Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Heroes of UK Bass Culture 1977-2008



This is an illustrated article on an incredibly vibrant but neglected aspect of late 20th century music and cultural history. It records, from a personal perspective of a sometime participant, the influence of UK punk and sound system culture (incorporating Ska and Reggae styles) on the emergence of modern Black British culture; and youth culture in particular. Focusing on selected ‘heroes’ of what I would term ‘Bass Culture’ that now incorporates contemporary UK Hip Hop and RnB, Drum n Bass/Jungle, Grime, Bashment, Bassline, UK Garage and Dub Step (phew). The mix included here is a bit of a tribute to The Clash and helps illustrate the topic, but is not a pure UK based mix and includes tracks produced in the U.S and Caribbean.

Below is the set list for my little mix (as best I can, it includes some obscure ‘mash ups’ by various DJ’s such as Poj Master, Mr Wyse, Soundhog and Go Home Productions)

Mixtape Artwork, feel free to copy
Too Many DJ’s : Ghost Town/Say My Name (The Specials V Destiny Child)
J Star : Unbreak My Dub (Toni Braxton v ?)
Barry Adamson : 007, A fantasy Bond Theme
Ballistic Bros : Peckings
Bastard Jazz : Play that funky reggae
Balkan Beat Box : Bulgarian Chicks
Bastard Jazz : Thinking Toy
Niney – Blood & Fire
Junior Reed : One Blood
DJ C & Quality C : Crazy Baldheads
Nextmen & Dynamite MC : Blood Fire!
Top Cat : True Confessions
Public Enemy V The Clash v Stevie Wonder – rock the casbah/uptight/bring the noise
Afrodisiac Sound System - We Love to Party
Heatwave – Creezzy Hype (Gnarls Barkley v Elephant Man v Jay Z)
The Clash / Ini Kamoze – Guns of Brixton/Hot Steppa (DJ Crash n Burn mash up)
The Specials – A Message Too Rudy (re-edit)
Dizzie Rascal & Lilly Allen – Wannabe
Public Enemy v Skatalites - Guns of Navarone/Bring the Noise
The Clash- Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The Clash v Grandmaster Flash – Guns of Brixton/The Message
Althea & Donna v Queen – We will dub you
Outro: Sleng Teng riddim versus Ali G

Feel free to download and distribute. Contact me for track incremented, high quality CD versions (£5 each)

Recently there has been a bit of welcome activity highlighting the importance and relevance of the scene from arch vinyl archivists Soul Jazz records with the compilation album ‘An England Story’(2008)
A fab compilation headed up by Ipswich’s very own YT with his take on the track ‘Ghetto Story’

An excellent mix and article can be found here: An England Story (Mix)
from The Heatwave 75 mins

The set list is here :

