Festival Report: SummerJam 2013
07/06/2013 by Angus Taylor
Reggaeville reports from SummerJam 2013:
REVIEW - FRIDAY - DAY ONE by Angus Taylor
One word of warning before we start. Your correspondent has a bad back. So the concept of “when music hits you feel no pain” will be tested tonight. And if the reaction to your favourite artist is less than favourable – you can tell yourself it was probably just a grumpy mood.
12:00 – The SummerJam location has a fairytale quality to it. Last year the campsite was filled with furry friends. This year downy seeds float through the breeze like in every Ridley Scott movie.
12:22 – Before the festival even opens there’s a hip hop flavour in the air in expectation of the arrival of Snoop Dogg (or is he Snoop Lion?) later tonight. Gin and Juice can be heard testing the speakers of the lakeside Red Stage. The Beatpackers sound system near the mint tea stand responds by scratching KRS One’s MCs Act Like They Don’t Know half to death.
14:51 – It seems Snoop Dogg to the Lion has another show in Luxembourg at 2am. It’s a shame as a post SummerJam Snoop press conference would have been even funnier than Beenie Man’s last year.
15:14 – There is a giant gold black and green bird molesting people. He is the mascot for Jugglerz who play the dancehall arena at midnight. Damn, it must be hot in that suit.
16:14 – Bielefeld’s Uwe Banton’s English/Jamaican cultural and reality messages on the Green Stage sound like those of a first language speaker. The band – who back him and his barking deejay friend Ganjaman are excellent too. They are motored by drummer Marco Baresi who used to play with Gentleman – appearing tomorrow with his Evolution band as the last Red Stage show of the night.
17:53 – It’s a shame politically engaged Ghanaian Rocky Dawuni isn’t pulling as big a crowd on the Green Stage as the Latin tinged dancehall hip hop of Ohrbooten. His uplifting mix of roots reggae and afrobeat is perfect for this intermittently baking hot day. Partly it’s because the occasional sound problems that affected the smaller, more picturesque of the two stages last year are back again, muffling his vocals. His band could also use some real horns. If possible, Bob Marley looms larger of African roots reggae than it does over its Jamaican or European relatives – and he consolidates with a rousing Get Up Stand Up, sounding more like Peter Tosh than Bob.
19:09 – Matisyahu has the Red Stage area heaving. As his fellow Americans SOJA did last year. With short greying hair, dressed in a smart shirt, chugging on a beer he looks like his teenage fans’ trendy schoolteacher. His lyrics on latest album Sparkseeker are very gauche but he has a way with a catchy tune. He seems a bit spaced out and distant much of the time but the crowd go wild for Sunshine. Quite a few people leave immediately afterwards for Max Romeo but he keeps enough fans to orchestrate a mini stage invasion at the end.
19:28 – A white clad Max Romeo is killing it on the Green Stage with a thunderous Melt Away. His gathering is also very large. The decision to replace Ken Boothe with him was a good one. His English band includes a horn section. “I shouldn’t even be here” he says. He really should. After SummerJam, Mighty Max will be stepping in to save the day a second time when he replaces the injured Toots at Womad in the UK.
20:49 – Everyone going into SummerJam 2013 knew they’d have to spend time marching between equally worthwhile or intriguing acts. But having top Jamaican deejay Busy Signal play at the same time as top Jamaican singer Romain Virgo was the first major scheduling error of the weekend. Who can say they are a fan of one but not the other? Busy has the gigantic crowd. Romain has the voice. Both have the songs. Busy leads what sounds like a billion people chanting “We nah go a jail again” and sings a surprisingly adequate Reggae Music Again from the album he made before he went back to jail. Romain wisely focuses on his earlier reggae material over his later dancehall direction. He turns Live Mi Life into Toots 5446 and serves Food For The Plate No Money Love Doctor and all the other big tunes he has amassed just two albums into his career. Oh well, better keep trudging back and forth.
