This July, a landmark documentary about reggae sound-system culture was released. ‘Musically Mad’, a film directed and produced by Kalle Folke and Andreas Weslien, dedicates itself to shining light on UK sound-system culture by taking the massive into the heads and hearts of the singers and sound-men, the backbone of the UK roots reggae scene.
It follows a culture that was brought to the UK by Caribbean immigrants and which continues the tradition of providing upliftment to the people in the face of hardship and fostering community and cultural unification and pride. The film includes interviews and footage of some of the key players of the scene, including Aba Shanti, Channel One, Jah Shaka, Iration Steppas, Joe Ariwa, Afrikan Simba, Mad Professor, Fatman Sound, Young Warrior and many more.
NiceUp spoke to Karl Folke about the motivations behind the film, the difficulties and highlights that took place throughout the process and how the film has been received by the reggae massive worldwide.
Can you give us a bit of history and background about yourself and Andreas?
I just turned 27. I grew up outside Uppsala, Sweden, a town that has become something of the roots reggae capital of Sweden. I got into reggae around 97-98 and I used to play drums in a punk-rock band with a friend who was into reggae. When I heard the UK roots music I felt that it was heavier then the heaviest punk song, real power comes from the bass, not screaming at high frequencies. I’ve been into film since I was ten years old, filming and editing skateboard movies, short films and animations in my spare time.
When I dropped out of high school I got a job at a TV-station and learnt from working hard with different TV programmes. Today, I’ve quit working with TV, and am studying to be a gardener. I got tired of the TV industry after nine years in it. Musically Mad has been a way for me to be creative, and film what I want, without commercial interests running my work.
What inspired you to make this movie?
At the first dances I attended in London I felt strongly that I wanted to document them, but I didn’t know where to start. I was just getting into the scene and had little knowledge about it. Andreas was having the same thoughts of a sound-system documentary. He had never worked with film before, but had a much greater knowledge of the sound-system scene than me, so we teamed up and complemented each other well in the film process.
Andreas and I wanted to let other people get into the scene we loved, and still do love! Not many people know what a true sound-system is, all the technical sides of it etc. Also I felt that the roots reggae scene should get more attention, instead of the slackness reggae that’s more popular.
How did you begin the project?
We just started to bring a camera to London when we went to attend dances. We had a very vague idea of what the documentary should be like, we never made a shooting plan or anything like that. Andreas had gotten to know some people in the UK sound-system scene through his sound, Meditative, in Sweden, so we linked up with some of his contacts and started to do interviews.
What was the process of making this doco like?
We started to film in 2004, and since then we have made a couple of trips to the UK every year. The people we met helped us to get in contact with other artists, producers and sound men that could be interesting to interview. We just continued to collect footage whenever we got a chance.
In 2007 I edited a short trailer to show a friend at a TV-station. I put it on my MySpace site, without a thought that anyone would see it, but after some time thousands of people had seen it and I started to get questions about when it was going to be out. That’s when me and Andreas felt that maybe we should start to think of completing the project in a certain time-frame, before that we just thought that we would work on it as long as we felt like it. We could have worked on it for ten or more years if we had not gotten that pressure!
Since the summer of 2007 we have worked with the film much more intensely. I started to work on the editing, and we made what we thought would be the final UK trip at least four times! We have worked with this project in our spare time, so it’s taken a lot more time than if we would have been able to complete it as a paid, full-time job.
This is a pocket money-project, we haven’t gotten any money from anyone. We’ve saved up to buy tickets to London, that has been the biggest expense. I already had all the equipment from my work in television, that helped a lot.
Time is money, and we’ve given our time to this project, that’s how we managed to do it without a budget. I hate paperwork, and don’t want anyone telling me how to make a movie, that’s why we didn’t try to get support from movie institutes and stuff like that. It’s been really nice to be able to make this project exactly as we wanted.
Was it difficult to break into the UK sound-system scene and make contacts?
We noticed how important it was to have references. When we called to ask for interviews, the responses we received were very much based on who we had gotten the number from! I think it’s been important to show that we’ve been serious about the project and that it would actually result in a final product. I think there is a lot of unfinished projects out there, and maybe some people have gotten tired of doing interviews and never seeing any result.
What were some of the most difficult things about this project? What were some of the highlights?
We had big problems with finding old footage. We knew they had some at BBC and other English TV channels, but we could not even afford to order a preview copy of what they had. We could never afford to buy that footage from them, so instead we tried to find amateur footage. Until some months before the film was about to be done we still hadn’t found any. We had a lot of good interviews about the old days that we really couldn’t include without having some visual reference. But finally we found some really nice footage to include from some helpful sound followers, and it really did a lot for the final film!
The highlights have been to meet all the people that we have interviewed. They have all had such a great energy and love for the music. I still smile when I think back on them and their personalities.
What has been the response to this doco? How has it been received by the UK sound system scene?
Ever since I put the trailer on MySpace, we’ve gotten positive feedback almost daily from all over the world. We have had great support from the reggae community. People have helped us with photos, old footage, translation etc without getting paid, just to contribute to this project that they have felt is important to the scene.
Now that some people have seen the final product we have only had nice responses too. Everyone in the scene is very happy that we have made this documentary to let people know about what they, and we, already feel so strongly about. We’ve heard people compare it to the sound systems themselves, in that it’s about getting the message out there.
We are very grateful for the nice feedback, it almost makes me forget about all the late nights in front of the computer, working on the editing!
What are your plans for the future?
First of all I need to have some time off, or to just have one job instead of two! I have some other film projects that I would like to finish, and me and Andreas are thinking of new projects about roots reggae music. We’ll see what happens, in a year’s time I’ll be done with my gardening education and will start to work with that. Maybe I’ll make the winter the time to make projects like Musically Mad. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work full time with documentaries, you need to fill out too much paperwork if you want funding, and I really can’t handle paperwork!
Anything else you want to add?
Thank you! Hope you’ll like ‘Musically Mad’!
The Australasian premier screening of ‘Musically Mad’ will take place at the NZ Film Archive in Wellington on Thursday 7 August 2008.
The film will be introduced by Ingrid Leary, director of the British Council and DJ Danny Lemon (Roots Foundation) and will also be preceded by the short film, ‘Bristol Vibes’, from the UK Channel 4 ‘Black Tracks’ series.
Tickets available from the Film Archive from Monday 4 August, $6 unwaged, $8 waged.
Wellington City Council, The British Council and the NZ Film Archive.
Musically Mad website
Venus Hi Fi