Whether or not… On reluctant sound policies

Whenever I reflect on the european soundclash competition, I can’t help noticing the relatively small number of sounds participating in contests. It probably shouldn’t surprise us when we see the same names divided by a “vs.” on flyers over and over again. I could easily find a dozen of possible reasons for this of the top my head. Obviously, dubplate clashes suck up an immense amount of money which in 99% of the cases will lead to a losing deal for sounds even in the long run. In contrast to the US, JA or even the UK scene to an extent, i can hardly think of any sound in the EU being launched with the intention to be a staight war sound. As Sultan pointed out in our interview “Sounds are thinking about survival and since its not possible to survive through only clashing, it is imperative that a sound can also juggle”. Even though I don’t believe that we’ve ever had a significantly different situation prior to what people now refer to as “the EU soundclash crisis” this is an important aspect. In my view, differing owner structures and sound financing strategies might play an important role for said cross-country differences, however, we don’t need to discuss this in detail at that time. Instead, let’s be realistic, the vast majority of sounds in our region has no interest whatsoever in soundclash and would rather focus on juggling dates and dancing events.

In any case, in this article I’m concerned with the sounds who are actually preparing for soundclash by constantly cutting dubplates,but either never or no longer step in the arena. I could easily compile a pretty long list of sounds that I know of, armed to the teeth, but never yet involved in a soundclash. With the above explanations born in mind, you would ask yourself “Why would I spend so much money on (soundkilling) dubplates if I never make use of them?” I believe we will have to consider a number of aspects in order to answer this question appropriately.

– First of all, a lot of well-equipped sounds are not disinclined to play a soundclash, but promoters either don’t know of their ambition and arsenal, heard of them at all (and that’s probably the case for those who don’t play in juggling events that often) or doubt their power to attract clash patrons. In this case, my advise for those who are willing to participate but can not find a “deal” – take matters into your own hands.

– Apart from that, I believe the most overlooked factor in this equation is the “fear of losing”. Since we don’t have a soundclash happening every day here in europe, soundmen are worried about a status decline in the event of defeat. Let’s be honest, we can all understand this notion, and even though it should not stop us from pursuing our goals, it is a major factor for sounds that are thinking of entering a competition. By the way, and I’ve mentioned this in discussions over and over again, this point is strongly connected to the planning and overpreparing dilemma in european soundclashes.

– So far we have only talked about sounds that never competed in a soundclash. But what about those who did, lost, only to be never seen again in the arena? I guess all of the above points discussed also play role in this case. Over the years, I’ve witnessed on a number of occassions how soundmen we’re about to call it quits because they lost a single battle. Again, whenever you invest a lot of time and money, you potentially risk your reputation and you won’t get your desired trophy in return, it can be frustrating. The point is though, we have lost some very talented and ambitious sounds over the course of the last years because of ONE defeat. Don’t get me wrong here, a lot of those who quit, lacked the potential to entertain me in a serious competition in the first place and i certainly won’t bemoan the loss of them. Others however, either fell victim to unlucky circumstances or great competition.

– The overall decline of interst in soundclashes and the weak turn out numbers in the last years have put promoters in a tough spot. Financial uncertainties are not only bad for pays and quality line ups, but also the decision to actually organize a competitive event. On the other hand, expenses for dubs have not dropped for sounds, which is why we all understand that clashing “for free” is not an option for many serious contenders.

Bottom line, the reasons for whether or not soundmen make the decision to enter the battlefield are manifold and can partially be ascribed to structural deficits we perceive in our industry. Of course, a lack of public interest (even within the reggae/dancehall community) in soundclash makes it hard for any promoter and sound to stick to their clash ambitions. However, I believe the solution should be based on an increased initiative of soundmen themselves. Once a few “role models” pave the way by promoting their own soundclashes (participator=promoter) and we realize that even in defeat, a good performance in a clash is still worth something (think of herbalize it’s effort last week in vienna), two of the major drawbacks could be eliminated. Don’t get it twisted though, the notorious “love for the art form” is and will always be the cornerstone of, what I’d still call a SUB-SUBGENRE!

