Words: Jon Swan
Reggae and dub have always been a huge influence on drum & bass and especially now dubstep, a genre which even extracts the forepart of its name directly from its Jamaican forefather.
The parallels of the two to the original soundsystem culture are rife: the cutting of prestigious dubs exclusive to select DJs, the rewinds, the toasting MCs. King Tubby and the originators of dub have been attributed as being some of the first remixers, and when you look at what we have today it's easy to see that a lot of the foundation lies firmly within these roots.
It's only right then that the heritage that has given so much to our music should still be given its just representation and respect and one such ambassador is the mighty DJ Liondub from New York and his self-titled imprint LionDub International (that he runs with label partner and fellow artist Marcus Visionary).
Liondub International's output spans genres and BPMs which cover a wide range of genres. From roots sounding reggae to dubstep and across all time signatures, the only real common denominator is that of its obvious nods towards reggae culture, a denominator born clearly out of DJ Liondub's love and passion for the original genre of bassline music.
DJing roots reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and jungle since '91, DJ Liondub has collaborated with and DJed for artists such as Johnny Osbourne, Damian Marley & The Ghetto Youths Crew, The Wailers, Buju Banton, Sizzla, Anthony B, Jigsy King, Terry Ganzie, DJ Krush, ?uestlove of the Roots, Ras Kush, Smith & Mighty, Mark Iration, DJ Hype, Aquasky & Loefah.
Knowledge caught up with DJ Liondub to see what the future holds for himself and the label...
The label has quite a varied output, how would you describe this to anyone not familiar with your releases?
Yeah, the label is varied. We always put out two releases simultaneously, one jungle / drum & bass release at the same time as a dubstep and reggae release. This gives our audience a taste of everything that we are focusing on now which is quite extensive and varied.
Basically, we embrace music in an open minded way, we don't limit ourselves. We deliver a unique sound that stands out, that shines and is heavy. The output is solid and steady.
Marcus's first full length work is imminent, how has working on a complete album differed from single releases?
Marcus is inspired, tireless and his work ethic and mastery of the music is impressive to me and so many others. He keeps on pushing the boundaries of music. Creating new genres at times by fusing jungle with rocksteady reggae, dubstep, grime and the sounds of the Caribbean islands.
We have released two EPs from his forthcoming album Caribwhich LP will drop this spring worldwide. It's always progressive working on the label with Marcus, and releasing singles has allowed us to open up the ears of many people.
Singles are powerful and definitely reach underground listeners, but the album projects bring this music to the forefront and in the case of Carib I believe it will afford our label, and the music we are making, unprecedented potential for growth and acceptance by a much larger audience worldwide.
You clearly have a love and passion for Jamaican music, how did all of it start for you?
It started growing up in New York City. I was immersed in the NY hardcore and ska scene, hip hop culture, reggae radio and Bob Marley at a very early age thanks to my brother, a hardcore guitarist, and my mother whose love for music taught me to appreciate it from the jump. I was involved in hip hop and b-boy culture from a young age, I pieced, I popped and I DJed at my boy's house across the street.
Around ten I started paying attention to Jamaican radio shows like Gil Bailey's, a selector who would rinse roots music and Jammy's rhythms day in day out, AM radio style. Around 1987, I remember I was listening to DJ Red Alert, a founding icon in the hip hop industry here in New York CIty. I heard him drop reggae hard, prime-time, before his hip hop jams kicked in. It moved me, period. I knew right then that I would become a reggae and hip hop DJ.
From that point my love for Jamaican music and culture grew. I found myself working in studios and on stages with some of the people who were icons in my childhood mind, travelling to Jamaica as much as possible to build a vibe and catch a glimpse of the place and the people who created this music that moved me so deeply.
How does it work bringing together the Jamaican artists with the drum & bass artists and dubstep artists? How do the older Jamaican artists feel about the new styles of music and how do you blend the old analogue production styles of dub and reggae with the ultra digital production of today's producers?
I've been fortunate to be able to build bridges between these two cultures, in essence, fusing the music together on a daily basis. Jungle and dubstep both evolved out of the fusion of reggae, rave and hip hop, and so bringing the artists from these cultures together just makes sense, it works.
I make connections and ensure that those connections are professional and aim at advancing the projects and careers of those involved. I offer services, basically enabling a producer from the other side of the world to voice a NYC hip hop icon, or a foundation reggae vocalist, effortlessly.
Many of the older Jamaican artists embrace the new musical styles across the board. Welcoming the challenge of working on a rhythm that may even sound foreign to them at first. Others resist it and even scorn it, but in many cases a deep dubstep rhythm or a ragga jungle beat can have so many elements of reggae in it that the tempo won't even throw off a reggae artist in a studio for more than a few minutes. So far, it's been simple really. Many of them are just ready to work, and are still creative as ever.
I know that I, and the majority of the producers that are a part of the label have great respect for the old analogue production styles and we all naturally bring elements of that sound into our music. We just take it a step further by combining it with today's ultra digital, clean production techniques to offer the best of both worlds. Updated beats and sound quality with the soul, feeling and sounds from the sound of the past which is the root of our music...
You have a big tour schedule coming up including a European leg in April, where are you playing and what can people expect from the live shows?
It's my first European tour. I'm looking forward to experience life outside of New York City and it's a good looking run so far. I will hit Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Ireland and three nights in the UK in Bristol, London and Leeds.
I'm keeping an open mind about the music and will be equipped with an arsenal of dubs from various genres. Basically everything that I work on. Roots and culture reggae, ragga, or as we say this side, dancehall, and heavy exclusive sets of jungle, d&b and dubstep. It's a bit of everything to be honest. I've been booked to play different styles at different events, which to me is challenging and rewarding on all levels. I'm looking forward to it all round, expect unique, heavy, energy and loads of bass...
What do you see for the future of Liondub International and drum & bass and dubstep in the future?
I see potential and progress all the way. We have loads of incredible releases on the horizon and we are building with new producers and artists to always make the label stronger, more diverse.
Jungle and drum & bass won't die, and I see them as steady and lasting with advancements and changes in styles and production techniques always. Dubstep has touched more people than any other new genre of music in many years, it's evolving, growing and being embraced by young and old. Dubstep has a bright future and I'm glad that dubstep incorporates so many elements of reggae into it. It's got nothing but pure potential and vibes as well.
Thanks for your time... any last words?
It's an honour to be a part of this history and this music. Respect to all the originators, the producers, the artists, the DJs and soundsystems, the distributors, the radio stations and, most of all, thanks to all the supporters of the music.
Please continue to support it, buy vinyl and purchase your digital tracks if you can, come through and support live and international acts. The music and the musicians can only flourish and get better with your support.
Lastly, respect to Johnny Osbourne, the dancehall godfather for his continued inspiration, the Konkrete Jungle, Halcyon, Breakbeat Science and Jungle X family... and many thanks to my partner Marcus Visionary... X amount of respect. Nothing but progress in 2010...