Interview: Wrongtom on meeting The Ragga Twins
Wrongtom has a brand new album out on 28th April 2017 with veteran reggae legends The Ragga Twins. 25ThC is a big fan of both artists so took the opportunity to discuss the album, DJ’ing as a storm trooper, DJ Derek and more:
Congratulations on the new album. It’s superb and I’ve had it on repeat since I got the promo. You have been a big fan of the Ragga Twins since you were a teenager. It must have been a great thrill to get to work with them. How did you hook up for the album?
Thanks man, I was pretty blown away when they said they’d do the album, especially as they didn’t know me from Adam. I basically cold called after I spotted a Canadian producer I know called Dubmatix had done a track with them, he linked me up and 5 years later here we are.
The album looks back to the 80s heyday for the Ragga Twins but also is very modern at the same time. How did you accomplish this and which artists influenced you all in the sound and themes for the album?
It’s in the evergreen nature of reggae music, you can date a style or sound to a certain time but a track from 50 years ago can still rock a dance floor as well, often better than a recent production. I’ve got dubstep crossovers from a few years ago which I couldn’t play now, they already sound dated but I dropped Bam Bam by The Maytal’s – made in 1964 – at a gig the other night and it went off.
I don’t think anyone specifically influenced me, more the broad spectrum of reggae and dancehall that I listen to. Obviously I have to say Jammy because I replayed the Sleng Teng but I guess I’m more influenced by all the different artists who have versioned it over the years, always different and (almost) always fresh. That’s probably why it doesn’t sound like an entirely retro album. Ragga Twins invoke an old time dancehall thing because of their background but they’re informed by years of MCing over evolving styles from jungle to breaks and beyond so all of that energy winds up on each track.
The lead single Bacchanal is doing very well having hit the number one spot in the Juno dancehall chart. Can you tell me more about the song and in particular the video which has a very interesting twist at the end?
It’s their song first and foremost so I can’t say more than what it sounds like to me, which is a good old fashioned soundboy burial. The video’s a homage to an insane film called Street Trash about a community of vagrants living in a wreckers yard in 80’s Brooklyn, and a batch of bad booze doing the rounds which makes people melt. Most people expect reggae videos to be all sunshine and other horrible “positive” cliches which bore me senseless and I actually find a little racist, so I thought I’d buck the trend with this. The end sequence was really all I could afford FX-wise. I’d had plans on doing a scene with a big tramp party amongst smashed up cars with a full on melting moment after someone drinks the Bacchanal but I had to scale it back to simple suggestion, with a quick flash of the tramp’s coat on the stairs covered in strawberry angel delight.
All of your amazing “Wrongtom meets…” album covers were designed and illustrated by the veteran designer Tony McDermott and are a feast for the eyes. How did you link up with Tony and do you discuss ideas for the cover or simply leave it to him?
We had Greensleeves veteran Kevin Metcalfe mastering Duppy Writer back in 2010, he asked who was doing the artwork and I said I was trying to find someone who could do something like Tony McDermott’s Scientist sleeves. “Why don’t you just ask Tony? I’ve got his number…” it was that simple, and I’ve been mates with Tony ever since. I generally just give him a rough theme and the album demos, and wait to see what he comes up with, it’s always fantastic.
Can you tell me about your recording process, the hardware/software you use, who plays all the parts and how collaborative the process is with the MC’s.
I’m pretty antiquated. I do use a mac with Logic Pro but I barely use it for much more than something to record and arrange in. Most of what you’re listening to is hardware. I’ve seen this album described as digital dancehall but there’s only actually 3 digi tracks on there. Most of it is me playing bass, guitar, keys, analogue synths etc. My label mate J-Felix stepped in to play some more complicated guitar parts on a couple of tracks which I couldn’t handle with my remedial chops. The horns are all by my friends John and Paul who play on a fair few of my releases.
It wasn’t especially collaborative this time, I sent rough rhythms over to the Twins to get an idea then watched in awe as they worked their way through them during the recording sessions, we put down 7 tunes in a 4 hour session on one occasion, they don’t mess about.
You recently played at Spiritland in memory of the legendary DJ Derek with Count Skylarkin who was bequeathed his famous minidisks which you got to dig through. What was it about DJ Derek and his track selections that made him so enduring and so sadly missed and which of his tracks stand out for you personally?
