The Groove Thief talks to Tour De Force at Reggae Sun Ska

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Reggae Sun SkaThe Groove Thief traveled to Bordeaux, France, to represent NiceUp at the 2015 Reggae Sun Ska Festival. The following interview, with Jay Spaker [aka Double Tiger] and Quoc ‘Q’ Pham [aka Q-Mastah] – the duo behind both Tour De Force and Dub-Stuy Records – comes from backstage just after their performance.

TGT: That sounded nice! I felt that the chemistry was very obvious.

J: We try, we try.

Q: That’s what I love about sound system, it’s just pure vibes. It’s the business of vibes basically.

TGT: But you guys are both producers, so while you’re vocalist [J] and you’re DJ [Q], you’re coming from the same position in some ways, right? How do you find that balance when you’re performing?

J: Yeah, we don’t have defined roles really sometimes, like towards the end of the set, we’re just improvising. I was like ‘run it’ and go.

Q: For me, the actual technical aspect of the sound system is really not that important. We focus on the vibes, you know. That’s what I think our mission is when we play out, kind of make sure that we’re able to transmit the vibes that we create with the music that we make, and just execute that. Everything else is bells and whistles at the end of the day. Like we could play and just dance for the whole time…

TGT: And if the crowd’s into it, then it’s fine.

J: Yeah, I think that’s where the vibes come from, it’s like, you can experience someone having joy and you feel that. But if they’re not enjoying it, there’s zero vibes. That’s what I would say about that.

TGT: Do you find that more challenging when you’re out of Brooklyn, out of your home territory?

Q: Well, yes and no. I think it’s interesting, cause we’re lucky to play in many different places that are widely different as far as dub appreciation, culture. And I think that, wherever we go, it’s kind of the same process. We don’t really adapt either, don’t change what we play, it’s the same and we try to give energy to whoever’s in front of us. Whether there’s five people or a festival like this.

TGT: So you’ve got your mission… try and read the crowd and connect with the audience that’s there.

J: Exactly.

TGT: So do you notice a big difference between the North American audience and the European audience and the Asian audience?

Q: Yeah, I think so man. It’s kind of interesting because in every place we go to there’s a different level of knowledge about the culture, about the music itself. When we go to France, I am always amazed because people are just so in tune to…really an underground thing. So we like playing at home because it’s home, we feel like we have to do a lot of educational kind of teaching, while as here people get it. They just know.

TGT: I know you guys are, legitimately, putting in a lot of time and effort to try and get your audience to understand the depth of things, right? I haven’t seen you play in New York, but I’ve read a lot of articles and I know you’re putting in the time and are not just bringing the music but are bringing the whole experience as far as the sound system goes, the selections, the interaction and interplay between the selector and the MC, and also the importance of the foundation.

Q: Of course, that’s another key thing we’ve said, playing a wide range of styles because that’s what we want to do to music, connect the dots between styles and genres. I think actually, when we were in Asia, it was interesting because we felt like all the crowd was listening to what we’re playing, they were really open to it you know. Like playing for people who were so happy to see you and appreciative of the music and stuff.

TGT: Yeah. And sorry, I forget, where else did you play in Asia besides Hong Kong?

Q: We did Vietnam…

J: Philippines.

Q: Manila in the Philippines.

TGT: Did you notice a big difference between Hong Kong and the other Asian scenes?

Q: Definitely Manila was different. Manila was, it felt like a little bit more of a community, where it was less of a…

J: Kind of an expat scene in Hong Kong.

TGT: Yeah [laughs] that’s kind of my perception as well, you’re not playing for Chinese people, you’re playing for people who like reggae who live in Hong Kong, and some of those people are Chinese but…

Q: That’s very similar I think in places like Vietnam actually, India as well, that type of mentality.

TGT: Were you with Reggae Rajahs in India?