Respect,

Marcus

Advertisements

Sultan speaks…

herbalizeit
Yes Sultan, before we get started here, I’d like to big up the whole Herbalize it crew for the great performance delievered last saturday in vienna at the King of Europe clash. Now for those still not too familiar with Herbalize it, could you give the readers a quick breakdown of the sounds history, members etc.

Much thanks! The clash was crazy fun, also a big success for us regardless of the outcome. We definitely feel 100% satisfied with our performance. It was hard work but in the end it was worth it for sure.

Well Stef initially had the idea to start the sound and in 1998 we officially launched Herbalize-it in our home-town called Enschede. To this day Herbalize-it is known as the Dutch Champion hailing from En-ska-day. Then of course the process began of building. Building the name and dub-box were the main agenda because from early in the game we both had dreams of one day being rated as a top international soundsystem. In the early days we had a selecta called Hydro and another MC, Daddy Jim and this was the team. In 2005 Trinidadian born D-One (Jammasters) joined the crew and took over as main selecta and still is the main selecta of the sound. D-One and myself went on a rampage killin dances all over Europe and clashing more and more. Many people remember Riddim Clash 2008, and our wins over Love Injection,King Tubby’s and Young Hawk . The crew has since expanded with Fyah Monk who does our film and media work, selecta Carlito, Souljah an all around team player and Dave the young MC. It’s a family and solid team all about having fun, providing quality entertainment and leaving satisfied fans wherever we go. We keep pushing for higher and expanding what we do. War In East has grown to be a respectable international clash promoted by Herbalize-it and our newest venture has been a booking agency handling tours and gigs for artists like Ziggi Recado, Taranchyla, Poison Dart. Herbalize-it is a machine and we are just getting started.

Since you’re the mc for herbalize it, I wanna start off with this aspect. I’ve personally noticed that a growing number of european soundclash fans started to credit the MC for a sound’s clash reputation. Do you believe that the role of the MC has grown in Europe’s clash arena over the last years? And could this process be connected to the fact that sounds are becoming harder to distinguish on a musical level with the limitless availability of artists for dubplates?

I think the MC has always been credited for a sound’s clash reputation, not only in Europe but all over the world. Soundclash is a very personal thing between sounds but more personal between the MC’s clashing. For the simple reason that the MC is at the forefront, interacting with the public, making the speeches that would connect or flop. Think of sounds with two MC’s where one MC is better than the other. Automatically people make the distinction and associate the sound’s reputation with the better MC. Think of Squingy with Bass Odyssey. Now think of Spida with Sonic, Elmar with Sentinel and myself with Herbalize-it. When it’s about clash, people expect us. The European soundclash fan-base continues to grow and we are seeing much more younger fans popping up. The role of the MC would of course grow because the MC has to figure out how to captivate the old and new clash heads. How can we keep them interested and entertained while staying true to the culture? It’s more a sort of MC evolution actually.  The limitless availability of artists makes it easier for any Sound with the available funds to get a dubplate. Artists are now spitting out standard dubplates only difference is the name of the sound but all the lyrics are basically the same. The MC’s role becomes more essential to make the distinction of one dubplate to another through the delivery of the dubplate. Still, being creative in dubplate cutting to set yourself apart from the mainstream standardized dubs is what really helps to set sounds apart. This with strong MC skills is priceless come clash time.

Attentive listeners realized that you featured a slew of new tunes (e.g. a bunch of Chronixx, new Busy Signal etc.) on Saturday. So speaking of Dubplates, when accepting a soundclash, how do you usually start your preparation, what is the process of dub cutting like?

Without giving away too many secrets let me try an answer this question. Basically we sit and first look at who our opponent is. What are their strengths and weaknesses? When we identify this then we look at what we have in house to use as ammunition and what we think we still need to cut. Its not necessarily about cutting tons of new tunes. We cut what we think we need and as I said before, due to the younger generation getting into soundclash its a must to cater to them. It’s about providing something for everyone and of course show-casing the depth and versatility of our dub-box.

