Personality Clash - Mala Vs Earl Gateshead

Ahead of their Outlook Festival appearances
Personality Clash - Mala Vs Earl Gateshead
Mala is the bass lord of gravitas, co-founder of Digital Mystikz and a man with a singular vision for bass culture that gorges on progression and change.

Earl Gateshead is a UK reggae institution as happily spinning his beloved 7”s as part of Trojan Sound-system as he is rolling out his twenty-year weekly DJ residency in London.

These two titans of hertz have known each other a long time. Earl and Mala met years ago as they tackled the inner city areas of South London helping young kids escape to a better place using the force of music.

Today, ahead of their performance at September’s Outlook bass festival in Croatia, they discuss their analogue dreams: keeping sonic quality high, resisting the digital age and staying true to themselves.

Both have a single-minded approach to reggae and dub forms. Both are true guardians of their passions, and both are masters at making feet and minds dance with low-end loving licks of vibration.

Earl: I met you a long time ago.

Mala: It was in Elephant and Castle, I was doing youth work in Croydon and you were running a project in Elephant right? And I came for an interview.

Earl: I tried so hard to get you that job!

Mala: You know what I ended up doing a different project; I did about three sessions in Elephant. It was a funny time, it wasn’t long after that I was made redundant from my youth work in Croydon. They decided that studios weren’t in fashion anymore and turned it into a kitchen. Our studio was full of youngsters every day. So what do you want to talk about today?

Earl: I feel quite strongly about the fact that reggae and dub is outsider music. It’s for people that are outside the ‘big society’, they tend to see through it all. Different formats have different vibes. House music is insider music for people that want to have a lovely time. Reggae lovers tend to see through that world and look for a different world that is perhaps more spiritual.

Mala: I think there was a time in the ‘80s, with Bob Marley or Aswad who had mainstream recognition on the level that we see today. But it didn’t really last that long. I remember hearing reggae and dub when I was younger, songs that were very positive and uplifting but also talked occasionally about oppression. I remember thinking, all this music that makes me want to elevate myself, that makes me feel better, that makes my interaction with the world better – why did this music never get played on mainstream radio? Especially during the day when there may be an artist on the radio that is talking a lot of nonsense.

This links back to you describing it as ‘an outsiders’ music. I am not sure I would describe it exactly in that way, I don’t know whether I feel like an outsider or an insider – I am not sure. I don’t really follow mainstream music, not out of choice, just out of the way things are. It’s just never been supported on radio, because if more people had listened to it then maybe it can be elevated to a different space rather than the nonsense that exists purely for entertainment and to party. Don’t get me wrong, we all like to party but there’s some serious things happening and music isn’t a joke and some people take it as a joke.

Earl: I agree completely, that’s exactly what I am saying basically. But you were born that way; you were born with that hunger to be spiritually uplifted in you…

Mala: I am not sure I could even explain it like that, it was just something that was a mystery to me. When I listen to certain music, I don’t know where it comes from but I feel it, and it fills up my veins with feeling.

Earl: Its like Bob Marley said: “only those that feels it knows it”, that’s what I mean about being an outsider, personally I am proud of it.

Mala: You just have to do your thing; like the music that I play, sometimes I feel that it comes from other places. Like on Sunday I played one of the best shows I have played in a long long long long long time. I was in Munich and everything about that show just worked great. I ended up rolling out (DJing) for about 3 and half hours. And you never know when these moments are going to happen, and I always say: “don’t take the music lightly” so where ever I am I look to play whatever I play, I am not going to change my music style to suit a certain crowd. What I have in my box is what I got in my box.

I take great care and pleasure in taking risks and sharing with people music that I know they have never heard before – and I guess that’s the whole reason why I started doing what I was doing. And it vital to continue doing it today, its all well and good writing the same tune 10 times because you know it works but for me the music is constantly changing, I am constantly changing, your mood, your energy, your relationship to people, and the environment around you is always shifting. So its natural that music should sound different.

Earl: Although I play older music, you can play old records that sound jaded, or you can play older music that sounds right for now. Its older music that was recorded on that day, in that room and by those people that had a feeling that, for whatever reason, is relevant much later. You know in the ‘70s and ‘80s, our point of view today was much more common than it is now. We are in a decreasing minority. If you think about all the people that feel as strongly about music as we do, that come to our gigs and dance, then it feels like this is a decreasing world.

Mala: Certain things suggest that’s the case. But it’s a difficult one.

