Naram talks to Craig from Scottish reggae crew, Mungo’s Hi Fi, who will be reaching our shores this February for the One Love Waitangi Day Festival and two North Island shows on 12 and 13 February.

Right, let’s get the ball rolling with a bit of a background on how Mungo’s Hi Fi came into being?

Well, Mungo’s came into being in 2000, with a want to hear decent music in our own city and the finding of some speakers in a skip! It was started by Tom and Doug and I started DJing with them in about 2002 and Jerome around 2006. 

We ran a monthly reggae soundsystem dance in an old man’s working club which was always rammed out, hot, smokey, sweaty and so much fun! Eventually we outgrew the venue and grew up our soundsystem – a process that is continuing to this day.

Right, well Glasgow probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of reggae – to me it more likely conjures up images of blizzards, haggis and heroin-fuelled stabbings. Tell us about the musical journey you traveling to become a professional reggae-enthusiast?

It’s funny – your conjured-up image isn’t too far from the truth! We’ve had the worst winter for years -18C in parts, there were 18 stabbings in a club on Boxing Day and tonight is Burns night – the one night of the year the Scots take a break from all things deep-fried and eat haggis! But apart from that, Glasgow is pretty much like any other city in the UK.

In terms of how we became reggae-heads, we all got into it from various angles. Tom and Doug from more of a dub angle playing as the Dub Dentists, while I personally got into reggae from a 90s dancehall/ragga cassette I was given while in the Outer Hebrides – the remote island off the west coast of Scotland where I was born and bred.

Before becoming serious reggae geeks we were all DJs, playing styles ranging from hardcore to hip hop.

Given my discourteous slight against your home town (in the question above), I’d also like to afford you the opportunity to defend the honour of Glasgow…

Yeah I’d watch yourself mate! Aside from the shit weather, generally poor diet and let’s say ‘slight lean’ towards drink culture, Glasgow is a great cosmopolitan city where many people from Europe and around the world come to study and find they just leave, there’s a real party vibe in Glasgow and for somewhere with such a rough reputation it is extremely warm and friendly.

Glasgow is surrounded by beautiful scenic countryside not far away in any direction, with grand buildings all around, flats are generally massive and built in red sandstone interspersed with some of the fines architecture in the county, oh and the city was founded by St Mungo!

Shit weather, poor diet and binge drinking – I think you’ll be right at home here in Wellington! (Nah, actually we generally eat quite well here – we do a good falafel). 

Anyways back to the music, when it comes to modern reggae you guys have built a pretty unique niche – mashing up heavy roots vibes with quirky digital beats… What are some of the sounds that you draw on as influences? 

We draw influence from many forms of reggae music, I guess predominantly from the digital era – the likes of Jammys, King Tubbys digital, Ujama. But also Studio One, ska, rocksteady, rub-a-dub and ragga.

That peculiar late 80s digi-dancehall sound seems to be enjoying a bit of renaissance at the moment with the popularity of the Jahtari label and, of course, your own Scotch Bonnet label. What do you think it is about that sound that holds such appeal?

What’s there not to like? It’s all about building wicked riddims on limited technology.  Steely and Cleevie are the masters from the digital era, producing 75% of the more popular riddims you hear from the 80s. The 80s sound can sound basic and raw – but it has a vibe.

For such a long time when people talked about reggae it was all Bob Marley, Steel Pulse etc and the sound of the 70s – which is great, but it was only a question of time before the lost treasure of 80s had a resurgence.

I remember up until about 2004 I was buying so many of those records in London for peanuts. Now when you go to shops the prices have shot up – what was once 2 pound is now 30 pound! It’s probably partly due to the internet making everything so accessible now – there’s a lot of pirate blogs dishing out rare and classic 80s albums, which in one sense is good, but it also means that some of the records we have are now commonly shared, still it’s only a fraction!

It is really nice to see 80s styles being revived – Jahtari is the boss label for this with Disrupt and also Maffi building some sick riddim tracks.

Mungo's Hi Fi logoWithout giving away too many secrets, how do you bake a Mungo’s Hi Fi riddim? Do you guys use vintage gears to create your vibes or is it all computerised?

Well Tom is the creative genius behind our riddims working on a computer for synths and programming, but then mixing it all live on an analogue desk with spring reverb, analogue delay, and external effects in a classic King Tubbys or Scientist style. In essence, that’s what draws the vibes out from the computer.

