Keeping Sound System Safe From The Culture Vultures
As co-founder of Irish & Chin, one of the most respected reggae promotion companies in the world, Garfield “Chin” Bourne has left his mark on the music industry and popular culture as a whole. He is the founder of SoundChat Radio and a range of media ventures, but Chin may be best known as a leading advocate of sound system culture at a time where hardcore soundclash audience is aging, and the appropriation of dancehall culture is not limited to international artists reworking Jamaican rhythms to hit the pop charts. The rise of EDM music and the success of the recent Red Bull Culture Clash highlight the impact of Jamaican sound systems on worldwide pop music, even as the originators of the culture who are still active tend to be marginalized. Interview After The Jump…
Boomshots spoke with Chin shortly before this year’s Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise, where he worked with cruise organizers Damian Marley and Dan Dalton to organize the popular Soundclash on the Sea. “It’s gonna be interesting because all of these guys are pretty much friends,” says Chin of the clash. “They respect each another. Even though they probably have the most bitter rivalry, especially Fire Links and Tony Matterhorn. It just never seems to be settled, and every so often the pot boils over. And here’s where the twist of the conversation comes: these are all Chin sounds, and Chin can’t really have a favorite sound in the race—even though Chin has to have a favorite sound in the race. But I can’t pronounce who my favorite sound is because it’s my team clashing.”
BOOMSHOTS: WHAT IS THE STATE OF CLASH CULTURE IN 2016? Do you feel like the culture is growing? Is it moving in a good direction?
I have mixed thoughts about the way the culture is moving. One of the things that I do see is that there’s a lot of outsiders, such as the Red Bull people and other people, who are showing a lot of interest in clash. It’s a great thing. The only thing that I don’t really like about the Red Bull clash is that they don’t emphasize on where the culture comes from. And that’s a problem for me.
I tend to agree, but is there no upside at all?
I definitely applaud the fact that the art that comes from Jamaica is being put on bigger stages and all kind of superstar artists are being involved. But it would be really good to let people know that this is another art form coming out of Jamaica, such as dancehall and reggae and now we’re saying EDM comes from Jamaica as well. Give props to the origin of the culture, you know?
I think the fact that it was held in England there is a built-in respect for Jamaican sound system there. So the UK Garage All-Stars and Wiley and the grime youths know the history, so they represent it.
But the problem is—and I really want to say this, because I’m definitely an advocate of the culture—it’s one thing for the competitors to know where the culture is coming from, but that says nothing to the audience if it’s not communicated. You’re getting 20,000 kids—and in order for our culture to grow and to be respected, we must reach out to the youth. The youths must have some interest in sound clash culture and where it’s coming from. But there’s nothing. There’s no literature. There is nothing that says, “Listen, this is an art form from Jamaica.” Yeah the soundbwoys know and whoever competes know, but that’s not enough. It’s not communicated to the fans of the Red Bull Culture Clash. It almost makes it look like they came up with this form of competing. And that’s wrong.
But again, I applaud what they’re doing because it brings our thing to a higher level. And it also allows people like me and the other big names and brands—the Mighty Crowns and the Stone Loves and everyone—to realize that there is more work that needs to be put in because people are really feeling what we do. We may need to clean it up a little bit and make it more commercial. Still there is a lot that can be achieved from it. But at the same time, if we don’t get these big people that’s coming into the industry to applaud and authenticate what we’re doing, then we’re gonna get lost. And guess what? Red Bull is gonna be the inventors of sound clash.
So nobody made any connection to Jamaica at all?
The only person that I saw who made any connection to Jamaica at that Red Bull Culture Clash was David Rodigan. When he was on he kept saying “In Jamaica blah blah blah blah blah.” Not even Tony Matterhorn did that.
To answer your question, the state of sound clash is… I think that we’re at a point in the sound clash culture where we need to make some changes. We need to hold on to some of the tradition and we need to let some of the tradition go in order for it to grow. We need to do what I refer to as modernizing tradition, which doesn’t make sense but you know what I’m saying. We need to make some tweaks because what’s happening is we’re not getting the younger kids to get involved in real authentic hardcore sound clash. It’s now becoming a sport that entertains you and I—the 35 and over. Today you don’t see 18 and 19-year-old kids and 21-year-old kids trying to become part of sound system culture.
Yeah it’s true. People consume music differently now.
And because of that, the culture is in jeopardy. How are we gonna change this thing to make it a little bit more attractive to the youth? That’s what the next step in sound system culture should be. We as people who are holding on to tradition—it’s a battle because… this is the thing: If this and this and this doesn’t happen in the culture, then Rob Kenner and Chin is not gonna say that it’s an authentic sound clash. But this that’s happening in the culture is what’s allowing the youths not to be interested in the culture. So the same thing that we’re using to stamp it authentic is the same thing that’s keeping the kids away from it. I don’t know if you get where I’m coming from.