22:48 – We have the same situation with Snoop and Tarrus Riley. At least they are different enough that people can feel comfortable making a choice. As Tarrus and his pinpoint rehearsed BLAKSOIL Band can be heard performing Contagious on Bob Marley’s Coming in from the Cold rhythm, Snoop’s army of fans are patiently waiting in the dark. Snoop - who has three dressing rooms backstage to everyone else’s one - is running late. Based on watching an MTV televised concert where an over enthusiastic post production engineer mixed out the crowd – the old Snoop seemed pretty good live. Given the roar when he ambles on to the Red stage and touches the glittering mic with his silky drawl – audience sound won’t be a problem here.
22:57 – Snoop seems to be confused as to whether his surname is dog or lion. His hype men ask the fans to chant for both. He yells “give me some motherfucking pimp music” while wearing a Bob Marley T shirt. The Snoop Dogg catalogue and a Tupac video tribute are received enthusiastically by the German hip hop loving massive. The smattering of Snoop Lion material, delivered in a thin voice, doesn’t really work. At time he simply smokes while his dancers writhe. But it doesn’t matter. Snoop has pulled off the biggest PR coup in reggae with his transformation. His album is selling well and he is topping the bill at SummerJam. Job done. After less than an hour he leaves abruptly for his next show without saying goodbye.
23:35 – Meanwhile over at the Green Stage Tarrus and Dean Fraser know exactly who they are and what they are all about. Every note of their show is planned to microscopic accuracy. But even if you’ve seen it before the flawless interplay between Dean’s sax and Tarrus’ extraordinary voice during their cover of John Legend’s Stay With You will impress. They aren’t doing too badly in terms of audience size either. This is a reggae festival after all.
00:00 – The Red Stage has provided the spectacle and the Green has offered the singing talent. At the strike of midnight various groups of friends can be heard singing Happy Birthday to someone before heading off to th e dancehall arena to party...
REVIEW - SATURDAY - DAY TWO by Angus Taylor
12:44 – It is HOT today. The only cloud on the horizon is Chronixx and Junior Kelly both scheduled to appear at 17:30. Chronixx has not played the UK yet so Chronixx will get our main attention.
13:03 – The party rap continues on the Green Stage with German YouTube sensation Sam. He rhymes over a sped up sample of Gotye’s Somebody I Used To Know. His logo seems to be set against a backdrop of French fries.
14:18 – Martin Zobel is a natural performer with a distinctive voice and his Soulfire Band are on point. His music is still derivative of classic 70s roots reggae but his lyrics and songwriting have come on a lot in the last 2 years. His time working with legendary bassist Fully Fullwood has served him well.
15:48 – The Red Stage is really kicking off with Warrior King. He wheels the first tune within seconds. Doesn’t even need to hear the crowd reaction to know it will hit. The sun is hot and the bass is fat. He knows the German for “Hands in the air” but they are doing it anyway. The only shame is no Oh What A Feeling before he goes.
16:12 – “Thank you Summer Jam for inviting me again” says Turbulence during Notorious. He is the second half of a dual set with Warrior King. Later he again thanks the festival for “giving me another chance”. He isn’t skinny like in the days of the Rise Up reggae doc but his voice sounds like the records again.
17:30 – Like Busy and Romain yesterday Chronixx and Junior Kelly share a fanbase. At first more opt for the more tried and tested Kelly who has started on the Red Stage. Zinc Fence band, who have been loosely hanging around on the Green for a while, crank up a slow rootsy one drop, then a rock guitar explosion, as a subtle but golden voice rings out from offstage. By the time Chronixx emerges to Start A Fyah - his tune with stage closers Major Lazer - his audience has swelled. He is taller than in photos, wearing shades, relaxed but physically fit. He bigs up Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid. Someone has raised a banner scribbled with his and their names plus Jah9 and Hempress Sativa with Jah Ova Evil on the other side.
