label. We went into his studio a couple of times, and we kind of just started to get to know the machines. But it didn’t come to anything really.

But we listen back to some of the sessions and you can see how our inspiration and our musical thought processes were changing. I was listening to this one CD recently, and it’s kind of organic, and it’s quite lush sounding. And then you listen to another one and its very steppers, it’s very rigid.
There was a lot of good stuff coming out in the mid to late 90s, quality releases. A lot of really seminal releases.

So in the ‘90s, doing reggae and dub in Scotland there was you guys and anyone else?

Alan : Messenger. there was Messenger in Edinburgh. We always rated Steve. I think he’s still active today.

Paul : He had a good system, a good sound. They brought the likes of Dougie Wardrope, Conscious Sounds. Big Sound, we used to buy our records of them in London. He made our siren box;

Alan : He also got Russ Disciple, Nick Manasseh. Well we played with Nick Mannaseh at the Art School as well. He was instrumental in what you taught me about dub, it came from Kiss FM, from the Manasseh show.

Paul : The first time I heard Manasseh was at like 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning after a rave, and Manasseh sound was just great.

Alan : But yeah, I think there’s arguably more today, obviously with Mungo’s and Argonauts. And then you’ve got Bass Warrior, with Kenny. I went to see the Jamaican Longbowl team and Kenny was there with a sound system on a Saturday afternoon in the park.
So now you can say it’s going well.

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Yeah reggae in Glasgow now is quite big – every week now you’ve got reggae playing.

Alan : well we really struggled, and I think that’s why we played it the way that we played it. Because it’s a techno city, and everybody wanted techno. So we used to speed our records up a lot.

I mean if you listen to what Mungo’s and Argonauts and Bass Warrior play it’s very digital and dancehall :

Alan : Yeah

Paul: I listen to them, and I love them but they’re still keeping afloat because I think you’ve still got be somewhere near that techno-dub mix.
And for me, any sound system I’ve listened to that has been afloat there’s been a start and a finish to their night.

Alan : It’s a way to share a musical journey. We always try to do that, a warm-up, and then get people into it. But you know, if you go to see somebody like Shaka or Aba Shanti or someone like that, I mean they’ll play 11 versions of a song to start the dance off. But what these guys don’t do so much is, they don’t mix.

And I always think if you’re a reggae sound system and you don’t mix, you need a toaster or an MC. You need something, unless you’re Shaka and you’ve got that presence. And then you can have silence. When you go to see Shaka, and there is silence, nobody will cheer or yell. You’ll have silence at moments.

We always felt that perhaps the Glasgow crowds weren’t ready for that. They wanted continuous music, because they were used to it.

Paul : Well yeah it’s because they were used to techno, they wanted raw beats. And you know, a lot of the time we used to pitch up the records too [laugh]

Alan : Yeah some really slow stuff, some really old stuff and you’d play it +8, and it sounds like a techno tune… well, a drum and bass tune at least.

Paul : I always felt it was a shame to do that and now we can play stuff that we want to, and people get it. But it’s true at the time in Glasgow we had to train people, because it wasn’t like London where they were all used to it, you know what I mean. We had to train people to the sound.

Alan : And we had a cowbell, we had a siren box, we had a melodica sometimes. So we used to kind of add things to the sets.

It sounds like it was very rootical. Quite like the UK or London sound.

Alan : Aye

Paul : we had a friend come down to play the congo drum too

Alan : we also had several guest vocalists and toaster, Kwasi Asante and another guy, Desi Nile was it ?

Paul : They really understood the vocal and version thing. We do a lot of that. I could play the same tune for half an hour just with versions. But we can’t do that here, because people want the next thing, they’re impatient. Honestly, we could play the same tune in here for 45 minutes, with various versions. We would love it.

That’s quite a cultural thing. In France a lot of the new sound systems have taken on the one turntable thing. Whereas here, a lot of the new sounds in the last 4-5 years have gone for the two turntables and mixing.

Paul : But then that tells you a lot about the situation of the city you’re in, and where you’ve grown up. Because that’s the vibe of the city, isn’t it; its clubs, its DJs. We don’t have the weather for great outdoor festivals, setting up on beaches – which we’ve done, but that was for a special occasion. And it’s a shame, because we’ve got some of the best outdoor locations in the world.

