Tag Archives: Scotland

Mighty Oak Sound System

mighty oak label.jpg[Mighty Oak Label artwork – Joseph Robertson]

Having finished setting up the sound and munched down on a solid portion of chips,  Joe and Ben very kindly sat down with me to have a quick chat about the origins of Mighty Oak Sound System and Label.

 

I guess first of all, how did Mighty Oak start?

Ben: well, we originally started playing out without a sound system, and we were called something else back then.

Joe: [Laugh]

What were you called back then?

Ben: We were called ‘Itchy Soul HiFi’. We did that for a while, collecting records, and then…

Joe: Well we both left Edinburgh for a while, so there was a break.

When was that?

Joe: I was like 22 or something

Ben: Yeah, around 2001, 2002.

Joe: 16 – 17 years ago yeah.

Ben: And then we were in different places for a while, and then we started to acquire a few speaker boxes here and there and experimenting with sound system set ups. Joe also had kept busy with his music making.

Joe: Yeah at that same time we released our first record, the Alpha and Omega Remix of the Eagle the Dragon and The Bear. That was when we were still both living in the Borders.

And it was at that time that got more serious about our project, about getting some sort of proper rig together, and start playing out a lot more.

Ben: We did our first few nights at the Mash House with a very small rig.  That was pretty much when we started as Mighty Oak… was that seven-eight years ago?

Joe: Yeah around 2010.

Ben: But it’s only really four years ago when we starting playing out on a regular basis with a sound system.

So it’s relatively recent?

Joe: Yeah, since we’ve established ourselves as Mighty Oak, started putting on nights as Mighty Oak… It doesn’t feel like it was only four years ago, it feels like it was a lot longer.

Ben: I think it’s because we have been collecting records for years…

How did you get into reggae at first or what was the scene like in Edinburgh when you started, and that made you want to focus on reggae?

Joe: Just Messenger (Sound System) basically at that time.

Ben: Pretty much yeah. We had some friends down south with a sound system called Desta*Nation Sound System, they put on a lot of free parties. And I think before I had ever been to a Messenger night I had been to a few Desta*Nation events

Was that down in England?

Joe: Yeah in Oxford. That was the first time I heard reggae and fell in love with it. Before that I was into Jungle and Hip Hop and stuff.

Ben: And then when we were both in Edinburgh, obviously Messenger (Sound System) was putting on his nights. At that time Messenger was once a fortnight.

And this is in the early 2000?

Joe: yeah, that was at the original Bongo [club], it was the main event there. Well it still is now I guess. That was a wicked venue, that sort of changed my life, working there. It got me properly into music.

Ben: In fact, I think when we started playing out with the sound it felt like it was around that time that new things started to happen and were developing in Scotland. Before that there was very little, there was Messenger and Mungo’s Hifi, and that was pretty much it.

Was there anyone else in Edinburgh putting on reggae events, or even just playing records.

Joe: Well there was Robbie (Robigan).

Ben: There was a guy called Paul.

Joe: Oh yeah, he used to play in the back room at the Messenger nights.

Ben: There was also a guy called Cliffe, with Blueberry Sound System. It was very infrequent events. He didn’t have a regular night or anything. And Tongue & Groove Sound System as well.

itchy soul.jpg

How would you describe Mighty Oak Sound System – as in what does Mighty Oak Sound System represent or try to promote?

Ben: For me I think we try to bring the beautiful aspect of the music rather than necessarily how heavy it is. A lot of the kind of stuff I personally like has more depth and melodic quality to it than just bass. I think that’s what I want to try to bring out.

Joe: Yeah it’s not just stepping your head off, it’s trying to get people to listen in a bit deeper to the music.

Ben: And you know, we’ve spent quite a lot of time and thought on the top section [of the sound system] because we want to try and get all the frequencies represented really well.

It’s true that when you hear Mighty Oak System it has a clarity to it which is very impressive.

mighty oak2[Photograph by Graham Wynne]

 

Would you say there is a distinction about how the scene is developing in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK?

Ben: I think it’s quite a unique thing going on here. It’s really nice at the moment, there are so many different sound systems working together, even though they are all quite distinct. It seems like it’s becoming a proper scene now.