YT - England Story, Sleng Teng remix (Sativa Records, 2006)
Kenny Knots - Watch How The People Dancing (Unity Sounds, 1986)
Ackie - Call Me Rambo (Heavyweight, 1986)
Rodney P - Riddim Killa (Low Life, 2002)
Estelle & Joni Rewind - Uptown Top Rankin' (Ill Flava, 2002)
Blak Twang - Red Letters (Blakjam, 1998)
Top Cat - Love Me Ses (Dance Vibes, 1988)
Glamma Kid - Fashion Magazine (Mafia & Fluxy, 1995)
General Levy - The Wig (Fashion, 1992)
Tubby T - Ready She Ready (Big League, 2003)
LD aka Da Riddla - Peace Ah Dat (Freedom Sounds, 2004)
Apache Indian - Chok There, Bombay remix (Island, 1993)
Jay Sean, Juggy D & Rishi Rich - Dance With You, Diwali remix (Relentless, 2003)
Dynamite MC & Emptyheads - Shake, Jstar remix (Surface2air, 2006)
Troublesome - More Girls, R'n'B mix (Mafia & Fluxy, 2000)
Yungun - Push (Heatwave special, 2005)
Shizzle - Rotate Dem (Kray Twinz, 2006)
Roll Deep - When I'm 'Ere (Relentless, 2005)
Slew Dem feat Jammer, G Man, Shorty Smalls, Ears, Chronik, Kraze & Knuckles - Joy Ride (Slew Dem, 2006)
Rossi B & Luca - Run 4 Cover (white label, 2005)
Klashnekoff - Jamrock Freestyle (white label, 2005)
Tippa Irie - Complain Neighbour (UK Bubblers, 1985)
Papa Levi - My God My King (Taxi, 1984) - watch video
Tenor Fly - Bump & Grind (9 Lives, 1994)
Massive Attack - Daydreaming (Wild Bunch, 1990)
Skibadee - Tika Toc (Ahead Of The Game, 2006)
Lady Sovereign & Riko - Random, Menta remix (Casual, 2004)
Dizzee Rascal - I Luv U (XL Recordings, 2003)
Lady Stush - Dollar Sign (Social Circles, 2002)
Warrior Queen & Sunship - Almighty Father (Casual, 2004)
Tricky - Hell Is Round The Corner (Fourth & Broadway, 1995)
Suncycle - Somebody (Jamdown, 2004)
Blackout JA & Marley - Hot Show (Ball A Fire Muzik, 2004)
Navigator & Freestylers - Ruffneck (Freskanova, 1998)
General Levy & M-Beat - Incredible (Renk, 1994)
UK Apachi & Shy FX - Original Nuttah, Bhangra Jungle remix (SOUR, 1994)
Top Cat, Shy FX & T Power - Everyday (Digital Soundboy, 2006)
Jakes & TC - Deep (DSR, 2006)
Smiley Culture - Police Officer (Fashion, 1984)
Jah Screechy - Walk & Skank (Blacker Dread, 1984)

This comprehensive mix is from The Heatwave who are a seminal UK sound system, collective and record label that continue the link from some of the aforementioned heroes such as Shut Up Dance, Rodney P, Black Twang and current artists like Klashnekoff and Durrty Goodz, who have all worked with these much respected don’s of uk dancehall. They put out wicked productions and anyone who listens to the included mix or has heard me play at the Vibe Bar knows I hammer their fantastic RnB/Bashment mash up 7” vinyl’s on a regular basis. Do yourself a favour and go straight to and check them out.

Linton Kweesi Johnson and Bass Culture LP Label

The term Bass Culture was first coined by the U.K's underground poet Laureate Linton Kwesi Johnson in his poem and subsequant album 'Bass Culture' which includes such classic proto rap masterpieces such as 'Inglan Is A Bitch' and 'Loraine'. Johnson was a former student of Goldsmiths College in New Cross and former member of the British Black Panthers and art collectives such as Rasta Love. His published poetry and collections such as 'Dread Beat an Blood' made him the recognised voice of Black youth in the late seventies and eighties, highlighting injutices such as the New Cross Fire (A devastating house fire which killed 13 young black people during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London on Sunday January 18, 1981. The black community were shocked by the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.) and the murder of anti racism campainer Blair Peach in Southall in 1979 as well as predicting the Brixton Riots in his track 'All Wi Doin Is Defendin'

Don Letts & Dub Cartel

John Lydon in Jamacia

The link between Punk, Reggae and the origins of UK Hip Hop are better explored in this article by Greg Whitfield ‘Bass Cultural Vibrations: Visionaries, Outlaws, Mystics and Chanters’ (

In this extensive article Greg Whitfield covers the origins of the Dub / Punk crossover from Jamaica to London. PiL and their entourage feature heavily throughout; along with the likes of Jah Shaka, Adrian Sherwood and Lee Perry, and bringing the story up to date with London's Disciples and More Rockers. Of particular interest to me was John Lydon’s (AKA Jonny Rotten of Sex Pistols/PIL fame and now sadly Anchor Butter ads ) trip to Jamaica with Don Letts after the split with the sex pistols and his encounters with Dillinger and other 1970’s reggae greats. The article also has an Ipswich connection with mention of Jah Warriors. As a young punk in the early 80’s in Ipswich, the Jah Warriors were and still are an important band and there was a deep and genuine respect by the punks of that eara for Reggae and Reggae artists and ultimately Rastafari religion and practice. The main Punk venue in my teens was the Ipswich Carribian Club and this reflected a tradition of white working class empathy with Black culture that goes back to the early Mod and Skinhead movements and continues today with Grime culture. The whole marriage of white and black youth culture has a history of misunderstandings, conflict and failure and patronizing attitudes and crassness as well as creative triumphs. The outro on the mix Sleng Teng riddim versus Ali G illustrates some of this perfectly and is also highlighted in Greg’s article in a story told by Donn Letts of how he invited punk goddess Ari Up (and lead vocalist of The Slits) to his local Rastafari temple and hogged the old chalice much to the Elder’s horror! (Incidentally I notice The Slits version of ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ is getting played out again in clubs along with the likes of New York’s proto rap/electro legends E.S.G)

