Rebel Lion are a roots reggae sound system from Norwich comprised of brothers Tim, Simon and Finbarr Carter, AKA Maka T, Siman Reality and Militant Man alongside other ‘family’ members including Leigh (technical-lee), Goz (the One Blood Drummer), Robert and Jack. Ahead of their three day residency at PlayFest, I catch up with old friend Fin to chat about festivals, weed, vinyl, dubstep and getting naked.
We arrange to meet in a little bohemian café-bar known as Franks, which is fitting since it serves mainly vegetarian food, the staple diet of most Rastas, I am soon to learn.
I order the only non-veggie meal on the menu while Fin selects some exotic and probably healthier grilled aubergine dish and whilst feasting we catch up on the latest goss’ before getting down to business:
So you’re playing PlayFest in a few weeks. What is your sound systems vibe and how do you think that will that fit in with the festival?
PlayFest is not your usual festival for a reggae sound. It’s for young people into guitar music I would say. We come with big bad speakers and it’s our sound system this year which is good because reggae only sounds right through a proper sound system.
We’ve also got a market area with Rasta cultural stalls Vinyl and CD stalls a food stall called Jah Munchies serving fresh veggie food made with love. I imagine it will be a little oasis of loveliness.
What will you be bringing to PlayFest that is unique?
For us a sound system, yeah, you have to come fresh, you have to come different. I spend half my life harassing people around the country and the world to give me their tunes…to give me stuff that’s not been released yet. Expect a whole heap of stuff that’s really exciting. We’ve got Horace Andy, Prince Allah plus many more exclusive dubplates, specials and unreleased musics. Also, in Norwich, we’ve got our own producers… so there’s Foundation Sounds, True Sounds and Sugar Beat (Free King Sound’s label) all producing heavy roots so when they put tracks out we get the, plus exclusive cuts.
Rebel Lion are playing each and every evening and we’re having sound systems from all around the country playing in the day times and they’ll be bringing their own thing too. We have a lot of friends around the country and have invited a whole heap of singers and players to spice up our set – the list is huge including big names such as Chanter, Reality Souljahs, Chieftain Joseph, Askala Selassie, Errol Bellot, Kingjay, Maya (flute), Lloyd ‘Duppy’ Clarke (Sax), and so so so many more.
Your sound system’s bass has got a bit of reputation. What are going to be doing at PlayFest in terms of sound?
We’ve been thrown out of pretty much everywhere in Norwich and then new places take us on and then throw us out so yeah, the bass is a huge problem. Last year at Playfest we were playing on someone else’s sound system and it wasn’t a reggae sound system so the sound wasn’t great. This year it’s on our sound system for all three days. I don’t know how many speakers we’re going to bring but I think everything we’ve got. Everywhere else will certainly know we’re playing! Music from creation…to rock the foundation!
Does the same vinyl snobbery found in other genres exist within sound system culture?
I still will play vinyl wherever possible. I love the look of it…I love the smell of it…that sweet sound as the needle hits the grooves. So for me its vinyl always where possible. These days we do play quite a bit of exclusive stuff on CD as we can’t afford to press it onto acetate. And it hurts, I hate it as I have no relationship with those small shiny discs. In the sound system scene there are certain people who just play off CD’ or computers. Everyone does it different but there is snobbery. For me I don’t get excited watching someone play if it’s not vinyl. I’ve seen people play off iPad’s and they should just be sent home.
Do you have smoke weed to enjoy reggae music?
A lot of my friends are Rasta’s and the accompanying dreadlocks. Some of them don’t smoke dope and people are really surprised by that. There’s an expectation that reggae plus dreadlocks equals ganja but actually that equation doesn’t always work. So the answer is NO but it can help. They go well together but actually you can do them independently. I personally think everyone should try and get stoned and listen to reggae at least once in their lives. If they don’t like reggae already then maybe getting stoned first will help them too.
Norfolk has a traditionally white crowd. What do you think the demand for your sounds will be like at PlayFest?
People laugh “How can Norwich have such a good reggae scene when there’re so few black people?”
Historically there were some black run reggae sound systems in Norwich but they don’t exist any more. Flex International was one of those black sound systems, but Norwich has a history of reggae sound systems run by white people. When in 1993 I returned to the place of my birth after 12 years away in London I was shocked because it was so white…the Daz Ultra city. However things have changed a lot in 20years and it is slowly getting much more mixed.
At PlayFest who knows who’s gonna come. Last year it was quite funny. There wasn’t a big reggae following there at all. Lots of young, white, rock and dance loving kids and I think that’s who they (PlayFest) were marketing at. But my view is you don’t have to wear dreadlocks to like reggae. You don’t have to smoke dope to like reggae. Some people don’t even know they like reggae until they hear us. I suppose what I love doing is being on the frontiers trying to convert people to reggae. I love it when people come in and say “What was that tune?” and “Where can I buy this music?”
So do you think the festival subculture is a more diverse and progressive crowd?
Festivals from my experience have changed in recent years. I don’t know if it’s for the worse or the better but they’ve certainly changed. From what I have seen they have become much more middle class and expensive. The security is harder and now only those people who can afford to go to festivals go to festivals and I think that’s had a real impact on the feel. The last time I went to Glastonbury it was a bit like a shopping mall that had music. It think its great that everyone can try a festival but I think they’ve really changed.
I do the kids area at Latitude. They don’t have reggae at latitude. In fact they don’t really have any black music at Latitude I would argue. And it quite amazing to have such a white festival because people travel from around the country but its mainly Guardian readers from Islington in a field (although i do love the coloured sheep and amazing surroundings by a lake surrounded by ancient trees).
