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Mad Professor

24 October 15 words: Bridie Squires
The legendary dub reggae producer and sound system massive are hitting Spanky Van Dykes as part of a tour celebrating sixty years of sound system culture in the UK
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What have you been getting up to lately?
I’ve been on this tour in South America. I started in Brazil, then I went to Paraguay, and now I am in Peru, then I will go back to Brazil.

Can you tell me a little about the sixty-year celebration of sound system tour in the UK?
Well it's been sixty years since black people came to England and the Jamaican immigrants brought with them this way of playing music, which was like a glorified sound system. There was nothing like this here before, it was hugely coming to a pinnacle every year with the Notting Hill carnival. Now, in 2015, there is a new generation really taking it to the next level.

In what way?
You have got young guys who are now modifying the sound system into having it like a PA system almost where it can be used for dual purposes.

I read that when you were a kid you were wiring up radios with no instructions…
I built amplifiers and sound systems but I never thought I would be playing out the way that I'm playing now, professionally.

What was your early career like as a service technician in the UK?
As a technician I knew what inputs the sound system operators wanted, and I knew what to cater for. There was a place we used to go to on Edgware Road – we called it the electronics road – there you could get all kinds of things. We built everything in an aluminium box. I would put what inputs they wanted, what controls they wanted, just little things, and people wanted more and more. Not as much as they want now – now, it's a different ball game, it’s really fancy. I would like to build a sound system now, it's a real professional thing.

There's been a massive move from analogue to digital in this age, what do you think to that?
The sound system world doesn't care too much about digital, they don't like it, it doesn't sound that good, we prefer everything to be analogue. That’s a good thing. Because digital sounds really cold and horrible. We love the facility of digital when it comes down to the technology and producing music, but the actual reproduction of the song is largely kept in an analogue world, it’s got to. There's no point putting it in a digital amplifier – it sounds too cold. We want too much bass for that, you know. I want the bass to play me.

What ways have you seen the dub movement change over the years?
There is a lot more international and English people in it. When it first started it was 99% black people and Caribbeans, in the past twenty years it is like all nations, it's great. You get not just white people but you get Indian people, Italians, French. I played in France a few months ago on one of the best sound systems I've used – it’s called Legal Shot, and it’s owned by a bunch of French guys.  

What inspires you to keep your sound interesting?
I really love to keep people dancing, I love to see how people move, and that is how I keep them ticking. I love to see people interact to the dub and the frequencies. I love putting it out to the people.

Where do you get ideas for your music?
I could get an idea anywhere, it just hits me. I'll call in some other musicians and put it down. Get some dubs with the melodies and mix it. It’s a whole process.

Is there anything that frustrates you about the process of recording a track?
I guess the hardest part is actually putting the track onto record. It takes a very long time.

What is a typical day in the life of Mad Professor when you're at the studio?
I get up about eight o’clock, to the studio about nine, I'll be in the office, which is above the studio, checking emails and post and stuff like that, then I go to the studio and do mixes or overdubs and I'll spend the whole day there, mixing and putting things together. I will work until about twelve at night, then I will go home, stick the CD on in the car and listen to what I have been recording. If I like it, I'll park in my driveway and listen to it about ten times.

Do you ever plan your sets?
I never plan a set, every day is different. You never know what people are going to like, and every system is different. Audiences can vary – you could end up practicing one thing and then people don't like it what you've been practicing, so you need to learn to read the crowd.

What sort of thing do you look for when it comes to your label?
I look for people with strong social commentary.

Who do you take inspiration from in that sense?
I take inspiration from people like Marcus Garvey, Berry Gordy and Gamble and Huff.

What are your plans after the sixty-year celebration tour?
I have another tour coming up in November in Europe, then I will come back to South America again. It’s like one long tour. I've been doing it for a few years now.

Are you looking forward to coming to Nottingham?
Yes, I haven't been for a long time. You guys had a good group from Nottingham, called The Naturalites. They made a great track called Lately, that really helped put reggae on the map. I hope they're still singing, because those guys made some very good records.

Channel One and Mad Professor 60 Year Celebration of Sound System Tour hits Nottingham on Friday 30 October at Spanky Van Dykes from 10pm. £10 tickets available here.

Mad Professor on Facebook 

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