Tag Archives: Mungo’s HiFi

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

 

 

 

 

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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

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

Mungo’s Hi Fi – Serious Time

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

mungos

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Available at Scotch Bonnet Records

AF

Mungo’s HiFi, Daddy Freddy & Kenny Knots @ the Art School.

sqcotch

So, this is the second installement of Mungo’s Art School takeover. To be very honest, after january’s line-up (Mungo’s HiFi, Gorgon Sound, Mr Williamz, Charlie P), I thought it was a bit of a shame that they did not invite another sound. BUT, the thing you learn from 4 years of regular attendance at Scotch Bonnet nights, it is that Mungo’s HiFi rarely disappoint.

This time the Art School was a little less packed than the previous session – which was a blessing considering we had to wait for an hour in the queue outside for the January session (but that’s what happens when you re-open one of Glasgow’s best loved venues after 3 years of refurbishment). It followed the same principle of having two rooms, each dedicated to different genres – Mungo’s and the heavy dubs upstairs, and D Double E, Elijah & Skilliam, and Inkke b2b Milktray downstairs.

I got in just past 12, with Mungo’s still in their opening set. As I was ill and a little knocked out by the medicine, I retreated to a corner of the room following the idea that I would lean against the wall and enjoy the show from there.
But then Kenny Knots and Daddy Freddy came in. And those laid-back plans quickly went out the window: those two could get the most lethargic sloth skanking like there’s no tomorrow. Add to that Mungo’s HiFi’s blend of digital-dancehall reggae, and I guarantee you will be burning holes in your skanking shoes.

Kenny Knots I regard as probably one of the best MCs around today. He is incredibly versatile. I mean he can ride a riddim like no other, be it some heavy stepper, digital or roots, he can sing or toast over anything. He also goes beyond the general lyrical focus on ganja and your-sound-can’t-test-we. Most of his tunes are really thoughtful and always conscious, adding a certain depth that other MC often lack. Also – and this is strictly personal – some of Mungo’s best productions sound particularly brilliant when he voices over them (Gimme Gimme and Don’t Let Them are my personal favorites, but the Brand New Bangarang EP is definitely a recommend).

And then you have Daddy Freddy. Now I’d never seen him before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, although judging by the Original Babaloo video I figured it would be pretty intense. But bloody hell! I have to say I was impressed. Although he may lack Kenny Knots’ vocal dexterity and versatility, I’m still trying to remember the last time I saw someone who gets the vibes going as well as he does. If the crowd was jumping with Kenny Knots on the mic, when Daddy Freddy would take over it reached a whole new level. He simply gives off so much energy that everyone in the crowd has no choice but to follow him.
(Oh, and did I mention that he once broke the record for most syllables spoken in 1 minute? I kid you not)

Both Kenny Knots and Daddy Freddy complement each other incredibly well – and provided one hell of show. The Mungo’s rig and crew were impeccable as always, playing both heavy dubs and all-time classics. I’m sure it’s safe to say everyone had a great time – so great in fact that it was pretty hard to get everyone to stop at 3am. Daddy Freddy was quite intent on keeping the whole thing going and once the music stopped, him and Kenny Knots just went on accapella and beat boxing for a good fifteen minutes.

So yeah, really looking forward to the next one!

A.F

Argonaut Sounds interview

argonaut

[Photo: Bartosz Madejski]

“Actually you’d be amazed at how many people come up to us, or send us emails saying “I was down at your night, so great to see someone playing vinyl”. I bet no-one that plays on a laptop gets emails saying “I was down at your night, great to see someone playing with a laptop.”

Here’s a really interesting (and long) interview with Argonaut Sounds, about the early sound system scene in Glasgow, reggae music in europe, and about the role the internet played in the growing popularity of sound system culture.

How did you first discover reggae ?

I would guess the way most people do. Like some Bob Marley tunes. Because that’s the thing that everyone’s exposed to kind of first of all, when you’re small, especially when don’t really know much about music. You’ll probably hear more Bob Marley than a lot of other things anyway. But other than that I don’t know. I like toots and the Maytals, and jimmy cliff and stuff like that, you know all the more obvious stuff.

But then I got kinda more into it when I moved to Glasgow and I went to a reggae night, Unity reggae. And that was the first reggae night I went to, and it just got me more and more into it. You start to find it more from going to different nights. Unity reggae was the first sound system I went to. It doesn’t run anymore, but it used to be at the sound house which was by the Clyde, just across the expressway. Afterwards you’d sometimes run across the expressway to get home to cut off about half an hour off the journey [laugh].
But they didn’t have speakers or anything, but they had quite a big PA in there. And they would put on nights once a month and it wasn’t all that busy, but you could have a smoke in there.

