Mungo's Hi-Fi ADD

On The Road Report: Mungo's Hi Fi meet Iration Steppas in Leeds 12/5/2015

12/18/2015 by Angus Taylor

On The Road Report: Mungo's Hi Fi meet Iration Steppas in Leeds 12/5/2015

About 15 years ago, Mungo's Hi Fi were invited down from their home city of Glasgow to play with Iration Steppas sound system in Leeds. Mungo's had only been going a short while and all founders Tom Tattersall and Doug Paine brought were themselves and a box of records. Arriving at Leeds West Indian Centre in the city’s Caribbean district of Chapeltown they saw Mark Iration’s gigantic speaker boxes and his imposing crew all dressed in boiler suits. "It was intimidating” says Tom.

Since then, Mungo's have travelled to Leeds West Indian Centre at least ten times – carrying more and more of their own system with each visit. Initially, they worked the second room, eventually graduating to the main clash chamber with their hosts. Today, on the concluding date of Mark Iration’s SubDub weekender, they are taking on the Steppas all night. Reggaeville is meeting Tom, newer French Mungo’s members Jerome and Thomas and tech support Roo to experience a soundclash from the sound’s perspective – from load in to pack up.

It's a windy Saturday evening in Leeds. Storm Desmond is devastating the North. Several vans were overturned on the roads as Mungo's made the 5 hour journey from Glasgow. Women scream from the festive funfair rides on Cookridge Street. Men stagger against the winds, merry in their Christmas jumpers.

Leeds West Indian Centre was founded in 1979. Inside it already looks atmospheric with camouflage and red gold green throws covering the ceiling and walls of room two. In room one, huge posters hang over the soon-to-be-danced-on stage: of the Leeds Bicentenary Transformation Project commemorating the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1807; and another of British and international “people who have influenced our lives” from Harriet Tubman to Professor Gus John, from Martin Luther King to Fidel Castro. Iration Steppas formidable rig is assembled from yesterday, silent for once, the calm before the indoor storm.

Mungo’s unload the gear from the vans and Reggaeville feels the mythical excitement of “lifting box”. A can of Red Stripe falls out of one of the scoops joining Friday’s inevitable nitrous bullets strewn on the smoking area floor. Next they must position the speakers - 8 Subs, 4 kick bins and 4 tops (“Like Tetris” says Jerome).

As he straps the bins in place, soft spoken, bespectacled Mungo's producer Tom explains this is his last gig for a couple of weeks. He's looking forward to seeing his family and walking in the countryside, where he writes most of his tunes. In addition his seniority, Tom is also much bigger than the others present, and his interactions with them have an older brotherly vibe.

The speakers are wired and the wooden DJ booth constructed. The team work quickly and efficiently: due to being less tired than usual (the previous night’s engagement in Sheffield was cancelled at short notice) and, according to Thomas, because a smaller squad decreases “standing around and chatting”. Tonight Tom is playing Mungo’s own productions from their Scotch Bonnet label via his laptop. As an intro, Thomas will spin collectors’ vinyl prior to joining Jerome in checking levels. Co-founder Doug is gigging elsewhere. Second producer Craig McLeod, another high profile member thanks to his Viking appearance, is having some time off. Pre-Christmas is their busiest period after the summer.

At 7pm the hulking, wide-eyed Mark Iration arrives with his crew. Their set up is already done so they sit down to fish and chips: the smell of vinegar cleansing the room before the sweat of bodies to come. Mungo’s decamp to Maureen's, a Caribbean takeaway round the corner. Predictably, they are out of everything except jerk and fried chicken and rice and peas.

Unlike just about every other reggae act in existence, there is a refreshing lack of industry politics hanging around Mungo's. Theirs is an easy camaraderie that comes from not taking yourself too seriously. As Tom recalls, he and Doug only started this for fun and pledged that if it ever became a regular job they'd jack it in. “We went back on that though” he laughs “I didn’t want to work as a chef anymore”.

By 10pm, back at the West Indian Centre, Mark is cranking his equipment. He seems in a good mood. Clashing on home turf is a serious business even with respected friends. But he has new speakers and feels confident. He skanks between the crossfire, laughing like a youth at his first dance.

If you’re used to vintage roots rather than his post-apocalyptic dub, hearing the bass is mildly frightening. Where a normal sound will hit you in the stomach and chest, Iration make fissure points in your skull and fears that your septum could fall out. Ear defenders are a must.

People start to file in. Students, young hippie-ish waifs, male Iration fans in combat gear and older Caribbean regulars. Come midnight the venue is full if not quite at capacity. The weather and the general culture of panic in the media may have had an effect.

The idea is each side alternates for 30 minutes, switching to one-for-one for the final hour. Mark unleashes cyborg remixes of Yabby You and Gregory Isaacs transposed into his bleak dystopian dub style. Mungo's Thomas rewinds to the era of the originals with Tetrack’s Only Jah Jah Knows and the Heptones' Mistry Babylon. An annoying humming noise interferes with Fabian’s Prophecy – and returns periodically throughout the night. Then Tom and Mark go head to head with their productions, Mark on CDJs and Tom on Traktor.

Both Mungo's and Mark have a default minor-key mechanical bowel-bothering type of rhythm and it's these the kids love the most. Mark’s music is the louder, of course, but Mungo's repertoire is more varied. They frequently depart from industrial bass bangers to material which harks to the sixties (such as the Hempolics' I Love To Sing – whose singer Nubiya is in the building) and the early 80s (new singles featuring Johnny Osbourne licking over his Ice Cream Love and combining with YT for next cut No Wata Down Ting).

Yet Mark has his moments where he goes off script, with sax and strings steppers mixes that inject an organic feel. He is also more open minded than Mungo's in one crucial way: he draws contemporary roots from Jamaica like ChronixxCapture Land. In keeping with the pugnacious levels of his rig and the aggressive nature of clash, Mark watches boxing on a laptop while he plays. Iration’s MC Danman has been in the place from the beginning, a calm and laid back presence on the mic. By contrast, when Mungo’s talker, Southend’s Charlie P, arrives at half 12 the crowd start whooping, cheering and pushing up their lighters. He can sing and MC equally well, and recordings don’t capture his prodigious power live.

The kids don’t seem fussed about who is doing what in the clash. They’re here to get to the next level of having a good time. A youth with long red hair and a t-shirt saying “dub” on it shakes Tom and Charlie P’s hand during Johnny Clarke’s True Born African. Two others are wearing shiny gold capes and a third has a US flag wrapping his face like a kind of reggae-loving white supremacist terrorist. At one point the horrible humming stops Mungo’s in their tracks, initially resembling a test tone for Mark’s changeover tune. “Sound system nah easy” laughs Charlie.

4am, and a few faces down front are visibly gurning. “It’s my birthday. I’m 21. Can you get Charlie P?” asks a youngster at the barriers. Charlie is busy killing it atop Capleton’s Jah Jah City, however, and when he does take a break the kid has disappeared into the throng.

The world is not a nice place” says Mark over the mic as the lights go up “There is too much War. We would love peace. Peace, love and harmony”.

In the end it's hard to pick a winner because it turns out the annoying noise blighting Mungo's set was Mark’s new amp causing havoc with his tops. Unable to continue at his station, he plugs his CDJs into Mungo's mixer and spins his final selection before letting them finish. It seems we've witnessed sound clash in the most literal sense.
Call it a technical draw caused by an accidental head injury. Call it what you want. The kids down front don't care who won. They're just chanting, pleading for one more tune.