Interview with Jesse King aka Dubmatix
09/05/2013 by Gardy Stein
Some people are able to make an impact solely by their special personality; others impress us with the quality of their work alone. Rare are the cases where those two levels combine and the person concerned does not drift into arrogance or presumption. Let me introduce you to one of them: Jesse King, better known as DUBMATIX!
The Canadian is one of the world's most active producers of Reggae & Dub music. He worked with greats such as Michael Rose, Tenor Fly, Mighty Diamonds, Luciano, Ranking Joe, Tippa Irie, Cornell Campbell, U-Roy and Alton Ellis, delivering fresh music of incontestable quality to his ever growing fan base.
Meeting the all-round-talent in Karsten Frehe's 'Irie Ites Kitchen' a few days before his showcase in Hamburg [August 16th], we talked about his new album Rebel Massive, the importance of his European fans and upcoming projects.
You just finished a summer festival tour. Where and where have you been?
I started in Toronto with a festival and then I was in France for three festivals and Sunday I was in Poland for the Ostróda Reggae Festival. When I get back I'll do another one in Canada and then that's it for the year. But I'll be back here for just a normal tour in October/ November.
Have you had any special experience on one of the festivals you want to share with us?
I did Reggae Sun Ska which is just south of Bordeaux in France and it's a big one with about 30.000 people. I was not on the big stage, I was on a smaller stage, the Soundsystem Stage, and that was fantastic. A really really well organized event and just a great crowd. A lot of fun, good food, wine (laughs), so that was good. And Poland is always fun, it's the second time I've done that one. It's very cool, it's located on an old military base and they paint murals everywhere and make it really nice. I didn't see any of Poland, all I saw was the festival and then I was gone. But it was very nice people so that's… you know, that's a lot of fun for me just to meet everybody. These were good experiences.
When you perform as Dubmatix Soundsystem, do you focus on your new album now? Was it a kind of promotion tour or did you just play for fun?
Actually it was just playing. We did a bunch of interviews and things like that too, yeah, and we are promoting the new album, but of course I play old tracks as well.
But it's not Dubmatix Soundsystem anymore. It used to be, but now it's just Dubmatix. And I'm not really a Soundsystem, I'm just a guy playing music. If you're a Soundsystem, you have to have a Soundsystem and records. I don't do that (laughs).
Both on the festivals and generally, what reactions do you get so far to your new album? What feedback do you get from friends, from the media, from the artists and so on?
Well, that's always the interesting thing. When you put out a new album - this one took me almost three years to finish - you don't know what's going to happen. I've been very fortunate, it's been really good positive reviews everywhere so far. I'm running for the JUNO-Award again, but that's not until fall, I think in October. And in Paris, there's a national cultural magazine called Télérama and they gave it four out of four which is very hard to do for them, so I was very happy about that.
Plus, the nice thing that I'm seeing kind of for the first time (cause I didn't tour much for a year and a half or two), is now that I'm coming back we are playing bigger venues, bigger crowds. And now when I go out and play certain tracks people recognize them. So it's still small but it's growing and it's a lot of fun and I'm having a great time.
So to get the reaction from the crowd is something special to you?
Yes, and the difference is that now I talk to the crowd. I used to not talk, but now I go and like take pictures with the crowd, so that's become a lot more fun for me. I get to give back what they give to me… it's like it should be, it's more interactive and I really enjoy it.
Right now the challenge is to share the music out there. So when you get positive things like that it helps. And people like Karsten (irieites.de) have been really supportive and helped to connect with other people. Luckily I have a few people like him! They kind of make it where it is, which is still small but it's somewhere, you know.
I don't think it's small!
I don't really know! The interesting thing is that I'm always in Canada in my studio and I have no idea. I see a few posts here and there, but it's not until I come here and then it seems like something is happening… It's interesting going down to the middle of nowhere in France, to some mountains in southern France, and to find people who know me! I was like 'Wow, that's cool!'.
It is! Another thing, you do pretty much everything on the tracks by yourself right? Like play all the instruments…
And apart from all the work that's connected with producing an album, do you also do the surrounding work like website, promotion and stuff?
Yes, everything. I just don't do the bookings. I have a booking agent in France that I've been working with for years, and now a new one in Germany. And I didn't do the cover design of the new album, that was an artist called Pille from Echo Beach. Everything else I do by myself. My wife helps out a lot too, though. She's very involved. Well, it's come to a point where it's difficult to maintain the social media stuff, just because there is too many of them!
But once you have a standing, a fan base, they'll do the work for you and post and share whatever new stuff is coming.
Exactly. That's true, it's a great help and I appreciate it!
Is it possible for you to live just from the music now or do you have to do other jobs?
