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

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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