Earl: Babylon’s winning is what I am saying really! Look at all the wars we ‘re having these days. People don’t even complain anymore! We go and invade other countries, they go bomb people, they go and hunt people down to try and kill them, That wouldn’t have been acceptable 20 years ago but now it seems alright. Nobody complains, there’s no-one on the streets, no-one makes a fuss whilst they kill people in foreign countries whenever they want if it’s to their advantage. And there’s a link between how much people care about all this and music, it’s so interlinked. The way people ‘like’ music is the way they interact with the world. It seems these days people just grab what they can.

Mala: There’s a lot of segregation these days. I always think about the work place, and I have worked for quite a few different companies now. And the attitude of all the managers was always so aggressive and competitive, and the behaviour in cities like London – this behaviour has become the norm. That work mentality of wanting to stand out from all the rest of the workers seems to be the everyday mentality now. London is a hectic city for this, everyone is jumping around wanting to be heard, feeling that they have something to say, or to show or to do. And I am not sure how influential music has been in that. Music also gets used like TV. People just want to escape, everyone is forced to work so hard for very little, and when people get a small amount of time to themselves, then they just want to shut down from the world and all its problems. People don’t have the time, energy or patience to care for anything else. But that is people’s responsibility. And it’s also the responsibility of the people that govern to see the situation that people are overworked, underpaid, stressed, you know? Rent is ridiculous, fuel price is ridiculous…. There’s a lot of issues, I am not sure it could be sorted out or explained with just one factor.

Earl: It’s just the way the world has gone, people have gone that way. If you study your history then people in their 20 and 30s thought they could arrange society in a certain way so that everyone could be happy, to be open minded and make efforts to structure the world in a way that would make it a better place. But now that’s gone out the window and people just want to survive. I don’t know why its gone that way, but I know that its not for me and its not particularly healthy. Unless people think of changing how they think then its just going to get worse. But music reflects life, the sensibility of people towards music reflects the world that you live in. The world changes so the music changes, not the other way around. And I know you operate within that, you’ve stuck to your guns and done what you want, I know that you aren’t going to be changing now!

Mala: (laughs) That’s just the way it is. So can you remember the first roots reggae record that you heard?

Earl: The first big one was ‘War Ina Babylon’ album. When that came out, then that was me. I love my ska and all that but when Max Romeo brought out War Ina Babylon with (the track) ‘Iron Shirt’, - I juts used to play that first side to that album again and again and again. What about you?

Mala: I used to listen to a lot of things growing up, things from my mum and dads record collection, they weren’t like massive roots or reggae heads, I used to hear a real mixture of music, but when I was like 19 or 20 I looked through their collection and there were loads of Trojan records in there so I definitely heard them at an early age. But it was really jungle music that got me onto all different types of music. Hardcore and jungle in the early ‘90s really opened up all the sounds and vibrations going on in there. All the stuff going on in a jungle rhythm you could hear in a techno track or in a jazz rhythm or in a dub rhythm. All that really showed me how integrated and crossed sound was. But if I had to give you a name, it would be Augustus Pablo, his stuff changed a lot inside me on many different levels.

Earl: I can definitely see the link yes, there’s a similarity and feel between you and him.

Mala: He had a real freedom in his playing, in his rhythms on the melodica. They always felt so free. A thing that really annoys me when I am listening to music and you know if you could the bars you know exactly when the vocals are going to be kicking in, then could another 33 bars and you know its going to switch up again – you can write down what is going to happen before its even played. But with Augustus Pablo it was so free flowing, it wasn’t that I was that obsessed with his sonics, it was more his approach and his attitude.

The same goes for someone like Sizzla Kalonji, but I wasn’t into what he was saying, he talks a lot about black supremacy, I am not into any sort of supremacy or extreme, that I wasn’t feeling. But his fire, his conviction and his beliefs were very inspiring, he was a young Jamaican who really wanted to burn everything down. For me as a youngster coming up in the struggles that I used to feel in London, then I totally related even though this guy lives on an island in the middle of Caribbean, we had a similar vibration. So as we say, music is constantly changing and so you need to keep listening to new things because you never know where it’s going to take you.

Earl: I think that conviction and fire in Jamaican music is what makes it so great, that certainty. There’s a ‘wishfulness’ in the music. It’s a yearning, and that what I link on to. That goes very deep in Jamaican culture, but its also universal. I’d like a lot more people to listen to reggae.

Mala: So what’s going on with Jamaican reggae. I’ve not heard much new stuff?

Earl: It’s really hard, it’s hardly coming from Jamaica now. The best stuff I have heard now is coming out of Germany. Apparently the Jamaicans don’t want to make rhythms these days because everyone just downloads them for free and they cant make any money off them. Whereas people in Germany and Holland and France have got the money to produce rhythms. A lot of Jamaican stuff feels really light now. It’s like a light, lovers sound but it’s not what I am looking for in reggae. The same with R&B in Jamaica, that’s gone the same way and it feels like its got closer to America. Jamaicans used to speak to the whole world; now they sound like they have got an American accent. It’s such a massively unusual place, full of really unusual people that you are just waiting for them to get their power back.

