It’s around two thirty pm on a Friday afternoon and I’m not sure what to expect when I speak with Adam Dewhurst and Earl Gateshead from The Trojan Sound System. Thinking they may be taking break from the studio, it turns out the boys are down the pub supping a pint. Who can blame them? It’s been a hard day of radio shows and taking part in a feature for the Guardian Newspaper. “We’ve just done a mix for them” Adam enthuses who is also the band’s manager, “a bit of an odd one, It’s for their travel section about England with us relating reggae tracks to different cities basically”
It’s not just the national newspapers that are eager to get a piece of the Trojans; the likes of Toddla T, Lee-Scratch Perry and Tippa Irie have all collaborated with them at some point and for a good reason. Between the collective that is Earl, Daddy Ad (aka Adam), Super four, Chucky Banton and Jah Buck, there is a wealth of musical history between them that stems all the way back to the 70s. Earl has been a respected DJ for the last twenty years, having held residencies at The Dive Bar in London and The Blue Note. Adam has also been on the DJ circuit for just as long, proudly boasting about playing the odd reggae track during a house set. He has been heavily involved in the music industry previously running lifestyle magazine Sleaze Nation and dance music cult magazine Jockey Slut. Vocalist’s Chucky and Supafour are member of London Sound systems; Taurus, Sir Coxsone and Saxon. Lastly, Jah Buck is a respected singer songwriter.
Forming in 2004 out of the legendary reggae label Trojan Records, it can be said that the bands success and cult following could be attributed to the fact that each member has something different to bring to the table. With this in mind, The Trojan Sound system have spent the last few years touring the globe as a DJ/Vocal collective ensuring that the medium is strictly vinyl and music policy reggae in its purist form. They have also graced the studios, producing deep rooted rhythms and pounding bass lines, most recently on their own imprint TSS. The latest offering “Africa” did some extensive damage on the dance floor with an underlying message to reflect the deep felt need which all people of African descent feel for their homeland.
Tell us more about your label TSS, and any new releases you have planned.
Well, we’ve released three singles so far and two EPs. The first single My God featured a Toddla T rhythm and we also did a version after performing it live a few times. With the next single Look to the East featuring Superfour we were trying to make a modern version of roots reggae but somehow it ended up In the grime section! It is however, quite contemporary in our opinion. The third single Africa has a message which relates to a black audience primarily, a sort of plea against repression but we hope that all races can identify with it. With Africa we were trying to do a modern take on the Bunny Lee sound; Ashley Beedle and JFB provided some great remixes. The fourth tune, yes, there’s a fourth actually, was done by Jah Buck called Life in a Day. It’s a slow ballad, almost Gospel sounding so we didn’t think it was appropriate for a single but we released it on the original Africa EP. With that, it is our most listened to song on iTunes which we didn’t expect. Our next release will be Revolutionary written by Supafour followed by The Bomb which we think is our best so far but then, who are we to judge!
You have a musical background which goes way back to the 70s. Can you tell us more about your history and how this gels you together as a band.
We all come from different places really, different skills and slightly different perspectives. Jah Buck is the only one that was actually born in Jamaica so he has a really Jamaican perspective on the music. Supafour was in New York for about seven years as a part of an underground hip-hop collective and they used to perform at many New York venues. Chucky is a respected singer who’s been around for a long time. He’s performed with Dennis Brown and other influential reggae artists so has a very strong musical standpoint. Daddy Ad started as a drummer so he has a rhythmic perspective and is the most technical minded of the collective. I come from a DJ background having started in the 70s. I think like a DJ so that’s what I add to the mix. Outside the music, we all have our separate lives and understand each other’s values.
You’ve worked with some influential people in reggae. Who has been a favourite and why?
I love working with Big Youth definitely because he is massively talented. In my opinion, he is the best lyricist ever in reggae music, an innovator; it was such a huge privilege to meet him. I became his tour DJ so we got to know each other very well and I learned to like him as a person.
Reggae has played an active part on the London music scene. When you play abroad what do you notice about the scene compared to the UK?
It doesn’t really work like that with reggae; you’d be surprised how big the genre is abroad. It’s huge in France and they know the music really well. We’ve noticed that Italy in particular has an equally huge scene which I guess you wouldn’t expect. Spain is up and coming I’d say and Germany also has a very big culture of reggae and its mutations. Each country is slightly different; of course it’s not the same as the scene here but globally it’s a huge market.
What can people expect to hear when they come and hear you play live? Tell us about your performance.
A lot of it is rehearsed, often containing songs we’ve made in the studio which we’ll then transfer to vinyl and play out during our sets. It’s a strictly vinyl affair with a mixture of our own material and people we like. Although we play instruments they’re not used in a live setting so in essence, it’s a DJ set with our vocalists toasting and singing over the top of the records to get the crowd warmed up. For us, it’s all about the sound system vibe and we go right through the whole range be it roots, reggae, dub, or dancehall.
Most musical genres have their golden era before they fall out of fashion but reggae seems to have remained a staple musical diet here, particularly in London. Why do you think this is?
Bob Marley said a thing about reggae “them who feels it knows it” and I think if someone hears reggae and it resonates them, then they’ll say “I like that!” It has the African vibe about it of course but it also has a certain otherness and a certain separateness which a lot of people seem to like. Musically, it’s a third world form not first world. It looks at the world from a third world pint of view. It’s also a more spiritual form of music and it has a different view point that is totally separate from hip hop, house and similar genres; people like that separation.
What are your ambitions for 2013?
For me personally, I love playing on the big stages. I like every live show but when you walk out and there’s thirty thousand people out there waiting for you, that’s pretty exciting – it’s what you want you know. So we’d like to make some very successful records to enable us to keep doing that. We are also playing at Bestival this year so really looking forward to playing there. Our gig diary is pretty healthy although I can’t remember what else off the top of my head; you’ll have to check our social media sites for that! I’d like to play another gig at Koko in Camden, it’s always a good gig; the technical guys are great and we always get a full house. Hands down, one of our favourite venues to play – it seems to work for us.
“Reggae was always such a passion for me “says Adam “Earl and I would always try and slip in a late 70’s steppers tune in one of our house sets back in the day and people would come running up to the decks and say, wow what’s this brand new track it’s amazing? Actually, it came out 30 years ago mate…It just shows you how much influence reggae has had on contemporary music – it sounds like it was made yesterday”
Thanks to Adam Dewhurst and Earl Gateshead for the interview.
Africa EP by The Trojan Sound System and the Africa remixes is out now in all good stores on TSS Records. Click here to buy from iTunes.
Written by Pete Rann