RDK HiFi Interview
1: can you tell us how you become involved with sound system…when was the first time you saw a sound system, info and memories…
“Jah life” Sound System was one of the first that kind of inspire me, they were my neighbours, so they used to do the sound check at the back of the apartments – you can see the videos on youtube – they used to have blues parties in the flats but essentially when I heard the music it was a “studio one” thing and that really turn me onto the reggae…..I was 18-19 at the time and I liked the reggae as well, all the reggae and it just clicked, it clicked with me when I heard “Studio One” tunes because I was into old music, I was into rhythm& blues when I was very younger, I was a rocker with leather jacket like rockers, we used to listen to rhythm& blues and rock&roll and stuff like that …..you got to remember reggae comes from rhythm& blues and soul and jazz so really the first “Studio One” tunes really done it for me and when it comes to dub, those tunes to me as well were the tunes that turn me into dub, the real rock version on the original press, the first press, quite rare to find now…and that is late 60’s early 70’s, it was at that time Scientist was going on and all that we were listening to it , essentially “Studio One”and early King Tubby and all that stuff.
Also I liked the idea of a different use of the space in arena, at that time there was only rock&roll concerts with bands with a small PA system, with no bass and rock band was kind of big speakers, but it was all live music and it be ended up all facing at you….so it is a type of arena which I like about a sound system because it wasn’t set in a rock&roll set-up with just speakers facing one way down the hall, it was speakers all the way around the hall and speakers even in another room, you could have speakers everywhere and it was taking the music to the people directly on the street, I mean that is a front line, sound system is a front line of music, because it’s not a radio, not a telly, not video, it’s on the street amongst people, so it’s open to everybody, so with sound system you can get in trouble and stuff like that because it challenges the system straight direct on the line, a bass is roaring like a lion and that’s what it suppose to be, with reggae music the melody is in the bass, although there is other melody but essentially that’s what you following, it’s like a heart, its a heart of this, drum& bass is a heart with reggae and that’s why you have some great reggae combinations like drum&bass players.
2: can you tell us about Brixton, Reggae and the first 80’s:
I grow up in the country side and when I first came to Brixton it was mixed…. so you had the Irish and you had the cockneys and some middle class people as well, maybe some few asian people from Kenia and a few Sikh people and that was it, some few Italians as well, but mainly South London and Irish and Jamaican or West Indian, Caribbean, at that time Caribbean people were just living in certain areas in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds…there were few other English white guys who grown up amongst it… so I used to go to this dances and then I used to hang out with those guys and I was the only white one who would hang out with them, the music was always of bringing people together, fighting the system, it wasn’t commercialized , it was a way to lift the spirit, spreading the message and the sound system was the only medium, because there was no radio, no pirate radio at that time in the early 80’s, it was only in the mid 80’s to the late 80’s pirate radio came in, so before that it was just sound system to get the message across and that was about sound system being the frontline medium….I started to get into the music, loving the music and I started buying records.. I was buying jamaican records in first 80’s, records and cassettes were the only thing thats was around and a lot of things was on cassettes, because people used to share cassettes and give cassettes and stuff, so I used to get reggae on cassettes from people as well and used to get sound system cassettes by sound system clash or sound system event as well………..I used to go to Clapham and Junction, there was located Dub Vendor Records in the early 80’s and it was wild back then, it would be packed if you are on Saturday or Friday…. It was packed and it was a long counter with about 4-5 people serving, it will be couple of white people there, it would be a lot of sound guys, if you’d be there in busy day it will be packed, you have to squeeze in to get a space and it will be a big man paling the tunes upon the counter because the guy will play the tunes on that thing and they just took it over, took it over ……and maybe there were two left and three people want it and if you got one and the man next to you didn’t get one, then you might start asking you for the tune…..you get some of the younger like youths, kind of more conscious about the fact you were white but, the older guys didn’t really think like that, the Jamaicans didn’t like it…it was hard…….I must mention one other thing about record shop, the other record shop I used to go was Pecking record shop in Askew Rd. in Shepard Bush and it was official Studio One record shop, were they sold Studio One and Treasurer records and I remember that were 90 pence each and they when up to 1.10 pound, an album was 4.99 pounds, this was exactly 1986.