The aforementioned “new tunes” seem to play a greater role in the soundclash arena again. Especially american sounds like Addies, Lp and others have recently started to feature new music as opposed to solely rely on their old catalogue of classics. Do you believe that this could be a sign of a improving connection between juggling and clash?

It’s a known fact that the clash scene is shrinking all over the world. Sounds are thinking about survival and since its not possible to survive through only clashing, it is imperative that a sound can also juggle. Doing dances gives sounds the opportunity to not only promote themselves but also win new fans. So we have a situation where the clash scene is dying and to add another dimension hardcore reggae/dancehall parties are also dying. Promoters are moving more and more into hybrid parties. Dances where reggae and dancehall aren’t the only genres are now very common all over the world. So sounds must stay up to date. Cutting new artists is a must. Connecting to the new fans and keeping your sound fresh and up-to-date s just as important as having the classics. Any good sound would tell you this.

When we reminisce about the so called golden era of soundclash, the 90’s and early millenium years, putting new tunes on other riddims seemed to work quite well. Do you think the change on the production side of the music industry (towards more pop-orientated, hip hop flavors, customized productions) makes it harder or at times impossible to cut new tunes on other riddims effectively?

No I don’t think it makes it harder or impossible. Actually I think this gives us more ideas to be even more creative. Hearing these productions opens up a whole new world for soundsystems. Its a sort of evolution again. Personally, not everything we rate or would ever use. Some of these productions are a bit over the top where you loose the essence of the culture while some are just wicked. As long as the riddim is hard and the artist experienced enough to get on a good ride, then the possibilities are limitless.

Last but not least, most readers will also remember you as the creator of europe’s topatop “War ina East” soundclash series. Obviously, soundclash has been struggling a bit here in europe for the last years. When you’re thinking of a potential line up for your clash, what are the most important traits you’re looking for in a sound? Additionally, do you think that the hestitation of some sounds to clash one another has hurt the scene over the years (e.g Sentinel vs Sonic)?

Anybody who knows us, knows that Herbalize-it is all about fun, professionalism and quality entertainment. So when we are thinking about a line-up for War-Ina-East whoever we choose must check all these boxes. People want to see a memorable clash and walk away feeling satisfied. The second part of the question is a bit more complicated. I don’t think that the hesitation of sounds to clash each other hurts the scene per-se but I think the people are ready to see certain sounds face each other. Here in Europe especially where we need to get interest and excitement alive again about clashing, I think in order to save the culture and please the people, sounds have to really contemplate their position and only decline clashing if they think that it would be detrimental to their sound. At the end of the day, none of us would walk into a burning building if we thought there was nothing in there worth saving right?

Alright Sultan, thanks for your time and once again congratulations on a very strong performance last saturday.

Respect,

Marcus

Sound the alarm! Facts & EFX…

It must have been a good while since I last heard people really discuss sound effects intensively. Matter of fact, I dont believe I ever heard or saw any noteworthy efx debate prior to this week. Be it as it may, King of Europe Soundclash has started the argument, mainly based on what people perceived as an exaggerated use of lickshots, horns and lasers by Supersonic’s selector Jr Blender. I have to admit that I noticed an unusual amount of gimmicks being used when listening to the audio, but i never really gave it much thought until i read the comments on the internet about it. That being said, I do believe that the use of horns, gunshots and other samples can subconsciously influence a (soundclash) massive.

I remember a soundclash in berlin I attended around 2005, where I was the only guy in possession of an air horn in a pretty much packed venue. Long story short, everytime I pressed the trigger, a good portion of the crowd would start making noise, giving forwards. Though I guess using an airhorn in comparison to a sound effect might prove more effective, they do share the same principle. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it manipulation,
because after all a sound will do what it has to do to get the people involved in their presentation. However, given the “leadership role” Supersonic have been credited with on the EU scene, I feel this might be part of an interesting development. As Spider (of Supersonic) pointed out, sounds have been using sound effects in clashes for ages (biltmore cassette fans shouldnt be surprised). Nonetheless, as far as I can tell, the use of efx in soundclashes, as well as in juggling dances, has been on a decline ever since then. On the other hand, we used to have a lot of air horns, whistles and torches in european clashes in the early stages of the soundclash development on the old continent. It was not unusual for a sound to hand out said equipment to loyal followers for supporting purposes. Wheras this still seems to be the case for a number of US based clashes I heard, I haven’t seen an airhorn in european dancehalls for a mighty long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to go down the “sounds lack followers” lane here, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a shift of strategy in pursuit of the same goal: getting the people to root for your sound. The internalization (sounds using efx) might therefore be an indirect result of the ongoing biasness discussions. No matter how bad sound men want to win, one thing they won’t risk is being publicy attacked for “dirty deeds”.

