BRISTOL - MUSIC & CULTURE

 
 

DJ STRYDA opens the Dubkasm (2007)



Dubkasm is a musical collaboration that began in the school playground. DJ Stryda was always known as the "yout man" by other pirate radio selectors and Reggae promoters in his home town. It may feel as if he's been around forever, but as I travelled to Bristol to meet him I kept reminding myself how young he is. It was therefore a surprise when he hobbled down to meet me leaning unsteadily on a walking stick.

It turned out that the broken bone in his foot was the inevitable result of a texting whilst walking downstairs habit. It's easy to understand why he'd be so keen to do two things at once though. The simultaneous roles of producer, label boss, broadcaster, promoter, selector and retailer must keep him busy.
Bristol is one of the few places in Southern England where Reggae has routinely been served up as part of the daily musical diet. It's not surprising or unusual to develop a taste for it; no matter what race or background you come from. Just as the 1980s became the 1990s a twelve year old Stryda was becoming fascinated by the Reggae shows being broadcast across the city by pirate radio stations. He wasn't alone, the Reggae fever was also gripping his best friend Digistep.

" Our parents knew each other, we grew up together, always good friends. He's like a brother really. Just by chance we got into the same music, did stuff like record shopping together. He started making music, I started buying more records and getting into deejaying. That's how Dubkasm formed."

They pursued their goals with a single minded determination. Stryda resolved to get himself a radio show and Digistep produced a series of rudimentary Dubs on cassette tape. Both made astonishing progress.

"When we were eighteen, I'd started on the radio and Digi had mastered building basic Dubs."

Until recently Stryda was living on the edge of the notorious ghetto district of St Pauls. His new flat is in the fairly smart inner city suburb of Southville. From his windows you can see the re-developed wharves and warehouses of Bristol Docks in the distance. The story he tells of the two youths' progress through the UK Roots scene is delivered in the local accent which, like the city itself, contains both urban grit and laid back West Country vibes. Bristol has a well established Roots scene and the teenage duo were already prominent figures in 1996. Stryda's 'Sufferah's Choice' radio show was gathering a following on Ragga FM and Digistep's rhythms were also gaining recognition.

"Digi came up with the name Dubchasm, but we had to mis-spell it to get people to pronounce it correctly. A guy called Gaffa from Armagideon Sound, who was a pioneer for the Bristol Dub scene, was launching a series of LPs called 'Dub Out West'. He approached us to release a Dubkasm tune. We felt privileged to be on there with the greats from the South West of England that we had grown up listening to. People like Henry & Louis and Black Roots."

A genuine respect for the pioneers and predecessors is a recurring theme with Stryda. As a young radio DJ he has always referenced the knowledge of the "elders". He's a serious student of both music and culture, trusted by a Reggae network that extends way beyond Bristol. Every aspect of his radio show is given the research it deserves and Dubkasm are rock solid in their belief that nothing should be released until it's "ready". They did however harbour a long standing desire to hear their tunes playing in the dances that they went to. So their dubplate adventures began with the soundsystem that Stryda had been following from the age of fifteen, the mighty Jah Shaka.

"Digi was studying music and I established links with various singers through deejaying and interviewing artists for the show. Tenastelin came into the university studio that Digi had access to at the time and we recorded some wicked tunes. It was Haile Selassie's birthday celebration at the Shaka dance and we gave him the dubplate 'Spiritual Warrior Time' by Tenastelin and Dubkasm for it. We didn't know if he was going to play it or not. We kept wondering "is that the one?" We even put the sticky label on the dubplate a certain way so that we might get a glimpse beforehand and get some warning; but you're never sure until you hear it blasting through...And that's it! The music that was just in the studio is now going out to all those people. Seeing the reaction in the dance, feeling it for the first time. Shaka re-wound it twice and that was just...Well I'll never forget those moments. Absolutely amazing."

It's the kind of experience you want to repeat.

"It lead to us writing lyrics with and voicing a bredrin from Bristol called Addis. The tune was 'Jah Bible' and it became an Aba-Shanti anthem on the sound. Things just grew and Dubkasm was a dubplate roots name. Getting regular dubplate exposure by the top sounds encouraged us to take it further and to plan some releases because we realised that we were more or less ready."

However the unshakeable determination to do things properly was still there. Dubkasm don't just 'have a go'.

"We're perfectionists in what we do. Which is good, but it makes you hold back for quite a while. Although those tunes mashed it up on dubplate, the ones that do that aren't necessarily good enough quality for the home hi-fi. With a wicked kick drum, a heavy bass line and a little line chanted over the top you can mash it up on a soundsystem, but those tunes aren't always good enough for release. People think "wow, look at the response - get that one out there!" Not calling any names, but there are quite a few releases that let our UK Dub scene down really."

It wasn't until 2003 that they set up the Sufferah's Choice label and there have only been five releases so far, but they stand out because of both quality and variety.

