Events

United Nations of Dub Weekender, Prestatyn, Wales, 28 – 30 March

Blackboard Jungle Rack

Blackboard Jungle Rack

The much anticipated and well-attended United Nations of Dub took place from 28 – 30 March. This 3-day indoor sound system festival that is only in its second edition is already a juggernaut of an event.
 
Set in a fairly quaint northern Welsh town called Prestatyn, in a Pontins self-catering holiday resort, the location is not really like reggae festival spots I am used to! However with its 3 indoor sound system arenas, heated swimming pool, film screenings, and pub all in one close area, it gives a unique community feel to it and served the purpose perfectly.
 
The main arena which features different sound systems each night is a large hi-roofed room with a small grandstand. This provides an excellent viewpoint for the big dancefloor below which is enclosed by huge custom built rigs. You then have the Mungo’s arena where several different sounds play daily on their 3-stack setup. Upstairs you can find a selectah’s arena powered by BTSS and Wonkey Hi-Fi. And finally for a bit of aqua fun, there is a heated indoor swimming pool with many DJ’s  and sounds passing through.

Iration Steppas Sound System

Iration Steppas Sound System

Entertainment-wise, U.N.O.D can never, never short change you. From the time I arrived on Friday afternoon, there was a buzz in the nippy spring air. The Selectah’s Arena kicked off first whilst still daylight. Downstairs, Jah Shaka and his crew were setting up his sound in the main sound system arena under the watchful eye of outernational sound system owners.
 

Alpha Steppa kicked off proceedings in the Mungo’s Arena in a hugely energetic fashion. With his family members, Alpha and Omega, dancing around the stage with him, several mic-men also passed through his set. Martin Campbell followed next in a rootsman style, then Addis Pablo and Alpha and Omega. Dubkasm and Solo Banton ran the last slot of the night into the wee small hours.
 

Blackboard Jungle Sound System

Blackboard Jungle Sound System

Jah Shaka’s 7-hour set on his sound proved to be a crowd favourite. It was long and expectantly rammed so I enjoyed being able to slip in and out of the session to check other sounds out. Jah Shaka is an old school legend, a slow, methodical selectah. My question after night one was who is going to continue this potentially dying tradition and way of running a dance. However after seeing Ashanti Selah and Addis Pablo later on the festival, that question was taken away.
 

Steve Vibronics interviews Mungos Hi-Fi

Steve Vibronics interviews Mungos Hi-Fi

Waking on day 2 to beautiful, peaceful Welsh weather, we took a walk on the nearby  beach, followed by two Q&A sessions hosted by DJ Stryda and Steve Vibronics in the on-site pub. The first was a highly interesting talk with Mungo’s Hi-Fi, which saw producers Craig and Tom talk about making and playing music in the far northern reaches of the UK, and specifically about Mungo’s production techniques.

Later on Dubkasm’s Stryda talked to Addis Pablo, the son of Augustus Pablo (who Stryda had interviewed years earlier). This was a thoroughly interesting talk about music production, modern Jamaican roots music and religion.

Just after this I saw Ashanti Selah, the son of Aba Shanti, in the Selectah’s Arena, but missed the Polish producer I would have liked to have seen, Violin Bwoy.

OBF Sound System

OBF Sound System

On the Mungo’s Stage I caught a plethora of talented UK producers, one after the other. This started with the organiser of the festival, I-Mitri and his band doing a live set, Adam Prescott who runs Reggae Roast, Nucleus Roots, Jah Revelation Muzik with MC Brother Culture, and Murrayman. I then had a break and later saw Vibronics and Brain Damage with a few MCs, which was great.

Inside, the dub arenas looked quite different from the first night, with 4 sound systems all enclosing the dancefloor. You had Aba Shanti-I, Blackboard Jungle, Iration Steppas, and Jah Tubbys sound system. Needless to say this night was a full, pumping experience. The sounds played in a format which over 8 hours in total saw them play for roughly 45-minutes each. They then moved into a 2 tunes for 2 tunes format.

