Interview with Pow Pow Movement - 25th Anniversary
12/02/2015 by Lena Pletzinger
At a time in Germany when skateboarding and hip hop music were the latest trends in urban culture, and Jamaican music was basically known through Bob Marley, some friends who knew each other through skateboarding in Cologne somehow came into the possession of a tape with early dancehall tunes and got interested in that type of music. Thus, Ingo, Mr. Brown, Alfred Backra, and Tilmann, who later would become Gentleman, began to start a common music project.
That was the year 1990, a challenging time for music collectors like this group of young men. Without the Internet and right shops, purchasing music was not as easy then as it is today. The electronic store Saturn was nearly the only place where they could buy some reggae records in Cologne. To overcome the obstacle of not being able to lay their hands on contemporary Jamaican music, they made trips to the Dub Vendor and other shops in London. Another option was to give friends travelling to Jamaica some money to bring them the latest Jamaican vinyl. At that time there were no reggae events in Cologne. For the pleasure of music, and with a small but growing collection of reggae and dancehall records in their bag, these guys took their fate in their own hands and organized their first dance. At that time, the idea of creating a serious sound system was not in vogue. But everyone in Cologne, who happened to be interested in hip hop and reggae, came to their first party. That was the beginning of an emerging movement.
After their first visit to Jamaica in 1992, these guys were simply unstoppable. They did their best to create an authentic dancehall sound system. They even bought speakers to build their own boxes. More and more people attended their regular sessions and they soon had achieved a high degree of popularity. They felt like they were the yardies from Jamaica in town. Even the police, who regularly shut down their illegal outdoor sessions in hidden spots, contributed to an authentic Jamaica feeling. One of the regular guests was Devon, who was soon recruited as the MC of the crew because of his Jamaican origin, mic skills, and his ability to teach patois to the rest of the group. The name Pow Pow was derived from a flyer and a well-liked design with a scripture saying Pow Pow.
Since then, the movement has developed incredibly, with a lot of shows and events, and its popularity extended across the world.
Today, on a cold November night, I find myself sitting at a table in their base club Petit Prince in Cologne, two hours before the opening of their regular Friday night dance with the whole crew: Ingo, Devon, “Mr. Brown”, Junior Carl, and the newest member “Earl”, who extended a very welcome to me amidst their clearly noticeable family vibes.
Congratulations on your 25th anniversary! The public interest in your upcoming shows is huge: The show in Cologne was sold out quickly. Did you expect this massive interest?
Junior Carl: We knew it would be a big event, but we didn’t expect it to be sold out so quickly. We could have made it twice as big.
Ingo: We definitely underestimated the high demand.
Since the demand for tickets is so immense, have you been thinking about switching into a bigger venue than Gloria Theatre?
Ingo: We had the idea of switching, but we definitely wanted it to happen at Gloria because it is such a nice venue and we know it very well; the vibes there are just right.
Junior Carl: We consciously selected Gloria. There are many other venues in Cologne, even bigger ones where we also played before, but the vibe has decided it must take place either at the Prince or Gloria. Unfortunately, the Prince is way too small (laughs).
Many people are still looking for tickets, is there a chance to get some at the door?
Junior Carl: Unfortunately not, but from Cologne people can easily attend to our shows in Dortmund or Mannheim.
Ingo: We will try our best to set a late entrance maybe at three in the morning to the after show party, but that depends on how busy it will still be at that time. We would love to let everyone join, but the amount of tickets is limited and we really didn’t expect it to be sold out so quickly.
How great is your excitement regarding your anniversary shows? Are you nervous?
Junior Carl: It’s good to be a bit nervous ahead of a show. But here at Prince where we have our regular Friday shows we usually don’t get nervous anymore.
Earl: I wouldn’t say I get nervous, I would say I’m excited. I always want the party to begin and I have tingles in the fingers.
Devon: To be honest, I am a little nervous regarding the next events. There will be so many sounds in the area; it’s unpredictable how chaotic it might be. Otherwise, a little chaos can be a good thing. And to be nervous can be good, too.
