David Rodigan interview

Art & Culture

For over 30 years David Rodigan has been the top dog in the ganja-scented, bass heavy-atmosphere of Britain’s reggae dance-halls. An unsinkable passion for reggae music, which first took a hold of him as a schoolboy when he heard ska music in the early ’60s, developed into an obsession with the music of Jamaica that generated an encyclopaedic knowledge of the island’s every artist, every song and every rhythm track.

35 years as a radio DJ and a recent re-appraisal of the now SIr David Rodigan, we gave him a little call via an again terrible (ours not his) skype line for a quick chat. This is what he had to say…it was enlightening to say the least.
Ram Jam lands at Fabric this week then on to Bristol and Cambridge next month.  How have these events come about and what can people expect musically?
They came about by way of me reflecting upon other forms of music which I've become into closer contact over the last three years, notably dubstep and all because I was sampled on one or two dubstep recordings and I was cordially invited into the world of dubstep and I was given the opportunity to play to those audiences that I normally would not have played to. So in essence it's my way of reflecting back the joy and the love of fun that I have in performing to a new audience and doing that in a way that encapsulates reggae, dubstep, drum n' bass, umm bass culture music in essence. There's no reggae music without a bassline. Reggae has as we all know been a major influence on various forms of bass music and I 've been very proud to have been a part of that for near on 35 years now so Ram Jam is a way of bringing it all together in a club situation with a serious soundsystem and an impassioned performance. 
Last June you turned 60 whilst this summer your touring schedule is as busy as ever, how important is it for you to still be playing clubs week in week out?
I still feel like I did when I first discovered this music and my greatest joy is sharing it with like-minded souls. Seeing the love and feeling the love that comes back from them is fantastic – it's a joy. It is a fairly hectic touring schedule but I'm still enjoying performing so hey why not, what am I gonna do watch DVDs and eat take home pizza and drink beers in my front room?!
With all the accessibility of production software and the advances in technology, you're outspoken about traditional studio recording values.  Do you think new music is sometimes devoid of the character and depth of the classics?
There is absolutely no doubt about it. In my mind or I think in the mind of anybody else who listens to the way that modern music is recorded. Technically it's brilliant, pretty separation. clarity, bassline, foot drums, you name it. I think an example would be Damian Marley and Skrillex and Casa Bondo. The clarity and separation and the bass and sheer vocal and rhythmic presence of that track is truly phenomenal. It's just unbelieveable. That is atypical of many other types of music which is currently being made from James Breakage to Caspa's Jungle Juice to whatever but there is I'm sorry to have to say but because there is such a homogenised sound what we've lost in going digital is the analogue sound which presented an audio sound which was identifiable. And within that structure with analogue recordings which was initially only on one and two track recordings we go to feel the musicians presence. You could almost hear it off-air, on-air. You knew that was Channel One etc. I mean I know it from reggae but I'm sure that people in teh world of rock would be able to say 'that was Olympic studios, London, that was Abbey Road' because I mean studios had a 'sound' and an identity. I would say that, that is missing from a lot of today's music. I mean I couldn't tell you whether Neo voiced his tune in Los Angeles or Bombay and frankly I don't care… and who does? My idea of hell is having to be sat down in front of the TV having to watch an MTV video show. Having to watch these R n' B videos with this relentless ganging up of dancers and this non-stop 'clip clip clip' one second of everything. The sound that just comes up is just from nowhere. It has no identity, it' just vacuous and lacking in spirit and soul. Totally homogenised and just has no character and depth. I'm sorry to be so outspoken but I really believe that is one of the major problems with modern music is that it lacks depth and character and that is because we've perfected the idea of somebody's voice being dropped in so that there are no mistakes. I think you can sum it up by saying, would you expect to see Aretha Franklin singing in her bra and knickers?!  Would you expect to see Katie Perry or whatever her name is in her bra and knickers? Is yes. That's the reality of it and that's what we've come to. Take it or leave it… I choose to leave it.
In your sets you frequently join the dots between original reggae/roots music and the new variants of dance music that've come out of it be that jungle/dubstep.Do you feel that, in becoming more instant and to an extend throwaway, people are less inquisitive about the music they're listening to/where it comes from etc?
