As veterans of the New Zealand dub/dancehall scene for more than two decades, Salmonella Dub know how to get a dancefloor moving. Which is what they’ll be doing when the Salmonella Dub Soundsystem crosses the Tasman later this month, explains the group’s DJ/producer Andrew Penman.
Salmonella Dub’s unique brand of dub and reggae has been around for 20 years now; how has the group’s sound evolved during that time?
Over the last 20 years there have been huge changes in technology, and with that our live sound has merged into a mash-up of genres from dub to dancehall, jungle and DnB. When we first started out we really wanted a sampler but couldn’t afford one. So I hotwired an old cassette deck with a guitar on/off pedal to use as a sample. We rescued a box of Mutant Ninja Turtle tapes out of a record shop dumpster and used to steal samples from TV and Cheech & Chong videos, lining them up in real time onto tape to then trigger via foot onstage. Since then we have been through a huge bunch of Akai samplers and have moved onto triggering things in MIDI. However, I do miss that old-school DIY, crazy, gritty, experimental, low-tech approach.
The journey for the group from the mid ’90s to now – do you look back often and wonder about the ifs and buts? Or are you content with what has been achieved?
In hindsight… I think we have achieved far more than we all expected. In the early days we were presented with opportunities and ran with them. Perhaps touring France for several years before tackling the UK wasn’t the smartest move, but those long trips with a van full of smelly fromage and pullet were character-building [laughs].
The New Zealand dub, DnB and reggae scene is one of the strongest in the world, and you guys obviously played a big part in its development. Do you have a sense of pride in what has been achieved by the collective?
When we started out we were very much alone in the live dub genre. We straddled rock gigs and trance parties. Our first trip to Oz was in support of The Cruel Sea. Ten years later we brought back to Australia Fat Freddy’s Drop, Kora, Concord Dawn, Shapeshifter, Cornerstone Roots and the Sunshine Sound System – this was one lineup for one tour. Yes, I do feel some pride in that. To see what Fat Freddy’s are now achieving is very exciting.
NZ music now – when you see acts like Lorde receiving those levels of attention, does that bring a smile to your face?
Huge smiles, and now ex-students of ours, Broods, are working with Joel Little, Lorde’s producer, on their album and are out there currently touring the States.
When you first started out, the music industry was a very different beast. How has Salmonella Dub morphed to stay relevant with the changing landscape of media?
When we started we were one of the first NZ bands to have a website. Cell phones didn’t exist. The record industry was having minimal success with local recording here in NZ. I think we were one of a few acts that did a P&D [pressing and distribution deal] with a major label. At the time we were told by Virgin Records that they would distribute us as a favour to their label manager, but we were not allowed to use their office and we certainly were not to bring vinyl onto their premises! By the late ’90s this all changed. We had multi-platinum-selling albums. The ‘industry’ started a lolly scramble sign-up of local acts. Then it all crashed and burned with the advent of bulk buying stores like JB Hi-Fi and The Warehouse, followed by iTunes and more recently sites like Spotify. If anything the changes will create a hard, sturdy beast. At the moment it seems like it’s anarchy out there.
You’re in the process of recording a new Salmonella Dub album – we’re told you’ll be spending time in Byron Bay over Easter. What can you tell us?
We have been chipping away at new material since the last Kaikoura Roots Festival. Currently we have 12 tracks ready for final parts and are heading to Byron for a late summer creative retreat. We are taking a statesman approach to this album. It’ll be our 25th CD title and eighth album proper and it is a luxury not to be rushing.
You’ll also be touring the east coast of Australia. What can punters expect from this tour?
This tour is a Salmonella Dub Soundsystem tour, not the full band. With the Soundsystem we represent with a three-part horn section, percussion, The Mighty Asterix on the mic and me on the mix. The beauty for us with this is that we can represent our full catalogue with a more flex, dancefloor style in smaller venues.
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