Ingo: As we are not used to organize everything by ourselves, I must say, it’s kind of stressful for us. The whole night must be arranged. We have many guests to schedule, that’s a lot of work. Usually we are the ones being booked somewhere else. This time it is the other way around: We are the hosts. I am personally pretty stressed – Actually a lot! (laughs)
The line-up is full of big artists and sounds: Gentleman, Cali P., David Rodigan, Mr. Vegas, Raymond Wright and Jugglerz, Sentinel, Warrior Sound, Supersonic and more will be involved. How do you relate yourself to all these people?
Ingo: They are all pretty much our companions. For example, we produced the debut albums for Cali P and Raymond Wright on our label. It’s well known what connects us with Gentleman; we have been making music together for a long time. And Rodigan has been kind of a mentor for us; he gave us a lot of energy and pushed us back in the days. Without him we wouldn’t be where we are today. And all the other sounds we invited are just the biggest sounds in Germany at the moment with whom we have frequently been performing; they are all our buddies, so we are really looking forward for the events.
What can people expect of these events? What is going to happen?
Mr. Brown: As you mentioned before, it is a big line-up and the performing time for every artist and sound is limited. Therefore, everybody will mash up the place straight from the beginning. It’s going to be pretty good!
What’s the secret formula that makes Pow Pow so special that you have been on stage since 25 years?
Mr. Brown: I think we are characterized by a high level of professionality that we’d been pursuing ever since, that’s what distinguishes us from other sounds. Looking back over the 25 years we had to cancel not more than one or two shows. You can count on us, promoters appreciate that. Not to forget: We guarantee good parties!
Ingo: The key of our success that keeps us alive is that we know how to run the dance. It’s not a matter of being the most original one or the one with most dubplates. It’s also not about to follow every trend from Jamaica. For me it’s about having a great time. Aside from the kind of music we play, it’s the performing and the party vibes that keep us doing the works. At some of our parties, like the yearly Cologne carnival session, we play a totally different selection. There for example, you won’t hear any Reggae or Dancehall tunes at all, and that also works well, because we know how to set up good vibes. There are different people but the energy is the same and people go crazy at least as much as usual. It’s all about party, no matter who is the Don in Jamaica at the moment.
How was Pow Pow’s development over the years?
Mr. Brown: I would say our development was constant and linear, and happened step by step. I think our advantage was starting the music business without all the digital techniques from today. Nowadays, new sounds might get overloaded. They don’t have the chance for a healthy development.
Looking back on your career, are there any great moments that you especially like to think back to?
Mr. Brown: There were many great parties I like to think back to. One of them is definitely the World Clash in 2000.
Devon: My highlight was playing at the beach in the south of Italy. The moment as the sun rose up after a party and it was still warm, that reminds me of Jamaica.
Junior Carl: For me, sessions in Portugal are always a great experience. The vibe of the people is so special, the way they celebrate a party. For them, dancehall is kind of a new experience. You should not drop one dubplate after another. You have to interact with them to make them palance. By now they know that when Pow Pow is on the line-up, the dance is getting mad (laughs).
Ingo: The traveling is one of the highlights for me as well. We went to the Caribbean, the USA, Canada and Africa. It was not the playing that was so special, but getting around and meeting people from all over the world.
Have you ever had hard times during the musical career?
Ingo: Not really. It was a “fun project” at the beginning, a hobby in which we have grown into. Therefore, we appreciated having the chance to do what we like. The sound was always moving forward. When it happens to be two or three weeks without playing, I notice my hands are shivering (laughs).
You spend much of your time on parties, so you are kind of party-experts. What is the characteristic of a good party?
Earl: Simple! It’s the fun during the party. When the people have fun and when we have fun, that’s a good party. When the people go home with a smile on their faces, no matter how many guests we had.
Junior Carl: It’s important that you interact with the people. It’s not a question of the amount of dubplates you drop.
The close relation to Jamaica has always been essential to you. How important are regular visits to Jamaica to you now?
Ingo: It’s not important anymore in my opinion. Jamaica is always worth a visit and it’s a great experience to be there. It’s also good to catch up with Jamaican artist while they are on tour in Europe. We know more or less what’s going on up there. But it’s not necessary for moving forward, musically. Europe has built its own musical culture. We have been in Jamaica so often; sometimes we took even several trips a year. Nowadays, I find it more interesting to know what’s happening in Europe.