Joe: I don’t think I know the scene well enough to be honest, I don’t get out much to be able to compare it to other places.

Did you live in England for a bit?

Joe: yeah I lived down there a few times for a year or two at the time, and have been down several times, but not enough to really experience the scene down there. I’ve been to some gigs in Bristol but nothing really to be able to comment on it.

Did you find it quite hard to develop the sound system in Scotland, in comparison with the English scene where there may be lots more sound systems around and more help available?

Ben: well we very much learnt as we went along. There hasn’t been anyone really giving any advice. Occasionally someone would give us a tip here and there.

Joe: Kenny [Bass Warrior Sound System] was really helpful.

Ben: Yeah we used to phone him if we sometimes had a technical issue. He was great for that. But apart from that it’s just been us on our own.

Trial and error really?

Ben: yeah, and very little money. So you end up going slowly.

Despite that it does seem like you have managed to build it up really well and relatively fast.

Joe: Yeah I guess we have. It’s strange to think it’s only been six or so years really.

Ben: Well it helps to have my storage yard where it is, because I have access to a workshop there. And so I can just build boxes quite easily, I have the space to store them and the tools for it. I’ve also got a lot of experience with woodworking, so that helps.

You can really see you woodworking skills on the new scoop grids. They’re lovely.

Ben: I think that’s really us trying to show that sound system is a beautiful thing. We are just trying to bring that out.

Joe: It also gives a particular character to the sound system and the equipment.

mighty oak scoop.jpg[Photograph by Ben Young]

 

There is an idea that the look of a sound system is the identity of the crew and can sort of inform you on what kind of music they will play or the vibes they will push.

Joe: Yeah I guess it’s earthy, quite organic looking sound …  Well it kind of represent where we’re from and what we are about. We are both woodsmen. Although I’m not literally a woodsman anymore (Laugh)

Anymore?

Joe: I used to work in the woods a lot with Ben, back where we used to live.

Did you guys discover reggae when you came to Edinburgh, or had you heard reggae when you were kids?

Ben: I think we were listening to it before that. It was a lot of old classic albums you know, like the Upsetters, and King Tubbys albums, Mad Professor. Things like that.

Joe: So many dub albums (laugh). It’s really frustrating having all these dubs without the vocals.

Ben: It was really hard to get tunes back then, especially in Scotland.

Were there no good record shops in Edinburgh back then?

Joe: There were a couple, but you had to spend hours digging through crates and crates, and hundreds of records in order to find some reggae. But then you could find a few gems. But mainly it was stuff out of Fopp, they did compilations or represses of classic albums.

Ben: There was a place also called Professor Plastic’s Vinyl Frontier. It was a nice little place, we would hang around in there and just flick through records.

Joe: I’d go to London sometimes. But it was quite tough. So we mostly ended up buying lots of albums, because that’s what was available. You couldn’t really get singles.

Ben: But then it all changed when the internet became widespread.

Joe: I used to play some pretty ropey tunes back in the days (laugh). Barely acceptable! Just because we didn’t have enough records to play. Sort of slightly sketchy dancehall-y sort of things… Never anything really terrible. I think we always tried to mix it up quite a lot. I think that’s something else we do. We aren’t too worried about always playing heavy dub at the end, and always classic roots at the beginning. We much prefer to not have rules, just play according to how we feel.

Regarding the Mighty Oak releases, was it something you had been working on for a long time, or was it just something that happened once you began building the sound?

 Joe: I had been making music since I was 15, so like almost 20 years. But I only had a Commodore Amiga, so it’s pretty hard to make decent stuff. It was mainly really rough 8-bit, experimental stuff. I did make one sort of dub tune with it and my four track, and we played a few times at our gigs. But it was pretty ropey, and mostly I was just making more electronica until I went to uni really in my late 20s, and learned how to produce properly. I think that really helped me make dub that I was satisfied with.

And yeah, my newest record is actually one of the first dub track I made. I made it at uni.

