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dotBass Interview Special Part 4 – Von D & Rider Shafique

Im letzten Teil des dotBass Interview Specials gibt’s nochmal deep talk mit zwei Größen der internationalen Soundsystem Szene. Freut euch auf ein feines Gespräch mit Von D und Rider Shafique.

BCSM: Wir sind immer noch  beim dotBass 2023 und inzwischen sitzen wir zusammen mit Rider Shafique und Von D und werden sie ein bisschen mit unseren Fragen löchern. 

So, first of all, nice that you made it. We’re really looking forward to you guys performing later. Maybe you can introduce yourself to the people out there who might not know you yet. 

Von D: I’m Von D. I come from France and I’ve been making music since 97, but I started the Von D project around 2005. And yeah, that’s what I do all my life, pretty much. 

Rider Shafique: And I’m Rider Shafique, MC, vocalist, spoken word artist from the UK. I’ve been doing this for a long time as well. Yeah, all different kinds of genres, musical genres and different bits and pieces. 

BCSM: What is your personal incentive or motivation to be an active musician in a subculture that is, in our perception, not that commercial and doesn’t make money like popular music?

Von D: Honestly, it never was like a conscious decision in the sense that I didn’t plan and do it. I had no plan. So, it happened and then I understood I could survive – even more than survive – within this scene. And it feels home to me. So, I don’t question myself too much. I’m so glad to be travelling the world, doing what I do. Coming from a small french town, no one in my family speaks English or travels or anything. So, I’m always grateful. Anytime I board a plane, I remember all of this. Maybe the music is underground, but at the same time, I think it has longevity. Because some genres have topped [in popularity] and within them you have like two or three crazy years, and then you disappear. But we have always been around [in this subculture] somehow and we will still be here for many years. So, yeah, I think that’s the good side of underground music. It’s still strong and we do what we love. No one tells us to do whatever. So, yeah, I feel blessed to be part of it, honestly. 

Rider Shafique: There’s lots of layers to why I do it. It was underground music that kind of taught me a lot about my own identity and my own culture. That being like, reggae music, music from the Caribbean, and also hip hop. The black perspective wasn’t necessarily easily accessible, so we had to go to music where these things were more accessible, so to say. So, you had hip hop and reggae music and dancehall where they spoke a lot about culture, identity, heritage, all these things. I kind of think that I’m carrying on that tradition. So that’s why I do what I do and try to be a bit more lyrical and explain how I’m feeling. So, it’s kind of therapeutic as well for myself. I also remember it was one of the first things that I was told I was good at, so that kind of inspired me to keep on doing it. And like Von D said, we get to travel the world. It may not seem lucrative, but we do travel the world. We do meet people all over the world and I do make a living out of this. So, that’s why I keep doing it. It’s something I enjoy. I’ve been to lots of places in the world, I meet great people, collaborate with great producers and other musicians. So, yeah, I enjoy it. 

BCSM: Talking about the global community, are there any special venues or countries or events, promoters or soundsystems that are your favourite or in other words: where you love to come back?

Rider Shafique: There’s lots of different special people you meet all over the world. Von D and I have worked together a few times, and he’s from France and I’m from the UK. That connection was made, and we have connections in New York with Dub-Stuy. It’s just familiar people. I really like it in Japan. I’ve got great connections out there but wherever I go I get love. I’ve done stuff in Australia, I’ve done stuff in India. Everywhere has the good people. I hope we’re all in it for the same reasons and so you connect with each other, then you make more music together, create a sound together. I enjoy everywhere I go where there’s a good energy, a good feeling, a good message. I’m here in Germany now. I came out a few months ago and worked with Jah Chalice Soundsystem. It’s a great connection, and we came back, so… Yeah, man.

Von D: Pretty much like Rider says. We’re just grateful to travel the world. And somehow, even though that might sound a bit cheesy or something, it’s almost like it’s the same kind of people wherever we go. We feel home, or at least the people make us feel home. So, there’s many places that we love.

BCSM: You are working both in the studio as well as live on stage. Do you prefer one setting over the other? If so, why? 

Von D: Actually, mostly when we did stuff together it was remotely. There’s a certain magic where I love being in the studio with the artist, but I also love not being around and because I trust this artist I don’t have no question about what’s going to come out. Otherwise, I don’t even engage in no collaboration whatsoever. So, sometimes there’s a certain magic for me in not being there and then receiving it [the recording] and really being surprised by it. It’s a lot more inspirational because you don’t know exactly what’s going to come out but you know it’s going to come out good because you trust that person and that’s why you do it in the first place. But I also enjoy the fact that I don’t know where it’s been done. I kind of have this thing – I’m fascinated by studios. Studios are a fascinating place to me. So, I’m trying to imagine how it’s been done and everything and there’s a part of mystery to it, which is very good.

Rider Shafique: Following on from that, I think the best results come from people that I do have a relationship with. So, for instance, when me and Von D did a tune together, we had met each other, we knew each other. He knew my sound, I knew his sound. So, he just sent something over. Sent over a beat and so he let me do my thing. We weren’t together in the studio but we knew each other. I prefer studio work. I just think I like the creativity. Most times I just get sent a beat and I’m just sitting there and within a few hours it’s done, it’s written. I love that process. I like the inspiration, how the music makes me feel. I enjoy that. Sometimes I feel a live performance – depending on the kind of venue or the type of performance – Sometimes things get lost when it’s really bass heavy and people are coming to listen to drum and bass or heavy bassline music. The lyrics.. I think I’m quite lyrical. I would pride myself on my lyrics. I don’t think it necessarily always works in that environment. So, there are different environments where I work with live bands or do spoken word where it’s a lot more chilled. People then can hear what I’m saying and get to understand it. I do enjoy the vibe of live performances as well. But there’s lots of different live performances, but I do really enjoy the studio. That process of being in the studio, writing, getting ideas down, trying things vocally, layering things. I enjoy that.

BCSM: Following up on what you said you are also engaged in a lot of projects, a lot of grassroots work also and building safe spaces. Can you say a little about that side of your projects? 

I imagine not many people, that know you from your music, also know that you’re socially super active. 

Rider Shafique: I think everything goes hand in hand. I am Rider Shafique, like, 24 hours a day. That’s me. I always have that creative mind. I always wanted to create different things, lots of different things. But I think I held back because I didn’t have the skills at that time, I think, to deliver or execute what I wanted to do. In 2015, I lost two aunties to cancer and I didn’t have much to celebrate them. I didn’t have many pictures, I didn’t have anything and there were all these ideas of things that I wanted to do. So, at that point I just decided to do everything that I wanted to do using the connections I had through music. So, for instance, both of my aunties had [dread] locks, both for different reasons. And so I wanted to capture that part of the culture, the locks of hair, and the reasons why people did that, whether that be for just beauty standards, for self love, or for rastafarianism, religious reasons, whatever the reasons, I just wanted to capture that. So, I started to work with photographers that I knew from the music scene. Also, you know, coming from a Caribbean culture or Caribbean heritage, Caribbean background in the UK, our history is not necessarily celebrated. It’s not documented well. So, all the people that I used to see growing up and all the things – even sound system music – I wanted to document an accurate account of who really brought this to the UK. Who brought this to the world and championed it, because I don’t think people necessarily create from their authentic, true perspective. I think a lot of the time we do things that we believe will get successful. We believe that we’re told we should be doing. So, I wanted to kind of break that mould and just encourage people to create from their authentic, true selves, especially coming from a black or other culture or background. It’s difficult living in a place in the UK where you’re perceived as a minority, or you’re told that your heritage or your culture or this didn’t exist and it was worthless. But I wanted to bring the true account of history and what really happened to the forefront. So, I’ve just been collaborating with people, but also teaching myself skills. I’ve started photography and I just document soundsystem culture and the black Caribbean culture predominantly. You know, take the stories of the elders, work within the community, and champion things like that. [Pause] Yeah, it’s hard for me to talk about myself [laughs]. I work with a group of black creatives in Bristol. I have sometimes around 40, 50 different black creatives come where we support and just build a network with each other. Photographers, videographers, musicians, poets, writers, graphic designers, all different things. I really believe in believing in yourself and creating the things that we want to see in the world. It’s easy to doubt ourselves. But especially working in music, I have so many great people around me. People who run venues, people who run nights, people who build soundsystem, people that do all of this. It’s all at my fingertips. So, it’s just about believing and making things happen with all these connections. Long answer [laughing]. 

BCSM: The international soundsystem scene is rising and growing. That kind of growth can result in both benefits but can also introduce certain dangers into the scene. Do you see any potential dangers now or in the future that this might bring with it? 

