Written by Max Vanegas
In today’s swirling amalgam of electronic music genres, it can be difficult to remember our roots. While many of us know who and what can be attributed to the formation of dubstep, there are several people who don’t know that the genre we know and love came from reggae and a subgenre of reggae called dub.
While the evolution of our beloved genre takes many shapes, there is one crew still keeping it real and emanating an OG style that has defined sound system culture today.
The selectors we speak of are none other than Mungo’s Hi Fi, a group formed by a pair of Scottish fellows named Tom Tattersall and Doug Paine who wanted to do something different and introduce a new sound to Glasgow and Great Britain.
Now in their 23rd year of existence, Mungo’s Hi Fi can be credited with forming the reggae and dub scene in the UK with multiple studio releases and notable collaborations with reggae legends. One legend they’ve worked with is Bristol’s Eva Lazarus, an aggressive and in-your-face MC who retains a level of class that exceeds most vocalists associated with the thrashings of bass music.
This Thursday, we are elated to be welcoming both Mungo’s Hi Fi and Eva Lazarus for our show on 4/20 with local support Seen and Bad Example at The Black Box.
With so much anticipation ahead of our holiday event, we decided to sit down with Jeremy Joly of Mungo’s Hi Fi to talk about the proliferation of the group, favela renegades in Brazil, sound system culture, and more.
Welcome back to Denver! How does it feel to be returning to The Black Box?
Thank you! We’re really excited to be back and especially to be bringing Eva to the States with us for the first time!
You’ve been working with Eva Lazarus for years now. How did that collaboration originally start and what keeps it going?
Eva was performing on the same night as us at a club in Bristol - I was blown away by her performance and went to speak to her after the show about linking up. When we started recording it was obvious that our musical directions matched really well and that we both liked experimenting with all kinds of bass music.
So you’re kicking off a big US tour with the show in Denver. What do you love about playing in the States?
We love playing in the States because we fill a musical gap somewhere between Reggae/Dub/Dancehall and dance music and it feels like that's a crossover that is appreciated by audiences in the US. The crowds in the States always bring a vibe!
Over the course of four days (4/20-4/23), you will be playing in a club, a theater, and a warehouse. How do differing environments like these impact your sets, if at all?
The type of venue doesn’t impact our sets as much as the style of night that the promoter is running. Some promoters run nights that might be more roots-oriented, others more of a party vibe so we might lean more towards a musical direction if it seems right. On this tour with Eva, we’ll be showcasing all kinds of styles from Roots to 140 bpm.
What artists or music contributed to you getting “bit by the reggae bug,” so to speak?
My Dad had a Bob Marley CD that I used to listen to growing up. As a kid, I also loved UK Reggae and Ska bands like UB40 and The Specials. In my last year at school, someone gave me a cassette mixed by Andrew Weatherall which was all King Tubby and Prince Jammy tracks and that tape opened my mind to the world of Dub!
The Listening Bug EP turns 10 this year. When it comes to production, what has changed and what has stayed the same since then?
We still use the concept of mixing Jamaican-inspired sounds with other musical influences to try and make fresh and original productions. We keep a close eye on what's happening in other underground music and sometimes bring in those influences to our tracks. We are experimenting with African and Brazilian beats in some recent productions and have worked with several African vocalists in the last few years. I would like to think our technical production skills have improved in the last 10 years too!
What was it like working with legends like Mighty Diamonds and Max Romeo?
Our work with Max Romeo was done remotely and I’m looking forward to meeting him in person someday! Working in the studio with artists like the Mighty Diamonds, Wailing Souls, Johnny Clarke, and Sugar Minott was both exciting and daunting - It can feel overwhelming recording a track with singers who have made classic records but I think they could see we had a real passion for the music and they were keen to help us out and work together.
We are incredibly downhearted to hear about the recent passing of Jah Shaka. What was it like working with him and what influence did he have on Mungo’s Hi Fi?
Yes, very sad news. Seeing Jah Shaka play for the first time was a huge inspiration. It opened our eyes to the spiritual side of Dub sessions and made us want to release music and build our own sound system. We were blessed to have Jah Shaka playing on our sound a few times and he continued to inspire us in the way he selected music and the dedication he had to his message.
How do you innovate and keep things new in a genre while still staying true to the roots that built it? Is there a point where “tradition” should be abandoned or stretched?
We try and imagine what the future of the music will sound like and then make it how we imagine it to be! We keep on top of new music technology and experiment with new sounds as well as using old-school studio techniques to keep a richness in the sound. For young audiences to connect with our music they need to feel an affinity with the vocalists that we work with. We try to work with vocalists that have a flow and lyrics that sound current and are relatable to our younger fans.
I recently have been investigating sound system culture in a place I never thought it existed - India. Are there any places that you’ve come across in your travels or careers where the culture took you by surprise?
We were in Brazil a few years ago and some friends took us to a Favela in Sao Paolo that was a couple of hours away from the city centre. We got off the bus, walked round a corner and there were 3000 people in the street dancing to a sound system that was playing reggae and dancehall out of a derelict restaurant! Such an amazing vibe.
What are some sound systems you are a fan of today?
Jah Shaka was my favorite roots sound! I really like OBF from France and the way they explore new sounds within Sound System culture. Numa Crew in Italy are a very talented collective of producers and DJs and they always bring fresh sounds. I love Deep Medi nights too - even though they’re not strictly a sound system they play like a futuristic dub sound system.
Join us on Thursday as we celebrate the memory of Jah Shaka, the legacy of Mungo’s Hi Fi, and the evolution of sound system culture at the best place in the world - The Black Box.