Interview: Mungo’s Hi Fi – the owners of the word’s finest sound system (aka “the tower of power”) talk about their new album w/ Charlie P
Mungo’s Hi Fi have just released a great new album featuring Charlie P titled You See Me Star’. Here we talk to them about the album, about why reggae doesn’t feature on Louder Than War as much as it should and about their legendary “tower of power” or “soundsystem” which ALWAYS passes the “if your chest aint rattling, shit aint happening” test with flying colours.
As you hopefully know, Glasgow is home to the UKs finest dub, dancehall, roots reggae and dubstep soundsystems. End of. We at Louder Than War have a lot of respect for the crew who work it, Mungo’s Hi Fi, as you can probably tell, largely because some of our favourite nights out have been thanks to them and it. Or perhaps more correctly, it and them.
Mungo’s first came to our attention many years ago when Peel first played them, and of course they’ve been on these pages on more than one occasion, perhaps most notably when they could be found all over Gareth Main’s “Top 20 Digidub tracks for 2012” blog. So it’s definitely about time that we hooked up with them for an interview, and the release of You See Me Star feat. Charlie P is as good an excuse as any.
But before we pile in with the interview you probably want something to listen to while you read, so how about Society by Mungo’s Hi Fi ft Charlie P.
Louder Than War: Hi guys – first off, we’re loving the new record and will get onto that soon, but there’ll be a lot of our readers who’ve never heard of Mungo’s Hi Fi so can you give us a quick potted history of how you came together please? And if you haven’t already explained so many times you want to scream, where did the name come from?
Mungo’s Hi Fi: When we started in 2000 we were two, now we are seven and we basically all gravitated to the reggae scene in Glasgow around a love for soundsystem music and it has been a slow and steady, learn on the job process in every aspect of what we do – and it still is. We do as much as possible in house from production, label and publishing to bookings, promotions and running an online shop and are constantly trying improve on what we do, to make a lean mean reggae machine. The name Mungo comes from our beloved patron saint. He paved the way spreading a good message in Glasgow and also made beer.
Your soundsystem is legendary – can you tell us a bit about that please too? Am I right in thinking it’s kind of in constant flux, that it’s constantly developing and being improved upon?
We were djing in glasgow and the PA’s we played on were shite. We found some speakers in a skip, with a bit of work and a few amps we built a soundsystem and started a night. It has gone from a bin rig with a box of tangled cables to the tower of power it is today. We like to improve the rig and often upgrade sections. What we strive for is a clean and heavy sound. We use a digital crossover rather than the traditional pre-amp and rely on the scoops to provide the warmth and weight. We also use kick bins to allow for faster transients and response for music where the kick and snare are important, like drum and bass.
You have a strong connection to the roots of reggae (ie its history, not the genre, although clearly that too!) and yet your sound – and that of Scotch Bonnet in general – is always fresh and forward thinking. How important is it to you that you acknowledge your heritage (via samples, say) and do you consciously think about getting that balance how you like it?
We are all reggae geeks and love the history and music. We also love UK bass music and culture. It is a balance and in our production we work across the full spectum of very traditional to very modern and everywhere inbetween. We like the culture of recycling riddim tracks which has always occurred in reggae and try to bring something new to the riddim. In the words of Solo Banton, “to move forward you have to know what’s behind” we have two labels to accommodate our production and if it’s too far from reggae it would go on our Scrub a dub imprint. This helps distributors and shops know what they are buying and allows us to indulge our guilty pleasure that is bass music.
OK – let’s talk about the new album. You’ve been working with Charlie P since 2010 when you met “at one of their legendary nights at the Glasgow Art School” the blurb about the album says. Inevitable question but how did you hook up with each other? Did you invite him to play that night – he’s from Essex I think? – and what was your first impression of him as a musician?
It was all thanks to Dougie from Consious sounds. We had booked him and King General, who was double booked, so Dougie brought Charlie. Charlie was only 16 or 17 at the time and that weekend he recorded Skidip which was a big hit from our Forward Ever album. He also recorded imitators which features on this current album.
The blurb also describes it as “the culmination” of your relationship which sounds kinda final – is that the case? What’s it been like watching him develop over the years?
Our relationship with Charlie is far from final. We are close friends and speak weekly, not to mention do shows together every second week. We have many other tracks with Charlie and will continue to record. He has developed over the years but he was good in the first place and he is hard working, dedicated to his art and is really focused. He is a wise head on young shoulders and has earned the title of the youngest veteran in the game.
What was the recording and creating process for You See Me Star? I think you do the music and Charlie P the lyrics right? How do Mungo’s go about making music in general?