Earl: The new media has simplified the production processes. Today you don’t rely on personal meetings in Jamaica for recordings or purchasing new records. Nowadays you can cut your own dubplates via Internet.
Ingo: To be honest, I don’t like this new dubplate business. I can tell you a story behind every single dubplate we’ve recorded. We always used to spend time with the artist at the studio. Those dubplates we made through the net are very few.
Do you have any specific dubplates you are very proud of?
Junior Carl: We did a compilation mixtape at our 20th anniversary with our favorite dubplates.
Devon: The Beres dubplate Can’t Stop A Man is my favorit.
Junior Carl: When I was new with Pow Pow I heard you guys talking a lot about the Beres dubplate Rockaway. That is a real special one. The guys were chilling a whole day in a studio in Jamaica with Beres to produce it. Every half hour they went out to roll a joint and then continued recording.
Which artist do you appreciate the most at the moment?
Junior Carl: Vybz Kartel.
Devon: My artist is Tarrus.
Junior Carl: Junior Carl (laughs).
Ingo: Gaza!! (laughs) Is Tarrus Gaza too?
Devon: Noooo way!
Earl: For me it’s also Kartel, he has always been my favorite artists.
Some tunes get so much forward by the people; the sounds play them over and over again…Are there any tunes you have played so often that you are just tired of playing them?
Ingo: Oh there are many! But we still play them (laughs).
Junior Carl: You can’t say we are tired of playing them, because as long as the people obviously enjoy them, we’re enjoying them, too.
Ingo: The problem is that some people wonder why we are still playing particular tunes – No Games is an example. On one hand we get thumps down for it, but on the other hand all the girls in the dance totally love that one. Sometimes you just don't know which track is ok and which is not. You better don't think about it too much.
Earl: You can’t make everybody happy at once.
How do you manage to play those tunes over and over again as if it was the first time?
Devon: The key is the right timing. You have to read it from the peoples mind and drop then the right track.
Ingo: That`s the key! The timing!
Junior Carl: I agree, if you have the right timing it doesn’t even need to be a dancehall tune.
Ingo: You can even drop a Junior Carl at the peak time and get forwards (laughs).
Junior Carl: Sureshot Junior Carl - everytime (laughs). Sureshots are those tunes that always work. Sometimes we play a Depeche Mode at 4am to surprise the people and get a big forward. Everything can happen.
Ingo: But you should not exaggerate with the Depeche Mode. You can drop it like two times a year at the right time. Otherwise it’s no longer a special.
How important are roots tunes besides dancehall tracks at a dance?
Ingo: We do play roots a lot. I wouldn’t call us strictly a dancehall sound system.
Junior Carl: We try to play at least some roots tunes at every dance.
How do the future plans for Pow Pow look like?
Earl: My future plans reach from one Friday to the other (laughs). I definitely want to engage myself even more with music; I want to learn to play an instrument.
Mr. Brown: We don’t really think about our future plans. We are a great team and we still love and enjoy being all together. We just let things take their course. I don’t think anyone of us will be tired of playing music in 5 years. As long as we’re having fun and we love the works we will keep on doing it. I also believe that we are still needed.
Are there any new Pow Pow productions planed?
Ingo: Not right now. We have the idea of doing new productions, but it’s just not the right time at the moment.
Junior Carl, you’ve been working on solo projects, right?
Junior Carl: Yes, I do songs in German. We want to release some tunes next year. But there is nothing specific planed yet.
What was your personal big tune 2015?
Ingo: My personal big tune was Goodbye To My Haters by Mavado
Junior Carl: Yes, and High Life, also Mavado!
Earl: Oh that’s so hard to say, there are so many! When I have to decide it's Vybz Kartel - Rambo Kanambo.
Devon: For me it’s still Tarrus - Sorry.
Mr. Brown: I join the Mavado group: Goodbye To My Haters. That`s a big one.
Will you play it tonight?
Ingo: Of course we will, even several times (laughs). I will play it at least twice. Just out of joy of listening to it twice (laughs). I kind of like playing certain tunes several times a night.
Junior Carl: We will ONLY play this tune at our anniversary shows; in a continuous loop (laughs).