Maybe everyone is becoming more progressive. I would actually argue the opposite – festivals have become mainstreamed and I think its really sad. I think the best festivals are the ones that people don’t know about and that haven’t hit ‘the rough guide to festivals’ yet. So if you’ve got a great secret festival, keep it secret.
The title Prince has been used quite a lot in reggae – Prince Buster, Prince Allah, Prince Jazzbo. Do you think Prince Harry will be reggae’s next big star after recent news of him collecting music after his trip to Jamaica?
The worrying this is if you have The Queen for a grandma people are going to open doors for you and I’d hate to think that Prince Harry would become the next big reggae thing because the royal family has a lot to own up for. What was done in the name of queen and country – colonialism, slavery, lets go back… we talking about crusades man! A lot of Rastas see The Queen as one of the many faces of Babylon. She epitomizes western capitalist white racist culture for certain Rasta people.
I come in with an open mind. What if Prince Harry listens to the lyrics? What happens if he changes the way he lives? What happens if he influences his dad, his brother his children? Maybe they’ll start giving up pork. Maybe they’ll start sharing the wealth or stop bombing other countries because this is what reggae’s about – peace, love, equality and justice.
What new music and artists are really exciting you at the moment?
On the UK reggae scene there’s some really good up and coming artists as well as a great league of veterans. The people causing a stir right now for me would be Solo Banton, Gappy Ranks and Demoliton Man now known as Ras Demo ( known for the drum n bass legendary tune Fire). Then you have others who are only just really getting noticed properly for their talent including our own mic man Chanter, as well as Principal, Chieftan Joseph and Jah Mirikle. There is also a guy called Incient Angel whose voice is something else.
In terms of new production I suppose Reality Shock are one of the exciting labels that have been making a name for themselves. They’re putting out a lot of music.
I like Jamaican music but you’re getting very little vinyl releases from Jamaica at the moment. They’re mainly digital releases. A lot of the interesting releases are coming from Europe so I’m getting stuff sent from Sweden, from France, Spain, all over Europe and the nice thing is they’re using musicians again. They’re mixing in digital but playing real instruments on the tracks.
One producer to look out for who I’m just releasing my first track with… Roots Arena is the label… but the studio’s called Rolling Lion. He’s actual a Norwich boy who’s living in London. He’s rebuilt Lee Scratch Perry’s famous Black Ark studio. He’s found the same equipment – not the actual items as they were burnt in a fire. However he’s rebuilt the most amazing analogue studio and is using it to produce Lee’s forthcoming album. I am just about to launch my own label called Roots Arena and our first release is a Rolling Lion tune called Woi Woi with the legendary voice of Max Romeo blessing it… it will be in the shops as soon as we can get it pressed.
Festivals are not a new thing, but there seems to be an explosion of these events in recent years. What is your opinion on this new movement?
I love festivals, they’re great. Are there too many? Financially there must be because some are going bust. I think going to festivals has become a bit main streamed…like what is up with ‘Glamping’! Festivals are not about glamorous camping – everyone likes a clean toilet but part of the experience for me was always ‘rough it’. At Latitude you can get your nails done and there’s a spa there and so, for me, that is wrong. I haven’t been to enough of the new ones to make judge but yeah, it’s a changing culture. And it’s the recession this year… well actually a great depression verging on global economic collapse ..because babylon falling. It will be interesting to see what events die this year. Most people I know can’t afford to live. It will be interesting to see if people can afford to go to festivals.
There’s a real danger when someone’s paying advertising whether that’s a magazine or on TV or at a festival. How does that influence the festival? Who gets to play and who gets not to play?
Mobile phones have really changed festivals. Years ago we lost each other for days. I remember going to my first Glastonbury and I lost my friends as soon as I arrived for two days. It didn’t matter. Maybe I’m just an old fart. It’s a changing culture and I guess I’m older. A lot of people look really young. There’re very almost no travellers, proper old hippies and very few or no naked people at festivals these days which I thinks a real shame.
How do you think music downloads and free music has affected the way in which we go out and pay to listen to music?
This is a huge divider within the reggae music scene. It’s got increasingly difficult for people to afford to press vinyl. A lot of producers can’t press everything on vinyl so some stuff never gets released.
I don’t think people should play mp3’s because they sound shit. It’s a bit like our post offices in the country side if we don’t use them we’ll lose them. Buy vinyl if you want to see people play records. We can only keep it going if people are buying. So yeah, buy your vinyl!
Yet others, including myself, can see that it a means to spread the music we love to the masses, especially for unsigned artists…but I personally hate MP3. Support your record shops…support singers and producers..go back to vinyl.
What’s your opinion on Dubstep and the way it’s bounded around in the media as if it’s a new musical movement and sound?
Anyone who knows me knows I love to dance like a nutter. However I can’t dance to heavy thrash, gabba, opera orcountry and western ? Funk, hip hop, garage, house – most music I can shake my thing to as long as it has a good bassline.
Dubstep is a really weird dance. If you watch people at dubstep events it’s a wobble! It’s made on a computer and I’m one of these people who think musicians should be brought back into the making of music and kids with computers should be taught how to play guitars and drums. I think its good that things develop and we experiment with the music but it’s a bit like cooking. Some experiments go wrong. Dubstep for me is like a bad cake. It doesn’t work for me.
And that just about wraps it up. The Rebel Lion sound system will have their own tent for the full 3 days at PlayFest, in Norfolk from 1st to the 3rd of June. See https://www.facebook.com/events/424430107580602/
During the festival acts include Chanter, Askala Selassie, Reality Souljahs, Principle and Jah Model.
For more info about Rebel Lion, visit:
For details on the festival, visit PlayFest.co.uk
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