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Dig into the Depths of Reggae & Dub
Label Feature

Dig into the Depths of Reggae & Dub

Trace back the roots of UK reggae label Fashion Records, and you find Chris Lane cutting dubplates in the basement of record store Dub Vendor. Starting a label in 1980 was a logical step from the store he had co-founded together with John MacGillivray. As one of the few British reggae labels with their own recording studio, Fashion Records grew a massive catalog of reggae, dub & dancehall including music by big names like Horace Andy, Smiley Culture, Cutty Ranks, General Levy, and countless others.

By DannyVeekens
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4:02

What does sampling mean to you personally?

To actually “lift” a piece of audio from someone else’s record and to manipulate that—that’s an interesting concept. But I’m always looking to hear something original. People who do something different. Same for sampling: there should be artistry in it. In the end, sampling is just the technique that’s been made available through technology. So there is no reason for people not to get creative.

What was your sentiment towards sampling from the perspective of running a label? Say, in the late 80s to early 90s.

The thing that struck me the most, is that people tend to use the same ol’ samples. Especially vocal hooks and samples. Fashion Records has some material that gets used a lot, but we’ve got hundreds of other reggae vocals that could be used just as effectively. But generally speaking, I know people tend to go for something that’s familiar. I can see that. But I’d love to see more creativity. Especially in the use of vocal samples. It sort of mystifies me, really, that certain amazing vocals we have never get used...

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4:02
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3:45

Interesting point. But then again, reggae and dub are such vast genres to get into. It’s so much bigger than soul or funk, in that sense: there are tracks, various dubs of that, rhythms, alternate takes, remixes…. Reggae and dub are probably the deepest styles of music to “dig into”—and even then, you still barely scratch the surface...

This is the thing people don’t realize about reggae until they get into the music. I mean, Bob Marley was great and he is deservedly the sort of “peak of reggae.” But it’s like the tip of the iceberg with him on top. There are thousands of other classics and great musicians out there. That’s what happens when people don’t know much about a certain genre: they end up sampling what they know and judge everything based on that. But there’s so much more to it than just Cutty Ranks, Top Cat, General Levy... People who love music should find digging through the depths of reggae and dub a rewarding experience.

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4:03
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4:13

Soul Jazz Records reissued some of your catalog two years ago. Does that say something about the artistry of the music on Fashion Records, that those tracks survived the test of time?

Yeah, but to be fair, that’s not exclusive to our music. Even with Grime records being made right now: in twenty years, there will be young teenagers digging through the crates looking for 2021-era Grime records. After many years, music becomes exotic; something interesting. Also because by then they’re completely out of context of what’s happening at that particular time. That makes the music sound different. Fresh. The same can be said about recontextualizing samples, I suppose.

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3:47
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3:46

"Even if producers want to deliberately keep the digging obscure: there are a lot of vocals, rhythms, and other bits and pieces that are far from obvious finds."

—Chris Lane (co-founder of Fashion Records)
Chris Lane at a Carlton & The Shoes recording session, Vineyard Studio, 1981
Chris Lane at a Carlton & The Shoes recording session, Vineyard Studio, 1981

As a producer yourself, did you embrace the technique of sampling back then for your own production work?

I did, but only when sampling became more prevalent. The first time was around 85/86. I did a track called “Dubology.” I sampled quite a few bits of vocals, a Charlie Parker outtake for some music and the engineer’s voice, and I think I sampled a “One, two, three, four” bit from either a James Brown record or an old jazz record.

In the late 80s and early 90s, we started sampling much more, because sampling became more of a “reggae-thing” to do. To put bits from other reggae songs in your productions. There was even this thing that you get a classic rhythm, like a Studio One Dub rhythm, take a loop from it, and put new drums and basslines over it and so on. We also did a couple of tunes like that back then.

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3:43

Was hip-hop also something you looked up to back then? Since we’re talking about the same era as the rise of hip-hop in the UK.

A little bit. I heard a lot of elements I really liked. But for most of those things, I couldn’t think of a way to translate that to producing reggae music. I remember talking to Sly Dunbar about this. He was telling me about how much he loves the sounds of C+C Music Factory. I didn’t really hear him use any of that in his music. Sure, their sound might have influenced him, but I just didn’t hear that myself in his music in a direct way.

Same for me: I used to listen to hip-hop, and we used loops including one from an Arrested Development track for "The Wig" by General Levy. But I never really got into hip-hop, because I just didn’t know enough about it. Music I did get into, however, was Jungle. But even with that, I didn’t understand everything. That was a very vibrant and interesting time, to say the least...

A new style heavily sampling reggae…

We always had in our heads that young black kids growing up would get into reggae. But what we didn’t realize, was that those young kids growing up who listened to reggae—even contemporary reggae in the early 90s—just thought, ‘This is my mum’s and dad’s music’. So instead, they all got into house, rave, hardcore breakbeats, jungle… So we had a whole generation of teenagers who almost totally rejected reggae, and turned it into their own type of music: Jungle.

I used to have friendly arguments about that. Young jungle heads said they didn’t have to listen to reggae because they have Jungle. But they were using reggae samples, vocals, and basslines to make the music…. So they were obviously into reggae, one way or another.

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4:06
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3:51

How did you deal with that? I mean, you had to run a reggae label while there was a new underground movement on the rise illegally sampling what you were releasing...

There was a period for about a year that when I was driving my car and turned on the radio, I could tune in to the pirate stations that were playing Jungle. Within one minute, I would hear a Fashion Records sample. It was unbelievable. I did try to explain to them that when I had to tell Cutty Ranks or Top Cat or whoever that their voice was part of this big underground Jungle tune, that I should also be able to compensate them for that. They’d then tell me that it’s only a couple of seconds and that that’s nothing substantial. So to me, if it’s not important, why not get rid of that sample? Those were interesting discussions. On a more positive note, we ended up working with some of them and people still like those remixes and tracks. But yeah, I can’t say my heart was 100% in Jungle. [laughs] Also because it was a generational gap.

Fast-forward to now: how do you think Tracklib can change the way people sample?

Tracklib can only change things for the better. If people want to get creative, they now can get creative without the need to chase labels or rightsholders. Even if producers want to deliberately keep the digging obscure: there are a lot of vocals, rhythms, and other bits and pieces on Tracklib that are far from obvious. To me, that has always been one of the best things about sampling: you’d hear a track and recognize a piece you sort of knew, but then in a different context. I've always thought that was really, really interesting.


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