As you might expect, Earl Gateshead and Daddy Ad from the Trojan Soundsystem (TSS) both firmly believe in the power and potency of great sound.
The two men at the helm of TSS were given their name by Trojan Records, a label synonymous with Jamaican music and soundsystem culture. The imprint has done much over the years to preserve and celebrate the history and back catalogues of reggae artists. The job of Earl and Ad is to ensure this is more than just an act in nostalgia by breathing life into the music via regular DJing and constant gigging. With as much bass weight as they can muster.
As a result, the pair are constantly in demand, particularly as the roots of much contemporary dance music lies in the reggae, roots, dancehall, dub and rocksteady they pump out. Their own original material, including recent collaborations with the likes of Toddla T, Ashley Beedle and Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy on their latest Africa EP, have also done much to push them into the limelight.
M managed to track down Earl and Ad to discuss soundsystems, their new material and why good sound can make a party…
What are your first musical memories?
Earl (E) - It was Radio Luxembourg. We couldn’t get music in the 50s and 60s so easily. There was no Radio 1 or pirate radio so this was the only way to get to popular music.
Ad (A) - I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Staffordshire. But the closest house was the one belonging to drummer John Cuffley of the Climax Blues Band. We’d go and sit in his studio where they’d have a lot of parties.
How did you get into Jamaican music?
E - In the late 70s, I saw a soundsystem in Bradford and it just shook my world. I fell in love with it. I didn’t even know what it was at the time but I was completely knocked over by it. I loved it because it broke the barrier down between audience and performer. It was more involving and a step away from the band culture I’d been used to.
At the time soundsystems would be on the dancefloor and the performers would perform in a pitch black room. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. You couldn’t do it now because of health and safety but it made for a massively different way of appreciating music. It’s very loud and pure.
A - My introduction to dance music was through starting Sleaze Nation - we bought Jockey Slut as well. I was experiencing the more supermarket side of dance music. But drum and bass really interested me in terms of rhythm and groove and the communication between the audience and a vocalist.
I got deeper and deeper into it. It was my wife Cosmo from the Loft in New York that introduced me to David Mancuso from the club. We started doing the Loft here with the same sound. Most of the clubs over here would have tinny mixers and poor cartridges. But we saw from David how the vibe of the party can be lifted with a different level of sound.
When did you two start writing and DJing together?
A - Me and Earl were constantly getting booked alongside each other and got on famously. We were challenging each other to play as much reggae as possible in this dance music environment. The two of us started a night called Roots and Reality which we wanted to take into peak-time trendy clubland. We didn’t want that stoner reggae stereotype.
We ended up playing a big club in Shoreditch after they had a cancellation and it was the venue’s biggest night of the year. Everything else was electroclash at the time. We were trying to introduce reggae to people who knew they liked it but didn’t know how to get into it.
Why did you take on the Trojan name?
E - We’re missionaries really and fit exactly into Trojan vibe. It has a history of bringing real reggae to a European audience. Which we see as our function as well.
A – That’s why Trojan asked us to be the soundsystem. We were introducing this catalogue to a new audience.
E - We really wanted to bring reggae into the mainstream. You’d go to a second hand record shop 15 years ago and they didn’t even sell reggae. We wanted to change that and ensure the music got the recognition it deserved.
A - Reggae is a bit like jazz. There’s such a depth of catalogue with all these different forms such as blue beat, ska and rocksteady right through to dancehall. You have the obvious entry points like Bob Marley and Toots but where do you go next?
What’s the deal with the new record Africa?
E - Well the vocalists have a real talent. They came up with really good songs. Songs are magical things and we’re very lucky that our MCs are very talented songwriters. If you’ve got a song, you’ve got a chance really.
A - In terms of how we write, Earl and the guys do the lyrics and the melody. Then translate those onto existing reggae rhythms, then develop that further as we’re constantly out gigging. Then me and Earl go into the studio and start working on it retrospectively from all those ideas we’ve seen.
We delve into a lot of the sounds and techniques that have had influence on drum and bass, dubstep and house. Take drum sounds and inspiration and bass sounds and try applying that to traditional reggae.
Have you got any favourite soundsystems?
E - They are improving constantly. Distortion is a big thing. Ad is not a big fan of that. But they’re improving all the time. The Outlook festival is great - all the systems from across Europe meet there and near each other so it’s a competition. There is a lot of good sound at the minute. I like the Mungo Hi Fi soundsystem.
A - It’s great that there are so many new systems being built. But the way the culture has gone the front end is people who don’t understand or use vinyl so playing in compressed crappy formats.
In that chain is a standard club mixer and they’re really shitty quality. So it’s adding more bad components in the chain. It should be as pure as possible between the cartridge and speaker. We love vinyl as it helps the colour and warmth come from the music. Vinyl is best if everything in the train is set up correctly.