But the first record, it was maybe my second track that I had ever really been happy with. And it was sort of by chance that I ended up putting that vocal over it and it worked. I asked Alpha and Omega and they were like: “yeah this is really cool you should put it out”. And I was really surprised, but they said: “there are so many Alpha and Omega heads who will buy it, because they will by anything we put out, so it will almost definitely sell” (laugh).

So yeah, it was cool of them. They were really honest about it.

And then there was the horns tune, that has now become a really sought-after tune.

Joe: You mean the “Makating Horns”. Yeah, that was mental! It’s been a big help for promoting our sound, getting us known around the world. And hopefully we can start taking our sound around the world too. We had hopes to go to France this year, but it’s turned out to be a bit tricky.

Ben: Yeah the financing was quite hard, it proved to be more difficult than we thought. I really want to get a trip to France, but I think we need more time to organise gigs and get people to promote us.

Was the Mash House the first venue you played in?

Joe: It was our first venue with the sound system.

Ben: We’ve played in a lot of places without the sound, but that was the first place we sort of took a chance really. The sound wasn’t really developed at that point. But we really wanted to play out, and get back in the scene and see what was happening. And really it was around that time that loads of other people also started to come into the reggae scene and we started meeting different people.

Joe: We did that party, that free party in the Squat…

I remember that one. In the squat, with Riddim Tuffa and everyone?

Joe: Yeah, that’s where we met you, and Phil (Decades of Dub), Laurie (Crucial Roots). And then Phil invited us to play at Doune the Rabbit Hole that summer. And that’s where we really met all the Glasgow crew. It was great.

Is there much interaction between the Edinburgh crews?

Ben: it’s very dispersed. There were quite a few intentions to link up with people. But in terms of sound systems in Edinburgh, of actual crews with speakers, there aren’t that many. There is Messenger Sound System, Edinburgh Roots Collective… I’ve actually just finished building some tops for the ERC sound system. I think at the moment there is more of a growing, active scene in Glasgow. Well, that’s how it seems to me.

Joe: Yeah. I mean in Edinburgh, you’ve got the standard bearer of Messenger Sound, which is clearly a well-established night with a beautiful sound system.

It seems that even between Edinburgh and Glasgow there wasn’t much of a connection until fairly recently. Would that be accurate from your perspective? Were you aware of the Glasgow scene back when you were starting?

Joe: I wasn’t really aware of anything (laugh).

Ben:  Not really. Occasionally I would come over to see Mungo’s Hifi.

Joe: Oh well yeah Mungo’s Hifi of course.

Ben: But I mean they played a lot more roots and things like that at the time before they began releasing their own productions. And we knew Dougie and Tom, and we came through here once and played on a radio show they were doing.

Joe: yeah, on a Glasgow radio station, I can’t remember which one.

Did you ever play out with them?

Ben: We did actually, we started a night at Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh, and a few other people were involved as well. They [Mungo’s Hifi] came across to Edinburgh and played at that night.

Was that before you had your sound system?

Ben: Yeah, we were just playing on the house PA.

Joe: it was a fucking expensive venue as well…

Ben: we did also bring Desta*Nation from down south to play at that night, with their sound system.

Joe: That was epic. It was quite an ambitious thing for us at the time, to bring them up from Oxford. They had a lot of speakers!

Ben: Two of the members have passed away now, but at the time they were quite a vibrant sound system, playing out a lot.

Joe: Yeah they were really well known in the Oxford free party scene, which was quite a big scene at the time.

So have you had many connections with further down south, in terms of bringing people up or playing down there?

Ben: There are connections, but the main problem is paying people. And even paying people quite small amounts of money is not that easy. At the moment we don’t attract that big a crowd, and it’s a relatively small scene in Edinburgh.

I guess people like Messenger have the added value of the being well established sound and the good location of the dances.

Joe: Yeah, he has quite a lot of walk-in just from playing in the Bongo Club.

Ben: I think the main thing is that he’s been established for so long, and the other is that the Bongo Club is a famous venue in Edinburgh. We play in the Mash House which is technically just around the corner, but it’s a small club hidden away, sort of out of range. It makes a big difference I think.

You do get quite a lot of reggae events in Edinburgh for such a small scene. Things like Wee Dub Festival attract quite a big crowd.