You guys have worked with some of the most legendary deejays and MCs in the reggae business – Ranking Joe, Sugar Minott, Errol Dunkley, Sister Nancy (to name but a few) – do any of those dudes/dudettes standout as being particularly memorable to work with?

I would say that everyone we have worked with so far has been memorable in their own way – and they’ve all been very humble, easy to work with and a good laugh – which is just as important as their vocal talents.

I see you’ve also recently starting voicing some big names in the modern JA scene – for instance, Movado. What are you’re thoughts on the modern Jamaican scene and do you reckon you’ll look to pursue further links with other contemporary JA artistes?

To be honest we’re a bit out of touch as to what has been happening in Jamaica in the last few years. We got a bit bored by the amount of mediocre bashment being churned out with a heavy R&B feel (and not in the good old way) and the massive riddim albums coming out with maybe only one or two good vocals. I’m not a fan of much modern roots either, I find it a bit cheesy.

However in saying all that, I am starting to notice a few wicked things coming through and the first chance I get I’m going on a hunt for new modern tunes.

We haven’t worked with Movado as such, but we have a few dubplates from him as well as Buju, Beenie, Bounty etc, all on our own riddims. There’s a wealth of new talent also emerging – check Black Warrior, Steady Ranks, Conny Ras, I Bogle, Triple D and Wildlife as some examples of wicked artists coming through – some of whom feature on our next riddim Bad From.

As well as working with big name vocalists, you’re well-acquainted with some of the biggest names in the UK soundsystem game – what systems come to mind as your favourites?

Iration Steppas. We’re often down at SubDub/Exodus in Leeds where they they are based. Mark Iration is a great guy with brilliant tunes and a seriously heavy system – it’s great to hear and watch. A night at SubDub will make your eyes vibrate in their sockets.

You also operate a fairly sizeable stack yourselves – tell us about your sound system?

Oh yes, we have a beautiful soundsystem, one of the finest in Europe in my humble opinion. It’s extremely heavy in the bass section, yet crystal clear all the way up, we all agree that it’s far nicer to run a sound so that it’s not peaking and crazy loud just for the sake of it – distortion is not nice. Everyone who plays on it falls in love with it, and it is requested as the rig of choice for many artists visiting the fair shores of bonnie Scotland. It’s in a constant state of improvement and I highly recommend anyone to come and check it if they are ever in our area.

I note that you guys have toured, or are about to tour, some pretty random locales – e.g. Mexico, China, Finland, Brazil – and now of course your touring our humble shores in Aotearoa. Why do you reckon your sound is blowing up on such an outernational scale?

You tell me! The last couple of years have been busy for us touring constantly and releasing a lot of tunes. We have a good distribution network which has helped get our Scotch Bonnet and Scrub a Dub labels get into the shops, and they seem to be consistent best sellers, which is really nice.

We’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively and meet some truly great people promoting wicked nights and experience reggae and other club scenes all over the place.

As well as making waves in reggae, you’ve developed a big following in the dubstep scene – did you guys consciously start producing dubstep or did the dubstep crowd just kind of chance upon the Mungo’s sound?

In one word, yes. Our soundsystem was hired for a night by the Electric Eliminators, a dubstep crew from Glasgow, and they brought Mala and Sgt Pokes before dubstep had exploded and we were inspired – it was a big moment. The following month saw a young Skream playing on our system.

Production-wise we generally put a lot of dub into our sound and see it as a continuation of reggae and soundsystem culture rather than just adding reggae samples onto dubstep riddims. This is one thing that’s nice about dubstep – producers have come to it from different backgrounds all with their own concept of what it is – so they have their own sounds.

We listen to and play different styles of dubstep right across the board. I think it’s ok to like other music aside from reggae.

Figuratively speaking, where to now for Mungo’s Hi Fi?

Onward and upward, everything we have done has been built up over time with a good foundation and we hope to continue on this tangent, we have so far only released a fraction of our productions, with some big projects in the pipeline including artist albums. We also have a soundsystem tour in Europe coming up this summer.

Finally, please explain in ten words or less why punters would be certifiably insane not to attend your upcoming gigs in Aotearoa and Australia…

Well, listening to quality reggae is better than shagging sheep isn’t it?

That’s 12 words Craig, and besides, despite propaganda suggesting otherwise, Kiwi’s aren’t really into shagging sheep. We generally prefer goats.

More info:
Mungo’s Hi Fi website
Mungo’s Hi Fi Facebook