Q: Yeah, we did a tour with Brother Culture actually, the first time we came to Hong Kong, we went to India afterwards and did a couple of shows. It was kind of cool seeing the different vibes – we love traveling man, we love traveling. And for us, I think the experience is sometimes as much about the chilling, and the beach, and the food…

J: Yeah, the tour itself, the traveling and the mingling with the cultures, sampling the food, what’s this regional specialty? That’s exciting to us.

Q: Essentially we try to be like a dub version of Anthony Bourdain.

TGT: Yeah, cool. I definitely [also] appreciate the traveler aspect of things…

J: It can be, you know, it’s a different reality really, because you’re not doing your daily routine, it’s something new in passing right before your eyes, so I just love that level of improvisations: ‘it’s a new day but I don’t know what’s around that corner.’

TGT: Yeah, you’re not worried about tomorrow, you’re not worried about next week, it is what it is.

J: Yeah, what you have left is the moment. You strip away everything.

TGT: I really have a lot of respect for artists who are able to bring that approach to things and disconnect while still sharing their art with people. I feel like, there are plenty of artists who go on international tours – check, check, check, check – and then back to the safe place.

J: That’s right.

TGT: Which isn’t bad, you’re bringing your music to new people and they get to hear it and that’s cool, but I find it funny when you spend seven nights in seven cities and…

J: And you don’t leave the hotel or the venue.

TGT: Exactly. You’re making a lot more of it when you also immerse yourself.

Q: Yeah, we’re in the business of vibes you know, and that is kind of like, for us, a way to connect with the vibes, and bring that to the show. I think it’s really kind of inspiring, seeing how people do things differently in different parts of the world and how that affects the creative process as well. The more we travel, that’s the best, and we plan to do some more soon.

Tour De ForceTGT: Yeah yeah. So, not to get all philosophical…

J: [Laughs]

TGT: … we all know what vibes are, but what are vibes? Is that just everyone’s energy and excitement being externalized or…

J: I think it’s literally what the word means. If you wanna get all heady and metaphysical then yes.

Q: It’s a transfer of energy.

J: When you feel good, you have a vibration [and] you create a vibration. You feel it. And it’s infectious. It resonates with everyone around you. And with the sound system, that’s amplified. So I think it’s literally what it says: vibes. It’s not just a cool word.

Q: We try to create that however we can, if it’s jumping around like a madman, like, gonna hype up the crowd…

TGT: There was a little of that tonight!

[All laugh]

Q: I’m full into it you know, when I get in the vibes, and basically we use kind of what we have and that’s kind of the other thing about playing [a] sound system sometimes, it’s difficult because you’re playing on other people’s sound system, and playing a sound system is kind of a…thing, like playing an instrument.

TGT: Of course, everything is fine-tuned and you have your preferences for your sound. So how was the Legal Shot x O.B.F sound system?

Q: Oh, the sound’s amazing.

J: It was one of the best sounds I’ve heard or played on – straight up.

Q: It’s one of the best sounds, but you know, again, I think every situation we get, we have a different setup, and how much access we have to be able to tweak the sound… so yeah, the point is we use what we have, whatever shape or form.

TGT: So, tonight the sound system’s sort of like a triangle, the Legal Shot is split and O.B.F is kind of a giant stack. But you guys usually bring a wall of sound, right? Do you feel like there’s a big difference – I mean, geographically there’s a difference, but sonically is there a difference?

Q: It’s really all about the layout of the area. Because what they’ve done is they’ve angled them so that you really even coverage, which is really a clash – cause that’s the problem when you have stacks and you don’t put them properly.

TGT: Where the sound will actually cancel itself out.

Q: Yeah you have weird zones when you move around. You have wave cancellations. But these guys are like pros man, it sounds great all throughout.

J: It’s intense when you go stand in the center – I definitely feel that three-directional speaker thing, it’s brutal in the center, it all goes *pppftt*. And if you’re standing there, you’re literally just brutalized by bass, which feels good. It definitely sort of rearranges your whole, everything going on, just shakes it up…

TGT: So, fairly in one way I would say you guys are one of the leading soundsystems in North America, but in another way there’s not that many sound systems in North America…

Q: Yeah… that’s what we try to be. That’s us!