Joe: It’s more about the roots genre that doesn’t attract as many people, it isn’t as ‘commercial’ if one could say that.

Ben: I think it’s also that most of the stuff we play generally has some sort of spiritual aspect to it. Some people maybe do not want to engage with that on a night out.

Joe: I think the vibe at our night is good, even if there are only a few people, those people will be really into it. I don’t know what you’d call people like that, who are really into it…

Heads?

Joe: yeah, dub heads, roots heads…

And is there a particular way you set up? Is there a particular way you guys define the Mighty Oak setup i.e. two turntables, two stacks…?

Ben: We go backwards and forwards a bit. Sometimes I quite like having two turntables, and then we might play on one and never use the second one.  it depends really. We do have guests sometimes, and we try and provide two turntables because some people prefer it that way. I’m happy either way.

Joe: yeah, I like both.

mash house[Photograph by Mighty Oak Sound System]

Ben: Part of what got me into reggae, and what was quite striking for me when I started listening to reggae, was that people would play only on one deck. I thought that would really take the emphasis off the DJ, and that was something that I had noticed and thought was quite interesting.

Joe: Yeah it seems specific to reggae. It gives a bit more respect to the tune somehow, by having a pause in between each tune, rather than mixing them into one another.

But then there is often an MC chatting in between.

Joe: Yeah but even when there isn’t I still quite like it. And even when there’s no sound at all coming from out of the system, and you can turn to your friend and have a quick chat or talk about the tune… I like that. But it seems to scare some people. Some people who were dancing will just look really surprised, like “what’s going on?”, or shout at you “Oi DJ! Where are the tunes!” because they think something’s wrong.

And would you be comfortable chatting on the mic yourself?

Joe: God no (laugh). I like to say a few words if I can, but not more than that.

Ben: Usually we will have somebody else.

Joe: But again, there aren’t that many MCs around in Edinburgh.

You seem to play out with Ista-Lion quite a lot.

Joe: Yeah we do, but again we haven’t the chance to really pay him every time he comes to play with us. I think he’s a fucking brilliant MC, and in the last year or two he seems to have gotten much better. He keeps telling us he’s been practicing at home and stuff.

I was outside the Mash House recently with him and he just started singing this song – I think he said he wrote it quite a long a time ago, and maybe someone else ended up releasing it? – but he sang it to me there, acapella, and it was brilliant!

Have you ever thought about getting him on one of your productions?

Joe: I’d love to but I need to have a chat with him. It’s quite hard to get a session organised. Maybe it would help if I take my studio to him, just bring my mic and my laptop.

I’ve had issues in the past when I’ve sent a tune away to be voiced – I’m sure it will be fine with Ista – but sometime you send a tune to be voiced and it won’t come back as expected.

Or you work with a singer or a musician, you try something out do something which they then think should be released and you don’t. And that’s always a bit of a tricky situation. There comes a point where you have to think, like, do we need to make an agreement about this?

That’s a bit of an issue for producers, and I know I’ve brought this up with other people too. Because the system is: you contact a singer you like, ask how much it will cost but you don’t really know what you are going to get, unless you’re actually there with them. And even then it might not be what you want.

Ben, have you been involved in making some of the Mighty Oak productions?

Ben: Me? No that’s always been Joe’s remit.

You have quite set roles it seems within Mighty Oak.

Joe: Yeah definitely. It’s almost entirely Ben who deals with the sound system side of things, I’ll help pick up a couple of boxes (laugh). But he’s the one who’s really behind the speakers.

What direction are you hoping Mighty Oak will go from here?

Joe: To the stars!

Ben: I’m really interested in what’s happening here in Scotland. It’s such a positive thing, the scene seems to be gathering a really good momentum. I just really want to see where that goes, with us being a part of it.

I mean there are other things I want to do as well with our sound system. We have a couple of gigs this summer, that will be interesting […].

But yeah, I think we’re particularly interested in the scene at home, and curious about how it will develop…

mighty oak.jpg[Photograph by Mighty Oak Sound System]

 

Thank you to Joe and Ben

 

Words by AF

 

Interview Bass Warrior Sound System

 

!!CB_0838

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