3:Info and memories about London and the sound systems in the 80’S:
I used to see Coxon upon Clapham and Common Street, I think there is video from that as well on you tube…..we used to go see Dan Barron, Saxon, Dread Diamonds, High Chess, and I used to go to carnival this days as well, carnival was completely different than what it’s now, I mean carnival was ruff back then, It was nice and it wasn’t full of tourists like now, was more for local people and with more space, I’m telling you that now is completely different…….Back in the day 70’ and 80’ people didn’t travel outside their area too much and they used to play their sound system in their area, they might go to Brixton if they were invited but they already had people in Brixton playing their sound system, you’d stay in your area, Saxon was over Loucham, Jah Shaka was over Loucham too……Jah Shaka never used to play in Wandsworth, he use to play in Brixton Town Hall … like Young Lion wouldn’t play in Loocham…. I remember that people used to keep the sound system near in their place, in their yard or the flats but only in certain area, they didn’t move a lot with their sound system……In Wandsworth where I was living, we had 3 or 4 sound systems, you had Jahlife, you have HighChees, you have YoungLion, you have RedMan, probably a couple more… you had also some guys who had a little sound, it wasn’t all dancehall sound, some people had what you call party-sound which is just a couple little box and they played nice parties, because in those days the caribbean community used to have a lot of blues or rise party, they turn the house into a club for the night and set a bar in the kitchen because a lot of the clubs were run by gangsters and if you went to the club, the security will bit you up, rub you or they will be racists or they will be prejudist. There was also more empty places in London in those days. London was empty of people, the population went down in the 70’ and 80’. It was a lot of space, you could go down the road and look at empty house and if you want it you put a look on it and have it. Go and do party there and you have a lot of squatting people as I said before, a lot of hippies as well, a lot of marxists, communists, a lot of different people, we all gravitated to Brixton but that was after the riots, you have to understand before the riots… the riots change everything, you know, because the riots were a kick in the nose for the establishment, they got shocked, they did not realized that people would rised up like that. Because it hasn’t happened for long time in London, not since Victorian time maybe or even before…. where you got people raising up against the system, burning and looting … they didn’t think it would have happened, they got shocked, everybody got shocked…….It was like a victory for the people, after the riots you had real nice party kicking off when you have people a bit more free, as I said the system got a bleeding nose, the system get bluff, they had to sit down and cool off for a while, thats why police didn’t come in Brixton, they had to back off because thats wasn’t the only riots that happened there and after the riots there were more tolerance, the government realized there was a problem in these inner cities, so in the 70’s and 80’s was a big crisis, time of rebellion, the time of mass strike and confrontation…social disorder, so all people were up-rising, African people was uprising, Caribbean people were uprising against the oppression, Irish were uprising, the bombs were going on, you could hear them…I remember hearing the bombs going off with the IRA when I first come in…At that time reggae was flourishing anyway, you got to remember as well Bob Marley died in 1982, so it was a big thing, reggae was big in early 80’s, nationally as well, reggae was all over Europe..Burning Spear, Jahman Levi, the Congos and many, many bands were touring in Europe and we liked it all, man..