My wife and I have been running a company for 16 years now. And it's just since last year that I was able to shift 95% of my time on music. And I'm hoping that by next year it will be full time. But I'm not in a rush! I'm just happy that I get to do what I'm doing!
Something I don't know anything about is the Canadian Reggae Scene, so how is…
(laughs) You don't know about this? How is that possible? Shocking! Shocking!
Well, I've never been to Canada and I don't have any connections to the country, so…
Now you know how I felt coming from Canada over here. I had nothing, I had no idea about all the music! So, you know there is a lot of Reggae in Canada and it's growing. Now we are starting to have Soundsystems being built which we did not really have before, and they are trying to maintain the culture and expand. The biggest challenge is that because it's such a large country with such a small populace, there is not really many people, only small pockets of things. So to actually go from one end to the other, there is no real infrastructure for like a tour and stuff, so you kind of have to book your own and you don't know what's going to happen. Toronto has a few things and then Montreal a little bit. Montreal has even less than Toronto, so it's difficult to do something. For me, my big focus has always been Europe because it's a much bigger market and I get to travel.
Coming back to the album, there is a video for Pull up selector. Is there any other track out on video?
Not yet. We just put this one out in April and I'll hopefully do another one maybe for fall. But I don't know which one yet. And I don't know what it's gonna be. Trying to figure out what you want for a video is not easy. I just… I don't think that way. So I need to kind of sit down and go 'What might work? What might be good?' and go with that." WATCH THE VIDEO HERE
Did you have people who joined you in that process?
Well, I basically gave it to a company in Toronto and said 'Here is the idea, go with it!' and they came back with that. And I never had a video, so I said 'Great! I love it! I'll take it!' (laughs)
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
I love Showdown. It's just the energy… it's also because it sounds different. Liberation time I like, but I also love the old-school track She's In Love with U Roy and Cornell Campbell. But I'd probably say Pull up selector and Showdown are my two favourites.
Are there any other artists you really want to work with?
Well, I got a bunch of projects that have started already, but something I'd really love to do is working with legends. I don't know if it will be a whole album, but… vocal harmony groups like the Abyssinians, that type of vocal trios, that would be something really nice to do. Mostly old guys in their 60s, 70s, to kind of capture them as long as they are still around. Not a lot of people are doing just that. It's something that I love, so that would be an interesting project.
And how did you link up with the German artist Longfingah?
I met him at a club in Brixton, UK, years ago. He'd played a show the night before, I was playing the show the following night, and he was just sitting there talking to the promoter. I joined them, we hung out and started talking, and then we ran into each other later that year at another festival in the UK. We kind of kept the contact and then I did a track for his album a few years ago, he did one for mine, and we've developed that. And now there is a remix out on Irie Ites!
Have you ever worked with a female vocalist?
Yes, on the last album there's a girl from Toronto named Ammoye. I've worked with her, but before that… no. I think she was the first. I've used female backing vocals, but I'm starting to find new ones to work with, because that's something I have not done a lot of but I would like to. I'm going to try to hook up with a very popular singer from Scotland. I have a new one back in Toronto that I just discovered through a family friend who is really really good, but I'm not sure if she sings Reggae, she's more R&B so I don't know how to transition… Maybe I'll do one that's all female vocalists, and just kind of showcase that, that interests me a lot as well.
Any other new projects coming up?
Yes, I have many more! I'll make it quick. One project is with the Drum&Bass/ Jungle artist Marcus Visionary, and he's been remixing a bunch of my tracks last year, so we'll put that out. Next one is an album of a Canadian Dub Poet called Lillian Allen, so that will be maybe an EP or something like that. And I'm doing an all French project, only with French singers so that will be probably two albums worth with artists that are generally up and coming or known a little bit… younger people, so that will be an interesting project. And then there is a Dub album and then there's other projects, so… (laughs) many different things!
Oh, not to forget the Ammoye project which is more electro… And we just put out a new single and video called Revolution: WATCH IT HERE! It got hints of dubsteppish and hints of Dancehall, but it's more just a mashup of everything. And that's all the stuff I'm doing for now. Plus some remixes.
Wow… Thank you so much!
Just a guy playing music? Everybody who has experienced DUBMATIX rocking the boat in Hamburgs harbour [August 16th] knows that this is an understatement. Tracks from the new album, live-mixing, wicked MCing, supporting acts Toppa (Irie Ites Crew) and Echo Beach Lifidelity as well as a very appreciative crowd made this event a special one. Everyone who missed it should take the chance to listen to this extraordinarily gifted artist when he comes back to Europe in fall. To keep yourself informed about his upcoming tour and new releases, check his homepage DUBMATIX.com or link him on Facebook.