Notting Hill Carnival may now seem like a distant memory, considering you've started to yearn after heated toilets to tide you through the winter months, but mainstays Ras Kayleb and Mikey Dread, AKA the men behind the now legendary Channel One Sound System, are set to claw some of the summer back at Red Bull's annual Culture Clash this November. Although they've been killing it at carnival for the last 20 years, that apparently still wasn't enough to make them more than a late wild-card entry to the clash in 2010. And they seem pretty pissed about it. In their own laid-back, hypnotic way, that is. Still, they're playing this year and, as previous champions, they're pretty bullish about their chances.
So, I decided this was a good opportunity to try to get some life tips on how to be less of an awkward, highly-strung white boy. I'll take the wisdom I received to the grave. It consisted of "don't be someone else", "don't try to be an overnight success" and, most importantly, "don't fuck with Channel One".
Noisey: Hello, Channel One. Carnival was great, but I was constantly reminded of my awkward white, middle class-ness. How am I going to cope with Red Bull's Culture Clash?
Ras Kayleb: [Laughs] You know what? Be yourself. There’s no guide for life. If you’ve got a guy who’s just dropped out of an estate, yeah, he’s got his way of being. If you’ve got a guy who’s just dropped out of Buckingham Palace, he’s got his way of behaving. These ideas of lower, middle, upper—those are just names, right?
Very true. So what can I expect to happen at Culture Clash?
Mikey Dread: Well, we expect to win it. At the end of the day, we’re a sound system. There are no other sound systems at Culture Clash. We’ve seen it before. We’ve been doing sound clashes since the 70s; it’s not that new to us. We’re there to teach the other acts about where they picked up their music from, and that’s simple. Everyone knows the other acts because they’re on Radio 1, or whatever, but we keep on soldiering on, doing what we’re doing. But when it comes to that evening, don’t mess with Channel One.
RK: It’s the student trying to take on the teacher.
That's fighting talk.
RK: It’s not posing, we just tell it as it is. You go to school, a teacher teaches you their knowledge. But if you’re showing someone something, you never open your whole book and say “look, here’s my plan to life”. You show a page, not the whole blueprint.
RK: This is in business, in everything. When you’re playing cards, do you throw your whole hand in? No. You show one card at a time.
That might be why I'm so shit at strip poker. Do you think you get enough recognition compared to the other guys playing?
RK: The recognition side is hype. And the thing with hype is it’s all gone tomorrow. We’ve got a saying; “The race is not for the fit, it’s…”
MD: “It’s not for the swift, it’s for those who can endure”.
RK: A lot of people now want to get there today. Like, “Computer, boom, boom, boom, I’ve got a tune, I’ve just made it.” But good music is not made in an hour, sometimes it takes a week, sometimes a year, just to make a good song, but then it’s there forever. A song that is made overnight will be here today, gone tomorrow. I mean, these DJs, you look at them—how old are you?
A boyish 25, right?
RK: I was going to say 23. When you were 17, you saw these DJs all around you. Now you’re 25, a load of those DJs aren’t even working anymore, but they were hyped up then. Where are they now?
I saw a homeless guy earlier who looked a bit like Mr Oizo.
RK: That’s right. The system grabbed them, pumped them and spat them out. The difference is, we’re not in the system. We live by our own rules.
How do you escape that matrix?
RK: What it is, is that you can be in something, but not of it. Like this interview; this is a system that we’re in today. We do things other than this. We don’t need this, they need we. That’s the way you work, never be ruled by money. You rule the money.
Do you enjoy being in direct competition with people?
MD: Sound systems started back in the 50s, it’s not new. But it's something people have picked up along the way and thought was a great idea. With Culture Clash, they brought Channel One in right at the last minute, the last ones. Then we came in, did what we had to do and won, because it was just another day at the office.
More fighting talk! How much woud you say the scene has changed since days gone by?
RK: A lot. You know what the difference is now? It’s the variation of genres. Back then, in the 70s and 80s, you was either soul boy, mod, a punk, a rocker or Rastafarian. Being a Rasta meant listening to reggae music. There wasn’t all this techno or hype hardcore—everybody dressed according to what they were into. Now, in 2012, there’s too many genres!
How would you address that?
Just strip it down bare and realize, just because you put a little beat in, doesn’t mean it's original. Like, someone said dubstep is taken from reggae and dub. But what is dub? If someone said you were going to listen to some dub music, what do you expect?