And when did you decide the start your own sound system?

About 2002. Well I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision to start a sound system. How it was, was that Neil was in a band called the Argonauts, who were a reggae band. For their pretty much last ever gig, he got a few mates of his, including me, and played reggae music of vinyl basically to DJ at it. And afterwards we were like “hey we should put a night on or whatever”. And we kind of did down the line, but also about the same time we started doing a radio show on Subcity radio, me and Neil, called Argonauts sounds, after the band. So yeah, it kinda all grew out of that.

But I don’t think it was ever first a conscious decision like “oh let’s build a sound system”. It was more just like, let’s start putting on nights and it quite quickly grew into building a sound system.

This is a fun question. How would you describe a sound system session to someone who has never been to one?

It’s like trying to explain it to your parents or something [laugh] I don’t know, I almost think it’s like… You could flip it over and say it’s a cross between a nightclub and karaoke. But it’s not because it’s more than that.

It’s different from to a nightclub in the sense that it’s much more of a community thing. You don’t just look up a list and say “oh that’s on, or that’s on, and we’ll go to that”. It’s more a thing where you know that it’s on, and you keep more in touch with the scene. For a sound system session, well I guess you’ve got to have your own speakers. I mean that’s kind of integral. Not many other events would do that.

I’m thinking what else kind of defines it… It’s a really difficult one to get your finger on.
Yeah it’s the speakers, it’s the crowd, it’s the way that the people follow it. It’s also the way that it takes a lot more people than just the DJs to run it. See you’ve got the people who run the sound, but you’ve also got all the others. You have your crew and then you’ve got all the people who kind of help out doing little bits and pieces, and they kind of are brought into feeling part of it. And then they bring their friends in, and they feel part of it. And it’s more of a sort of thing that grows out, I think, as it gets bigger, rather than just being like a strict relationship between the people who come to the night and the promoters or the DJs. It’s not like one and the other; where one’s just playing to the other. It’s more like the thing kind of grows out of someone saying “oh I can do that, and I can get involved in it that way”, and someone says “well I’ll work the door for you” and things like that.

Plus probably the fact that it’s not necessarily a business enterprise for a lot of people. A lot of people just do it for leisure, you know. So that takes away that kind of more commercial aspect.

It’s true there’s not that much money in it, so you have to have a passion.

Yeah, I mean you’ve got to do it for the love of the music basically.

I know in the last few years reggae in Glasgow has gotten pretty damn big. How was the reggae scene before?

It was small when we started. I came to Glasgow in 2000, and then as I say, my first reggae night in about November 2000 was Unity Reggae. And I don’t think that even Mungo’s has started then. I think there was another sound system just before I got here, I know the guy Stevie who used to run it, called Rampant Sound. Stevie from that helps out Bass Warrior now.

But when I came there was basically Unity Reggae and a couple of really small things that you would struggle to find out about, and they weren’t really sound systems.
Unity always promoted itself as Unity Sound System even though they didn’t have speaker, and I still to this day kind of see them as being a sound system because of the way it was.
And yeah, pretty soon after that I guess Mungo’s must have started because I remember going, certainly when I was in second year at uni… So that must have been 2001-2002. I’m not exactly when they would say they started.

And so we started in about 2002, and for a while there wasn’t all that much else, that I can think of. I mean Kenny started doing Bass Warrior nights, and before he had built his sound system he used to do nights in the art school, like ragga and dancehall nights. But I think they were often quite quiet.

That was the thing, I mean back then it was hard to get a crowd out. We would put on our first nights just in pubs with a small sound system, and you’d be doing well to get 30 folk.
And I remember going to Mungo’s nights, and it was not quiet because they always got a pretty decent crowd, but it was nothing compared to these days. And then, they didn’t have a big sound system either. I remember going to the first night when they got subs… It was amazing [laugh].

But the crowd was quite different then, because it was more like, what you would call “crusty” kind of folk. Folk who are into protests and would set up peace camps and stuff. And I remember Mungo’s used to live on a farm, and they used to have farm parties and stuff. Because I think the crowd has changed quite a bit, it’s gotten a lot younger, and it’s also gotten more… I don’t know, it’s hard to say. It was smaller back then. It was a lot of crusty folk, a lot of punky folk and things like that. And it’s stayed at that level for ages, and then I can’t remember when we noticed. We started to find that we were getting a lot more people in about 2007. That’s when we noticed that it really started to pick up. And when we moved to the Ivy bar downstairs in there. We did nights in there for a year, and I just remember some of them were packed. One night we had people dancing on the stairs, because it was so rammed. It was amazing in there.