Mala: What about the UK, did you used to go and check out Jah Chaka and Aba Shanti on the early UK sound-systems, of course I am with them all the time, still playing with them all the time. I like it when they play roots, they tend to play a six hour set with the first two hours being just roots. That’s my bit… then they move on to the steppas.

Mala: Ah man! I love the steppas as well.

Earl: (chuckles) Hours of steppas is too tough for me. Though if they are playing their own sound, like Channel One or Shanti then I can really enjoy the textures; the tone of the bass and the crunch of the high hats.

Mala: Yeah, and when they push the system and you get some of that nice analogue distortion on the system.

Earl: Exactly! And that’s so beautiful. You can’t get that anywhere else.

Mala: No you can’t get that anywhere else. But that’s something else that’s happening there aren’t any new sound-systems developing, no one has come along in the last few years. There’s still the old guys, (jah) Shaka’s still playing out and that’s phenomenal. The amount of music that he’s got! He remains unwavered from his meditation and direction.

Earl: He’s never changed; he has got his own way. Even in the late ‘80s there was nobody there. He didn’t change he just carried on going. And then his audience came back to him. He didn’t change, his audience changed towards him. I think a few people found that in the ‘80s when people were getting into their dancehall you know?

Mala: Can you remember what your favourite sound system was?

Earl: I started on a sound called ‘Armoury 89’ which was based in Wandsworth and we had a really nice set. I actually started my own sound-system first but it was pretty pathetic. I did it hard, all myself. It wasn’t that wonderful but then I got approached by another sound-system to pool resources, and we got a lovely set together. He still has a lovely set Markie Lyrics, he’s RDK HIFI now. That was the best set I ever played on because you aren’t going to go about playing on Shanti’s set because he wouldn’t be up for it. So that was us in the ‘80s for four or five years.

You know though, once you’ve heard the bass that way, once its into you like that then nothing else will be good enough. I remember when I started at the Ministry of Sound and they said it was the best sound-system in the world, that was 1992. So I went down for a listen and it was like the middle of the third division. It was shit.

Mala: Yeah but it depends on what music you are playing, because a lot of people don’t understand the way the bass needs to roll off through certain speakers.

Earl: They started off with stacks. They had the right idea to be fair, but you cant just make a sound as easy as that, we learnt this in college, its years of experience to get to that point like you say so the bass rolls off but you have the snap in the top end, and get a distorted snap. You can’t just do that, or get a technician to do that for you. A lot of the club systems just aren’t good enough.

Mala: Well they are more like club PA’s, and you get someone setting it all up, then another engineer will come in and work with the system and whilst some people get it decent then some people will get it way way way off point.

Earl: I’m a bigot, I don’t want a digital sound. I want an analogue sound, right the way through the tune, for me that’s beautiful. A digital sound can be alright but its never going to be as good as an analogue sound. I want analogue right the way from the tip of the needle all the way through the chain to the vibration of the speaker.

Mala: Well we shouldn’t even go to the topic of needles because no-one aint playing vinyl anymore! Though I am exaggerating, that’s just how it feels. Most clubs I play at now I will be the only person using the turntables. But there’s nothing wrong with the old sound-systems and there’s nothing wrong with the turntables - so I am about keeping that alive.

Earl: For me it’s just blatantly better! And it’s better when you see the effect on the crowds. If there is an analogue chain and sound then you can feel the warmth and happiness in the room more, if you played the same set digitally then I guarantee you that the audience would act differently. They jump up differently. There’s nothing missing in analogue. There’s more soul in it, the difference is visible to the reaction.

Mala: I’ve never tried Earl it so I dunno (laughs) I’ve never played a CD or laptop in a dance hall. But it depends on the style of music. The way I play, for my styles, then it feels right for me.

Earl: You stick to your way Mala. I must say I am dreading turning up to play somewhere and they’ll say ‘oh! We don’t have decks’ I don’t think that year is too far away.

Mala: I remember a year or so ago me and Kode9 were having a chat and he had turned up to a show with (MC) Spaceape with his dubplates and said to the promoter: ‘where’s the turntables?’ and the promoter said: ‘oh I thought you were bringing your own!’ (Mala and Earl giggle like children)

Earl: (still laughing) I’ve dreamt that happened, that is going to start happening.