It’s true that even a session in Kelvingrove Park would be fantastic.

Alan : Well there used to be one. Every May day, there would be two or three sound systems playing techno or dub in Kelvingrove park.

Paul : well it wouldn’t say reggae.

Alan : well maybe not reggae, but there was stuff happening then. You know, you have to remember that in the early 90s that was when things got really clamped down in Glasgow. You had the Criminal Justice Bill coming in; you had a curfew in Glasgow, you had to be in the clubs by 12. The illegal parties and illegal gathering were really clamped down upon, with the whole repetitive beats thing and all that. It was quite heavy in those times.
And so I suppose we grew up with quite a lot of illegal underground parties.

So there was quite a big free party in movement that kept on?

Paul : yeah. There were things like the ferry. Parties on a ferry that we used to rent out.

Alan : yeah, that was Pussy Power that did that, Subterrania, they used to take the ferry out, and had a rave on in.

Paul : They used to have parties in Ventura, it was a great basement venue. You’d lock the door, people were let out at two exits, in groups of ones and twos, at 6 or 7 in the morning.

Alan : there was that kind of culture at that time, I suppose. And it was good. And I suppose it did encourage that kind of underground music, and dub is an underground music.

Because all that was happening at the time of the Criminal Justice Bill, was there a kind of politics attached to the movement too ?

Alan : I would say political with a small ‘p’. Dub and reggae have always been political, if you listen to the political content and what it’s all about, it’s essentially political.
Personally I wasn’t really drawn into that, I was more just for the music. I met Paul when we were working in a pub together, and I was just back from working in Jamaica for the summer. And so that’s when I had really gotten into reggae.

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I’d liked reggae when I was younger, but that’s when I really got into it, going down to dances in Jamaica. So then I came back, and when I met Paul I had just bought a Jah Shaka album, and I didn’t really know anything about dub. And I said to him « why is every tune the same », and he said « it’s not, go listen to it again » (laugh).  So that was me starting to get into the dub side of it.
But politically, no. I’m not really a political animal. Don’t think you are either

Paul : I’m not really into politics no. But they are there, especially a lot of Jamaican tunes, and even some English ones. Steel Pulse and the Handsworth riots, that was very political.

In the end it’s a medium…

Paul : yeah exactly, there’s not a medium in the world that hasn’t done that. And reggae as a music is very powerful. Music does something to you. You listen to music, whatever genre you like, you’ll feel something, whether it’s emotionally or other.
And that’s what I like about dub, because for me, it’s intimate. You conserve it. You know how you have vocals and versions? Well eventually you’ll listen to a vocal version, and you’ve already got that song without the lyrics, and so when you add the lyrics, fucking hell!

It also takes another dimension when you play it on an actual sound system, something that you may not get in other genres as much.

Paul : I think most DJs can play any sound system. We played at Sub Club with Mungo’s HiFi, and we played the club’s system as a (reggae) sound system.

Alan : Seriously, that night. Let’s put it this way, it put their sound system to shame that night.

Sub Club is known for having an excellent sound system.

Alan : La Cheetah’s also got a good sound system, it’s got a function one sound system.
But we used to tear them up, we used to blow them up. You remember when I broke the one in the George Robey.

Paul : yeah it’s because you wouldn’t listen (laugh).

Alan : no I would not. I had all the dreads shouting at me.

Well home-made sound system is something you find a lot more in techno and reggae, whereas in other genres it’s more of an attempt to put loads of speakers together.

Paul : well with a sound system you can do something completely different. You know, you want your sound to sound like x. But then for the type of music that we play we would want our sound to sound like y. It’s like, we knew where we wanted to go with it as well.
You never heard Mungo’s sound have you?

Alan: no I’ve never been and seen them.

Paul:  I did hear it at New Year ’s Eve, down at Stereo. It was a good night. I though at the end, in terms of the tunes, the tunes were better upstairs.
But as far as Glasgow’s concerned, yeah I’m a big fan of Mungo’s sound, because they built their sound system, it requires a lot of dedication. And I get quite envious because I think we should have had that kind of dedication at the time. Maybe we didn’t have the finances and Glasgow I would almost say was not ready for it.