But that was a complete change. And it seemed from when we’d done nights before that, for about a year before then it had started to get a lot bigger. And I remember Mungo’s were starting to get a lot bigger, because that’s around about the same time that they moved to the art school. And it started to really take off then. That was the start of it getting a lot bigger. But I don’t know how or why.

Ah, Well that was the next question actually

Well it’s popular partly I think now, because people have become exposed a lot more in the way that, that music gets a lot more… How would I put it… It’s almost like a snowball effect as well. The more the people come to it, and they bring their friends, and then they tell someone else, and then someone here’s from two friends independently “oh I was at this night and it was great” and then they decide to go the next time. I think that has got a big impact on it.

And as it’s happened that more people have started putting on nights or sound systems, I think it’s become that people have made more links and realized that the scene is bigger, so that means that they go to more things as well.

But I find it hard to know why it actually did kind of explode. Because you know, the late 2000s weren’t a classic period for new reggae stuff. I mean I think there’s loads of good stuff from then, but loads of people don’t.

Yeah the 2000s aren’t known for really being a time of great productions.

I mean, I don’t know if the net has had an influence in that way. Because I remember when I was younger, and I mean like in my teens, the music that you could get exposed to, you had to search quite hard to find stuff that was different to your mainstream music.

Whereas now maybe a lot of stuff is more accessible because you’re not restricted as to where you find out about stuff. Like it would have been impossible for me to download say, well I literally couldn’t have downloaded an Anthony B album in 1996. Like that to find out about that would have been so much work. Whereas now I think it’s quite easy, someone says “here’s a mix that my mate made, it’s full of reggae and dancehall” and that gets someone into it.

That’s a good point. Because 2006-2007 is about the same point when social media started to really kick off as well.

Yeah, that’s true. Because social media I think has a big influence in getting people out to nights who haven’t been before. Just say on Facebook you make an event for a sound system night, go on and invite loads of mates, people who are like fans of Argonauts sound say on Facebook. And then someone who has been invited accepts it and invites all their friends, maybe some that have never been to a reggae night before. And so they might just suddenly realize that there are reggae nights maybe.

I don’t know how much the internet has to do. I think it’s really hard to quantify, but it must have had an influence.

Yeah because it is about that time, even back in France, a lot of people started building their systems around then. There were things before, but a lot of the recent ones all started around 2007-2008.

Yeah, and whether it’s access to information about running a sound system, and easy access for parts to building it. Whereas I remember before we had these old Celestion bass speakers, they were pretty horrible, they were all covered in felt and stuff. They had big 18” drivers in them, they sounded not bad actually, they just were really old. And then one of the drivers got blown, and this was about 2004 or something. And we hadn’t really twigged on to the internet enough to think to on there and get things, we didn’t know enough about it. And actually we had to find this guy, who was a Pioneer speaker cone dealer in Glasgow, and we went to his house way out in Cardoland I think it was. And it was like something from back to the future, the guy stumbles out of his garage with massive white hair, and all these pioneer drivers. And the thing is, that was quite hard to get hold of this guy and work out a god deal; Whereas now, you can just look at this driver that cost that much, this one cost this much, and this one will come tomorrow if I buy it now, but this one is more expensive.

There was this debate in France last year, about what makes a sound system’s identity. What would that be for you?

Well there’s got to be two factors I think. One is the identity that you kind of want to portray, because you make conscious choices about what you’re doing.
But the other side has got to be the way about how you are sort of perceived, I guess. Like the way that people think about your night, and see it.
Music must come into it as well, the music you play, and what sort of style you play. But I think that, a lot of sounds, newer sounds particularly, especially when go to like Garance or something and see European sounds systems that are really dubby sounding. They have got that kind of new dub sound.

What do you mean new dub sound

You know like, almost that sort of semi digital dub sound. Rather than playing your classic 70s Tubby’s, Jammy’s, Scientist kind of dub, more that sort of new sound – yeah steppers… And I don’t know, that seems really popular there, and that often gives a sound its identity. But then also say we play a lot more major key stuff, so that’s quite different.
But you get a lot more sounds like that in London I think.

So music can play a part in the identity… I don’t know, that’s a hard one. It’s really difficult to pin that down. It’s funny because you can almost imagine what it is, but it’s really hard to pin down in words. It’s a conglomeration of a whole load of different factors.