Mala: You know it might not be a bad idea taking your own, some of the gear I have had to play on recently has been a joke. Also the gear is getting worked in a different way these days with Serato and DJ interfaces as the wires are getting pulled in and out all night so the sound and connections vary.

Earl: Once you’ve heard the best then you know what the best is and second best wont work. Also people aren’t going to feel the music as its meant to be felt, or rather CAN be felt.

Mala: That’s what it’s all ultimately about: communication. It’s about being able to translate and to do that you need your environment set up to its optimum level. I think though I have spoken about the quality of sound-system so much in interviews that people know the level that I expect to operate at. I played on a great sound-system a few times now called Dirt Sound-system, which has a really tough sound. Its definitely a new tone, its not like an old reggae sound-system, nevertheless all the frequencies are hitting in the right spots and of course Mungo’s Sound-system, they have a really nice set. I’ve played on theirs loads, they have a great sound and they are lovely guys as well. There’s always a good vibration when you hook up with people like that.

Earl: My end is all about lyrics as well of course. The voice is more important in the songs for that direct communication, strictly roots, strictly uplifting. We want to express the point of view that the world can get better, that people can do better, that whole feeling of excitement when you feel there’s a whole other world close by to you and you can almost reach out and touch it. And that world is almost better than the world you are in, you just need to think hard enough and work hard enough and we can be there.

Mala: I think I used to think about more stuff when I was younger, but the older I get the less I analyse and to some extent the less I understand because I constantly get surprised by the mysteries of the universe. I am not sure how to sum up my experiences over the last five years, all I know is that through enhanced living, something that I’ve done through my love and honesty, the things I have done through my belief and what I feel. I’m lucky it’s worked out, being honest and true to myself has brought me to this point now, and that continues to drive me. It’s not an acceptance or a popularity thing that in my mind – it’s really this connection I have with something that I don’t understand that allows creation to happen.

I’m gonna keep on doing it for as long that I am breathing. As long as there is one other person then you can share. It’s not always about an end result of playing

shows, often it’s about being there is that moment to experience and explore. Yesterday I was in the studio for 16 hours and in there everything else ends. I don’t need to eat, don’t need to drink, I don’t answer my phone … and when I finish a track its not about how it will sound to someone else, or is it going to work in a club – none of these things are in my mind its purely about what has happened there and then. That’s exploring, and that is the beauty of music, its not always about what’s come before or after, music is one of those things in life that allows us feel purely in a moment without prejudice, without concept, without even thought – you just feel it, you experience it and it takes you where it takes you.

Earl: Your focus is going internally…

Mala: I am not sure that it is going internally. My mind goes to places I don’t understand. (laughs) I actually feel that the music, and a lot of the music that I listen to here on earth: I don’t think it comes from here. So to say ‘I go inside’ I am not so sure, I think it goes beyond the ‘I’

Earl: When I am playing music, and it’s going really perfectly then I don’t feel like I am doing it at all, I feel like a link between heaven and earth. Its going through me, when you feel like that it’s the best feeling in the world, what did Capleton say when he was dissing people: “when you sing, you never hear the king’ so he’s saying that when Capleton sings he IS the king. I do know what he means, sometimes when you step outside of yourself you can feel a spiritual force. That’s what we are all looking for.

Mala: I have to disagree, because I am not looking for it, But though doing it then you feel something, and I think that this is one of the fundamental issues that we have as a human flaw, like we love to sit and to talk and we get very intellectual about things in a way which suggests that we have an understanding. But what I am trying to say is that I don’t understand anything that I am doing, but literally I feel and I do and through the doing you gain an experience, and through that experience then people say ‘you are this type of person’. I am not seeking or searching for anything in music. I feel things just come to me or I am able to connect with something, I say ‘something’ because I have no other description of it, perhaps some kind of energy. But its not one thing; it’s everything!

Earl: Well we are agreeing sort of, I am not searching either, but when it happens then I am happy.

Mala: But some people do actively seek happiness, its part of being human to be more successful or satisfied or whatever. People do this everyday, its why people may do a bit of overtime at work so that at the weekend they can go out or buy something or whatever it is that brings a more comfortable situation. Not everyone

in the western world is living for survival like they are in other parts of the world. We seek in mind and in thought rather than in doing. We can talk about all these things all day long but unless you actually go out and do something then nothing happens.

Earl: Absolutely. Judge a man by his deeds.

Mala: Sometimes searching can help kick things off. You need a vision or something to hold onto. But some people can search for happiness in many places and search for a long time but actually perhaps they didn’t need to look in all those places, perhaps they just needed to think in a certain way, or put the meditations in a certain way.

Stay tuned for more Outlook Festival coverage, before, during and after, on ClashMusic.com hub page HERE.

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