18:07 – Meanwhile Kelly, hair uncovered, hand on his ear, is running all over the Red Stage singing a wicked cover of Bob’s 3 O Clock Roadblock and his own hit Baby Can We Meet. But Chronixx hasn’t played Here Comes Trouble yet so back to the Green Stage we go.
18:13 – Chronixx, generally content to command from the mic stand, is proof that SummerJam can dig slower reggae music if they want to. He does go sparingly into short sharp dancehall spikes during Smile Jamaica. “Love Is Patience” he says before Beat and A Mic which is good because there is an urgent need to hear Here Comes Trouble. He sings it, with well-produced keyboard horns, a deejay verse and a mimic of Ini Kamoze’s Hail Me Idrin on top. At this point we could pack up the whole festival and go home.
19:35 - Gramps Morgan’s son Jemere has opened the reformed Morgan Heritage set on the Red Stage with Neighbourhood Girl. The sound is crisp and not as painfully loud as Rototom 2012 - when they seemed to trying to outdo Sly & Robbie and Beres Hammond who came before.
19:59 – Meanwhile Gentleman is giving a packed press conference with Richie Stephens. Gentleman answers the stock question of “what are your expectations for SummerJam” with “Expectation is never good”. “Every album you start from Scratch and every tour you start from Scratch.” Richie explains how he helped Gentleman 18 years ago when he first came to Jamaica to get into the music. Later the established Gentleman gave him a push with the song Live Your Life. This leads to a question about Richie’s love of combinations. Gentleman says the hardest thing is choosing the songs to go into an 80 minute set. The questions then switch to German and poor Richie is left in a sweltering room with nothing to say.
20:21 – Back on the Red Stage the Morgans are playing Tell Me How Come. The attendance is so huge there is no room on high enough ground to see the band. “I want everyone to take a picture and put it on your social networks” says Peetah. Half the people wish they could see the stage to try. It’s only going to get harder to see when Alborosie comes on. Better find a tree.
21:11 – Popcaan is quite a showman but his voice doesn’t carry very far. The Dub Akom band is excellent, peppering his music with laser guns. Offstage backups come from Versatile. Popcaan has drawn away the less hippie-ish contingent of the festival and they love his party tunes. Likewise he is impressed by the view of the ladies down front.
21:19 – Actually Popcaan has made a sufficient dent in Alborosie’s crowd to render him visible. The material from Soul Pirate and latest album Sound The System is strongest. His live deejaying has more energy and the new record is lyrically creative rather than just biddly beng. For his Kingston Town encore he brings on Gramps for a deejay spot. Albo responds with a few lines of Don’t Haffi Dread. It’s a nice touch – recalling his surprise duet with Beenie Man last year.
23:11 - “In Jamaica we love to draw these riddims” says Richie Stephens. He sings combos with absent partners like U Roy, tributes to Sugar Minott and Bob Marley’s No Woman Nuh Cry. The key line is “In This Great Future You Can’t Forget Your Past”. Reggae’s great rhythms of the 60s and 70s are something Richie has not forgotten in his career. After a long day of roots, dancehall deejays and hip hop it’s nice to hear a good quality old fashioned entertainer singing reggae for grownups. The soca being played at the stall on the way between the stages is a good change of pace too.
23:37 – It doesn’t take much guesswork for a foreigner to deduce that Gentleman playing SummerJam is like Alborosie playing Rototom – you’re going to get something special. “This is a community of strangers” he says, moving over every inch of stage. “When music fits you feel no pain - no one is going to be in pain tonight. “
00:01 – Gentleman might be having a special time with his home team. But an unprecedented number for the Green Stage have been drawn to the ominous white tower of speakers constructed by Major Lazer – getting a reputation at festivals worldwide as the place to party. Dubstep, Mavado and House of Pain are chopped sliced and regurgitated by Diplo and crew. It’s a nice cleansing shower of sound to step into for ten minutes before heading back to live instruments again. Walshy Fire takes off his shirt and asks everyone to do the same. Like Peetah’s request that everyone take a photo – not every result would be pleasing to the eye.