There’s the music you play. Also the music you choose not to play. There’s that whole aspect of tunes with homophobic lyrics, and we’ve always though it’s a strict thing, we’d never play that. If one slips in by accident we’ll take it off, you know. Stuff like that, that contributes to your identity as well. Because there are sounds I’ve heard who do play it, and you think “oh fucking hell, don’t play that shit”.
And you hear one or two in London and stuff, whereas I don’t think you’d hear that here. But maybe that’s more kind of a social norm amongst sound systems, or well anyone with a reasonable moral outlook would see that as the right way to go.

I don’t know, a sound system’s identity. It’s a really tough one. I’m going to be thinking about it for days [laugh]

Well we can pass on to the next one. And actually you kind of touched on it a bit. You said you went down to France a bit, have you noticed any particular differences between the UK scene and the French scene.  You mentioned the music a bit, but is there anything else?

Yeah, there is a bit. But there are also a lot of sounds now that play in Britain stuff that they would play in France I would say. I think that a lot of sound systems in France play stuff that’s not that dissimilar to Mungo’s. I don’t know what side has influenced what, but I think those are becoming a lot closer.

What, so like more recent ‘bass music’?

Almost yeah. Or like, more when you hear Mungo’s playing, you know. That sort of stuff I was talking about, with those french guys playing that kind of steppers dub, things like that.
So I do think you hear Mungo’s play a fair bit of that. And I think you get a fair amount of that in France. The difference would be I think maybe that you don’t get as much of the – is that true actually, I don’t know. See sound system, new roots and things like that. We play a lot of new roots, and we play a fair bit of new dancehally stuff. We also play a lot of 80s digital dancehall. And then you’ve got Kenny and stuff, and he plays soca, ragga, dancehall, new roots. And you go down to London, if you go to the carnival you see all these sound systems and you realize they’re completely different to what it’s like in France.

I mean you’ve got your classic old system, like Channel One, and Aba Shanti and They’re all playing, you know, kind of classic roots and dub. And then you’ve got your newer ones who are all playing brand new stuff, whether it’s ragga or new roots or conscious stuff.
And maybe in France, I mean I don’t know enough, I’ve only really ever been to a few nights, and the Garance three times.

But I don’t remember really hearing too many of the sound systems playing brand new stuff. Although I do remember at the Garance hearing one or two. There was one, Jumbo Rock sound, I remember playing really good stuff. They played some news stuff and I really enjoyed it, but I don’t know where they were from, they might not be French.
I think maybe, this is only a conjecture, but maybe they don’t play much brand new stuff out of Jamaica in France, as you might find a lot of system in Britain playing. But then I know a lot more Jamaican artists come to France to play.
It’s hard to gauge whether maybe sound systems would in another environment, you know. I get the impression that a lot of German sound systems play a lot of new roots and stuff, and dancehall.

Really? This is going to sound really weird, but I can see germans playing new roots a lot. In the sense that it has a similar sound, or esthetic to the kind of rock and electronic music they produce. I don’t know..

Yeah I know what you mean. I mean there’s a big scene for that in berlin and stuff, there’s a few labels and shops there as well, so I don’t know… I would be interesting to see the differences in that in Europe, but I don’t know enough about that. Obviously the main places are France, Germany, Italy and Spain in Europe for reggae. And it would be interesting to see the differences, because Spain, they’re beginning to get quite into the new stuff, and so are Italy.
I mean, I say that about France but some of the biggest, you know Irie Ites is one of the biggest European new roots labels. And there’s so many labels in France that, I don’t know, a lot of the stuff must be getting played in France. But I guess I just haven’t heard it

The thing is, I’ve not been to a lot of dances – well a lot in France, but just in one area – but even a lot of the new sounds that have come up, they are very attached to roots and steppers, more like Iration and stuff like, and a bit of digital. Whereas in Glasgow, Mungo’s, and CC sound or Chungo Bungo, what they play does seem to be a bit more dancehall, or Jamaican orientated.  More digital and all, and then Mungo’s and the others often go into bass music. Whereas in France, well to the sessions I’ve been to, they are a lot colder to dubstep.

[Laugh] that’s kind of how I feel.

That’s the main difference I seem to have noticed, that there is a lot more roots and stepper in France, while in Glasgow it’s a lot more dancehall, new roots and newer stuff.