Ari Up of The Slits

Don Letts in an interview about his punk days
I am working on a mix of other punk/dub favorites at the moment that will probably form vol 3 of this series and will include anarcho punk dub crusties Culture Shock, RDF, Jah Wobble/P.I.L, The Ruts and perhaps the most important skate punk/reggae/thrash metal act of all times ‘Bad Brains’ from New York. I was a huge fan of Bad Brains in my teens and they had a massive effect on my peer group, ultimately influencing Ipswich thrash punk legends The Stupids and Extreme Noise Terror. The Stupid’s lead singer, Tommy Stupid, is now top drum n bass producer, Klute. A video of Bad Brains performing at New Yorks CBGB’s is pasted below-check out the stage diving!

Bad Brains 'Banned In DC' CBGB'S NYC

Another early 80's punk band that flirted heavily with reggae and roots and culture are the The Ruts and their biggest ‘hit’ track ‘Babylon’s Burning’ was recently covered by grime MC Lethal Bizzle, which should have been great but is actually quite lame, and you can almost here the record company exec with the ponytail telling Lethal Bizzle what a good idea it is in the background.

In an attempt to try and give this article some structure I will highlight some of the tracks in the mixes linked to this blog that exemplify what I am talking about.

My mix starts with Belgian outfit Too Many DJ’s (Soulwax) awesome mash up of The Specials 'Ghost Town' and Destiny’s Child's 'Say My Name'. The Specials are incredibly important to this whole uk bass culture story and ‘Ghost Town’ is so apt for today’s financial crisis and fears of ‘Broken Britain’. The Specials were also a beacon to black/white youth unity and the struggle of the Anti Racism movement in the early 80’s and picked up the torch from The Clash and the whole ‘Rock Against Racism’ era of youth culture lead political demonstrations. If ever we needed a new Specials to fuse black and white youth culture with a radical political message and passionate polemic it is certainly now (I still have my Harrington jacket somewhere). For anybody wanting a good nostalgia fix for this era of UK music, and an excellent portrayal of the racial and gender conflict in youth culture in the early eighties; go see Shane Meadow’s excellent film ‘This Is England’.

There is a rumour about a Specials reunion/re-forming, I hope this is true and isn’t going to be as embarrassing as The Sex Pistols reunion. One word of advice too the Specials members Jerry Dammers and Terry Hall is beware the inevitable attempts by Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson at a collaboration. I am sure we could all do without a smacked out ska/jazz light cover of ‘Ghost Town’ or ‘Too Much Too Young’. I would however be excited about a link up with some of the bass culture heroes mentioned in the article. Terry Hall with Estelle and Tony Rotten from Blacktwang and Teenie Tempah would be good to see, perhaps doing ‘Gangsters’.
A video of ‘Gangsters’ my favourite Specials track is pasted below.

The Specials : Gangsters
There is a lot of Ska in the mix, as this genre (also acknowledging calypso and now soca) has an enormous influence on modern Black music styles. My theory is that while the US explosion in Black Music culture in the form of Hip Hop and B Boy culture, at about the same time, had an enormous Hispanic/Latin element. British Hip Hop culture is influenced by the largely West Indian Sound System culture in this country which is uniquely British. The sound has recently evolved to incorporate British Asian sounds (UK Apache, Punjabi MC)

But keeping in mind the influence of Ska, we have the Barry Adamson track ‘007, A fantasy Bond Theme’. Barry Adamson, Mancunian, producer and musician who has worked with art school favourites such as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Peckings record shop

Blackerdread record shop, Brixton

This track is followed by ‘Peckings’ by the production outfit Ballistic Brothers. It is a tribute to the ‘Peckings’ music store in Sheppards Bush. Peckings along with Dub Vender and BlackerDread and Red Records in South London have a huge importance in this whole story and these small shops nurtured, and were the hub, of this culture and its legacy. A mention must be made too Nicky Blackmarket and Blackmarket records in Soho for undying support for the movement.

