The Heatwave interview: "Full carnival." London dancehall DJ collective The Heatwave have been representing the culture of bashment for almost a decade. Here’s a 40 minute mix of the love and energy that dancehall embodies.
If you love dancehall and live in London, it would be difficult to miss The Heatwave. This bashment DJ crew really don’t waste any time. They’re kept busy all year with a weekly Rinse FM show, two club nights (Hot Wuk and Madd Raff) and this summer sees The Heatwave take their collective love for dancehall, reggae and grime on what’s shaping up to be a summer-long celebratory trip.
Carrying on from the recent release of the excellent ‘Showtime’ Live DVD the crew are kicking off at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend in June and finishing up at Croatia’s Outlook in August, but if you aren’t lucky enough catch them on foreign shores, don’t worry. They’re very much rooted in the UK, and will take their infectious live showcase across these shores too, with appearances at the Notting Hill and Leeds carnivals amongst others.
So, in anticipation of all this madness, I caught up with Gabriel and Benjamin from The Heatwave to talk about the evolution of the project as a whole, how the summer is shaping up and a quick breakdown of their exclusive and awesome Dummy mix.
Tell us about the Heatwave project/ethos and how it has developed?
Gabriel: We started running bashment parties because we wanted other people to get as excited about the music as we were. I started buying dancehall because I loved the energy of it, how it makes people dance and go mad when you play it. Now The Heatwave is about making that happen in as many different ways and places as possible: raves, the internet, our radio show, remixes, everything really. It’s all about sharing the music and getting other people to enjoy it as much as we do.
Benjamin D: It’s just like a family, we all love bashment! So when we get together and play music we get madly over excited – it’s the same everywhere, on the radio, in a party, even just driving around in the car.
Are there any tracks from the mix that you particularly love? And why?
Gabriel: I really like YT’s tune An England Story. He takes the melody, flow and storytelling concept from Cham’s Jamaican hit Ghetto Story and twists it and changes it to tell the story of UK dancehall.
Benjamin D: Obviously, I love hearing Wiley spitting straight dancehall. We have always said he is a ragga artist and he proves it here and on a beat he made himself. It’s mad! He’s been a huge figure in grime and you can directly hear the influence of dancehall in his lyrics.
Gabriel: Stush’s Call Mi Phone is special as well because she wrote it after doing Showtime! It’s all about how the other MCs dealt with her on the night and approached her afterwards, you have to check the lyrics haha.
Benjamin D: And we can’t forget Call Mi A Yardie, that tune is the biggest thing in UK dancehall right now, Stylo G is gonna have carnival on lock this summer.
How would you describe this mix in relation to the ethos of the Heatwave club experience?
Gabriel: Well this mix purely features UK artists, the artists who appeared at our first Showtime event last year. But in our club sets we play loads of music from Jamaica, from foundation dancehall through to the latest, up to the time bashment from the likes of Vybz Kartel, Popcaan, Mavado and so on. But we’re from London and we all grew up listening to rave music – jungle, garage, grime etc – and that music is directly descended from Jamaican soundsystem culture, so we mix and blend all those styles that are represented in the mix in our club sets too.
Benjamin D: Also the combination on the mix of hype party tunes and stuff that is more lyrically deep, addressing social issues and so on, that reflects what we do in our parties as well. It’s important when you’re playing on a Friday night to create an environment where people can let loose and enjoy themselves after a hard week at work or whatever… But also we want to deal with more meaningful topics in that context as well. It’s special when everyone is together and you can build a real community like that.
The Smiley Culture tribute medley towards the end of your mix is a really strong statement of intent. It’s clear that Smiley was a huge figure for UK music. What relationship does The Heatwave have with the music and memory of Smiley?
Gabriel: Well, Smiley Culture set the blueprint for so many MCs who came after him. He was one of the first artists to talk in an English way, using slang and all that. So most of the music we love wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Smiley. He was a pioneer. But also, in his style and delivery and charisma, there is something really important. In tunes like Cockney Translator and _Police Officer you can hear it clearly. It’s the ability to deal with important issues in a light hearted knowing way. Hes talking about big issues, race, police searches, language and how we communicate with each other.This stuff is the reality of young peoples lives in England and its vital to have that experience articulated.
Benjamin D: Yeah, you can hear the same thing in Dizzee Rascal’s early albums. We try and channel that warmth, that positivity, with a bit of tongue in cheek politics as well in everything we do . We do it on radio, and when we give speeches in raves. So that whole style and vibe is really important for us.
The Smiley tribute track also speaks of demanding answers for his tragic death. It’s fitting that such a socially and politically important figure in UK music is remembered and pushed with this kind of fire.
