The Heatwave: We wanted to build a mixed community of people into the same music
Dancehall has always been a big love of mine, dating back to the early to mid nineties when my friends would bring in ’sound tapes’, imported from Jamaica, to school. Every house party would feature a hell of a lot of dancehall. Even now, the energy and vibes from dancehall is pretty much head and shoulders above any other kind of music. One of the UK’s best dancehall outfits is The Heatwave crew, who aim to spread the sound as far and wide as they can, and highlight the close ties between dancehall and Britain’s constant slew of talented MCs and lyricists. Here’s a chat with the man who started the whole thing, Gabriel Heatwave.
How and when did The Heatwave get started?
I started The Heatwave as a dancehall party in east London in 2003 with Henry and a few other mates. Back then we were playing purely 7″ vinyl direct from Jamaica. Right from the start we developed our own distinctive way of playing; I learned to DJ with hip hop and jungle so I play dancehall in the same way. Mixing and blending tunes like that always made crowds go nuts. Even in those slightly less glamorous settings, basements and warehouses, the vibe was amazing.
We moved to Rhythm Factory in 2005, and booked Rubi Dan for one of the first parties there. Him and his brother would come every month anyway because they loved the vibe, and Rubi had this positive, energetic vibe which was perfect for the night. So he would pick up the mic and host and it just worked wickedly.
Benjamin D has been part of the family since the Rhythm Factory days too, he used to come down and hang out in the DJ booth He started touching mic in 2007 and has been involved in running things since around 2008.
Which dancehall artists/sound systems inspired you?
Stone Love are a big inspiration for us: they’ve been running for years, are fully versatile and they’re all about dances rather than clashing. Our favourite UK sounds are definitely Saxon and Coxsone; Rubi Dan grew up in south London as a Coxsone follower, and Saxon artists like Tippa Irie, Smiley Culture and Papa Levi paved the way for all UK MCs from dancehall through jungle and up to grime. I have to big up Chris Goldfinger and David Rodigan as well, two hugely inspirational British selectors and radio DJs. As for artists, there’s too many to mention! But certainly Beenie Man, Super Cat, Ninjaman, Sizzla, Lady Saw and Vybz Kartel.
What was the original idea behind the event and how did you go about promoting it?
We wanted somewhere we could play dancehall all night long, where people could discover and fall in love with the music the same way we had. Also we wanted to build a mixed community of people who were into the same music. That’s always been important to us: our parties are not social events where everyone knows each other from work or college or the same part of town, they’re about people coming together because of their passion for music, and maybe meeting people who they wouldn’t meet without that shared passion. We used to mission across London flyering and putting up posters, this was before MySpace and Facebook and Twitter so it was all done by hand. Nowadays it’s so much easier to start a night and let people know about it, sometimes I forget how much work we put in! It’s good for up and coming DJs/promoters to stand out in the rain getting blanked by people or get in trouble for flyposting [laughs]. If you haven’t done that it’s hard to call yourself a promoter I guess.
What’s been the most important moment in The Heatwave’s evolution?
A few things spring to mind, like getting our Rinse FM show or when artists started offering us dubplates rather than us having to ask! But I think the most significant thing recently has been taking our Hot Wuk party on the road, spreading out from London and putting on events in Brighton, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and so on. We’ve been pushing dancehall/bashment in the UK for years, so to see the sound truly blow up nationwide, and to get the opportunity to do our own thing in these cities with completely different and unique local characters, is really really exciting.
What is it about dancehall music that captivates so many people’s imaginations and brings in such diverse crowds?
I guess it’s the same things that drew us to the music… there are so many reasons! It’s full of energetic, colourful characters and there’s so much musical innovation that comes out of the intensely competitive scene in Jamaica. The heavy bass, the melodies and rhythms and skills of the MCs, the deep lyrics about social and political issues alongside sunshine, partying, weed and so on. Dancehall talks about real life and things that affect people in a much more direct way than a lot of other popular music. There’s a lot going on in the music so there’s many different ways you can connect with it, which is key to drawing a diverse crowd.
