RELICK: Electronic in the Dance: Alric and Boyd on Jamaica’s eclectic tastes

Since LargeUp posted a big ol’ feature on Alric and Boyd, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit a piece I wrote for the venerable UK zine No Ice Cream Sound  around this time last year. Alric and Boyd are a pile of fun to interview–and their music tastes are pretty fun too. Withut further ado, here’s “Electronic in the Dance”:

Alric and Boyd have a passion for music. They’ve produced dancehall and R&B, working recently with Jill Scott. They’re linked with Max Glazer’s Federation sound, crafting amazing mixtapes. But they really get animated when talking about doing remixes for Acid House creator DJ Pierre and the fact that Carl Cox is slated to perform in Barbados for the second Music Factory Pop, Dance and House Festival in May 2012. Alric and Boyd played the first edition in November 2011.

All in all, it’s been twenty years that Alric Anglin and Boyd James have been in the club scene and on radio, helping to bring electronic dance music to Jamaica. Describing themselves as a team, they’ve worked side by side since 1992. Djing since 88 and 84 respectively, however, they can chart just how house music and other electronic forms have been bubbling in the Jamaican scene. Yes, Boyd admits, “The scene is small, but it is there. There is an awareness.”

The prolific nature of reggae and dancehall production tends to obscure the fact that music lovers in Jamaica have significant variety in their musical diet. “We listen wide, not deep,” laughs Alric, in one sentence exploding any idealized view reggae lovers might have about the island and its music. “That’s where you find that we started to push the envelope with house music, with electronic dance music and found that there is a market.”

“Jamaican music is not just dancehall and reggae,” says Boyd, lowering his voice, “And I will tell you something that might be quite shocking. The UK reggae scene is way deeper than the Jamaican reggae scene.” The thing is, from the 1960s through to the 80s, a lot of reggae music was exported to the UK, because that’s where the money was. “We would get what you might call the ‘what left’,” laughs Boyd. The phenomenon can perhaps be linked to the fact that the Jamaican British population have been interested in music from home. For this reason, and also the fact that reggae music and dancehall was long looked down upon (not even used in tourist advertising until 1984), Jamaicans on the island tend to cultivate a varied taste in music. This has exposed non-Jamaican UK listeners to heaps of Jamaican music, but it has also allowed other types of music to flourish in Jamaica. One only has to look at the rapturous reception to Celine Dion at this year’s Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival to know that there’s a wide audience on the island for other types of music.

“We were always exposed to American and UK music, based on the influences on our culture,” says Boyd. After all, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it was mostly international music played on the radio in Jamaica. “It is in our DNA that we have an appreciation for country and western to classical to R&B to rock to hip hop.” Specifically, however, in 1981 there was a radio show on what is now FAME fm, then Capitol Stereo, called “Disco Mania”. “It was almost a five-hour radio show. It was the biggest thing for us,” recalls Boyd. The hits from that show trickled down into the party scene. Rae Town’s still-running party was founded in 1982, and showcased a lot of disco tunes—as it still does today.

Alric remembers sitting, listening with ear to the radio, to “Disco Mania” playing some of the underground sounds from New York. The radio show lasted ten years, and during that time Boyd ended up in New York, at NYU studying audio technology during the day and going out to now-legendary clubs from Studio 54 to Tunnel. He did an internship with Sly and Robbie, and then upon return to Jamaica, he began working with then-DJ Alric in 1992, and was able bring music to the table that was at the time unavailable in the Caribbean. “We started to develop a synergy and started to take off,” says Alric.

They’d drop the bass of pop tracks and introduce underground house and techno music gradually, making sure that the crowd wouldn’t lose interest. Almost like an inverted dubplate, Alric and Boyd would play with the riddim instead of the lyrics. And like all Jamaican selectors, they actively thought of the massive at all times, they were well aware of the fact that they needed to please: “If you can rock a Jamaican crowd, you’re a good DJ,” laughs Boyd, “In a night club where people are paying money, we had to keep the vibes. A DJs job is to convert and make memories. If you can’t remember what a DJ plays, you’re not a good DJ.”

Their radio show, aptly titled “The Edge” began in October of 1995 and took up where “Disco Mania” left off, Alric and Boyd playing the same format as they did in the club. “We went deeper into the house, deeper into the progressive,” says Boyd. “You would hear jungle, UK garage, 2 step, the new techno, hard house coming out of Germany, we were banging it,” continues Alric. But back in the 90s, there was no quick download of these tracks. Alric and Boyd needed to struggle and BUY these records. Sure, they got some promos, but they’d also get records from visiting DJs and vacationers who would come and play their house parties and club gigs. The show ran strong until April of 2009, when the pair moved on to other projects.

As for the place of Alric and Boyd’s favourite music in Jamaica today? “It still needs a kick. People who put on big parties here are afraid of electronic dance music because in the 80s and 90s it would come with a stigma—it was gay music of white people music or drug music. Now that it has blown sky high, I think they are trying to see how they can reintroduce it into the market.”

And how do they feel about folks like Bob Sinclair and Diplo who have come to Jamaica to draw on local music and enhance their electronic dance music productions? “Jamaicans can be close minded,” says Boyd, “But these people are introducing us to a new market, so don’t fight it. But there are pros and cons. There are producers who do come in and take. But the good side is exposure.”

And with festivals like the Barbados Music Factory receiving the blessing of London dance music stalwart Ministry of Sound, Alric and Boyd don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that there might be some potential for a bit of Ibiza in the Caribbean. After all, the region has the beautiful beaches and amazing weather. But, most importantly, a commitment to music that makes a crowd move. “It must have a vibes,” says Alric. Boyd nods in approval.

Satisfaction don’t come until…

Major Lazer‘s new album has yet to drop, but there have been bits and pieces that have been released while folks wait around for Free the Universe to show up on April 15. The latest track to whet the appetite is “Jessica” ft. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, which premiered on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show last night. 

I immediately was sure I’d heard it before. Journalist Marvin Sparks was thinking the same thing. One person thought it was “Wear You To The Ball” by the Paragons and another suggestion was the Heptones “Sea of Love”. Spin magazine said “[t]he track borrows from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s earlier productions, combining crunchy roots reggae groove with spoken word bits and crooned falsetto highlights.” True, it’s got a little bit of falsetto Congos-style crooning, but none of this is right. First off, they’re wrong about Lee Perry. When Spin says the track “allow[s] Major Lazer’s latest to drift in and out like a radio transmission from a bygone era,” they’re certainly right–just the wrong era. This song aint from the 1970s. And the riddim is, arguably, not by Major Lazer.

How do I know? Thanks to Jah Mikes, he of encyclopedic knowledge regarding riddims, the mystery has been solved. The tune’s riddim is from “Satisfaction” by Carl Dawkins, a 1968 Carl JJ Johnson-produced gem later re-released by Winston Riley. “It’s exactly ["Satisfaction"]…nothing to do with Lee Perry at all,” says Jah Mikes. “It’s a shame people seem to have forgotten the oldies…At least now they can be re-released as ‘new’ songs.” The re-release is mysterious as well. How did Riley’s Techniques label get a hold of the tune?

What’s interesting is that in every blog post that showcased the track today, there’s no mention of “Satisfaction” at all. One says of the track that “[t]he production is crackly, raw and so vintage that it sounds as if the whole thing has been played through a battered transmitter radio”–but it sounds identical to the original version when played on good ‘ol trusty 45″ vinyl–at least until there’s a wee bit of echo and such added in. Everything old is new again…maybe it’s time for a 60s one drop revival. Go back to foundation and check “Satisfaction” here. What do you think?

EDIT: Edited to show that it was Carl Johnson, not Winston Riley who originally produced the track. Thanks to Red Selecter (another encyclopedic mind who confirmed that my first guess of Johnson was in fact correct), here’s a piece by the venerable Mel Cooke about the story behind Carl Dawkin’s “Satisfaction”. Makes me wonder…what’s the story behind “Jessica”?

Uptown Pop Ranking

ImageIt’s taken me almost a week to semi-absorb the events of the EMP/IASPM Pop Conference held at NYU last weekend. I spoke early on Friday morning alongside Rustem Ertug Altinay, who talked about Güngör Bayrak and the fascinating world of Turkish Gazinos, and Mark Lomanno, who presented on jazz from the Carnary Islands. There were a number of interesting connections to be made between my paper on listening to Addis Ababa and their papers, which dealt with listening to other spaces/places. Note: I was lucky enough to have my paper live-tweeted by Ned Raggett (thanks so much Ned!!) You can check it out here.

After the panel, I was interviewed by Michael Rancic for Canada Arts Connect. It was interesting to talk about Canada in New York, and especially at the Pop Conference, where I’ve only heard a few papers about Canadian music over the years I’ve taken part. Del Cowie, incidentally, gave a great paper on Toronto hip hop before (and after) Drake. Rancic asked about whether or not an event like the Pop Con could (or should) happen in Canada. Of course, I’d welcome such a thing–and I do think that Canada has a huge amount to bring to the conversation about popular music.

Over the course of the weekend, Canada’s famous (or infamous–depending on how you look at it) CanCon rules were mentioned a shockingly large number of times. Yes, some of those times were by Canadians, but one very memorable mention was by Chuck D, on a panel about the music component of the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum, due to open in 2015. Arguing that the desire for national success–and the fact that media conglomeration has meant that national success seems the only viable option–has destroyed local scenes. Chuck D mentioned, with an air of what could only be called incredulity, that Canada insists on %35 Canadian Content on radio. I was sitting beside my Canadian colleague, who also gave an excellent paper on sound and space, Jeremy Morris, and we looked at each other, perhaps equally incredulous at this mention. The point was that CanCon regulations tip the deck towards the local, and therefore help out burgeoning acts/scenes. I think he has a point.

I also took part in a panel alongside such luminaries as Chief Boima, Wayne Marshall, Venus X, Eddie Stats and Dj Rekha. The topic was “Tropical Music, Appropriation and Music ‘Discovery’ in the Global Metropolis”, and the discussion ranged from Shakira to Santigold to Diplo to daggering. Venus revealed that she had written a series of newsletters for Shakira, apprising the singer’s people of the latest, most interesting developments in music. Apparently (and unfortunately), this information hasn’t really seemed to influence Shakira’s work. Venus, however, made the useful point that artists are indebted to their record labels and have to produce “new” and “exciting” music. They are so desperate to find something cool that they wouldn’t want to share their sources (a.k.a. give credit) to others or to the press. I was pretty flattered to be on the panel and felt that the conversation was wide-ranging (I learned about bubbling) and, I think, reasonably helpful in terms of thinking through issues of appropriation. As for me, the room was packed, and I can say quite honesty that I have never spoken in front of so many people in my life. I was nervous as all get out, but I think I managed to make at least one reasonable point, that being that listeners and journalists need to take some responsibility for telling the tales behind the tunes.

Other highlights of the weekend included the excellent ClusterMag-curated panel. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd’s paper on “The Ha” and vogue house was fantastic–thoroughly informative, insightful and entertaining. It was also great to finally meet her live and in person. Wayne Marshall’s paper dealt with the ever evolving ways in which youth share dance, music and more online, and the tag team of Max Pearl and Alexis Stephens took a look at the hype cycle and the speed of culture online.

I also enjoyed discussions about the music of revolution in Cairo, rebetika in Greece, Whitney Houston, record collecting, and so much more. However, the best bits were some of the conversations in between and around the panels. Great dinner conversation, great opportunity to meet new people, and, wonderfully, great weather.

Madonna meets Lionel Richie uptown…

I’ve been involved in a couple online discussions in recent weeks about the fact that there’s a sense that Jamaican music is on the wane. The country that first gave the world reggae in the so-called “golden-era” of the 1970s and then dub, which, to many, gave birth to a broad range of bass music (see Simon Reynold’s analysis of what he calls the “hardcore continuum” for details), has popped down. In an article about Croatia’s Outlook Festival, ClashMusic suggested that “the former empire of reggae and dub forms ha[s] stagnated to become caught in a pool of pop and R&B orientated inertia”. This sounds a little odd to me. I know that Gabriel Heatwave argued on Twitter for the relevance of today’s dancehall–and I think he has a major point. John Eden, of the always excellent Uncarved blog, also brought up the fact that those interviewed about the “inertia” of present-day popular Jamaican music were all men in, well, let’s say the late prime of their careers. I know that Rodigan has his complaints about today’s Jamaican music–his comments on contemporary tunes were pretty derisive today while he played at the Boilerroom.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether or not Jamaican music is less than inspirational these days. I think you could argue either way. I do, however, think that the very basis of ClashMusic’s statement is faulty. It was pop and R&B from which “reggae and dub forms” originated in Jamaica. Just watch this excellent short (if you haven’t already seen it) that showcases Count C: The Wizard of the West, an early soundman who played R&B and pop (as well as calypso and probably a few of mento-influenced tunes) back before ska and reggae.

