The Trojan Sound System members have been hailed as pioneers, originators and instigators for their contribution towards Bass and sound system culture within the UK. Although they are busy due to their EP and remix launch (available now) they have very kindly taken time out to answer questions for us here at British Hip Hop magazine.
If you know your history of Hip Hop then you would of course know that without Reggae music and the Jamaican sound system culture, today's UK (for want of a better word) urban music scene would be very different to how it is now.
When stripped back to its roots, in one way or another, every dance music genre (whether they like it or not) has without doubt been influenced by the reggae music scene.
How would you say reggae music has influenced other genres?
Earl Gateshead: Listen to the Bass!… Jamaicans in the 60's and seventies, liked to dance to the low frequencies of the bass. Over the subsequent years, that unique way of listening to music has been absorbed by the whole world. Also of course, electronic music producers have all taken from Reggae's heritage. Not only the bass, but the rattle of the Reggae snare, can be heard in Drum and Bass, Grime and Garage. While the studio dub techniques invented by King Tubby in his tiny little studio in Jamaica can be heard in virtually every form of music. The whole shift in thinking, which took place in the seventies, whereby people moved from looking at the recording studio as a place where music was taped as accurately as possible, to thinking of the studio as an instrument, which could be used creatively as a method of expression, Is a Reggae thing.
Daddy Ad: Yes, production wise, every style of Dance music has been heavily influenced (or more!) by what Tubby and Perry did to get creative with limited technology. Genius. The rhythms within the various forms of Reggae can be heard in DnB and Dubstep too and even the idea of chatting on top of a riddim, which later became more than promoting the record they were playing or the next Dance coming up started within Reggae sound system culture and then Dennis Alcapone started adding in melody to the chat. With this and so many Jamaican's taking this sound system culture to NYC with them was a huge catalyst to the block parties and the birth of Hip Hop.
Reggae music gives hope to a lot of people, why do you think that is?
Earl Gateshead: Reggae is unique in the popular music of the West in being a third world music form. In Jamaica poor, repressed and dispossessed people take solace and strength from music. Reggae stands up for those left outside the Western world's safety nets. But no matter where your born, you can feel poor, dispossessed and repressed and 'those that feel it know it', as Bob Marley said.
Daddy Ad: There was a period where a Reggae became known as 'slackness', kick started in the '80s Dancehalls. The chat started to lack any powerful message or concepts with meaning ("hey fatty bum bum…" is one of the more polite ones I can think of!) and this is sadly still the case with a lot of Dancehall and lyrics also representing negativity, hatred, violence and bling ghetto aspirations. The Reggae we love and the Reggae music that touches peoples' hearts around the world tell stories that people can relate to universally and help you feel that you're not alone in whatever plight you're facing. We only represent music with this kind of heart and soul and Bob Marley is the perfect example of an artist who expressed such deep positivity alongside reality that the whole world could relate to.
Some of the members in your sound system crew have been in the music industry for over 30 years. What major influences or changes have you seen to reggae music and it's "scene" over this time?
Earl Gateshead: Thats a big question! There's a book in that!… The main event in Reggae over that time period, is the growth of Dancehall I suppose. There's two camps in Reggae now, the sexy materialist Dancehall style and the political and spiritual Roots style. The two sides are farther apart currently than they've ever been.
Daddy Ad: God yeah. A lot of new Reggae producers also try to recreate what has been done before (and done very well!) and it's exciting to see how Dance music and it's various forms take more and more influence from Reggae and in turn how Reggae can almost take influence from some of the sounds and ideas evolving elsewhere. This crucible has potential to unite many people and introduce both worlds to each others' rich heritage or at least help each other understand and feel the vibe. It's great to see so many young people discovering Reggae and understanding it because of the influence it has had and a lot of the stages and gigs we play are getting more and more merged where Hip Hop, DnB, Dubstep, Grime and more are programmed around what we do.
How do you think that has influenced the UK music scene in general?
Earl Gateshead: Another huge question! Volume 2!… I don't know where to start really. Do you mean how has Dancehall influenced other forms? If so, you can hear it's influence in most of the popular forms. Particularly Grime and Garage in this country. The current style of programming Hip Hop and R+B in The USA, which was pioneered by Timberland, owes a massive debt to Dancehall too.
Daddy Ad: The Windrush in post WWII Britain is when it all started, when Jamaican's moved to the UK and brought their culture with them. Mods, Skins and Punks adopted the music, some took the fashion and if you look at the UK today, music is massively influenced. However, so is the way many people speak, dance, dress themselves and even take a look at any vendors of the Great British institution of Fish and Chips and you'll see patties on the menu. We owe a great deal to JA culture.
A simple pleasure in life is listening to good music on a good sound system. Bass needs to be felt and lyrics need to be heard. I want to feel the whole emotion of the track. I want to feel like I just can't help but dance.