Alan : And at the time we should have probably pressed a number of individuals to give us some money but we just didn’t really do it. We should have done. But no, I think they’ve done a great job, and as Paul says, ultimately that’s exactly what we would have like to have done. Have a sound system. But you know, things didn’t happen, the planets didn’t align, you know what I mean. That’s just the way of it.
But I think it’s great what they do, that they have their record label and they actually release stuff as well. That’s really really good.

Something I was talking about with Argonauts was what do you think made Glasgow attracted to reggae so suddenly? Because it’s really taken off in the last 5-6 years.

Paul : Well there’s a big reggae scene in Dundee from the start. And city-wise nowhere is that far in Scotland.

Alan : It’s true I don’t know why it kicked off…

Paul : It’s got to do with the population of Glasgow. Glasgow doesn’t have a West Indian community. When I first arrived in Glasgow there were three black people [laugh]. Me and a few others. In Edinburgh slightly more but Glasgow’s never had that West Indian population. Which is weird for the second city in Britain.

Especially as it’s not as if Glasgow had nothing to do with the West Indies.

Paul : Exactly, every city on the West Coast of the UK : Bristol, Liverpool… have all got a huge West Indian population. And you would have thought Glasgow too. But even now, it’s weird.

Alan : Maybe there was more of an influx of more english students, at that time in Glasgow. And that would have coincided with the time that tuition fees came in. And we don’t have tuition fees. And so perhaps we had an influx of english students who traditionally would have been more educated in terms of sound systems.

Paul : And the proliferation of better universities in Glasgow. Because with just Glasgow Uni, you had generally quite a wealthy group. Well the Art School is a little more diverse and open, which is why we played there I think. But because of the proliferation of better universities in Glasgow, everybody’s come to Glasgow, a lot of people from more average backgrounds, who have probably already been to sound systems, who are culturally a bit more different and therefore that brings it up.

Alan : Maybe that’s got something to do with it. But apart from that I can’t really think of other reason why it exploded. I mean Mungo’s obviously took the bar and they ran with it and took it to the next level, and that definitely helped. But I think there’s probably more to do with the kind of people that were there in Glasgow at that time and were going out.

Well that’s something we touched on when I talked to Mungo’s. they were saying that unlike London where there was the West Indian and Jamaican influence in the way of running a sound system. Whereas in Glasgow they felt as if there wasn’t any existing template, so it allowed for a lot more freedom.

Paul : which makes it very real, you know, the reggae scene in Glasgow. It’s a dedication. It’s had to develop on its own, because of the conditions we talked about before; there isn’t a West Indian community that brought in sound systems; that knew how to build them; that organized that sound clash or this sound clash. There isn’t that.

Alan : I suppose it’s also one of these things where the more systems you get, that’s going to produce more systems.

I think there’s about five or six sound systems in Glasgow now.

Alan : well that’s good, and obviously it means that there’s a market for it. If they’re all playing out regularly. I mean, we haven’t played in quite a while, quite a number of years (laugh)

That was another aspect that is quite interesting – the whole idea of meetings. You don’t really have the clash culture here, or in France or Italy, like you had in England, or Jamaica.

Paul : Well it’s because there was a lot of violence in those times

Alan : yeah it was turf wars wasn’t it. Again, these sound systems in London, I mean I’m a white middle class boy. We don’t have the same social problems and social issues that these guys had and still have. And yeah, ‘money run tings’ you know, that’s what it was about a lot of the time.
And reggae’s evolved in so many ways and so differently in Britain. When Reggie Steppa played for instance in London, there would be gunshots. The police would be rocking off the roads. It was that period I mean, the late 80s, where it became really gun and cocaine orientated. And then you had New Roots, which came in the kind of early 90s.

Paul: You also had new people in the scene, you know, in the likes of Dougie Wardrope: working class, these white London boys.

Alan: But who grew up with black culture.