Yeah. Someone once told me there was a theory along the lines that it’s just colder here, so you want something that will keep you going, and a bit more upbeat [laugh] I don’t know, sometimes you read too much into these things, but you wonder if that might be true, if the further south you go you just get a slower bass. You know like in the south of Spain they just listen to nyabinghi drummers or something [laugh]

A friend told me another theory he had – he was a bit wasted at the time – but he argued that the periods where reggae and sound systems peaked was in times of crises. Like you had 50s and 70s in Jamaica, then 80s in UK, then it came back a little in the late 90s, then now since 2007 it’s become really popular. I’m not sure how much it stands up but I found it interesting.

Well there might be something in that. I mean, it is often seen as a protest music. Protest music is a funny phrase, but it is that way that it’s about people quite often, and it concerns how life is being lived. A lot of it is about reality. And yeah, maybe that would have something to do with it.

Well that brings on the next question. Originally reggae was very political in Jamaica, and even in England in the 80s. Has reggae kept its political element today?

Yeah. Certainly Jamaican stuff I think still retains a lot of that strong, political… like a strong political force. And all the rasta stuff you get still contains a lot of that religious weight. And a lot of it I think is still about society and things like that. I mean there’s obviously parts that aren’t. You get a lot of stuff that’s about nonsense, but you’re always going to get that. But compared to most other kinds of music, you get way more stuff that is socially and politically, trying to either have an influence or say something about the situation.

I mean stuff that’s produced in Europe. Again it’s a funny one. Because a lot of these guys who are producers in Europe are going to be using Jamaican vocalist, and they’ll still do that on the European productions. I don’t know if a lot of the European guys kind of mimic, or maybe not mimic because that’s harsh and I think a lot of the European guys are great, but take their lead from the Jamaican tradition.

I remember actually one time talking about this with Neil years ago, and we were saying that one of the things that gives reggae an extra dimension, that social and political and quasi-religious sort of punch to it. It really seems to give it some depth, more than just the music.
It’s a whole other layer than can be interesting, to see what people are saying about stuff. And a lot of stuff must come from the history in Jamaica as well, with like Mento and Calypso being musics that were basically just a way for people to tell news and stuff like that. If you listen to a lot of old Mento it’s amazing how it’s all about how this happened in this town, or there was a fire here. It’s amazing when you listen to it, it’s just stories about stuff that’s been happening. Some of it is hilarious too.

When you do a session with your sound system, is there something you try to bring to your night, aside from just the music? A particular vibe or message?

Well message, kind of. Sometimes you fall into play loads of tune which give out a certain message. Kind of by accident. Sometimes you have a plan to play a few where you feel like you’re spreading a message. But also, I’ve got a really strong belief that there’s a sort of energy in nights, somehow. That you can try and create the right conditions for that, so that everyone is really enjoying it, and then everyone kind of feeds of that and it gets bigger and bigger. So it’s all about that sort of thing, of setting the right lighting, setting the right tone, making sure it all sounds perfect – isn’t too loud at points, isn’t too quiet.

There are times almost where selecting the music… I don’t want to say you could do it without looking or whatever, but sometimes it’s not the most important thing at all. One thing that I think really gets energy going is when people see more than one person picking the music. So if you’ve two or three selecters who are doing a tune each  and we do that often at the end of the night – and it’s like a challenge to the next person, like a soundclash within the sound system And I think people can see that, and you can get an energy building up from it…

And that way as well that having an MC obviously helps, in that even if I’s not an MC that’s going over riddims but is just kind of hyping it up, keeping it chatting so that everyone feels involved. Because I find it funny how DJs who don’t play reggae don’t use mics. I don’t like going on the mic because I’m not very good at it. But if you’ve got an MC, it makes everyone feel so much more connected to the people who are playing.

But that’s what I would say, it’s more about trying to create the right atmosphere as much as iit is playing the right tunes.

You mentioned lighting, but even in setting up your system as well, is there a particular way you have of doing it or does it change according to where you are?

It depends on where you are but you’ve always got to think about the actual space that you’re setting up in. It depends where it is but you’ve got to t about it quite carefully I think. I mean there are technical reasons and there are reasons for making it a good night.
For technical reasons, if you set up wrongly, you’re going to be plagued by feedback and all that sort of stuff, so that’s the first consideration because the night’s going to be a disaster if the technical side isn’t right.

But after that you’ve got to think about where you have your speakers, where you have your decks, making sure that there’s space for people to get in and out of the dancefloor, because no one wants to be stuck. And if people feel that they might be stuck they won’t go on to the dancefloor I think. If it’s too bright people won’t dance, you know, you have to make it quite dark. And décor and stuff like that makes a huge difference.
I always prefer the decks to be quite close to the sound system, because what you tend to find is that a lot of people tend to congregate around the sound system. And our system isn’t huge, we’ve only really got one stack. So if you have it that close to you it makes it quite natural. You almost have a corner thing, the system and decks on each side of the corner.