There was something charmingly honest about Derek’s take on reggae djing. He may have been a white Bristolian who found fame in his retirement years and spoke in a curious jamaican meets west-country patois, and that may have been part of the spectacle for a lot of his audience but beneath the surface was a guy with unbridled passion for the music he played, and the patois was no joke, he picked it up like a second language from his friends in the bars and clubs he frequented for decades.
It’s more his chat between tracks which stand out for me. His contraception rant “KEEP YUH KNEES TOGETHER” before dropping “Heads High” for example, but my favourite remains his anti homophobia takedown to which he signed off with the clarification “BUT… MI KNOW WHAT SIDE MI BREAD IS BUTTERED!”
At the end of last year you had the great fortune of DJ’ing in the cantina bar dressed as a stormtrooper for the Secret Cinema Star Wars event. There are so many jealous DJs out there right now including myself! What was that like and how did you choose what music you would play?
Uncomfortable! I have a new found respect for all those extras that played stormtroopers. I couldn’t bend down to pick up my records, they’re so restrictive. I had to descend 4 flights of stairs dressed in that thing. The stormtrooper gear was a one off inside the Death Star section where I mainly played old electro records but I had a residency in the Cantina where everyone ended up after the film. I did it so much I had a variation of outfits I’d put together myself from a judo kit, army surplus, some traditional Indian dress and a cloak I bought from The Viking Store in Walthamstow.
The main musical remit was unearthly sounds with a bit of a middle eastern influence, so I avoided english speaking vocals and leaned heavily on the percussive side of my collection. The struggle was keeping it dance floor friendly whilst trying to make it sound like it was from the Star Wars universe, oddly I Zimbra by Talking Heads worked really well. I’m sure some of their other DJ’s didn’t pay it that much thought but a few of us had loads of fun putting it together. I really should do a mixtape at some point.
I see that you are playing a strictly 7″ set at Boardmasters festival for 45 Live and the new album comes with a 7″ as part of the vinyl release. I DJ as part of a duo called the Original Forty Fivers playing just 7″ vinyl as I love the feel of the format, the limited availability and its short tracks. What is it about 7″ records that you enjoy and what do you have planned for this set?
I’m no format fascist but there is something nice and immediate about 7″s. They heralded the dawning of the pop era and are perfect for a good old fashioned song or a 3 minute oddity. A 7″ set keeps you on your toes because there’s barely enough time to think about what’s coming next after you’ve dropped a record. They’re a nightmare if you’re doing a long set and need a wee though. For Boardmasters I’ll probably pack a lot of funk and reggae, maybe a bit of old RnB and a few curveballs. I prefer not to plan sets too much though.
One of my favourite 45s is your remix of Incredible by General Levy which always gets the crowd jumping. What are your your top five 7″ records?
Oh christ, there’s an ever changing list so I’ll just go for the first which spring to mind…
Bob & Marcia “I Don’t Care”
Ann Sexton “You’re Losing Me”
Mark Wyman “Space Invaders”
Grady Tate “Be Black Baby”
Hard-Fi “Wrongtom Meets The Rockers East Of Medina” (because it was my 1st reggae/dub release)
You also find time to run your own label Rongo Rock. What does the label promote and is there more releases planned for 2017?
I originally came up with it to release Mark Professer’s Oystah card tune but I had plans to do more related 7″s. I have a fair few tracks clogging up my hard drive which deserve a release including the makings of a Mark Professer album. Unfortunately a lack of time and money has got in the way since the 2nd release by Gadman but I’d love to get back to it when I’m more solvent!
Who do you have lined up for the next “Wrongtom meets…” album?
I’ve had a shortlist of people for the 3rd one for a while now, some of them sadly died before I’d had a chance to reach out – The Space Ape and Phife from ATCQ were both on my wishlist – Daddy G from Massive Attack said he was up for doing a track but not a whole album, which I’m definitely holding him to. KRS-One’s manager sent a fantastically noncommittal yet interesting reply, that’d be a dream collab for me. I can’t actually say who it is yet but there are some interesting possibilities for the next 2 chapters, and I’ll try my best to not take 5 years to release them this time.
Wrongtom meets The Ragga Twins – In Time is out on Tru Thoughts records and can be per-ordered from https://wrongtom.bandcamp.com
Interview by 25ThC.