So let’s get specific about what these “tweaks” will be and how you propose to create more interest.
Look at it this way: back in the good old days, when sound systems were sound systems, there was a lot of money being spent into sound system culture. Right? And this is the part of it that no one likes to talk about. A lot of people who owned sound systems were not business people. They were people who had money from whatever they were doing. And at that time, not only having the most dubs, but it was about having dubplates from the biggest and untouchable artistes. So people used to fly across the world to voice Aswad and this person and… you know, Burning Spear and Billy Ocean on dubplate just to say that “we have more links than you” and “we’re a bigger sound than you because we spend bigger money than you.”
This is the birth of the big tune soundbwoy culture. So the whole terminology of “45 shop lock” comes from the fact that once upon a time, dubplates and 45s used to be played in clash. And then after a while, when the big boys came in, the money sounds, the guys who had the bosses who had money. “Anything pon 45 we ah play pon dub.” And that was because they had money. So you looked like a fool if you were trying to play a 45 in a clash because your competitor played dubplates. Today the kids who are probably going to be the next Ricky Trooper. then how do you hold them to a tradition of playing Jay Z on dub and this person on dub and that person on dub if they don’t have the money to step to these guys on dub plates?
Well, collecting rare 45s is its own art form.
The problem is the clash audience, the authentic clash audience—we’re not talking about the Red Bull or the Jamrock audience—doesn’t care about a 45 being rare. They care about the fact that you’re playing a 45 and you should be playing a dubplate. This is what the problem is.
Chin poses with the 2016 World Clash champion sound King Turbo.
Ask yourself this. I know you must have kids, you must have nieces and nephews. How of much of your kids, how much of your nieces and nephews are telling you “Hey daddy—can you take me to a soundclash?” None of them. So what’s gonna happen when Chin is no longer able to keep World Clash? What’s gonna happen then? Who’s gonna take it up next?
So when you ask me “What’s the state of sound clash?” Soundclash only looks good to the people who are coming in and trying to monopolize it or manipulate it. Like a Red Bull. If you ask Red Bull, what is the state of soundclash they’d say, “It’s wonderful!” You get what I’m saying? And I’m not showing any punches.
And I’m saying that to say that we have to also commend the Marleys. You know why? They could have done the same thing that Red Bull is doing. They could have went for the Wiz Khalifas and the Wyclefs and the DJ Khaleds and did a sound clash with them. But they decided to use their international platform and include the authentic people who are the day-to-day up-keepers of the clashing arena. Which you have to respect them for that because guess what? On that cruise, they could put anybody up there to clash, and those people wouldn’t know any different.
Some of the cruise audience is pretty knowledgable. And the cruise organizers see this as a labor of love and a responsibility to represent the culture properly.
It’s helping the sound system culture, but for us little guys, we tend to be more underground with the culture. To the guys in the crossover world, sound clash is doing really good, and sound clash has a bright future. Because the future that they see does not include us. It doesn’t include Stone Love, Mighty Crown, Matterhorn, Rodigan, Jaro, so it’s bright for them.
OK a couple of thoughts: I wouldn’t put DJ Khaled in the same category as Wiz Khalifa. He was cutting dubs before he was famous, actually.
No, no, no, when I used Khaled’s name I’m saying that the Gong could have just decided, “you know what? Let’s use Khaled.” He’s a more commercial name and he knows how to play dubplates.
Whereas Wiz Khalifa has no clue. He hired Supa Dups to roll up there with him and they had a few new tunes but Dups was playing his own Black Chiney dubplates. It was embarrassing.
It’s embarrassing to you because you know better. But the generation that they’re performing for? It’s not embarrassing to them. What Red Bull is doing, and the other people who are coming into the music with a crossover attitude, what they’re doing is… when they introduce sound clash with Wiz Khalifa, the people who are just absorbing that for the first time, that’s what a sound clash is. They don’t know that sound clash is coming from where it’s coming from. It’s because of your history, you’re looking up there like, “Wiz Khalifa you’re making an asshole of yourself.” But his fans don’t think that.
And that’s why I brought up Khaled, because I’m saying that Jr. Gong and the Marleys could have easily used some big recognizable names and got them to do their version of sound clashing. The cruise would have still sell off. But we’ve got to respect them because they’re going after the authentic thing.
Jammy’$ is there on the cruise every year. It’s beautiful.
They said “You guys are the keepers of the sound clash thing. I need to get you involved. Mighty Crown, we gotta get you involved. Matterhorn, we gotta get you involved. Bass Odyssey we gotta get you involved.”
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