00:14 – Gentleman has Richie Stephens and Alborosie with him. After the press conference it’s nice to see the spotlight on Richie again. He does a wicked impression of Barrington Levy Murderer and Albo growls Buju’s song of that name. In contrast to the white tower of doom Gentleman opts for a quiet finish. The song Memories is dedicated to departed friends with just piano and strings. You needn’t be German, from Cologne or even familiar with Gentleman’s back catalogue to know this was very special indeed.
REVIEW - SUNDAY - DAY THREE by Angus Taylor
10:36 – After a predomination of German and Jamaican acts yesterday, Sunday has a more international flavour. New Zealand, France and the USA are all represented. But the most exciting prospect is the return of Protoje – this time with his Indiggnation band.
12:08 – The Meditations' Tricked can be heard from the Red Stage. The sound systems will be the place to get your veteran Jamaican fix today.
13:24 – UK French Rototom contest winners Dubheart would like to be those Jamaican veterans. Their basslines sound like Twinkle Brothers – the Dub Judah role being taken by Mark Shepherd on bass. The lead singer also does a mean Burru Banton/Nicodemus style chat.
14:14 – Wellington New Zealand’s Black Seeds are setting up on the Red Stage. They play Exodus over the top of the sound system’s reggae cover of It’s Not Unusual. Bob never turned his nose up at a bit of Tom Jones.
14:20 – As well as being a good read the Festiville magazine makes a very good fan
14:31 – Black Seeds may look like ordinary kids in shorts and shades – but they play a very funky propulsive kind of uptown reggae. They share songs from latest album Dust and Dirt. There is plenty of that on the baked ground.
16:28 – Like Richie Stephens yesterday the Aggrolites represent a nice reminder that pre roots and dancehall styles have their place at SummerJam. The squealing Hammond organ sounds great in the sunshine on the Green Stage. These guys are from California so their black outfits must turn grey in the sun pretty fast. “Now you’re awake” they say “Here’s a cover of Delroy Wilson’s Once Upon a Time”.
18:16 – Fat Freddy’s Drop have a similar funky feel to their reggae as Black Seeds. But theirs is much slower. Their sound engineer is amazing. They only allow photographers in the pit for one song – perhaps because the trombonist needs to rethink those shorts.
20:50 – Last year after his one rehearsal jam set with Dub Akom, Protoje told the SummerJam press conference “I’m not coming back without my band”. The Indiggnation are just finishing explaining why. They started with the theme from the TV show the Munsters. During I&I Danny Bassie’s Robbie Shalespeare slides were pulling the audience into a black hole. Guitarist Jason Worton played his gold Les Paul behind his head and with his teeth. Protoje did a freestyle during Who Dem A Program where he named the members of the movement waved on the same banner as at Chronixx yesterday and added those missed off like Jah9, Jesse Royal and Raging Fyah. During Music From My Heart he told everyone that his album the 8 Year Affair is up on soundcloud and they should share it with at least 8 people. Like Chronixx he salutes Ini Kamoze with Kingston Be Wise singing into the megaphone as he goes. He is right that the last two songs on his album are the most important. He is right that you haven’t seen him if you haven’t seen him with his band. He is right about everything.
22:53 - Protoje has just given a triumphant prodigal son’s press conference with the theme “I told you so”. Now he is on stage with Patrice closing the Red Stage while Munich’s Blumentopf are keeping the hip hop connection going on the Green. Fireworks hit a sky that has been totally free of rain. For some people the Marleys will always top everything but pound for pound this lineup has been much better than 2012. If only they could avoid putting really good things on at the same time. We can Free Our Minds but the rest of us can only be in one place…
Catch some Festival Vibes with Munchy: