For this month’s Carhartt Radio show, we present almost two hours of Trojan Records music, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic reggae label. Curated by Canadian DJ, producer and record collector Scott Monteith, aka Deadbeat, the show sees him dig deep into his personal collection and the archives of Trojan to conduct a mix that mirrors the many ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub hues of the British label.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Carhartt WIP has also joined forces with Trojan Records to create a capsule collection featuring feverish graphics by the Chicago based design collective Boot Boyz, who were given access to the vast Trojan graphic archive.
As ever, to accompany the show, we sat down with its creator – a man who has been known for his very own version of dub-laden minimal electronic music for the past two decades – as well as speaking to reggae author and Riddim magazine journalist David Katz and legendary British film director, musician and DJ Don Letts, to find out how they feel about the record company that once has punks dancing to reggae riddims.
Deadbeat, tell us a little bit about you, how was it growing up in Montreal, what was your musical upbringing?
Deadbeat: I was actually born in Kitchener, Ontario, just outside of Toronto but moved back and forth between the eastern townships in Quebec and southern Ontario until I moved out on my own when I was 17 and settled in Montreal, so even though I wasn't born there. The 12 years I spent there were definitely formative, and I would most definitely say Montreal is where I "grew up" and the city I would still call home.
Montreal remains to this day an entirely unique city in that it has a magnetic draw for artists and creators of all stripes in Canada. The cost of living is remarkably low still, in comparison to basically any other city in North America, and there is a unspoken commitment to avoiding cultural classism and snobbery among Montrealers which makes it an incredibly good place to launch and develop new artistic ideas. Regardless of your creative pursuits, be it music, dance or visual arts of all kinds, you will 100% find community in Montreal capable of providing support and constructive criticism to push you forward. That certainly rings true for my personal musical upbringing. I went from playing bass in teenage grunge/acid rock bands, to discovering electronic music, raves and DJing and eventually starting to make my own music in that realm of things. At every point along the way I had guidance and support from some of the most talented people I know to this day. It is a magical place, pure and simple.
What is the Reggae scene in Montreal like today?
Deadbeat: You would have to ask someone who actually lives there at this point for a current report but my experience of the scene during my tenure there was that it was thriving and healthy. I ran a reggae night on the Plateau with my good friend Mossman who is without a doubt the most serious reggae archivist in the country. We have since started a label together called Roots and Wire primarily to showcase the work of a band he has put together called the Kingston Dub Allstars featuring Sly Dunbar, Mikey Chung, and Prince Allah to name but a few of the giants involved.
Our night catered more to the hipster student ground honestly but outside of this you also have the Montreal Reggae festival which I believe is going into its 15th year this year. The whole West End NDG/Saint Henri/Cote des Neiges clash scene, as well as the downtown scene which has traditionally focused more on current dancehall/bashment sounds. The fact is people have been running serious things in Montreal on a reggae tip pretty much ever since the first Jamaican expats touched down in the city. With that in mind, I have to give a special shout out to Jah Cutta and Melo G who were our partners in crime on the mic for a great many years. If you're looking for Montreal OGs, those two are definitely it and I have endless love and respect for both of them.
When did you first come across Trojan Records?
Deadbeat: That's easy. The Wailers: African Herbsman. Just like everyone else who ever looked at a reggae bin in a used record shop in the last 20 years. It may cost me a few cool points among the serious diggers for saying so, but regardless of its obviousness, it remains one of my favorite albums of all time.
Deadbeat: That is honestly like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! No comment, no answer, Happy 50th to Trojan, long may you reign!!!
What is the impact of a label like Trojan Records on the music scene today?
Deadbeat: Incalculable. No Trojan, no UK/EU ska, no skinhead reggae, no UK steppers, no jungle, no hardcore, no Goldie, no 2-step, no dubstep, no Burial, no James Blake, no UK dance music as we know it – full stop. Jamaican music and sound system culture are the mother of us all and Trojan has been one of the primary promoters of those roots since day one.
Can you tell us something about your upcoming projects?
Deadbeat: I've got a new 7inch dropping, entitled Wail Ball and Cry, for the mighty ZamZam label on July 25th as well as a dubwise remix of Mathew Jonson's classic techno tune Decompression which is out now on his Freedom Engine label. I'm hard at work on a collaborative album with my good friend Fatima Camara which will see the light of day via Constellation Records in the new year, all faring well.
Other than that, just preparing the live shows and looking forward to a busy schedule presenting the tunes from my last album Wax Poetic For This Our Last Resolve over the coming months. After 20 years in this business I'm happy to say I'm still excited, and look forward to celebrating my 50th and Trojan's 80th when that inevitably comes to pass. Much love and Happy Birthday to the whole Trojan fam, and a special shout out to Daddy Ad and the Trojan Sound System for keeping it realer than real day in a day out. Bless up one and all.
Don Letts, what does Trojan mean to you?
Don Letts: Trojan Records provided the soundtrack for the children of the Windrush generation and with an unprecedented run of chart hits in the early seventies gave us musical equity with our white mates.
What’s your favorite Trojan release?
Don Letts: Without doubt it’s gotta be Tighten Up Vol.2 – an all killer no filler compilation with risque artwork that appealed to my budding sexuality!
How important was a label like Trojan for the artists that been released on it?
Don Letts: Trojan records single handedly broke reggae in the UK and beyond. Sure there’d been the odd hit before but Trojan made people realise it wasn’t a novelty sound and that reggae was here to stay to this very day.
How important was Trojan for the listeners discovering reggae for the first time overseas?
Don Letts: Trojan’s catalogue united the youth, black and white, on the dance floor against a backdrop of racial tension in the early seventies and as such was actually a tool for real social change.
How important was it for you?
Don Letts: I believe every generation needs its own soundtrack and Trojan provided mine in my early teens and that kicked off my lifelong love affair with Jamaican music.
Don Letts: Most of the punk bands of the late seventies had grown up with Trojan. The likes of Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Ari Up and John Lydon were all big fans. Most importantly its impact can be heard on the music they created. My band Big Audio Dynamite loved the label so much we even named our fourth album Tighten Up Vol.88 out of respect.
How did Trojan influence the British music scene?
Don Letts: There’s no better example of the Trojan effect on the British music scene than the Two-Tone movement of the early eighties (The The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter). In the 21st century it continues to make its mark, whether through movie soundtracks, TV commercials or indeed the dancefloor via original hits and remixes. Not to mention being sampled by the likes of Jay Z, Lily Allen, Fatboy Slim and Major Lazer. All of which is a hell of a testament to a label that holds a special place in the hearts, minds and feet of the people and will do for generations to come.
David Katz, what does Trojan mean to you?
David Katz: Trojan is easily the most important British reggae label of all time. The catalogue is astounding and the company arguably did more to establish reggae in Britain than anyone else.
David Katz: For me, Trojan has always been huge. It played a big part in my reggae education.
How did Trojan influence the European music scene?
David Katz: Since Trojan brought Jamaican music to the attention of audiences in Britain, the music began filtering through to other territories in Europe too, often through sub-licensing deals. Over time, the dub techniques pioneered in Jamaica became widely adapted in Europe and Trojan played a part in that for sure.
What does the Trojan back catalogue and heritage mean to the reggae scene today?
David Katz: Trojan's back catalogue is simply astounding. There is so much reggae history there, some of the greatest reggae of all time was issued on Trojan, so it has that status as a reservoir of heritage and archive material.