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.

Bigger than Jah: Celine Dion in JA

So I went to see Celine Dion perform in JA. It was unbelievable. I ended up being interviewed on radio (NewsTalk 93–to be broadcast this Sunday between 9-10am) about the show and writing a piece for the Montreal Mirror. Thought I’d throw up a director’s cut version of the piece here and some more photos.

It’s 2:30am on an average Monday morning. The unmistakeable, song-starting humming of Celine Dion fills the air. Women with their hands over their hearts and heads thrown back belt out the words to “I’m Alive” into the warm evening. Couples dressed to the nines—women in shimmery, sparkling dresses and men sporting bright coloured shirts and well-shined shoes—spin into the street through a huge crowd of dancers. Headlights light up the scene as cars fight their way through the road, which is bookended with huge walls of speakers. This is the Rae Town Old Hits street dance in downtown East Kingston, Jamaica, ground zero for the love this island has for Quebec’s most famous vedette.

If you expect Jamaica to be the home of reggae and dancehall, you’d be right, but it’s also home to one of the most committed groups of smooth adult contemporary and country music fans. If there’s one thing that Jamaicans love, it’s darned good singers singing darned good songs. From bad men to rude bwoys to Rastafari to uptown top ranking folks, Jamaicans are just as, if not more, likely to love Kenny Rogers and Air Supply as they are the Marleys, Buju and Kartel. For Jamaica, Bounty Killer might be the Poor People’s Governor, but Celine is the Commander in Chief.

Given the depth of Jamaican passion for Celine, it’s not surprising that when she was announced as headliner for the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, the public thought it too good to be true. Festival founder Walter Elmore had to travel to Miami and beg a picture with Ms. Dion in order to prove that her heart was going to go all the way to JA. Sure, the Temptations, Ceelo Green, Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Ralph Trevesant and a weekend’s worth of some of the best reggae artists Jamaica has produced are already a draw, but nothing compared to the excitement surrounding the most well-known Canadian performer in the world.

In the middle of the Caribbean countryside, the Trelawney Multi-Purpose stadium was built for the 2007 World Cup of Cricket, but it’s not seen so many people as Friday, January 27, 2012. The Jamaica Observer newspaper headline screamed “Celine at last!” The two lane highway leading to the show expanded to an adhoc five, but people calmly dealt with the gridlock. Celine is worth waiting for. What would normally be a 30 minute drive from Montego Bay to the venue located just outside the cruise-port town of Falmouth took over two hours. While our taxi driver navigated through the seemingly endless sea of cars, we asked if there was anyone else he would have liked to see at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival, his response was, “No, she is better than number one. There is no one better. No one.”

Stepping on the stage in silver jeans and shimmering shirt—the type of outfit that would fit right in at Rae Town—Celine went on to make three costume changes, each more bejeweled than the last. The crowd roared, some women crying, and most holding their blackberries in the air so as to prove that they were actually there, and Celine talked about her excitement about being in Jamaica. “It’s the best place in the world,” she exclaimed, pausing before finishing the sentence with “…to get a plate of jerk chicken!” Wild applause followed, and her bits of banter about rum cake and weather seemed genuine—she’d only arrived that evening, a couple of hours before, so it was pretty impressive. Sure, she’s from Charlemagne, but she might has well have driven up from Kingston given her ability to immediately engage the crowd. Proof? When she sang “I’m your lady, and you are my man”, a fellow next to me yelled out “Yes I am!!”

Being Canadian, hell, being alive means that you’ve probably heard every song in Celine’s catalogue whether it be in a mall or randomly on the radio, and the woman performs ‘em like it’s the first time. It was impossible not to join in the 25,000 person strong singalong. Sure, the crowd couldn’t keep up with “Pour Que Tu M’aimes Encore,” but it didn’t matter. Kicking up the drama, commotion began near the stage in the middle of Dion’s duet with a be-screened Andrea Bocelli as a concert goer took to his knees to propose.

Even Shaggy, who stood at the front of the stage, staring up in awe for every single song, was clearly taken with the power of Celine: “I was very moved,” he said, “Every Jamaican think they’re superstars anyway, so when she came in and was very complimentary about the country and the food and the culture. The crowd was like, ‘You’re a superstar like us now!’” Mr. Boombastic knows that Celine connects.

Carl Wilson, music critic and author of Let’s Talk About Love, a book about loving and hating Celine Dion, admits that her music is “sentimentalized”, but as he puts it, “presents itself in this explicit and over the top way that is easy to identify across language and cultural barriers. There’s not a lot of subtext.” As well, the slight awkwardness of her cutesy jokes, what Wilson calls “a lack of polish within all the polish,” is endearing. And the fact that English is her second language and that she’s from a small town is important: “People understand that she cares about her roots but she has moved on and achieved success.”

Every Jamaican gets this. Back in Kingston, all the people I know were beside themselves when I said I’d seen Celine Dion. When I revealed the fact that Celine doesn’t seem to connect with all Canadians and that there are actually more than a few people in Canada (and the rest of the world) who aren’t big fans of her music, a friend looked at me like I was out of my mind. “You don’t all love Celine?” she said, astonished, “You people all are backwards, seriously.”