TGT: Yeah. So I’m sure it’s a bit for you guys as well, that it’s so nice to see this European scene. So do you feel like you’re facing a lot of challenges in New York? Or because New York is more of an international city, you feel like what you are doing is really being embraced by a wide audience?

Q: Man, it’s kind of complex thing because in a way we don’t have as much background with sound system, well this style of sound system, more dub roots sound systems. So in a way it’s good, because what we do is a bit like free, you know? We can do what we want, musically. We can do things.

TGT: Yeah, and you can tell that from your albums, that you’re not trying to present one sound.

Q: Exactly, in a way for us, because it’s really easy to replicate vibes and not really try to be unique – I think we’ve always just tried to do whatever inspires us musically, and even with the projects, so we don’t really do just dub events, we do all kinds of other things and connect with different people. That’s what I feel like is feeding into our process, just being in New York. But of course in Europe, again, we love it here because people get into it quicker.

TGT: Yeah, yeah, you don’t have to work so much at the ground level, you can work more at a way to connect with the actual audience.

J: Yeah yeah, for sure. In New York and the States I feel like the first thing people do is go take a selfie in front of the sound system because it’s that rare – they’re like ‘holy shit’ – it’s literally, and we joke, we should charge a dollar, because people are just, all day long.

TGT: Maybe you should [laughs].

J: Have a little bucket out!

Q: What we’re excited about is there’s a lot of crews now that are building sound systems. They email us with questions, technical questions.

TGT: … one thing led to another, that’s kind of how the whole reggae universe is, right?

J: Yeah, yeah, it’s such a small thing… We kind of randomly connected, actually, in New York. We went to a good friend of ours, Carter Van Pelt, had this “Reggae On The Boardwalk” series at Coney Island, and we just met there.

I actually, it was funny, I tried to do some digital dubbing you know, but it was so inappropriate, it was a roots party, and I was like ‘really man?’ and he’s like ‘yeah, you should,’ and I did it. There were like three Jamaicans from the UK and they loved it, and everyone else’s jaw was kind of on the ground. Awkward… but at least we linked up, something good came out of that awkward moment.

Q: Who’s this guy? What’s this guy all about? [Laughs]

J: Can’t believe Carter did that to me…

TGT: And that is the weird thing about reggae, right? If you don’t know reggae, it’s all one thing, but if you do know reggae it becomes very subdivided between soundsystem style in the foundation sense…

J: Totally. Roots, digital, fucking… dub.

TGT: Dancehall, the more 140-dubstep route, but then the people who like that shit don’t necessarily like everything. Even when roots in 140 and herbstep/rootstep is 140, that doesn’t mean those people like the same music!

J: No, no.

TGT: Which seems to make things difficult. You guys as artists are not selling one reggae sound, your album has many varieties of “reggae” but the bpms aren’t the same, the styles aren’t the same, the instrumentation and emphasis aren’t the same… but I do think that makes it more challenging to connect with a new audience, right?

J: Yeah, if it was a cohesive kind of, it’s all digi robotic rub-a-dub. OK, there it is.

TGT: Yeah, 88bpm, let’s go.

Tour De ForceJ: We kind of did that on purpose, to showcase the variety, but there is something to be said about having a linear sort of record where these people get it.

TGT: But do you think that’s something you’ll do in the future? Cause obviously you’ve got your first album, and then you had the full remix LP, for your next project, are you gonna take the same approach as the first one or…

Q: What we’re trying to do… the first one was really a showcase, it was kind of like ‘this is our musical world, influences, as an album.’ I think for the second one, we’re gonna focus more on a concept and pull kind of styles and sounds and moods, kind of break out of the showcase mentality, where it can almost kind of be like a compilation.

TGT: Yeah, yeah. So do you know what that sound is yet, or are you not to that stage of the process?

Q: Yeah, we’re working on it, doing stuff in the lab.

J: A lot of it is just, not to spoil it or whatever, but a lot of it is…

TGT: Don’t worry, no one’s gonna read my articles guys!