Wub, wub, wub, wub?
Right, that could be anything. The thing to understand now is that you’ve got all these genres and a lot of DJs don’t even know where it comes from. Like I said, it’s the teacher and the student fighting.
Out of everything, that's what vexes you the most right now?
It’s the hype. A lot of young people coming in, they remind me of X Factor. They want to be an overnight success, not doing their homework. That is a shame. Homework justifies where you are.
MD: Artists playing now, they all use reggae in their music. We can’t use other styles in our set, it just wouldn’t work. This goes to show that reggae is powerful music. You have to look at the big bands, let’s say The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Santana—all these bands use reggae music in their style. You can’t keep away from it, it brings people together. Simply Red, as well.
Everyone loves Simply Red.
MD: Reggae music is about keeping our people together. Even if you don’t like sound system music, you’ll be into it after hearing us. Our scene is about people enjoying music. Not getting off their heads.
Nevertheless, you guys still seem pretty chilled about it all. How do you relax?
MD: [laughs] Well, this man here, he’s a big herb smoker!
RK: [laughs] Yeah, a reeeeeeaaaaal big herb smoker!
MD: We’re both big herb smokers, but I love touching plates and looking into amplifiers, things like that. I like to sit down with my wife in the evening, with my sons, and just chill out with music in the background. People don’t see that side of the business, but that’s how you keep the music going. It’s very important to stay chilled. We’re not young anymore. We can’t be running around trying to do 10 different things in one day.
RK: Some DJs claim they stay in their studios until 5AM. Me, come 11 o’clock, my eyes are closing because I’m relaxed.
So you’re living proof that smoking the herb encourages long-term productivity?
RK: It’s not abusing it. We never abuse it, never do any other substances. Never go over the top. Yeah, he and I are big herb smokers, but only once my responsibilities are out the way. At the end of the day, once the home is looked after, we can do what we want to do.
Are your kids following in your footsteps?
RK: My kids are as old as you. I’m the child now! Their influence is their generation. Even though they’ve grown up around us, it’s their choice which way they go. You don’t force your children into anything. You have to let people be free to do what they want to do. That’s it.
MD: Bringing it back to the music, we got kids these days playing instruments and laptops, sampling five minutes of what we played years ago and coming back an hour later with a tune. Now, that’s not what I call a tune. Giving it some beats, or whatever, then, all of a sudden, the tune is finished that evening. You don’t do that. That’s just watered down.
Who are the worst culprits?
RK: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, I know what he does. I watch a lot of ting on TV and, last week, I said “Is that the kind of crap they’re playing in the clubs?” My son comes in, sits next to me and says “Oi, dad, she’s playing a load of rubbish!” This is from a younger person. All they’ve got is a name because they’re known on certain circuits, but what they’re bringing to the table is crap.
MD: They believe in their own hype. You hear DJs bragging about getting a crap-load of money for one hour’s work. That’s not real DJing. If you are really a true DJ, you’ll stand there for six hours and play your tunes.
Wow, music is very, very personal to you.
My sound system is all about me. Me is all about the sound system. That’s how it is. It’s always personal. When it comes to Channel One sound system, I don’t joke. I’ve spent too much time and broken too many fingers picking up boxes for it not to be.
Suffering for your art.
That’s right! You used to get DJs like Steve Walsh, who would play all night. The man who brought Steve Walsh into music was Tony Blackburn. The Soul Night Out. People were in there all night.
RK: Nowadays, DJs who brag about playing for an hour, they don’t deserve a pound. That is the honest truth. Even looking back on Carl Cox, Pete Tong and them, they’re big in their own right because they would go all night. You’d learn how to be a DJ on the rave scene. The young guys these days don’t know. Why do you think all the older guys, Fatboy Slim and that, are around today? They know.
If someone offered you some sweet cash for a one hour set, would you do it?
MD: We’d do it! We’ve got kids to feed!
RK: [laughs] We have to live! What I’m saying is, we’re prepared to do half an hour to twelve hours. But ask any of the others what the longest they’ve played for is. They start sweating and hyperventilating, because they can’t do it. Anything longer would kill them. But not us.
Sounds like a challenge. Thanks guys!
Red Bull Culture Clash takes place November 7th, for all details go here.
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