Rider Shafique: Like I said, my grandparents are from the Caribbean. It was those migrants from the Caribbean that brought soundsystem to the UK, predominantly. And then it spread all around the world. It came from the Caribbean and it went to America and it went to the UK and then spread around. So, to me, it’s just about recognizing where it came from, what the roots are, whatever people want to do with it. If they’re inspired by it and they want to build their own sound system and whatever, that’s cool. But it’s just about remembering where the roots came from. Sadly, in this world, those pioneers don’t necessarily get recognized, and they’ve had to suffer and struggle, and they face so much different discrimination and different bits and pieces. You know, all of my family and parents and my friends‘ parents, they all had soundsystem. We take it for granted. They all had records. Like, you would love to go to any of my friends house. You just see everything there. All the records that you think about everything, speaker boxes. We just grew up with this, amps, everything. But I think because it was so accessible, we never really valued it in the same way. So, now if you think that my whole generation, my peers, everybody, we all MC’d, we all rapped, we all DJ’d, we all did. But it’s only a handful of us who are actually still doing this music thing. And then I would go somewhere and I see people of not of Caribbean descent championing soundsystem and doing it all over the world when it was second nature to us. And there’s festivals all over the world, there’s stage shows, there’s whatever. And it’s not necessarily that the Caribbean community is benefiting from something that they created. And there’s layers and layers and layers to why this happens. But to me it’s just about recognizing that and being mindful. Do you have any thoughts on that, Jerome?

Von D: He pretty much said everything about it that pretty much sums it up. I don’t see any bad development or anything that scares me. The only thing that scares me sometimes is how certain scenes in general can be narrow minded. If they are not going to reach out with their style and don´t recognize their roots. . And the same way they don’t want to see the future of it, which is something that changes and is another genre now. And they don’t like it. But it all makes sense from the start and if these people do it the right way, not forgetting where they come from, they should also accept the new music. So, sometimes this is the only thing that makes me feel a certain way about it, is that some people don’t know about the roots and some people don’t want to look about the future of it. But in general, it’s happening right! Don’t get me wrong, right? [laughing] I’m not trying to say that this is not happening, but the only time I will feel certain ways is when I face this kind of situation. Yeah. 

BCSM: Flipping the metaphorical coin – do you see any great, maybe even untapped potential for the sound system scene? 

Von D: Yeah, I think it’s really going global now. And I hope this recognition is coming to the light and yeah, I think it’s just booming. And people start to understand the importance of hearing this music in a certain context and with a certain sound. Because sometimes it’s almost like people forgot that it’s about the music. It’s not about the light, it’s not about how your club looks, it’s not about whatever, it’s just about the music and how it’s been reproduced. And I guess especially if we talk about bass music, Jamaica and the Caribbean pretty much set up the foundation of how it should be heard. And I think personally, and I think everyone agrees to that, it just makes sense to hear it on the soundsystem. So, the fact that this scene is booming and people start to understand that when you go to a rock venue with anormal PA, it just doesn’t translate the same way. And the music is about this. It’s deeper than just having a drink and listening to music. So, I guess the sound system is crucial.

Rider Shafique: In the grand scheme of things it unites people, doesn’t it? The music is what brings people together. For instance, we have Notting Hill Carnival in the UK, and it’s one of the biggest festivals in the whole of the UK, but it’s always reported in a negative light, or they always say how many arrests there are or how many killings or whatever. And if you really check the statistics, it’s less than every other festival. It’s less than Glastonbury, it’s less than Boomtown. It’s less than all these different things that happen. But the reason why they do that is because it’s black culture, it’s caribbean culture that unites the country, that unites the people. And so, this is the beauty of it. If everybody can kind of show their identity and create a sound and create something which shares love and spreads a positive message to the people through their own ways, through their own sound system, that is beautiful to me. 

BCSM (Ju): I’ve been wondering, because you, Jerome, you are producing a lot of, let’s say, Dubstep sounds. Personally, I started DJing with Dubstep and Drum’n’bass, which I got to know from the UK and our hometown is pretty small with 50,000 people. If we did not organize such an event there was no event of that kind of music. How was that for you, since you grew up in France and not in the UK, when you’re playing that UK influenced sound? 

Von D: Basically, my love for this type of music was starting with reggae, obviously, and with jungle music. That’s what really got me crazy. I was pretty much the only one listening to that in my hometown. In my school everyone was thinking I’m crazy. It wasn’t around but I think it was a good thing for me because I was craving it and I was looking for it. I was lucky that the reggae scene was pretty good in France. So, I had access to that. I had access to shows and soundsystems in Paris and jungle music as well. We had these black label parties. I had a foundation to listen to it. But pretty much what happened is that I was fascinated by this music. And the first time I went to the UK I was 13 and I was just amazed by the amount of good music coming from there. And it all made sense to me as I could connect it to the reggae influence, even though it’s kind of different and it translates into different genres. But I could really sense that. And, yeah, I was looking for the records. To me, there was a kind of mystique. There was no Internet, so I really had to look for it. The only few times I could travel with my parents and go there, I guess it happened, like, two times. I was so amazed. And then the UK made me. If I’m talking to you right now, it’s because people in the UK actually believed in me and supported me. Like, big up Sheffield and all the DMZ crew, all them guys. It’s because of them, right? So in the end, I guess they just understood me. Even though I was coming from France they were like: ”Ohhh,this guy!”. This would have never happened in France. People in France were looking at me like: ”Oh, it’s this guy from the suburbs. Like, what the hell.” You know, we have a very bad image. Where I come from is kind of rough and very mixed cultures. So, Parisians kind of look down on us, but now I’m showing them a different story. That’s how it happened. So, yeah, I was glad the UK kind of… Yeah, they made me 100%.