Brilliant. Stop there  You need to take that quote and put it on the street of every major city. That is a brilliant quote. People are totally less inquisitive. You don't have the desire to own the physical copy of most of the music that you hear. My son at 22 tells me point blank, why should I? I don't need to hold a copy, it's an audio experience. I've got it on my laptop/ipod/phone. I've got it. It's an audio experience dad, get with the program. I respect his point of view age 22. It's valid. It's valid for him but I would say that what has been lost in translation is the clarity, the soul of earlier recordings which I mean to this day people are still avidly collecting soul records, ska records, rocksteady records with a passion  and paying untold amounts of money to own them. Do you really anticipate people paying vast amounts of money in the future to own… I don't know, by whoever. I'm afraid most of it today – with all due respect to all the work that can go into the songs – fairly disposable.  And I think that's why say Adele has become so phenomenally successful because there is something in those songs – I'm not familiar with all her songs – that I can sit and listen to them and think hang on, yea like Sade, like Aretha Franklin, like Dionne Warwick and say yeah, there's something going on here. This is having an effect on me because this is singing with passion and soul and it's been stripped to the bone. I was just sitting here listening to an album by Julie London. She's a 1950's cabaret soul jazz singer. The lyric and the content and the passion and the soul in her voice is at times truly masterful. I mean obviously this is not true of all forms of music in this modern day. There are some wonderful new examples. Reggae Music Again is a totally outstanding algum. Why? Because it was recorded almost live. You can hear them clapping out the rhythm. And that makes a difference. 
If you were to listen to Sound Dimension – Real Rock. There is something truly haunting about that instrumental. I mean there's probably five guys with a trombonist but it is unbelievable. 
When a group of musicians gather together, whether it's Bruce Springsteen and the E street band, whether it's the Rolling Stones, whoever it is, when they get together in the studio and presses record. 
Do you feel an obligation to share your stories budding youngsters coming up
I do feel an obligation and that's why I've taken part in this because I feel what they do is very significant and inspiring. As Jack Lemon said "When you get to the top, remember to send the elevator back down… because there are people waiting to come up."
In the last few months you've picked up an MBE and a Sony Radio Award, did you ever imagine you'd be embraced by the establishment for your sharing the word of  'rebel music'?
I didn't think so but I think it's a reflection of the influence that Jamaican music has had on British culture. I think the award is as much about that as it is for me. It is an award for broadcasting and I'm very honoured to have received it. I've had 34  years on professional radio but I think the MBE is a recognition of the influence that the music has had on British culture and my passion for broadcasting. It is as much a salute for the music. Without the music, I wouldn't have an MBE. 
Your son Jamie is an up and coming DJ, how much tuition have you given him or does it run in the blood?
I don't talk about my sons. It's their lives. If anything I discouraged them from these careers. And I told them if they want to pursue this under their own steam. And if it's music by them it needs to be 10 times as good if I'm going to play it! 
I think it's unfair for me to sweep them up in my career.  It's the duty of a father to warn their sons of a career in something like this.  It's so unpredictable, so over-exposed, How many bedrooms, in how many towns, nevermind cities in every European country is there someone wanting to be a DJ. In the way that my family pushed hard for me not to become an actor because of the pitfalls of a career that is completely over saturated in talent and is extremely difficult to make a living. Just as in DJing. As Dionne Warwick said in Do You Know the Way to San Jose, there's a brilliant lyric by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. They come to hollywood and instead of making it they spend their time parking cars and pumping gas. Because there's so much talent and as a parent, you have to be mindful in this world of X-Factor attitude of 'you can make it, you can be a star'… and can you… and should you?! Is this what it's all about? I mean I was a DJ by default. If you told me in 1978 that I was going to be a DJ I would've told you, you're having a laugh. All I wanted to do was be in teh Royal Shakespeare Company and work as an actor in the theatre but I just got fortunate because I happened to be collecting a specific type of music and I got a lucky break on the radio. 
It's very easy for people to presume that it's easy to make a living being a DJ. As a hobby, it's great and if you're going to pursue it do so with a vengeance… but be mindful of the consequences. 
Sir David Rodigan plays Ram Jam at fabric a. What a gent and what an insight. Get along tonight if you can… you won't be disappointed!