Now even though I personally endorse the use of sound effects on both juggling and soundclash occassions, like every other gimmick it needs to be used in moderation. Otherwise, you migth just end up having to explain why you had to trigger these lickshots to win…

On Creative Dub Cutting…

Undoubtedly, the determining factors of dubplate recording have considerably changed over the course of the last couple years. The main factor of this change has certainly been the increased interconnectedness of sounds and dubplate agents, brokers, engineers and studios as well as artistes themselves. The internet and social media, like myspace or now facebook in particular, elevated the availability of artistes to a basically unlimited level. Since every sound man could therefore voice any artist at any given time (given that he has the financial assets to do so), I believe creative dub cutting has more or less become a necessity for sounds competing in today’s soundclash arena. Due to the fact that “creative” is a rather simplified term covering a number of different aspects, I will try to untangle the mess for you.

Riddim change: Probably the most basic way of adding your own flavor to a dubplate is to record the artiste(s) on a riddim different from the original recording. Although soundsystem history has produced a crazy amount of fantatsic results, often outclassing the 45 recording, I personally believe that using a new riddim requires at least a basic musical understanding and a sense of tempo.

Maybe the most prominent example of a dub recorded on a new riddim sounding better than the original recording is Beres Hammonds “Groovy Little Thing”.

With no disrespect to konsequence sound, i believe the above mavado dub is a perfect example of how things can go south with a riddim change. While I believe that certain classics should be left on their original riddim (e.g. john holt’s stealing), riddim switching has certainly become more difficult with modern songs because of more complex production arrangements.

Combinations: Without a doubt a combination featuring multiple artists on dubplate can be a creative strategy to enhance a dub’s value. I don’t want to touch the neverending discussion about “real” and “fake” combinations (voiced together or seperately) here, because in my opinion there are more interesting aspects involved in creative combination cutting.

Number one of course being the actual chemistry between the artists voiced in combination:

Choosing songs that topically fit together is a next option (e.g. Anthony B “Fire pon rome” & Capleton (Light up the) “chalice”)

Last, a similarity between artists can be the foundation for the selection of artists:

In my personal view, combinations have been sucked dry by sounds over the last years, mainly because they did not make sense, did not sound good and/or were simply sequences of tunes and artists without any meaning or musical concept. When I’m going to a dance or clash nowerdays, most combinations really don’t impress me anymore, for
the above reasons. Voicing two or more regular songs in combination does not per se make a creative dub.

Lyrics: In the last 5-6 years, and especially in Europe, sounds have really developed a passion for customized lyrics with dubplates (note: i’m not talking about one night specials
aka custom mades here specifically). While I have always been a big supporter of this movement, listening to recent clash audios has changed my mind a bit here. In my opinion, rewritten lyrics have the potential to be the greatest tool for creative dub cutting, however not everyone was born with the gift of songwritting. Problems arise when artists don’t “feel” the changes to their lyrics and many artists are not interested in or able to deal with rewritten lyrics. This is partly due to the fact that a lot of european sounds are not really able to speak (or in this case rather to write) english or patois in a sufficient manner. But there are other reasons: a) not every song is designed to be rewritten by default. b) pages of lyrics don’t necessarily amount to a better result, a creative punchline can be more than enough. c) You will actually need a recording engineer who understands your idea, or even better, you will have to be present in person.

Other options of course include creative song selection, samples, covers and more. I left out a couple of these aspects here, but rest assured these will be subject of future rants.

Feel free to leave comments, critique, additions or whatever you want.

Respect,
Marcus