Charlie is from Essex, but is often in Glasgow for shows or just to hang out. Each track is different, sometimes we will have new riddims, sometimes he will have new lyrics. We looked over all the tracks we had and streamlined them into a coherent collection.
When it comes to making music we have quite a high turnaround. We have two recording studios in our warehouse and we have a weekly night in Glasgow where we often invite MCs and from there, or via the internet, voice artists. We often take a vocal or a dubplate vocal and re-lick a new instrumental under it which goes on to have a life of its own.
The album genre hops quite a bit, from roots to rubadub to dancehall etc. I tend to assume that fans of reggae are open-minded enough to flow with that and yet on the track Musical Politics Charlie P seems to suggest that isn’t the case. Who’s right, me or Charlie P and do you know where that lyric came from?
You’re both right, like any scene you have people who are purists to one particular style or sound and people are more open-minded. With this album we wanted to show a variety of styles with the reggae bracket. Charlie is a versatile artist, he has an amazing singing voice but also DJ (chat lyrics) so the riddims had to reflect this.
Collaborations seem really important in the world of reggae – more so than most other music genres – is there anyone you’d really like to collaborate with who you haven’t yet? Personally I’d like to see you hook up with Dubkasm coz I love those guys and I can’t begin to imagine how great the music you two could create together would be!
There are many people we would like to collaborate with, the list would be too long to go into. Yes Dubkasm are definitely on there. We are good pals with them, they are great guys, they really know there stuff and are a great laugh. We both work a lot with Solo Banton.
I’m of the opinion that reggae (and it’s many splendid sub-genres) is the universal music in that most people seem to like it and very few claim to dislike it. Do you agree?
I agree 100% with you on that. Lots of people like reggae but don’t seek it out, but they like it if it’s there. Many people have the idea that its all Bob Marley and not really dance music. I think festivals help change this prejudice. you often see people, young, old, families walk into the reggae tent to see “whaa gwaan”immediately get into it and stay there all weekend.
I’m going to assume you’ve agreed to that last question, at least to some extent! So with that being that case why do you think the music press in general – and I include Louder Than War in this – give it such short shrift? We have over 200 people contributing to the site, but only one of them really (shout out to Paul Scott-Bates) writes about the genre at all these days. And yet on the other hand I live in Bristol and as I’m sure you know the dub and soundsystem culture here is literally huge – nights invariably sell out Trinity Centre, a venue which usually puts on bands the size of Fuck Buttons and Goat who are never out of the music press!
The music press I guess mainly follow what is trendy or new and reggae is often not seen as that, they partly set the trend and have a certain demographic to cater for. For many young folk it’s their parent’s music or something they have never come in contact with or they feel it’s a bit old and they want to hear something new. Reggae is still an underground music, which is maybe part of the appeal. In France you listen to the radio and about every fourth tune is reggae. We have even been featured in what is the equivalent of the Radio times in Paris. In France even Grannys are into reggae. Bristol is a big music city in general and its pure vibes every time we go and feels very much like a second home.
What’s the summer hold in store for Mungo’s? Lots of sunset slots at festivals I imagine? I’m guessing you’re in your element at festivals, would that be the case? And is there going to be Mungo’s Hi Fi ft Charlie P (pictured right, © Michelle Makie) tour?
It feels like we are constantly on tour. We don’t have a set tour with Charlie planned, but we gig with him both home and abroad regularly we were just in Brazil together and before that Peru on tour. The festival season is just kicking off and we are all looking forward to it. We are fortunate that we have many bookings in clubs and festivals and are booked months in advance. We enjoy festivals and clubs across the board all sizes and locations are special in their own way.
Who would you say are the current UK reggae heroes? Who are doing the most to further the genre / bring it to more people? Are there particular DJs, radio shows, groups, artists, blogs, labels that people should check out?
It is a great time for reggae in the UK, there is an immense foundation of soundsystems from Jah Shaka to Saxon and Iration up in Leeds then there is the new wave of sounds and producers like Dub Smugglers, Gorgon Sound, Dubkasm, Prince Fatty, Danny T and Tradesman, Stalawa, Earl Gateshead to name a few. There’s a wealth of vocal talent too, from Charlie P, Solo Banton, YT, Mr. Williamz, Kenny Knots, Soom T, Parly B and bands like the Skints and Hempolics. Even the like of Mala and Pinch I would still consider in many respects under the sound system / reggae banner.
Mungo’s Hi Fi ft Charlie P’s ‘You See Me Star’ is out now on Scotch Bonnet Records. You can buy a copy here: scotchbonnet.net/shop.