Do you think that the digital revolution has taken some element of the "feeling" of out of reggae music?
Earl Gateshead: The short answer is Yes! I'm with you. Music is part science part magic. When you digitalise it, some of the fairy dust is lost. You can't feel it as much.
Daddy Ad: Don't get me started! Mp3s are around 10% of the quality of vinyl. CDs are around 50%. On top of that, playback through tiny cheap ear buds couldn't really be any worse. Whilst these formats are convenient, it's like comparing a Michelin stared chef cooking a meal for you vs. McDonalds. Mp3s give you the same song, arrangement, riddim, lyrics, but all of the emotion has been sucked out and stamped up and down upon in the dirt. Serious. Check out classicalbumsundays.com for a taster of the respect that should be given to great music, vinyl and superior playback. We aspire to bringing the best sonic and emotional experience to the gigs we play, subject to the environment we're in. Sadly vinyl synthesis has meant a lot of venues and sound engineers are rapidly forgetting the need to set up vinyl acoustically and properly. It's like a lost archaic art to many, but once they hear the difference, they know why we went to so much extra effort to get it right. We want to share that experience with as many people as possible and when right, I've seen people get overwhelmed and literally break down and cry.
Do you think that the rise of mp3's (even high resolution) is a good enough format to play?
Earl Gateshead: They might be OK in headphones, but once they're played loud on a good system, the weakness of the format is glaring. They sound absolutely nasty.
Daddy Ad: Absolutely not. Wavs or ideally Flac files through a decent hard drive and DAC can sound really good, but mp3s are the whackest abomination to have ever happening to music. To amplify them on anything other than laptop speakers to quickly check something out is all they should be used for. I feel dirty just talking about them. Vinyl vinyl vinyl!
What are your other thoughts on digital music production and digital DJing?
Earl Gateshead: I don't think you can avoid digital production, Pro-Tools etc. are pretty good. I wish people wouldn't DJ digitally though. I think it's disrespectful to the audience.
Daddy Ad: Production wise it can be really useful, but we always work in studios where there's also a lot of analogue gear as well so the sound is as best possible. Digital DJing – why?? I'm so bored of hearing DJs justifying it because it saves them having to carry heavy boxes of records. Convenience is at a price and sadly it's the audience that pay that price. When we DJ alongside people using vinyl synthesis the difference in sound and the associated difference in the audience's engagement and vibe is staggering.
One beneficial way digitisation has helped producers and DJ's of today, is that music and DJ software is readily available, some without the big price tag of analogue equipment meaning that there are a lot of home studios. So to help those people… What would you say makes a good reggae track?
Earl Gateshead: Arrangement is what is generally lacking. The song must flow all the way through. But in general, work hard and try and make your music be about something. Make it represent a point of view and come from a real culture.
Daddy Ad: Learn to play an instrument well first. That's how 'songs' are made rather than 'tracks'. If you really aspire to take that music to the next level though, get into a proper studio with some musicians once you know how music is made 🙂
What would you say to any aspiring producers, artists or DJ's?
Earl Gateshead: It's the best life in the world… Work hard and be humble. If you get a platform try and say something positive.
Daddy Ad: Take a stance and stay true to yourself and your values. Quality always stands the test of time.
You have performed in many countries and worked with many artists. Do you have any Favourites?
Earl Gateshead: I love Outlook in Croatia… Superfour, Chucky Bantan and Jah Buck are my favourite artists , they're massively underrated. Superfour is currently the best lyricist in Reggae Music.
Daddy Ad: Japan is one of my favourites. They take such massive pride generally in everything they do. The old saying of 'if you do something, do it well', couldn't be more true there. Artist wise, I agree with Earl; our guys are some of the best lyricists going. The songs mean something. I think Beardyman is also a music genius and as I used to be part of James Brown's management for the last three or so years of his life, I don't feel too OTT in using the term 'genius'.
You are due to release a remix album of your previously released Reggae album featuring JFB, Toddla T and Darkstarr Diskotek. Why is this important to you?
Earl Gateshead: We like to work with people we respect, it's great to hear their take on the songs.
Daddy Ad: These guys are also massive Reggae fans and represent genres that wouldn't exist without it. Darkstarr Diskotek are Ashley Beedle and Cosmo and beyond their love of Reggae, they're also some of the best Dance music producers and arrangers going with a history between them that is mind blowing.
Are there any remixes which you think are better than the original?
Earl Gateshead: Thats up to you to say!
Daddy Ad: Hmmmm… I love them all and they have different vibes. Toddla's is a masterpiece of a riddim. Darkstarr Diskotek's re-edit is better than the original as the arrangement is extended and made for the dancefloor by two artists who know the dancefloor better than most on the planet. Our original is more of a single mix.
And last but certainly not least, what's next for Trojan Sound System?
The Album, more touring and to hopefully reach as many people as possible with what we're trying to share.