Day 3 and by now the entire vibe of the place had a family feel to it. Lots of new friends had been made, there were several record sellers, merchandise stalls, lots of groups chatting away for hours seemingly content with the environment that had been created. One of the surprises would of been when two small, solar and battery powered sounds popped up just outside the smokers area, playing tune-for-tune all afternoon in a hugely energetic and entertaining way. This proved very popular.

King Earthquake Sound System

King Earthquake Sound System

Salomon Heritage kicked off proceedings in the final day on the Mungo’s stage, one of my favorite new labels. Roots Arna played lots of forthcoming tunes, and Ras Tweed was there to bless the mic which he does with consummate ease. Kibir La Amlak played a great live set, before El Fata backed by Riddim Tuffa took over, and progressed into 80s digital style.

The night finished off with a 4-hour Mungo’s showcase, featuring mainly Charlie P, but also a handful of other MC’s like Murrayman and Cian Finn. I thought Cian Finn from Ireland was one of the hardest working people at the festival – from the first night he chatted on several sets, with Alpha Steppa, Blackboard Jungle, Mungo’s, Alpha and Omega, and probably more that I didn’t catch.

Four very large sounds turned up in the main arena for the final part of the festival, and it was much bigger than night two. King Earthquake, Maasai Warrior, WSP & OBF all made the dancefloor look like a walled enclosure.

Final hour at the Dub Arena

Final hour at the Dub Arena

The night kicked off around 7pm and ran until 3am. By 9pm it felt like the entire room was one big bass bin, and from outside we thought we could hear the roof getting progressively looser. It was a spectacle in itself, people from all over the world moving in an arena as one. The festival had seemingly achieved what its title promotes.

Talking with one of the organisers, they mentioned that it looked like numbers had grown slightly from last year, and with a very strong representation from South America. He rattled off countries like Chile, Peru, Argentina, America, and mentioned big crews from Mexico and Brazil this year. Some attendees had reached from Asia and Africa, of course there was a huge European representation. I also knew there were four of us from New Zealand.
 
I would recommend this festival for all of the sound system community. The music, people, and atmosphere were lovely, and having already announced its third installment in 2015, there is plenty of time to plan for the trip here next March.

More info:
United Nations of Dub Weekender Facebook

Review, pictures and video by RedRobin

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Rototom Sunsplash 2013, Benicassim, Spain, 17 – 25 August

Lester Sterling and The Skatalites, photo by Alan Fairless

Lester Sterling and The Skatalites, photo by Alan Fairless

For many reasons, this eight-day festival is a must for reggae enthusiasts. It showcases the best in emerging and established artists over several stages, has daily reggae universities, a film festival, book launches, great food, and an ‘off’ party on a packed Mediterranean coast.

This all happens under the Spanish mid-summer sun with a fantastic, family-friendly vibe and a lot of extra-curricular activities. It’s neigh on impossible to see even half of what is going on, and hopefully this stage by stage report will show why. (more…)

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A New Zealand Summer with Israel Starr and the NiceUp Crew

Israel Starr and Che FuWith all the good music that took place over the summer months, I thought it best to write a review, sharing all the awesome stuff we have been up to in one of the best summers we have had in a long time.

With so many festivals and gigs happening around the country, it was a hard choice deciding which ones to attend. I start at New Year with the ‘Exodus Festival’, located in one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, Papamoa beach. With Preston beaches, camping grounds, and a great backpackers and nightlife, it is a first choice for many young adults and foreigners looking for a true New Zealand new years. With classic bands like Katchafire and Herbs and new ones like L40 and Majic on the bill, we were in for a treat. (more…)

Garance Reggae Festival

Set in the south of France on the River Ceze, this four-day event (this year 25 – 28 July 2012) is a marathon of pleasure to the ears. Into its twenty-third year the festival attracts big name roots, rub-a-dub, rocksteady and ska artists to its main stage as well as some of the largest and most respected names in sound system culture to the neigh on perfect seven stack Dub Station.  

