The Uplifter

NiceUp talks to UK reggae roots artist, Tom Uplifter, set to hit Aotearoa, April 2010.

Can you start by introducing yourself and telling the NZ massive about yourself and what the Uplifter is about?

The Uplifter really all hit full swing in 2003, since then things have just built and flourished beautifully in so many ways, all of which I am truly grateful for. The shows revolve around roots music: Reggae, Dub and Ska. The foundations of my involvement within the reggae scene were laid whilst working alongside many artists I highly respect: Groundation, The Slackers, Channel One, Vibronics, Zion Train, Dreadzone, The Black Seeds and more. 

The live element (percussion and dub sirens) have always had a massive role in The Uplifter shows, percussion wise I’ve customized a set up over the years comprising of 1950’s copper Cuban Timbales, snare drum, cow bells and cymbals etc. An African djembe often creeps into the sets depending on the show but you very rarely see an Uplifter set without the timbales and percussion.

I’m a musician at heart but found I could transport music and a live set more easily thought a combination of selecting (DJing), percussion, sirens and vocals. The Uplifter show involves working with some wicked guest vocalists – MC Tenja from Paris, France makes a regular appearance and was part of the tour UK tour back in December 2009.

In 2005 Uplifter Sound System was born and started to run sessions – custom built in a UK / JA sound system style, with a pre amp, sirens, scoops, mid and top speakers. It has been built to match many of the other sound systems running in the UK from past to present. We still use a 1980’s HH amplifier – many sound systems (particularly involved with different genres) go for the new top of the range equipment, but I like my sound to be warm, more organic.

What has been happening for you in the last few months?

We toured the UK with Channel One Sound System, RSD and some other Dubstep artists in December 2009. Channel One and Uplifter represented the roots side of things, demonstrating the links and bridging the gap between people’s knowledge of traditional dub as Dubstep’s predecessor and foundation to the masses. With the intention of showing the younger generations where Dubstep has come from and giving the genre an opportunity to progress into the popular contemporary genre it is today.

It was encouraging to see big crowds of a younger generation being introduced to roots and dub music. In London for instance, many of the places to find dub and reggae are not particularly mainstream, which adds to the charm of the music, which I actually prefer. But on the tour it was refreshing to see the sound systems set up in a different environment to young blood. It makes me smile to see dub playing out to the masses, young and old.

The tour totally smashed it! We hit up all corners of the UK – they just love steppers style dub in the north. They are used to the Sound System Culture up there, whereas some cities like Bournemouth are relatively new to seeing full heavyweight sound systems in session. In Bristol we played to about 1000 people… heavy, heavy vibes.

Who/what are your major musical influences?

My foundation was originally Ska and Rocksteady when I was younger. A band called The Slackers from New York City really lit the flame for my love of reggae music back in the late nineties. They are now close friends of mine and I’ve worked with them over in New York a couple of times since, as well as working with them when they reach the UK. They really nail traditional Jamaican Ska in a way that I very rarely see… in fact never see these days.

There is nothing for me that can compare to a Dub sound systems in session: they hold a very important role in my life. I have yet to be in contact with any other music that has hit me as deeply as dub and reggae music – it’s like a serious addiction.

If I’m not doing a show I often head to either a Channel One session or University of Dub. I cannot describe in words how important is it to me to dance from 10pm until 6am solely with the power of dub music, it’s a deeply spiritual thing, like going to a church… a church of music transporting everyone to higher places.

In terms of music delivery and sending music to the public in the UK, Channel One Sound System, Aba Shanti and Jah Shaka have always been significant sources for me. Production wise my passion sits with organically produced reggae and dub, but these days I have started delving into digitally produced music as well as producing some Uplifter tunes myself and with crew, combining both digital and acoustic instrumental production. Gussie P, Russ Disciple and Vibronics production have been amongst my favorites producers in the studio.

You’re planning to come to NZ in April for a national tour.  Have you been here before?  Why NZ?

I was in New Zealand around 2002 – I was seriously overwhelmed by the country’s beauty and the nature of it’s people. I was lucky enough to travel around both islands, greeted by an old friend at Auckland airport who ended up just giving me his car after a week as he was returning to the UK.

It was a really old gold Ford Telstar, totally knackered, wind screen wipers stopped working during a storm on the motorway near Waitomo and we had to drill a hole through the bottom of the car in Keri Keri to drain the water out! But it got us around the islands from Cape Rienga to the very south. Ah yeah, one of our car tyres turned square after heading up to Cape Rienga.

Some areas of landscape around Wanaka really left an imprint in my mind of New Zealands’ beauty – lakes, mountains, cities, quiet countryside… you have it all.

The UplifterWhat do you know about the NZ reggae scene?

I have a deep respect for reggae music and the artists that are have emerged from the islands, past to present day. You often hear kiwi reggae in an Uplifter set, it’s really nice to warm up the vibes.

One thing I love about the NZ reggae is that it is instantly recognizable. Kora, The Black Seeds, Cornerstone Roots, House of Shem, Salmonella Dub… I am really fond of those guys’ music. House of Shem are most definitely one of my favorites, serious vibes – their  music is going to go far globally for sure. I also really respect that it is a family-based band, it’s just brilliant.

NZ reggae has this beautiful pace to it, it never rushes. I find that in the UK and Europe, music matches the pace of life in the country or city in which it was produced. New Zealand reggae really takes its time, never rushes unnecessarily.The music almost oozes out of the speakers and washes over you, if you know what I mean.

What can people expect from one of your live shows?

Positive vibes, heavyweight reggae and dub with a selection of dubplates (unreleased tunes directly form the producer from UK, Europe and across the globe). And of course the live percussion, which gives a freely expressive vibe to the set.

I never plan a set in advance; I always go with the vibes of the audience and the venue, the surrounding area and country. Custom-drawn animated visuals to keep you visually stimulated hand-in-hand with the tunes creating the Uplifter trademark atmosphere.

The use of dub sirens throughout the years have progressed to a point where they have become an instrument in themselves, they now hold an integral part of the shows. The trademark sirens combined with an echo chamber holds a very important role in Uplifter sets, they again are digitally based but I manipulate them in such a way that is freely expressed and improvised rather than sampled.

I’ve never gone for shortcuts like sampling a siren or a sound effect for example. The same goes for music format, Uplifter sets encompass vinyl: 7″, 10″, 12″ as well as CD’s. I could have transferred to a laptop years ago, but it truly does not feel the same. I’m not knocking that style of performance as for many artists a laptop is an integral part of their set but for me, it just doesn’t feel authentic enough when incorporated as part of an Uplifter set.

In regards to vinyl, it’s a very heavy material to carry, which I kind of like as it’s the least I can do to pay (or ‘carry in weight’) my dews and respect to all of the artists and musician’s work that I carry around in those boxes.

It all depends on how much weight Air New Zealand allow me to take, but all the essentials will be there. I’ll be traveling over solo in 2010 time, once foundations are laid plans are to return with a bigger crew and show in the near future…

Any last words for the massive?

Big up to all the NZ reggae community, I hope that everyone out there realizes how much of an impact your music and country has on people around the world. Keep producing, keep recording and pushing the kiwi vibe around the globe.Oneness!

More info:
The Uplifter website

Photos by Fang Gleizes

Venus Hi Fi