I’ve seen people put the decks on one end of the room, and the sound system on the other. That could really work because you could almost book in the crowd, but I think it’s harder, because it puts people in two as to where they want to be. Some people like to be close to the decks, or close to the sound, or some like to be both.

Having the system at the other end of the room works well if you have a big system I think.

Absolutely. I mean two or three stacks and you’re laughing. That’s the thing: if you’ve got loads of stacks what everyone classically does is try to make a sort of enclosure, so that everyone can be inside a big triangle or square area. There’s a sweet spot right in the middle, so you get the decks halfway between the two stacks or whatever.  I mean all these things come into it sometimes you’re stuck by what venues you can get. You always think that one of the best things to do to only have a blank canvas for playing your sound. Like venues with unlimited possibilities.

But even the street in the Jamaica and you see it at the carnival how they do. On the street typically on the two sides they’ve got a stack on one side and a stack almost diagonally across from it. The decks will normally be set up sort of just inside that square. So you almost make a sort of square, as you’ll often put a van in the other corner. And I think that’s classically how folk would do it when they’ve got more stacks. And that works particularly well on a street, because ten the street becomes the dancefloor.

You play as well strictly vinyl, compared to the others that tend to also use laptops. Was that a conscious decision, or it sort of just happened?

Partly because we just had vinyl collections, but I do genuinely think that it sounds better. Actually you’d be amazed at how many people come up to us, or send us emails saying “I was down at your night, so great to see someone playing vinyl. I bet no-one that plays on a laptop gets emails saying “I was down at your night, great to see someone playing with a laptop”[laugh].

Again it’s talking about the energy. I think people pick up on the fact that there’s someone flicking through records, and finding one and putting it on. Compared to someone scrolling through their laptop or something, it’s a thing where people see it’s someone who’s really paying attention, and putting effort into it.
I mean, there is that element of it, I think it helps in that way. It’s annoying because there are a lot of things that you just can’t get on vinyl. But I like the fact that maybe you don’t find the record you’ve been wanting for ages, and then finally you find it and it’s like “holy shit, I’ve got it”.
Whereas I don’t think it’s the same if you say “oh I really like that tune, I’ll just download it”. It makes it a lot more throw away, and maybe people take a lot less care over what they’re playing. I ‘m not sure if that’s true. Good DJ probably don’t. But it means anyone can have anything, and I think it takes away the specificity of certain tracks.
I mean I don’t have all that many that are really dead expensive, I’ve got one or two, I’ve got a a few singles that I’ve paid over the odds for. I’ve got one album that is worth about 300 quid, but I didn’t buy it though: about 15 of my mates chipped in and got it for my 30th birthday.
But there is that element to it. I like it, because I really like vinyl. I like holding it, I like touching it, I like having the sleeves. I like the fact that you take the record off and on. I also find it a lot easier to find what you are going to play. I think if I was flipping through a laptop, I would kind of be stuck thinking “what am I going play”. Whereas, I mean I never take all my records obviously, but I take a selection and sometimes you’re just going through and you’ll think, “oh that will go well now”. It’s a very tactile thing, you know, you get more of a chance to interact with it I think.
But the main reason, as I say, is that I think people appreciate it. People pick up on it.

It’s true that as well because in sound system you’re on the same level as everyone else, anyone can sort of look at the record, or come up and ask you or have a chat.

Yeah, we get people asking to see stuff, and when people are trying to look over to the decks and you just tell them “hold on, I’ll show you at the end”.
The funny thing about all that is that back in the day in Jamaica they would scratch the labels off the records, because no one wanted other to know what they were. But there’s no point in that anymore because all music is so accessible. I mean I don’t think I would really want to hide what I was playing, I’ll always be happy to show it to someone. Because there isn’t the same rivalry for it. You don’t get proper sound clashes here. But even that rivalry doesn’t exist here because all the sound systems here try to help each other.

That’s true, it’s quite a difference because until the 80s, the rivalries were quite brutal – like they would rip your speakers apart and stuff.