But mainly I think the energy is key: the way dancehall makes people dance and go mad, especially girls! Girls react to dancehall in an incredible way, it’s a very female-driven form of music and women run the dancehall by what they choose to endorse, how they respond to songs and DJs. Women have a lot of power in the dancehall scene and we like that.
The Showtime DVD highlights the link between dancehall and today’s UK MCs… firstly, who would you count as pioneers in terms of UK MCing?
UK dancehall MCs in the eighties were the first people to chat lyrics in a British accent, people like Smiley Culture, Tippa Irie, Papa Levi, Peter King, Asher Senator and the Saxon MCs Colonel, Rusty and Sandy. Then early British hip hop pioneers like Rodney P and Demon Boyz also took big influences and inspiration from Jamaican dancehall. Most of the early jungle MCs came from dancehall backgrounds as well, for example Navigator and the Ragga Twins used to chat on Unity Sound in the eighties before the birth of rave, hardcore and jungle.
Garage MCs often started out as jungle MCs, and grime was born out of garage, so you can see that the lineage traces back directly to UK dancehall pioneers in the eighties and nineties. There are so many pioneering UK MCs its hard to pick out a few, but I think Top Cat, General Levy, Skibadee, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Glamma Kid, Stush, Ms Dynamite, Roots Manuva, Heartless Crew and Durrty Goodz all need a mention.
Why do you think dancehall has had such an overriding influence on UK music and its exponents?
That’s a good question, it’s mad how much impact and influence Jamaica has had on music around the world considering it’s a pretty small island! Obviously Jamaican migration to the UK in the fifties/sixties allowed the music to take hold over here and from ska, white English kids fell in love with Jamaican music. Then I think everything built on that initial love: roots reggae, dub, lovers rock, the eighties ska revival, the ragga era and so on. Once Jamaican music was embedded in UK music culture it was inevitable that it would start to influence English musicians, ravers, DJs and so on.
In terms of club/rave music, I think the most important thing is the soundsystem; Jamaica provided the physical and aural structure that underpins the entire culture of raving in this country. So once that was in place from the eighties, the homegrown rave music we produced – as well as having American influences from disco, house and techno – was always going to look to and borrow from Jamaica.
The line-up of MCs at the Showtime event in London was amazing, how long did it all take to put together?
[Laughs] Yeah it took a while! Though everyone who I spoke to was immediately up for getting involved, so it wasn’t difficult in that sense.
How did it feel when you saw all those stars of the UK underground, new and old, on stage together?
Kind of overwhelming! It was like seeing a school history textbook on UK rave music come to life in mad 3D with amazing sound effects. Imagine Skibadee just popping up on stage alongside Wiley and Riko and General Levy and Glamma Kid and Stush and everyone else who was there! As a fan I was in awe of the artists’ skills and stagecraft, and as a DJ it was exciting to be working with MCs of that calibre. Special is definitely a good word for the whole experience.
What’s the next step for Heatwave?
I guess the biggest and most exciting NEW thing for us this summer is the launch of our label, Heat Wax. We’re kicking it off with releases from Wiley and Stylo G, right now we’re just getting everything tied down and perfectly organised. Because of course when we start releasing music it needs to be the baddest quality because that’s what people know us for: 100% quality party settings!
What does the future hold for dancehall in the UK? Can you imagine how things might be in, say, 10 years time?
If things continue growing at the rate they have been in recent years – and if we’ve got anything to do with it, they will do – then this music is gonna be huge in ten years time. We’re looking to build back the UK scene so that it’s the key dancehall headquarters outside of Kingston, so we want to see Jamaican artists selling out arena tours over here, with Heatwave parties in every city and our releases in the national charts. Oh and it’s about time the BRITS got a dancehall category up and running.Dancehall, Hot Wuk, Showtime, The Heatwave
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