Seeing the original I-Threes and especially Rita in the flesh, who is the queen of Reggae in many eyes is a historical sight no doubt, but I quickly became drawn back to the sound system to see King Alpha and the upcoming French duo of OBF sound and Shanti-D taking the superior sound over the historical spectacles of Bob Andy, Derrick Morgan and the Gaylads.    With temperatures in the mid 30s, Ernest Raglan backed by Sly and Robbie kicked off procedures with a guest appearance by the original Lone Ranger. This was followed by Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Pam Hall on the main stage, at the same time that Dubkasm featuring Solo Banton were ripping it up on the sound system.

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Raggamuffin 2012

Raggamuffin main stageDriving up to Raggamuffin for the second time in the five years that it’s been running, I found myself a little more nervous and excited then the first time. Not only because I was going to interview some of my favorite artists, or because the line-up was better then the line-up I saw the first time when there was the likes of  Lauryn Hill (it was in fact worse), but simply because I was eager to see how reggae heads in Aotearoa would react to a different type of stage show that I knew a lot of them were not accustomed to. (more…)

J Boog, Three Houses Down, Che Fu, Vintage & Aio

VintageOn Friday 11 March 2011, Wellington was treated to a visit from J Boog, a reggae artist making big waves in the international music scene. Of Samoan descent, born in Long Beach and raised in Compton, J Boog (Jerry Afemata) moved to Hawaii in 2006 and released his debut album Hear Me Roar in 2007.

Connecting with mentors and fellow artists like Gramps of Morgan Heritage and Richie Spice have only helped this artist to launch further into an already impressive career, which I think will take him well beyond the Pacific in years to come.

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Raggamuffin 2011

Raggamuffin main stageWhen the Raggamuffin line-up was announced a few months back I wasn’t overly impressed. Mary J Blige – talented but not really my taste in music. Jimmy Cliff – a legend but a bit played out for me. Maxi Priest – too much synth-drum-loop-machine 80s style reggae. The Original Wailers – when I hear the term ‘Original Wailers’ I think Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, but that’s another story. Ky-Mani Marley and Sean Paul were the saving grace of the line-up for me. So I was very disappointed to hear prior to the festival the announcement that Sean Paul wouldn’t be performing and even more disappointed that Raggamuffin didn’t give any reason for the cancellation. 

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Raggamuffin 2010

Raggamuffin stage I arrived at Raggamugffin about halfway through Katchafire’s set. Being a first-time attendee of the festival, I checked out the stalls and shops then ventured into the crowd for Sean Kingston’s set. I’m still not quite sure how or why but I enjoyed his set even though I don’t really enjoy his ‘hit’ songs which he played. DJ Nasty (Sean Kingston’s official DJ apparently) did a good job and hyped the crowd on the mic.

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Katchafire -11 July 2009, Wellington

KatchafireI don’t think I need to give any background info on these guys, everyone knows them and what they are about, and if you don’t then…where have you been?  These guys have been spreading the irie reggae vibes around Aotearoa for the last ten years and also more recently world-wide. 

Walking into a very packed San Francisco Bath House, I was greeted by the Blackseeds track, Cool Me Down, some Sublime, then the classic Bob Marley tune, One Love all played by DJ Ara. (more…)

Kode9 – 2 July 2009, Wellington

Kode9Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, is a crucial figure in the world of the dubstep. As well as producing his own brand of dark, futuristic dub music, he runs the Hyperdub label, which has pushed the dubstep genre to new and exciting places with artists such as the Bug, Flying Lotus and the incomparable Burial.  To top it off he is also a lecturer at the University of East London, where he specialises in the subject of Sonic Warfare. 

With these impeccable credentials, Kode9 was one of the most keenly-anticipated of gigs in the short history of the New Zealand dubstep scene.  

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