Whether folks in Croatia or Europe in general like the poppy and R&B sounds of some Jamaican music, it’s always been a part of the scene. Sure, if you love sailing on a sea of dubstep wobble, it might be hard to link with the melodic strands of what seems to me (over the past month of attending dances) to be one of the biggest and best songs in Jamaica right now–Laza Morgan (ft. Mavado) “One by One”.

But after a trip to Rae Town, where the classic sounds of Klassique play everything from 50s rock and roll to 70s disco to Rick Astley (yes, Rick Astley), it’s hard not to spend time focusing on the other part of Jamaican music. Yes, Jamaica is a Bass Culture, but it’s also home to some of the most amazing melodies (and amazing singing voices for those melodies) this here music lover has ever heard. In fact, I think that “One by One” takes a little piece of smooth Lionel Richie R&B a touch of the pop personality of Madonna, and a dash of dancehall, courtesy of Mavado, to create what is a spectacularly catchy song with a melody that deserves every lick back it gets.

Aside: All this might give some insight into why Bredda Hype playing Madonna (specifically, “Like a Virgin”) and Beyonce (specifically “Single Ladies”) got such an insane reaction at last week’s Guinness Sounds of Greatness. I’m still trying to sort that out in my head.

Give me that lovin’ in a special way…

Sure, tonight’s the night that Vybz Kartel introduces what might be called his dubplate version of Flavor of Love – love, btw, that Flavor of Love is referred to as a “parody” of a reality dating show on Wikipedia. Based on the “sneak preview”, I will probably be suitably appalled, but I’ll tune in anyway.

Thing is, I can take solace in the fact that love wasn’t always played in Da Teacha’s way. Mr. Palmer could take a lesson or two (or ten) from the fine ladies of lovers rock. From Janet Kay to Sylvia Tella (seriously, how crazy amazing is this mix of “Special Way”?) to Audrey Hall to Louisa Mark, they know how love works–along with (more recently) Richie Stephens, Tarrus Riley, and, of course, Beres, Gregory, Ken, Freddie and the Crown Prince himself, Dennis Brown (among so many others). It’s also interesting how lovers was a women-showcasing response to the racially charged environment of 1970s and 80s Britain.

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’d much rather hear “Each time you pass my way I’m tempted to touch” than “Ride me like a bicycle”. This aint daggering music, it’s much, much more sexy. At least I know that the folks behind the new documentary The Story of Lover’s Rock  agree with me.

It’s apparently showing next week in a bunch of cities in the UK. Check the
website for details
and please, go and see it and then tell me how much I’m missing. Big up music for big people, every time.

I may live in Mtl, but there’s still a big place in my heart for Toranno.

Just the other day, Les Seaforth posted the following video on his Facebook.

As a kid, growing up in Oshawa, Toronto (or, as we pronounced it, “Toranno”) was always the shining city on a hill. No real NYC mythology existed in my highschool existence, though given Canada’s colonial past, London called a little bit. Toronto, however, was the real attraction, and it was but 45 minutes down the highway–that is, if I could wrangle the car from my parents. One of the things that Toronto had to offer was music. Sure, when I was a teen, there was a lot of taking the piss out of the hip hop scene in the T dot, but it’s nice to know that people have come to realize that there’s so much on offer in the Great White North’s biggest city. I’ve tried to draw some attention to the greatness of Toronto on this here blog, but now, thanks to CBC‘s “Love. Props and the T.Dot”, posted whole hog up on Youtube, I can further help educate the masses on just what Kardi is going on about. Big up T.O. every time.

Unasemaje “smooth” kwa Kiswahili?

In Kenya at the moment and yesterday drove right arround Mount Kenya. Took note of the lyrics of one of the tunes we listened to along the way–there are some brilliant bits in this particular tune by the man they call Nameless. Sure, it’s a little old, but lines like “Wish I could be your shoe; I would have such a beautiful view” are timeless and up there with almost anything Di Teacha comes up with.