Fat Bird Recording is a musical label based in Brixton, South London, which focuses on Digital Reggae and Early Dancehall from the '80s. Since its founders, Dub Troubles and George Palmer, started the project two years ago, they have managed to build an independent platform to produce their music and launch new artists. In a very short space of time, their tireless efforts have already brought the company to the international stage: they've produced their own music, promoted artists from all over the world, and participated in the most important Reggae festivals. Dub Troubles tells us about the beginning, evolution and future of Fat Bird Recording, a label that gives life to an original, specific and minority Reggae music style.
How it all began...
Fat Bird Recording was born from a casual encounter between its two founders, the producer Dub Troubles, Jaime Vazquez from Leon, Spain; and the singer George Palmer, Gorka Arnedo from The Basque Country. S Dub Troubles tells us how it happened: "Palmer and I met three years ago at the Concha Reggae Festival in Santander, in the north of Spain. We started to talk, and we discovered that we thought a lot of the same things about Digital Reggae. So, we thought that we could work together to produce our own music and at the same time create a platform for new talents, for those young artists who don´t have the opportunity to promote their music.” A few months later, in February 2015, Fat Bird Recording had already established its headquarters in Brixton, South London, and launched its first release "Tempo Riddim", a collaboration between Dub Troubles with George Palmer and Kobo voices, another artist from The Basque Country. The results would open the way to a bright future. "There was an impact, many people contacted us, and we received a warm welcome among the professional people in this world: artists, DJs and sound systems".
Since then FBR has been growing with no break through continuous musical production, the incorporation of new artists, participation in parties, sound systems and festivals, construction of its own website, as well as promotion across various network channels and radio stations in different locations. All this thanks to the great dedication that involves creating an original and independent product. "What distinguishes us from other labels is that we don´t hire popular artists to promote our music. What we are trying to do is to create our own product in a more original way, we launched new artists, and this is our peculiarity. It is harder because you have to work on marketing and promotion to reach people and they get to know you, but it ends up being something ours". Dub Troubles explains.
Digital Reggae Dub: back to the Jamaican '80s
Another thing that makes FBR so unique is the type of music that they produce. This is the Digital Reggae Dub or Early Dancehall, a very specific style that made a difference to the way of Jamaican reggae music was produced. "FBR focuses on a Reggae style that was born in 1985 along with the technological development in Jamaica. It was a moment of transition that lasted approximately 5 years. This is when artista discovered another way to record music without the need for instruments and bands. Instead, they started to use musical devices. That is why it is called Digital Reggae, also known as Early Dancehall. We continue that style. We create our sound with synthesizers and drum machines, and then mix it up in an analog dub way, as they were doing in the '80s in Jamaica. Lee Perry and King Tubbys were the pioneers of the dub which is the mixing process. The song is deconstructed and the instruments are processed separately to create a new sound".
Dub Troubles describes how Digital Dub came about during the Reggae revolution:"Since the '60s, Reggae has been evolving, reinventing itself every 5 years, mutating constantly. Before the '80s, Dancehall and Roots bands were leading the Reggae in Jamaica. After that, the rhythm slowed down and they were playing Reggae, but lower in pitch. It was then when music devices appeared and they started to make Early Dance Hall, which is what we do in FBR. Later in the '90s, the Raggamuffin came out and the rhythms got faster. Afterwards, it became the 2000s Dancehall, classic Roots Reggae made with modern devices. It's always evolving."
Within the Reggae music transformation, the jump from the classic Roots to Digital Dub came from the social situation and changes that were happening in the '80s Jamaica. These circumstances left a print in the Jamaican history as well as in the lyrics and musical production. Dub Troubles explains: "Changes in music usually occur for two reasons, because of social circumstances and technological progress. In the '80s, Jamaica was going through a difficult time. Poverty and ghettos were widespread, and there were drugs and weapons in the streets. At the same time, technology became more affordable, people had more access to it. This influenced the music. In the Reggae case, a keyboard toy, mt40 casio casiotone, changed everything. In 1985, Wayne Smith launched the song "Under My Sleng Teng" using the sounds of one of these keyboards. This song was a success and the first reference for Digital Reggae. After that, other artists and producers realized that they didn´t need bands or instruments to produce music, so they started to use devices".
Reflection of a society: blood, drugs and repression.
Many of the Reggae Digital lyrics reflected the difficult political and social situation that Jamaica had been suffering for years. "In 1985, Jamaica was not going through a good time. Years before, a political party of Communist principles was elected. For the United States this was not convenient, and they tried to ruin the government by supporting and funding the opposition party. As a consequence, the streets were filled with weapons and drugs which brought instability and violence to the country. This was reflected in the music and Reggae; the lyrics were talking about blood, violence, repression, drugs..."
Dub Troubles is referring to NPP, a democratic socialist party led by Michael Norman Manley from 1972 to 1980. During his term, Manley carried out important social reforms: establishment of equal minimum wage for men and women, free education and health, pension increases, farming land redistribution, privatisation, restrictions and more. In addition, he openly criticised the US immigration policy and met with their enemy Fidel Castro. All of this was against the interests of JPL, the Conservative opposition party led by George Seaga, who maintained close relations with the United States. It has been said that in order to dismantle Manley government, the US sponsored JLP and introduced weapons and drugs in Jamaica through the Shower Posse gangster crew at the end of the '70s. In the '80s, JLP won the elections and began to implement a reverse policy focused on industrial privatisation, foreign capital investment mainly American, and cuts in the public sector. Seaga term was characterised by an unemployment increase, crime and violence.