London has always been a home from home for Jamaican artists, one of the most exciting aspects of running the studio over the last three years has been the work with veterans like Michael Rose and Gregory Issacs and knowing that for a few hundred pounds you can get big names in international reggae to do a dub plate for a few hundred quid without any contract nonsens

At this juncture it would be useful to discuss the language of Bass Culture as it can be argued it has had the greatest effect on wider British culture. From the earliest days of British Hip Hop culture there has been a dilema of dialect. By this i mean ; do you try and sound like the US acts you so admire and want to compete with and affect a cod US accent?(Caveman, Silver Bullit) or do you try and reflect your own street language and rap with your Brummie, scouse or 'estuary english' or cockney accent (Roots Manuva, Rodney P/London Posse, Black Twang)

The dilema was ultimately solved by one of our nominated heroes ; Smiley Culture, in his hits such as 'Cockney Translation' and 'Police Officer' by mixing cockney with (Jamacain) Patois.

Smiley was part of the legendary Saxon Sound and 'Cockney Translation' was a huge hit in the UK. Almost 30 years later Dizzie Rascal and Estelle are a huge sucsess with the US market who just love those cute accents (They probably think they are Australian!)

Smiley Culture : Cockney Translation

Simon Reynolds, renowned music journalist and author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984. Faber and Faber Ltd has often cited this song in his writings, arguing that it presaged the creation of a new hybrid accent in which white East Londoners would adopt many terms of black originSmiley's biggest hit was his follow up to Cockney Translation 'Police Officer' on the Fashion Record Label."Police Officer", released towards the end of 1984. This was the supposedly autobiographical tale of how Emmanuel was arrested for the possession of cannabis, but then let off when the police officer recognised him as a famous reggae artist. In spite of the subject matter - and possibly because mid 1980s radio station bosses in the UK did not understand the terms 'ganja' and 'sensimania' - the single was a Top 20 hit and earned Emmanuel two appearances on BBC Television's flagship music programme, Top of the Pops. The record, although humorous, did have a serious aspect, in that it highlighted the way black people often feel they are unfairly treated by the police.

UPDATE 13/4/11

We forget to include part two of this mix which can be listened to via Mixcloud (below)

 Track List : 
1.Ini Kamoze : World a reggae
2.Singer Blue : If i know Jah
3.Richie Spice : Youth So Cold
4.A-tola : Soundbwoy (Feat. Skinnyman,Dready,Rukus,J2K)
5.J-Star : Tooting Gangstar
6.Drump up sound (Bootleg)
7.Blacktwang : Redletter
8.Rodney P : Riddim Killer
9.Dead Pres v Roots Manuva (Tommy2bob mash up)
10.Roots Manuva ; Witness (Dub version)
11. Akala : This is London
12. Kellis v Capleton ; Trick me
13.Dizzie Rascal : Oldskool (7"breaks mix)
14.Caveman : Im ready
15.Chase n Status feat Kano : Against all odds
16.Diplo : Diplo riddim
17. Sunship and Warrior Queen : Almighty Father
18.Skream v Linton Kweisi Johnson (Tommy2bob mash up mix)
19.Ice Cube v Beenie Man (Tommy2bob mash up)
20.Nextmen : Piece of the Pie
21. LP/Blessed Love Studios : Roots n Narm


Soulteaser said...

nice blog! looking forward to more. would be great to see it gradually focus on todays bass culture and by that i mean dubstep. i think looking at this relatively new genre in relation to what you've already written would be really interesting.

Blessed Love Studios said...

The article has now been updated with part two of the mix