Yeah. In Glasgow, I don’t know how it is in London or in the rest of the UK, but in Glasgow I know that because when we started there wasn’t much, everyone was just trying to have a go and help each other. And that’s just continued, to be honest. There have never been any disagreements between sound systems. Everyone is always, as far as I’m aware, been up for helping each other, and that whole aspect of collaborations and stuff.
I guess back in the day, in the Jamaican tradition, it was run by guys who were definitely businessmen as well. And one or two of them were gangsters probably. But you’re not going to get that here. I guess that the difference. You know there’s almost that kind of mock rivalry that you sometimes get. People sometimes get dubplates that say “we’re gonna kill your sound” or whatever, but no-one is going to come to a night and break up our speakers.
And as I say, there’s that care. I think maybe in Glasgow, and this includes everyone who comes to dances, but everyone kind of knows that they’ve built something up, so you don’t want to go around wrecking it. Everyone’s put so much effort into it that it wouldn’t seem right to go around breaking stuff out.
And everyone tries to help each other out. Kenny [bass warrior] helped us build the subs that we have. Whenever Kenny puts on a night I’ll go and give him a hand setting up; or I’ll go and ask Jerome [mungo’s hifi/bass alliance] for advice and get a lift in the van, or speak to whomever else about this stuff. Everyone does kind of help each other.

In the end it’s a community

Yeah. Because everyone’s got different areas of expertise.

You released your first 7” last year now – which was really cool. Do you have any more releases planned?

Just before I came down here, I arranged for it to get sent to the pressing plant. It will be coming out probably in the end of February or something. I got it mastered in December but because the pressing plant was shut over Christmas we held off to get the lackers cut. So the lackers are getting cut tomorrow and it’s getting delivered to the pressing plant in France. The place that presses the vinyl, they’re not the cheapest but they’re really good quality. And they’re cheaper than any in Britain as well. Britain is just overpriced for all that sort of thing.
But yeah, next one is two 7” at the same time, all on the same riddim, but with 3 vocals and the version. One of the vocals will be from a duo from St Lucia. We are actually going to go to St Lucia with Babascum, maybe in March. Partly to record vocalists, because I think there’s a lot of untapped potential there. To be honest everyone I’ve heard from there is really really good. But they don’t have a lot of facilities, and it’s untapped, there are no labels or anything like that.
But yeah, that’s one thing I’d actually consider doing with the label, is just making a link with St Lucia, since we’re kind of in there.It’s a very expensive process and we can’t really afford to be paying huge advances to artists, because as a sound system we don’t make anything. Trying to break even until you get to a stage where you do start to make some money and then you maybe think about starting to pay advances, and folk can start to earn royalties and things like that. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that stage.
But again, I think having a label – it’s one of those things that are traditional amongst sound systems. When you think back to all the Jamaican sound systems that became labels – like Treasure Isle, Coxsone Dodd became Studio One. And the later ones, you’ve got stereo one, Stone Love… All these started off as sound systems and became labels. And it was just a natural right of passage in a way, that you would eventually have a label as well.

That brings on to the last question. Having your own sound system, your own label, your own productions, essentially means you are completely autonomous. You don’t rely on anyone else.

Yeah well I think that is the key thing for sound systems, is that they stand apart from everything else. You get booked occasionally by promoters, but by and large we promote our own things, we run our own label, it’s not like you’re just an act that’s there to be booked. You’re doing your own thing.
You lean on people for favors, and help and that kind of mutual exchange of information. And maybe that’s partly what makes up a sound system’s identity, is that they do stuff by themselves, without relying too much on other people. Being able to run a night, a sound system night from scratch, however you do that. All the different aspects like booking guests, getting them somewhere to stay, arranging the sound system, making up flyers. We always just design our flyers. Most club nights would just pay someone to design stuff like that.
I think you can realize a lot more what you want to do that way, when you’re in control of more stuff. Because there’s so much different bits. I remember actually, you know our crew has changed a fair bit over the past few years, we got more folk involved. But I remember sitting down and drawing a diagram of all the different aspects, and it was huge! There was so much stuff in it. I wrote Argonauts sound system in the middle of it, and drew a mind map chart of all the different things, it was a massive thing. It was amazing actually when you looked at all the different stuff, and there were things that you realized linked.
All the different things that you did, or had to look after as part of it. And what that would entail, and how they would link. Like there was Argonauts sound, then there’s the sound system, so that linked to the warehouse where we keep our sound. The maintenance aspect, and then you have sound system nights that link up to the sound system but also go with flyers and guests and all these different aspects. And then of course our radio show, and how that links to PR and promotion.

Was that the subcity radio show?

Yeah, we’ve done it for 12 years now.

You also do the Sunny Govan one as well?

No Neil used to do that with Craig, but he’s not done it for a while. Craig that puts on gigs at Mcsorley’s and places, he’s more a promoter. But the show was pretty good.