Some people have said that there’s now been 3 generations of sound systems. The first one was the Jamaican sounds, the second one was the first sounds in England, and then the third generation is like you have here, or in France or Italy, people who do not have any links with Jamaican culture but still have taken on the reggae sound system tradition.

Paul : But then you can say that about any genre of music. Music moves on and evolves over time. The fact that you talk about sound systems in the like or France or Italy. They’re not sound systems, they are people who play dub and dubs. They are people that play techno, you know what I mean ?
Andy Weatherhall does a really good dub set, but he’s not a sound system. You can invite Nick Mannasseh to play some records at your gig, but he’s not a sound system.
Jah Shaka turns up with his system then yes, then that’s a sound system session.

Alan : He’s never played in Scotland on his sound system. Scottish people have never heard Jah Shaka.

Paul : He’s played here before, he played on Mungo’s sound.

Alan : Aye, and he’s played on Stevie’s system, and Messenger’s system in Edinburgh. But he’s never come here with his own system.

So there’s never been that thing where you would invite people up here with their sound system ?

Alan : It’s too expensive.

Paul : but then again you don’t need to do that, because that’s not what it’s about. When you’re playing in a venue like the Art School, or even the Arches which have a great system, why would you need to. People are there for the music. I’m almost to the point where anyone that labels themselves… I mean we never called ourselves Rampant Sound System. We’ve always been Rampant Sounds.

Alan : Out of respect for these guys, because we’ve never had a sound system. We played records.

Paul : Yeah, so apart from Mungo’s and Messenger, even Unity Reggae to a point, I’ve not really seen proper sound systems here. And I don’t know why that makes it any more special, because if your tunes are shit, or you can’t play your system well, it’s not going to make any difference.
In the end I’m there to listen to good music. If you’ve got a sound system that can enhance it, then that’s even better, but it’s not the most important.

But then again, when a crew have a sound system, a home-made system, it’s generally built for their own sound, their own music. So if they bring their own sound system, it won’t be the same as hearing them on the PA system of, say, the Arches ?

Paul : Well you know, again, I could go with Alan to any gig and I guarantee we could put on a serious show with the selection of tunes that we have. And ultimately, that’s what it’s about. When sound systems are clashing, at any historic clash, it’s about who’s got the latest tune, who’s got the latest dubplate, who’s going to rock it. Exactly that same as in clubs nowadays, who’s got a version of x, who’s got the latest remix of x by y.

Alan : I mean there’s a famous story of Shaka who was playing against Coxson I think. And he played something like 14 versions and the Coxson jut went like « i’m away, that’s it, you won ». But we’ll have that kinda… I suppose we had a bit of rivalry with some of the guys… like when we played with them we would put tape on their mixers so they couldn’t turn it up, and then we would come on and take the tape off and turn it up [laugh] But that was as far as it got.

Another thing about playing records, say if you go to a DJ set in a lot of hip-hop or techno gigs, it will often be mixed in a pre-set thing. Whereas when one uses vinyl, it seems there is a lot more improvisation going on, how one feels according to the crowd.

Alan : I mean I’m not a fan of… I don’t even know what they’re called, these new things, traktor ? you know what I’m talking about. So as long as someone’s playing vinyl, if it’s played well, it’s good. But I always liked DJs and techno DJs that weren’t perfect. I didn’t want this silky, smooth thing. I wanted to hear the tunes. With reggae especially. You want a distinction, you want to understand one record before you go onto the next.
I think it can become too sanitized, you know. And that’s what I don’t like. I think if somebody can play the records and maintain the integrity of the record and the character of it, then they’re doing a good job, and that’s what it’s all about.

And then you get into all the other stuff, effects and such. A proper sound system, like Shaka, of Coxsone, or whatever… they can do things with the sound. I mean, they’re splitting the sound, they’re rolling the bass round them, they’re panning the hi-hats right round the room. That’s what you don’t get nowadays, with the sound systems that you have in Glasgow, they don’t do that. We always tried to do that, but from the mixer, because we didn’t have a sound system. So we would always mess about with the levels; cut the hi-hats ; cut the bass completely… and then bring it in: bang ! All that kind of stuff. We were trying to create the sound of a sound system without having one.

Rampant Sound on facebook

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