[All laugh]

J: So, no, it’s a lot of vintage drum machine, like, Simmons drum type sounds, and vintage synthesizer kind of stuff.

TGT: Pushing like the 80s style? Or even before that?

J: Kind of, yeah, like 80s, late 80s, kind of. But it’s got this weird kind of science fictiony synth thing.

Q: Cinematographic almost.

TGT: Ah, cool cool. So that’s a big departure from…

J: A pretty big departure, yeah.

Q: Yes and no. I mean, cause you still have the same foundation of soundsystem, in terms of like the frequencies, and just how we should play the thing.

TGT: Yeah, yeah. So maybe the presentation’s the same, but the instrumentation is different?

J: You could say that, yeah. That’s a good way to say it.

TGT: Cause your first LP was a very heavyweight project, in a good way, not everything was 140, but even if it was faster it was still very heavy.

J: Everything was just brutal.

Q: It was pretty epic.

J: Yeah, this record’s gonna be a little bit more calm and pulled back. Still deep, but not necessarily just epic, you know…

Q: In a way it’s kind of a nice theme, because we came out of the gate with Battle Cry which is pretty, like big, as you say heavyweight, project, with heavyweight vibes, kind of like “Battle Cry.”

TGT: Which you played at the end of your set tonight – that’s a big fucking tune!

Q: The follow-up album is kind of like, after the battle is over, after Battle Cry is over, and it’s kind of less aggressive, more moody I think. Still the same heaviness, so that’s kind of what we’re going for. Battle Cry is like ‘oh shit,’ this one is like ‘ahh.’

TGT: Yeah, the sophomore LP is more important than the debut LP generally, right?

J: Yeah, that’s true… it’s funny how that works.

TGT: Yeah, it’s so weird – the debut should be what it’s all about, but that’s not how the industry seems to work.

Q: The debut was also kind of important because it was the first release on the label. That was also kind of, build that part of it, the culture, the label [Dub-Stuy Records], the events, so I think the album was really a nice kickoff, a launch, of that side of it.

TGT: Yeah, you’re not just recording artists, you’re doing every step along the way. I wanted to ask you guys, you’re obviously giving away some free tracks in the last couple of months. How do you decide what to choose from the vault to share with the public in that way?

Q: We give out some of them because we’re nice people, and I think it’s nice to give out to the community, which are the tracks that we kind of play as dubplates, and we like to share that. It’s a nice way to get some good music out there, basically. A lot of those Dub Vaults, they’re remixes or experimentations or artists we work with, some of the demos, we use that also as kind of a jump-off point.

TGT: Yeah, the most recent was a Double Tiger remix, and the second one was someone outside…

Q: Dubamine, yeah yeah. A new artist actually, that we’re kind of working with right now, that’s gonna be our next project.

TGT: So does that mean there’s gonna be more on the Dub Stuy label that’s not just Tour De Force?

Q: Yeah, exactly. It’s very important for us to be able to build a community.

TGT: So the record label is gonna be emphasized independently of what you’re doing as artists?

J: Yeah.

TGT: Is there any sort of release schedule figured out yet, or…

Q: We’re working on that. It’s really difficult because of the vinyl production schedule – we’re a new label so we’re learning the whole setup of the business, supply chain management…

TGT: Have you been getting any advice on that from…

Q: We’ve met some really exciting new partnerships, distributors, and people that want to help us on the professional side of it, so we can be more aggressive with the A&R – that’s really the thing to push for next year.

Our album, a new LP from this kid, Dubamine, who had the second Dub Vault, cause he’s like super talented… we played a couple of his tracks tonight. Yeah, keep building the label, focusing on the musical projects, more collabs, more touring.

TGT: For touring, obviously when you’re in Europe or Asia you’re touring without your soundsystem. But have you thought about taking the soundsystem on an American tour?

Q: Yeah, we’d love to. We’ve been talking about this for a while, and I think it’d be great to do that. There’s still a lot of logistics and planning that we haven’t figured out, but I think that’d be good.