I mean, when we started doing Subcity, it was only on 4 weeks a year on FM in the Glasgow area, because there was no internet radio. So we had a 4 week local FM license, and it cost that like six grand or something for those weeks. And that was the things, 4 weeks of shows, you’d get so hyped up for it and so excited. All your mates would listen to it on the radios.
But it all changed when we started to get internet radio, because we realized that the costs of the FM license doesn’t really make sense anymore.
The internet radio works – I mean I was really skeptical about it at first. Because I didn’t think at first that there was that many listeners, but it gets a fair amount of listeners now. And the fact that people can listen back to it as well.

At this point we finished the interview, but we kept on talking and it got quite interesting so I put the recorder back on:

I tend to think that in Europe the music goes off in tangents, like you get dubstep.. In Britain it went off in tangents from Jamaican stuff in the 80s as well, when they got lovers rock and stuff like that. And that tends to happen quite a lot, it goes off in tangents. But ultimately the path of reggae is still dictated by Jamaica. Whether that be dancehall, or new roots or whatever. And Europe takes ideas off that and goes in different directions. But reggae is always dictated by what is popular in the dancehall in Jamaica. You know like in the 80s they were into digital and so that’s what came over here, and so people took from that and made other stuff – they made this kind of digital dub and things like that.
And in the 90s they got really into their ragga dancehall, and the kind of slackness stuff. And supposedly people didn’t get so much into that here, although I think you see elements of it.

Well jungle kind of brought in elements of that

Yeah. So that all went into that.
And now in Jamaica, for the last 10 years it was all Sizzla and Anthony B. And that has come across and people have taken that… I don’t know if that’s actually caused too much of an impact here, in terms offshoots… but it’s gone now again in Jamaica where they’re just going down their own path.
They went through that phase where it seemed like Mavado and folk were going to get huge, and then they faded away and it’s come back more into this kind of… well they’re all talking about this reggae revival. With Chronixx and Kabaka Pyramid, and I love all that stuff, I think they’re all really really good. But it’s interesting to see, they’re not paying attention to all this dubstep stuff. You don’t hear dubstep in Jamaica. There’s more like of feedback loop on it. They send stuff over here to Europe, and Europe takes it in its own direction and places, but there’s no feedback to Jamaica where they say “oh we love that”. No we like what we like, you know, and we are going to do our own thing.

And because ultimately what it comes down to in Jamaica, what’s popular is what’s popular in sound system dances. And they don’t really care what is going on elsewhere. They’ve got stuff made locally that is popular… They like a lot of American stuff too I guess.

Also reggae is essentially their music, it’s Jamaican, so they don’t really care about the reggae that’s out there, because it’s not theirs in a sense.

I think a lot of the artists have got a lot of respect for the European scene. But I don’t know that your average man or woman on the street that goes to a sound system would give a damn about what’s happening in France or Britain or Germany.

It’s true I would be a bit surprised if local Jamaican sound system would be playing French dubs or productions.

Yeah, I would be pretty surprised. I think you might get one or two coming through because of how many Jamaican artists are recording there. But a lot of this reggae revival, new roots kind of ties with a lot of the stuff that’s coming out of Europe as well at the moment. But you never know how that’s going to split in a couple years’ time.

Yeah it’s the one thing that I am a bit surprised with is the whole dubstep , bass music being so big in sound system nights recently. I mean I can see why, sound systems are best for bass, and dubstep and bass music rely on that, but a lot of reggae sounds tend  to now blend both.

Yeah, I’m not really into dubstep. I’m always a bit amused by dubstep rooms at reggae nights. I kind of feel like the dubstep stuff… I’ve actually enjoyed it at times when I’ve been really really wasted, I don’t so much like listening to it. But I would almost prefer it if it wasn’t at a reggae night, because I really enjoy listening to reggae and then someone puts dubstep on.

Although that being said, the first dubstep nights, DMZ and all that, I do enjoy that kind of dubstep – with a slow bass, really quite minimal.

Yeah I mean I’ve heard some stuff that is a lot closer to classic dub. If I was going to be into any of that, I guess I’d be into that. But I’m not really. But I can see where that’s coming from.
But again, dubstep you know, most people in Jamaica would be oblivious to it. To be honest I feel kind of jealous of them [laugh]. You’ve got to have a certain respect for a place that is so sure of itself that it just doesn’t really give a damn. I mean that’s also why they’re wrong on some things, I mean some of their lyrical stuff. And you know, it doesn’t really affect them that millions of people in Europe see something wrong about it.

Check out their website for all the information on their radio show and gigs, and here’s a promo of their last 7″ release ‘Down Inna Di Ghetto‘ featuring Babascum.