I used to like the way Costra played the Jahlife Sound, I liked the way he run the sound the MC style, not just talking but presenting the music, I like that style. I like the space eco of the voice and the mix down dubs. Sound inspired me and we used to follow a sound system because we used to like his sound… in the 80’ soul music was big in this country and there were soul sound systems, big speakers, you know, like reggae sound system, they play reggae as well but they play soul, big base soul, in the 80’ was big time for soul music in the UK…and of course you get Jazzy B and Soul to Soul and we came out of that as well. There was also funky music in the 80’, there were a lot of warehouse parties going on, people set their own rave, that was before house music and when house music came along in 1988-1990 you start to get a big underground scene in London doing house music, raves and stuff and they used a lot of reggae sound systems, because reggae had the best sound systems …but you have to remember that Shaka, he did sticked to the roots, also a lot of sounds around us start to play roots and dub, like Jah Observer, they were around as well, they were a little younger than Shaka and they started in the late 70’’. Then most of the sounds went to the dance soul thing, that was what was going on in Jamaica and most sounds followed what was going on in Jamaica and by late 80’ it was hard ragamuffin….except a few sounds that started to the play roots, like Earthquake up in Birmingham, Jah Trinity down in Glocestershire…..Anyway in 1988 I saw Jah Shaka Sound System for the first time playing with Manasseh Sound System because I used to follow Manasseh sound as well, Nick Manasseh was one of the main sound man when I talked about roots sound, they started in the 80’, they were the first generation english white kids to do sound system …the first sound system run by white people was Jah Tubby from the 70’, Keith from Jah Tubby is the original white man sound system, then there was Jah Warrior in the North of London. I remember Manasseh was playing with Jah Shaka in 1987/88. Manasseh played with Jah Shaka twice, once in Sayphone and once in Hackney, they just build their sound and they were playing live with the EyeShoe in the microphone and also Zailon , tuff sound man Manasseh, definitely.
4:building and playing a sound system in London:
We start to get some boxes, we bought some boxes from Young Lion sound and I still got them to this date, the same boxes, 30 years later still got the same boxes, I can send you some pictures if you want, they are vintage!
In 1988 we build the sound system, about two and an half free key 3000 Watts and we had 5 or 6 scooping, 15 inc and 18 inch, we had some mid range, some twitters, a turntable , we started to use technics turntables by 1987/88, and we were doing warehouse parties, clubs, colleges…..I made a video and it is on youtube now on 1987 and you can see the sound system, and in 5 years we built all this up, and this was done for Charlie Gillit, Ralph Trade Record…..He said at the time, he thought that was at the time way ahead of his time, because it was two white guys doing reggae, you know like proper reggae. There were English white guys doing DJs at that time, there were more than me, I knew I guy in Brixton, Ice Man, he was a good friend of mine, from many years and he died a couple years ago, Irish family from Brixton road, hard working Irish people. He grow amongst Jamaicans in the school, he was the only white guy in the school, we grow up together, we were the same generation, first generation of black and white started mixing in the UK. There was Snow Man as well, he was a DJ for Jack Dan Rocket Sam. There was Ice Man and Snow Man, people used to joke, when white people used to say blacky and black people used to say snowy.
We were doing little parties about 1984 or 1985 and then we started to do little sound system events and then we started some warehouse parties with some other people we knew from the club scene,… We have been abroad as well, because, I got to Amsterdam and secure two dances gigs one in Rotterdam and one in Amsterdam in 1988 and we took the sound system with us. We were selling tapes at the time, we were making a tape of the sound, it was hard I didn’t have much money back then. We used to do a lot of free parties as well, we didn’t get paid much for it, just got petrol money, you know. People were asking to do parties for the next squat. I remember some squat houses near Black Fries, there were a lot of streets to squat and they came and ask to do parties in the street, and there where crazy hippies, any kind of people, all mix-up. By that time we were doing big events too, coaches full of people to follow the sound system, we were doing things in Oxford in the Caribbean Center, we get two coaches from London. You get a coach from Brixton, you can get a coach from Hackney, and they come to Oxford where the sound play and that used to happened a lot….. so that was happening in 88-89 and house music come along and then the people I would do a sound system with got into a house music scene ‘cause at that time we weren’t just playing roots and cultures, we were playing all sorts of music ‘cause that was the 80’s….. we were playing the music and seeing the music as a way of bringing people together, unifying people in these times because we saw the music as our weapon we want to put our anger in the music and not in the street. There were a lot of people in the 80’s really up for fighting the system, taking on the arms struggle. Me I used to sa that I’m not into this because I’ll fight with music, I’ll inspire people because reggae inspired me to change for where I thought and do things. Reggae inspired me, when I came from the country to the city and I saw Rastas and Jamaicans and I associate, relate to Jamaican people because they talk about country and good. Jamaicans they know about their country life even if they live in the city, they are still knowing the country style, especially the Rastas.
London was completely different then, you get a lot of this funny little clubs, you could rent a place for less than nothing, people will give you a place to do it.