Benjamin D: Well, black men dying in police custody has never been headline news in the UK in a very consistent or serious way. But its been happening for decades. Because the mainstream media don’t deal with issues like this they are communicated via music, local meetings, word of mouth.
Gabriel: That’s one of the reasons soundsystems were so important, they were a central place where news could be shared and issues could be discussed, so that’s why people call soundsystems ‘the ghetto newspaper’.
You have recently released the Showtime DVD, which gives a great insight into the experience. The Heatwave seems very personally involved in the artists it books. Do you consider yourself a platform for new as well as established talent?
Gabriel: Supporting local artists is really important for us. A lot of these artists aren’t really ‘new’ though, The Heatwave sound comes from twenty plus years of raving culture in London. We all grew up and went to school in multicultural inner city schools where music is a sort of social glue.
Benjamin D: Like Glamma Kid went to my secondary school, and everyone used to talk about that, like it was a story people would always tell about our school and our local area. So when it came to doing Showtime it felt really natural to book Glamma and support this artist who had been such an important figure in my local community.
Same with Stylo G, I remember him doing that grime tune ‘My Youth’ when I was a teenager and everyone knowing his lyrics and chatting them on the bus and in the park. So when he started making dancehall it felt really important to support him, because we had seen him grow, he had changed and evolved alongside our sound.
Gabriel: It’s like, we don’t really play ‘dancehall’ as such, we play bashment, which means different things to different people. For us bashment includes all these UK derivatives that have come from the dancehall template, like jungle, garage, grime or funky. They all have the same basic structure – a mic man and a DJ and a soundsystem. Reloads, groups of MCs competing, dubplates, big bass lines. Its not restricted to any BPM or anything like that, its just a certain sound and vibe that evolved from dancehall and soundsystem culture.
How has your radio show and podcast been going, and how well does it tie into the clubnight experience?
Benjamin D: Yeah it’s insane being on Rinse FM. I grew up listening to Wiley and Dizzee on the station and all of those sick MCs back in the day.
Gabriel: And dancehall is the backbone of UK rave music. Basically everything Rinse has pioneered – jungle, garage, dubstep, funky – it’s all rooted in Jamaica and soundsystem culture. We’re the only dancehall show on the station so it’s also nice standing out in that context. Rinse listeners see the links between Jamaican and UK music and I think they see where it all comes from, the rewinds, the heavy bass lines, the dubplate specials, the fast chat lyrics.
Benjamin D: We always have a party when we’re in the studio, I get mad hype and overexcited when Gabriel is playing the big new tunes, so yeah the vibe on radio is like our parties really, except with less girls [laughs].
Tell us about the Carnival party you have planned?
Gabriel: Well for us, everywhere we go we make a carnival. We always take whistles and horns to our gigs and people go CRAZY – you know that madness that you get at carnival when people totally lose themselves? And especially in summertime, we play at loads of festivals and at different carnivals around the UK – this year we’re doing Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham as well as Notting Hill of course. So all summer long we put on a proper carnival stageshow: sick MCs, scandalous dancers, even more whistles and horns than usual.
Benjamin D: For this show at XOYO on 29th June we’re doing a carnival takeover of the whole club. We’ve got Top Cat and up and coming dancehall artist Juvinile out of Stylo G’s Warning Crew. Plus Serocee and Rubi Dan are doing a new thing called Dancehall Generals, which is all about headtop lyrics and getting the crowd involved in their lyrics. That’s gonna be wicked to see. And yeah, scandalous dancers in full carnival costume doing the maddest bashment moves! It’s gonna be live!
What’s the plan for Heatwave for the rest of 2012?
Benjamin D: Wow…to be honest the next few months is looking crazy! Summer is always a mad period for us with all the festivals and carnivals. I’m excited about the carnival roadshow that we’re taking round the country, we’ve got amazing dancers involved and some really sick MCs, plus whistles and horns obviously and various other visual spectaculars..
Gabriel: And parties, endless parties at all times, our weekly Wednesday night rave in central London, a few big Hot Wuk events coming up with people like Skibadee and Seani B… I guess the biggest and most exciting NEW thing for us this summer is the launch of Heat Wax. Right now we’re just getting everything tied down and perfectly organised. Because cos of course when we start releasing music it needs to be the baddest quality cos that’s what people know us for: 100% quality party settings!
For tickets and event info for The Heatwave’s ‘Carnival Roadshow’ on June 29th in London click here
For tickets and event info for The Heatwave’s ‘Showtime!’ Birmingham edition on July 6th click here