TGT: It seems like things are evolving [in America] to the stage where that could be possible. There is the excitement and interest in dub and in sound system culture, but that the average town just doesn’t have a sound system and people have no idea. In the middle of America there’s lots of reggae bands, but…

Q: There’s a few. There’s a guy who hit us up from Chicago, a guy from Cleveland, too who’s building. DC.

J: Cali has a few, for sure.

TGT: Do you have advice for people who want to start? Cause in one way the money’s the challenge, but the knowledge is another challenge.

Q: It takes a lot man: it’s a commitment. It’s a massive commitment. I think, if you get into the whole soundsystem game, you can’t do it halfway, that’s kind of what I love about it as well, you know that it’s a full-on commitment. And not just in building the speakers, but really building a crew: the parties, having box boys, building a community…

TGT: So how big is your crew in New York? Like if you’re gonna do a show, how many people are actually hands on it?

Q: Look, half a dozen, like six to ten people. It’s really like, find the people around you, you can’t sort everything yourself, I think that you need the key people, and just kind of building the vibes, that’s like the first step. You can start building a rig, but if you don’t have this, it’s not gonna happen, basically.

TGT: Yeah. So earlier you said you guys kind of met randomly at a reggae show, essentially, right?

J: Yeah, just a sound system event.

TGT: But did you quickly know you wanted to build a sound system, or how did everything come together?

Tour de Force. Photo taken from www.dub-stuy.com

Tour de Force. Photo taken from www.dub-stuy.com

J: It’s funny, I got a call, I think it was a few weeks later, cause we kinda spoke, I think we spoke briefly then, but we didn’t really go and do it cause we were both working. And I got a call from Q in Brooklyn, I remember I was walking around on my rooftop, and I didn’t really know him that well, and he was like ‘I’m gonna build this sound system man, it’s gonna be big.’

I was like ‘yeah, OK.’ You know, it’s New York. I was like ‘OK man, tell me when it’s ready.’ And I started seeing him post photos and I’m like, ‘oh shit, he’s really doing it.’ So, you know…

TGT: So Q, you really took the lead on actually on moving from concept to reality.

Q: Yeah, but it took a long time to prepare, you know? To just kind of like, do the research, read enough forums – that’s where you find a lot of knowledge, the speaker-building forums, kind of met the right people, did a lot of research on equipment…

TGT: So you did find a lot of support online to help you with the details of things?

Q: I think I’m kind of a… I’m an engineer by trade, so for me it’s like the whole geeky audio thing, I find it pretty exciting too.

Once you have a system, it’s like another world, because then you understand about the sound, how you tune it, how the music translates, and how the audio mixes…

TGT: But that means your system’s not a finished thing?

Q: It’s a learning process man, you’re always learning. I think the best thing for me was we’re lucky to have a space where we can have the system up and running all the time, so I was just really spending a lot of time just listening to it. Kind of just understand how it works.

J: Like his apartment. He had it in his apartment. Testing it out.

TGT: Your poor neighbours.

Q: Yeah, I was being nice, you know, doing only the high frequencies, the mid frequencies, the bass a little bit…

TGT: As the walls are shaking, right?

J: Earthquake.

TGT: As people who live in a highly urban environment, obviously sound system maintenance and storage is a big issue, do you have a separate space for the system now?

Q: A storage unit. But that’s also evolving, we’re looking at spaces, try and bring in a few more people and expand a bit in different directions… we’re trying to expand; we’re trying to do more stuff and we need a space to do that, like a space we could share with other creative-minded people. So we’re looking at spaces right now, to try and expand. Sound system, have events there, it’s pretty exciting opportunities there.

TGT: Yeah, that’s real cool. And are you on part of a longer European tour now, or are you gonna head back to New York?

J: Short and sweet.

Q: Yeah, head back to New York, though we’re back in November, we’re gonna do a bit more extended tour…

TGT: Alright, sweet. Hey guys, thank you so much for the time, I really appreciate it!

More info:
Dub-Stuy websiteFacebook | YouTube | SoundCloud

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