Peace, unity and the fight against oppression
This social situation, as well as the protests from the population, was reflected in music themes and in the Early Dancehall that FBR retakes. However, this wasn't an exclusive topic; there were other content within the Reggae message. Dub Troubles explains: "There are many types of message about social protest, human rights, peace, parties, weed… there no single topic, although everything is within the Reggae message. For example, Rastafarian movement lyrics from the Roots talked about Selassie in a spiritual way; Selassie was Rasta emperor considered as the Yahweh reincarnation. There were also songs about the return to Africa, the Promised Land, weed consumption as a means to achieve an enlightenment state, or fighting against oppression. Dancehall music also talked about parties, girls, having fun, the best singing styles - the list goes on. FBR lyrics have a lot in common with all those topics because we focus on this transition time. But our main message, the one we are trying to spread is about peace, unity and the fight against the oppressive system".
United by rhythms: artists and styles
This variety of topics within the Reggae message has gained an international dimension through the different artist voices brought together by FBR. "Messages change depending on the singer. We work with artists from all over the globe. We have George Palmer and Dadda Kobo from The Basque Country; Supa Bassie from Valencia, Spain; Natty Nature from Madrid, Spain; Likkle Jordee from Hawaii; Selvie Wonder from Jamaica; Tonto Adi from France; Toviga Love from Sweden; Tenor Youthman and Rakin Choora from Russia; and Tony Island from San Sebastian, Spain, who also works on the design and production. Then, the lyrics vary according to the artists influences, depending on what they live and how they see reality, but Early Dancehall is there, in all our songs".
Along with their own lyric versions, FBR´s artists stand out due to their singing styles. They adopt different styles within the rub-a-dub sub-genre of Early Dancehall. "FBR´s style is Dancehall rug-to-dub, which refers to a particular way of singing. This expression comes from the dance floor, when couples dance together, moving their hips in a sexual way. Within rub-a-dub other singing styles developed: the singer style, a more melodic way of singing; the DJ style, more rapping over the rhythm; and Singjay style, which is a mix of the two. In FBR we have singers who move between these three styles. On the other hand, when we produce a song we can do it individually or with multiple artists at the same time. Sometimes we record with a single rhythm and one singer, and other times with two or three artists. It depends on whether the styles fit together".
Spreading good vibes: media and festivals
Once a song is recorded, it is time to launch it. Dun Troubles talks us through the different ways he tests, distributes and promotes their work: "When we have a song ready, I send it to the main sound systems to be tested on the dance floor. Sound systems are collectives that set up all their speakers together and organise parties. Then, they receive the unreleased songs, which are called "Dubplates", they play them at parties to see how the public reacts to them. From their feedback, we decide the best format for the songs or if they need any arrangements or improvement. After that, we distribute the songs to radio stations in different countries. In Spain, they broadcast our releases on Radio 3, "Alma de Leon", “Lion Soul” Reggae music programme; on Andalusia Radio on "Rasta Time ", and on other radio stations in London, Scotland, California, Bronx… We also promote our work through various online channels; you can listen our releases on soundcloud, bandcamp or youtube".
Parties, sound systems, clubs and festivals are other examples of the ways in which FBR has launched tracks in the last two years.Their participation in Reggae festivals in particular has contributed to spread FBR´s good vibes to a like-minded public. "Last summer we went on tour playing at different festivals. We participated in the Brutal Reggae Festival in the south of England; in La Concha Reggae Vibes in Santander, north of Spain; and in Rototom European Reggae Festival in Benicàssim, George Palmer, Natty Nature and I played in the Dub Academy Area during two hours. The result was very good, we had a great reception, it was broadcast online, and we reach many people who didn´t yet know us".
An international future – with live mixing
There's still much more to hear and enjoy from FBR, which continues to make does not stop producing music, incorporating artists to its platform, and launch new projects. In October, they released a new track online called "Maná", which contains two Reggae Dub versions: "Ep courts to lucky" and "Clean your soul" and finish their next record "Forward Riddim", which is coming in November with four songs: "Rats Inna the White House" by Tenor Youthman and its dub version "What To Deal" by Natty Nature, and "What to dub" by Dub Troubles, also responsible for the other Dub version. And in January FBR will launch its first record by George Palmer, "Dread Inna Babylon", produced by Pupa Shan from Madrid.
Several new projects are also on in the pipeline."We are planning to organise more parties in Brixton at the end of this year leading into 2017. It is a new proposal to support this type of music, a FBR night with different guests. We have chosen Brixton because it is where FBR is based and because it is the Jamaican neighborhood in London. We're also working on FBR live. This is about mixing the song while that at the same time the artist is singing his original version over a rhythm on stage, I'm mixing, modifying the rhythm, and removing or adding things depending on how the song develops. It is another FBR sound format. We already have a few videos on YouTube which show how it works, so it's all coming together nicely".
FBR is set for a promising future based on hard work, artists collaboration, and a passion for a genre of music as original as Digital Dub Reggae.In Dub Trouble words, "Fat Bird Recording will keep going producing music, promoting new artists, and growing internationally in order to reach new audiences. The plan is to become bigger and better, to promote many other new artists, and of course to continue to support Reggae. There'll also come a time when we make our own vinyl, and we'll organise many more parties where we can share our good vibes".