Alex Paterson Interviews David Rodigan

The Orb mainman meets dancehall DJ
Alex Paterson Interviews David Rodigan
Two artists, one conversation. Personality Clash: bringing like minds together since 2004.

David Rodigan vs. Alex Paterson

The gentleman of dub and dancehall, Rodigan is a British radio DJ whose tireless pursuit of the genre has seen him grace Capital, London and Kiss radio stations for long spells. He’s a true champion of Jamaican music in every form.

Founding The Orb with the KLF’s Jimmy Cauty, Paterson soon went solo bring a dub-inspired hybrid to the rave scene which set him on a restless path to investigate every corner of digital dub and its variant strains ever since.

Getting deep, deep in the dub, our two doctors of dance hooked up for some chat. The following is an extract in which the pair share their love for Jamaica’s finest export...

David: It all started for me in the summer of love [1967]; me and my friends started getting into relatively new music from Jamaica, which was ska, just turning to rocksteady, so it was ‘Phoenix City’ by The Skatalites with this crazy backbeat that you could really dance to. What we were hearing was fresh, it wasn’t rehashed - we loved it. But in those days being a DJ wasn’t considered to be very cool at all, it was considered to be a bit tedious to have to stand in the corner playing records while everybody else is having a bloody good time, dancing and holding girls, having beers and chatting. ‘Who’s that guy in the corner?’ ‘Oh, he’s just a DJ.’

Alex: I can tell you that it hadn’t really changed that much when I started DJing. My older brother gave me the first reggae album I took seriously: ‘Under Heavy Manners’ by Prince Far I.

David: Yeah, and then the great King Tubby. I was in awe of him before I met him because I’d heard these recordings, and I think the first one I ever heard was this track called ‘Watergate Rock/Watergate Dub’ in 1972, when it was all kicking off, and I’d never heard anything quite like that. I just imagined this big, enormous, fat black guy sitting in his studio, doing all this crazy stuff. But when I got to meet him in 1979, he was hardly fat at all. And he was this fanatical guy, he had a serious collection of jazz records, a very reserved man, didn’t smoke, you couldn’t smoke in the studio, meticulously tidy, obsessively tidy, but he created this amazing music, phenomenal.

Alex: And the other one that would run side-by-side with King Tubby is The Scientist.

David: I remember first meeting him, he was this skinny little boy who worked outside of the studio on a nut and bolt lathe, and all he did every day was make nuts and bolts. I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ And he said, ‘One day I’m going to be in there! My name is Brown, but they call me Scientist.’ And then eventually of course he did get in there.

Alex: One of those where you go in there and you’ve got no preconceptions.

David: He was one of Tubby’s protégés, but he did create a unique sound, something rather exciting. So much timeless stuff. But in my opinion, what is coming out of Jamaica today is really very, very poor. I’m bitterly disappointed by eighty percent of what Jamaica is now producing; Jamaica’s lost the plot. But talking of dub, I remember Joe Gibbs. For me, ‘Africa Dub Chapter One’ is still the definitive album I bought in South East London. And what an engineering work, I mean Gibbs was obviously the producer and financier but Errol Thompson was the genius, the maestro, the amazing engineer who did such an amazing job. It’s funny, engineers can be so laid back - I met him years later in Jamaica, and he’d opened up an ice cream parlor. When I met him, it was Sunday lunchtime at his house, and he was more interested in counting the takings from his ice cream parlor than he was in talking about dub. And in the end, I had to kind of give the conversation up, because he’d answer quite monosyllabic, because he was just like: ‘I wonder how many chocolate cones did we sell today?’

Alex: You mentioned South East London, it made me think of Desmond’s Hip City in Brixton, which is where I bought ‘Money In My Pocket’ by Dennis Brown, a small fortune on import. I grew in Thornton Heath but my reggae years were in Battersea where I went to this youth club where all these black kids are coming in with these pre-released vinyls. And they wanted to know these chess moves, and wanted to know how I knew all the moves so well, because I didn’t look like a geezer that would know chess moves. So I let them into a few ‘fools moves’ and how to wipe out the whole back row of your opponent’s chessboard and in return they lent me their reggae records. I remember then walking into Desmond’s Hip City and the girl behind the counter said to the other boys, ‘Come now! Come now! Let him be!’ and I felt so privileged. All we wanted to do was play some music together. It was the common ground back then.

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The Orb released ‘Metallic Spheres’ on Columbia in November whilst The Orb and Youth release ‘Impossible Oddities’ this month on Year Zero.

David Rodigan releases ‘Fabric: Live 54’ this month.

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