"Digistep is a musician, he's a saxophonist, he can play the piano, can play the guitar. We've called in other musicians. 'Displaced African' for instance, it's all live instruments . We really want to keep the live feel going. But even when Digi's put together a heavy digital Dub, he's not just tapping out something on the computer. I feel that it tends to have more musicianship. That's what we mean when we talk about quality, you know. It's down to Digi's constant work, he really strives. Even when he was a teenager; on his parents dresser at home , he'd have everything set up and he'd go to great lengths just to get a particular echo sound he wanted. It's no different now that he's got all the equipment and is sending me dubs via the internet direct from Brazil, where he is now living. I'm a radio DJ, I love and play all styles of Reggae. So we want to vary it as much as possible to show that there's more to Dubkasm than just one style. Tunes like 'Babylon Ambush' with the remixes by Iration Steppas differ dramatically from tunes like 'Moses' featuring Ras B."

He may be disappointed with the quality of some releases from particular UK producers and keen to explore different styles with Dubkasm, but don't imagine that Stryda isn't committed to UK Dub. He's an articulate ambassador for the British Roots scene and feels a responsibility to represent it on his Sufferah's Choice show, which is now broadcast by Passion FM.

"If we don't push our own stuff it won't happen anywhere else. Luciano, Sizzla, Buju and so on have got the marketing and everything sorted. I play the odd Yard tune that I really like. Those kind of tunes are crucial. If a song has the message and the musical vibe that fits in, then it works. I would play a Luciano for example, but I would then play a Disciples, followed by a Blakamix and an Iration Steppas. If I don't play them, nobody's playing them on the radio. So it's an orthodox music policy, going back to the Shaka influence. It's our style of grass roots tunes that get played. There's a great emphasis on the UK sound. By that I mean all the tunes on that vibe, whether they're from Japan, Amsterdam or London."

Bristol is a city that has exported Reggae influenced music all around the world. Stryda only turns thirty this year but he's been fighting the Roots corner for eleven years.

"it would be nice if more recognition was given to the scene that's inspired so many other genres. You'll often see Smith & Mighty coming along to a Roots dance that I promote. Loving that someone's still putting on the original vibe that's inspired them to do the great things they've done. So the respect is there."

There's a constant influx of students who also get swept up into the music scene and Stryda, the "yout man" of Roots radio, is becoming an elder statesman. He's modest, and reluctant to think about how important his role has been, but gives it some consideration after a bit of coaxing.

"Well, there have been times when, if I didn't do my show, there would be no Roots on the radio. Long periods where there's been nobody else. There's a couple of stores that get the odd UK Roots tune in, but if i didn't sell records there would be so many that would get missed. There's always someone in Bristol that pops up and puts dances on. it's great, but then they disappear again. The key has been sticking with it. I've been on the radio for nearly eleven years straight and putting dances on for the whole time. I hope I've made a difference by keeping something constant."

The Sufferah's Choice radio show has become a Bristol institution, but the record label named after it already has a growing international reputation. The dubplates certainly help and I was keen to know about the jaw dropping "Jah Shaka is the Zulu Warrior" special that should feature heavily on the current 'Abolition of Slavery' tour.

"We've given Shaka lots of dubs and he's played them all, but that's the one of the moment. I came up with the idea of having that sort of lyric. I hate using the word vocoder, because that can sound really cheesy, but for some reason on that one it works. It's a kind of rootical vocoder! It actually comes with a vocal from a bredrin who's sadly passed away, Ras Xylon. We got the vocal done and finished and then did that sort of Shaka special hoping he'd play it at his comeback dance after his unfortunate fire accident. We were in the dance and thinking it was amazing to have Shaka back and the vibes were great anyway, but it seemed a shame he wasn't going to play it. When he actually came with it as the last tune that was another moment that will always stay with us. He seems to have played it ever since and nearly ends every session with it by the sounds of it. That is going to be the next Dubkasm release. Obviously it doesn't say Jah Shaka, but it's got the same vocoder intro saying "Zulu Warrior" and the Xylon vocal as well. In the next couple of months it's going to be the sixth Dubkasm release on Sufferah's Choice Recordings."

Stryda made that announcement with satisfaction. He's still just another Shaka follower at heart and knows that there will be plenty of people looking forward to the tune; once he's mobile enough to journey to London to organise the pressing. Stryda's enthusiasm is infectious and after a conversation with him you can't resist the feeling that UK Roots still has lots of excitement to offer. He somehow manages to maintain the fervour of the youthful Reggae fanatic whilst taking care of business like a seasoned professional. What's the secret?

"It's all stages really. At one time I used to get a real kick out of meeting local radio presenters that I'd listened to. Then it was going to interview Shaka - amazing! Then to interview Augustus Pablo - wow! But the more involved in a scene you get, the more things that used to be a thrill become the norm. However we always remind ourselves what it was like when we wanted to get into the scene as teenagers. So never take for granted things like Shaka playing a dubplate. It's always amazing. It never loses it's power."

(via http://www.culturereggae.co.uk/)
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