BCSM: We’re living in crazy and very fast times. How do you see life as an artist nowadays? Has it become easier or more difficult? Did AI affect your creative process in any way? 

Rider Shafique: I just do what I do. You always find a way, I believe, and things always work out generally. So, I do diversify. I do music, I do photography, I do other creative projects, short documentaries, art installation, things like that. So, I do lots of different things and I do community work as well. So, I used to work with children in, in the care system, little bits and pieces, you know, I’ve built skills that are transferable and valuable skills. I also work in studios and mentor other young musicians. There’s lots of different ways you can make things work. It doesn’t have to directly be performing or directly be recording. The skills are transferable and valuable across the board in different areas as well. AI, we have to see how it will work out. We only see a handful of what really happens in the world. People who do make silly money from music, there’s lots of promotion behind them, there’s whole teams behind them. I think it’s very hard when you’re a musician and you don’t have all that social media, you don’t have that budget behind you and without that, there’s no way you’re going to get to the level that they get to. Unless it’s like a one in a million shot. They’re not getting there by chance. It’s all about who they know and who’s pushing them. I don’t really want to play that game. I’m not in it for all that. As long as I’m here and I’m breathing, I’m grateful. 

Von D: I would say pretty much the same, but there’ve been some moments where I was thinking: “Oh, everything is speeding up, everyone’s releasing so much music, everyone is putting stuff on Soundcloud every fucking week, free tracks.” There was a madness of free tracks and all free whatever. But then I understood, no, I just should do it like I always did. And I guess the people would recognize that. They’d be like, oh, this guy has no rush. We can’t rush him. He’s just going to do what he does and that’s all. So, at the end of the day, I kept it just the way I feel. Some years I might put up more music than other years and it’s just that I have no plan. I’ll just do it with the flow and because this is what works. And I think people can recognize authenticity and honesty. 

BCSM: Music and art is often an expression of oneself. Both, producing music and being a lyricist are both very strong mediums to put out emotions, to put out a message. Is there anything you might want to tell the people out there that is important to you? 

Rider Shafique: The thing is not to worry about it. You never please everybody. Someone is always going to find fault in you. Someone is always going to complain. There are the people who are on the Internet who are just there to take from you or to bring you down. But I always find that if there’s just that one person that says, “Yo, Rider, you said what I wanted to say, you moved me with that.” Just one person saying that is more than all these criticisms and everything else. And the thing is, it’s my perspective, so it doesn’t really matter who wants to critique it. This is how I feel at this time. And this is just an honest reflection of how I’m feeling. It’s documenting the times. It’s documenting how I’m feeling. I’m not saying I’m some kind of guru or some kind of oracle or anything [laughing]. This is just my reality. Yeah. 

Von D: Honestly, I don’t overthink it. I just want to vibe. If I get on the vibe, then I guess someone else is going to feel that vibe. 

BCSM: Last one. Shall we go with a very difficult question? Let´s dig a bit deeper.

Von D / Rider Shafique: Yeah. 

BCSM: What are your three favourite records at the moment? 

Von D: Ohhh… That’s difficult. [everybody laughs] Yeah. Maybe he’s got an answer to it. I’m not sure. I’m not good at naming music. 

BCSM: I think we all have the same problem.

Rider Shafique: I like a lot of reggae music, so I do like the new kind of wave of reggae music. I like Lila Iké – Dinero. I like that rhythm, that beat. I really like Samory I. He’s got a new album or it should be out soon. I think one of the latest tunes that he’s brought out is called Wrath or Crown and another one… I’m not sure I’ll let Jerome give us one out of the two of us. 

Von D: Honestly, it’s difficult. I listen to a lot of stuff, but I listen to a lot of drum and bass and I listen to a lot of reggae. I listen to a lot of ambient, weird music. So difficult to put names. But to everyone saying there’s nothing exciting coming out, they’re not looking for it. 

BCSM: Thank you very much for your time and your answers!

Rider Shafique: Bitteschön, bitteschön. [all laughing]

BCSM: Yeah. We’re very happy. 

Von D: We’re glad to answer your questions. Those were good questions.

Interview done by Kilo Jules & Ju Lion

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