High Stakes Records are making their mark on the New Zealand dancehall scene in a big way with their original productions and work voicing both local and Jamaican artists.  NiceUp talks to Tiopira from the High Stakes crew about what’s on the musical horizon and where the New Zealand dancehall scene is headed.

First up, can you give us a bit of background about the High Stakes crew?  Who is in the crew?  When did you form?  What were your beginnings?

High Stakes is me and my bro, Simon Howden. We started up High Stakes in April 2007, I kinda envisioned us being another boring Maori reggae band, but this other boring Maori reggae band came out with the same name as us, gutted! So we went with High Stakes instead. Our first few tunes were shit, my fault entirely, so I went and brought a Triton and tried doing something a little more original and modern.  

Who are your musical influences/inspirations?

Top of the list would be Steven Di Genius, Don, Daseca, Shane Brown and Chimney for the dancehall. Roots wise Tubby, Perry, and Bob. Electro bass crews like Aux 88, DJ Assault and Uncle Luke. Bhangra crews RDB and Tigerstyle, techno producers like Underground Resistance, Rob Hood and Model 500. Locals Unity Pacific, Joint Force, Ruia, composers like Mancini, Burt Bacharach. Heaps!

What projects have you been working on this year?

We’ve got an EP of tracks with Kari Jess we’re dropping early 2009, the first single is already doing damage in JA. We’ve got a bunch of tracks with Yung Shottaz we’ll be dropping as an EP in 2009 as well, featuring production from ourselves and Grafta.

Then there’s Tough Love Riddim, a lovers rock thing. We’ve got Voicemail, Norrisman, Iceman, Martina, Hiya Slice and Kari on that so far. More tunes with Caldhino, he just shot a video for Rising on Black Supreme riddim which has been getting forwards on JA radio. Singles with big Euro crews ready to drop, East West Rockers from Poland and Ronny Trettman from Germany.

Elephant Wise from Oz is dropping his album soon, we’ve got cuts on there alongside Dubwize. And I’m just finishing off a mixtape, Raising the Stakes, featuring 100% High Stakes riddims. Phew!

You’ve been pioneering among New Zealand dancehall producers in your work with voicing Jamaican artists.  How and why did you start doing this and how has it been progressing?

That’s pretty much Simon, that was his vision, makes total sense too. Nothing is stopping us eh? In terms of progression, we check for the streets and the underground, but I think more and more it’s about working with the bigger artists.

I gotta say though, I’ve really pushed to voice New Zealand artists. I’ve voiced MC Beau, Flowsion, Shottaz, Bem and Hlats individually, Racine, myself, my bros Ropata and Nigel (RIP), pretty much anyone. And for every NZ artist I’ve voiced there’s another 2 or 3 I’ve asked for tunes who haven’t come through.

In your opinion, who are the artists/producers to watch out for in New Zealand and abroad?

Locally – Dubwize, Grafta, Yung Shottaz, and Tanya ‘Silva Rhymes’ are all on the grind. Elephant Wise from Oz, Racine on the hip-hop grind, More Fire on the compilation grind.

Overseas – Producers Calibur Entertainment in Florida and Romani the Great from JA are dope. For vocalists I really rate Caldhino from Cash Flow, Dxcell from Pressure Dem, Unruly Approach and Senile from Disento Ent, and JAH Reign from FMG, all wicked underground MCs ready to shine.

How do you think the New Zealand reggae scene is progressing?  And the New Zealand dancehall scene?  Are there differences with the two?  What are some of the most exciting developments you see happening?

New Zealand roots reggae is massive. Is it progressing? More like consolidating. It’s weird though that we have such a strong roots scene but so little awareness of modern reggae or dancehall. We’ve got a huge potential market here in New Zealand, but how do we target it? I think the answer is looking overseas. I mean there are 4 million peeps in New Zealand and a tiny dancehall scene, but there’s 80 million peeps in Germany and a huge dancehall scene, ya know?

Exciting stuff, Manray in Wellington building New Zealand’s first proper sound system. And the African crews making moves. I’m really looking to our African community to lead the scene. I think they’ve changed the vibe of things here, and they’ll be the ones to carry it forward.

What do you think are the ways forward for reggae/dancehall music in this country?

Unity, hard work, humility and support. And more Zimbabweans, haha!

What advice do you have for up-coming reggae/dancehall artists in Aotearoa?

Have vision, have self-belief. Don’t second guess or doubt. And grind. Bro, I programme drums on the bus to work and mix vocals on the bus ride home. Grind every second you can.

Directions for the future for High Stakes?


Any last comments for the massive?

An artist asked me the other day ‘What does ‘Chur’ mean?’ Ha ha! Finally after 30 years we’re starting to confuse them with our patois!

More info:
High Stakes SoundCloud
High Stakes Facebook

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