“It’s the international language of absolute madness!”
In the ever shifting world of dance music, trends and fads come and go like the British weather. This year’s biggest sound will be passé by the next, and what was big ten years ago will suddenly be embraced by a whole new generation discovering it for the first time. These are the cyclical inevitabilities of the UK dance music underground in the internet age.
And while new musical schools such as funky or dubstep can explode into popularity seemingly overnight, and then fade from the centre just as quickly, some sounds take a little longer to burrow their way into the consciences of the trend-driven masses, even if they’ve spent years quietly operating on the periphery doing their own thing, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
With this in mind, it’s fair to say that 2012 has been the year that the UK underground finally caught up with dancehall, or bashment as it’s often called. Of course, this club-centric progeny of reggae has enjoyed massive popularity in its home of Jamaica since its birth in the 80s, and much of Europe, Africa and North America have maintained healthy fan and artist communities consistently ever since. But in the UK, with so many of our own home-grown bass-driven genres available to occupy the attentions and talents of our musically inclined youth, since the early 90s dancehall has had to settle with being one of those aforementioned sounds; quietly doing its own thing, waiting for everybody else to come back round to its charms and realise its integral importance in the evolution of all the bass-driven, MC-led UK sounds we declare so proudly as our own.
And with the likes of Jamaican dancehall artists such as Popcaan, and even UK ones such as Gappy Ranks and Stylo G, now regular fixtures on the Radio 1Xtra playlist, dancehall is enjoying a level of popularity not seen since the early 1990s, when Shabba Ranks topped the charts and reggae music’s influence was everywhere. In all this, the role of the bashment triumvirate known as The Heatwave shouldn’t be underestimated.
Over the last few years, the trio of DJ Gabriel Heatwave and hosts Benjamin D and Rubi Dan, have taken a carnival with them wherever they’ve gone – from the fashionable micro clubs of Shoreditch, to student-packed Croatian beaches and provincial nightclubs – delivering energy packed dancehall parties to an ever growing crowd of eager fans, while their weekly Sunday night bashment shows on RinseFM have become one of the station’s most essential broadcasts.
With The Heatwave’s Hot Wuk parties now happening in cities across the UK, a packed summer schedule of festival shows and the imminent launch of their own record label with Wiley’s ‘Ninja Riddim’, the three Londoners are busier than ever, but still found time to talk to Trap about their story so far…
“The Heatwave started in London in 2003,” begins Gabriel, the mastermind and selector of the operation. “It was myself, a couple of mates and Henry Heatwave. We’d all been living in Bristol, but moved back to London after university; Henry stayed behind and set up Dub Studio. A couple of years later we were doing a night at Rhythm Factory in East London, called Heatwave vs Mas Fuego, it was bashment and reggaeton, and it was there that I met Rubi. He came down, did some hosting one time, loved it and kept coming back.”
“I knew a DJ that Gabriel was working with at the time he was doing nights at Rhythm Factory,” adds Rubi, The Heatwave’s flamboyant front of house who, along with Ben, runs the mic at Heatwave shows. “I went down there and it was a great vibe, playing 90s bashment, which I’d not heard out for a while. I just started picking up the mic and hosting; it wasn’t planned, it just came together.”
“I met Ben around the same time,” Gabriel continues, “He used to come down with his brother, hang out and smoke weed – he was that guy passing us spliffs while we were playing!”
“Gabriel and my brother are friends from back in the day,” confirms Ben, in a voice familiar to anyone that’s been to a Heatwave dance. “I’m a bit younger, so I had to slyly sneak in; I was that guy making spliffs, cheekily rolling up the weed. And as I grew up, I’d be going off to a dubstep rave or whatever, but I’d always pass through the Heatwave parties on the way. The vibe would set me up wickedly for a big rave after.
“From there it just developed naturally. In about 2007, The Heatwave stuff started really happening for me; I started doing some hosting. Rubi brought me in and showed me the ropes – I’d done MCing before, but not in that style. Rubi, the way he interacts with the crowd, it’s a specialist thing.”
With the collective as we know it today formed and beginning to make waves in a London scene that was about to become overrun with the carnival-inspired vibes and rhythms of UK funky, and with The Heatwave’s ‘An England Story’ out on Soul Jazz, the collective’s sound and ethos was starting to make sense to the wider bass-music world. In 2009, hugely influential London radio station RinseFM gave The Heatwave their very own show, and with it free licence to play their beloved bashment to an increasingly interested audience.
“I think Rinse could see we were pushing something that wasn’t really happening on the station, but that was closely linked to everything on there,” reflects Gabriel. “It made sense for us to be on Rinse, because what we do and push has been an influence in the foundations of all the music on there, but no one was really playing it. Garage, grime, jungle, funky, dubstep – they all kind of come from dancehall and have that link there. I don’t think people always recognised that before that time. When we did Heatwave vs Mas Fuego just a few years before, I know people didn’t really get why we’d have Klashnekoff or Riko at a dancehall night. They may be hip-hop or grime rappers, but they come from dancehall.”
This school of thought is at the very heart of what The Heatwave do. Joining the dots between dancehall of all eras and the past 20-odd years of UK MC-driven music is something they clearly delight in and that enables them to reach out to whole new audiences by highlighting the connections. This ethos became more than an idea last summer, when The Heatwave put on ‘Showtime!’, a glorious demonstration of the evolution of UK MC culture from its dancehall reggae roots. Inviting legendary British MCs from jungle, garage, ragga and grime to chat over dancehall for an evening at London’s Cargo, the night was blessed with bars from the likes of Wiley, Skibbadee and General Levy and will be long remembered as a truly legendary event.
“Showtime was everything we hoped it would be, and more. We knew it was going to be something special, but even we hadn’t been prepared for how crazy it would be and the buzz,” Gabriel explains. “For us to get people like Skibbadee and Wiley to come and spit on dancehall, it felt like taking things full circle and bringing those artists back to their roots, the music they grew up with.”
An event like Showtime is obviously about much more than just a good party, and with another lined up for 5 July in Birmingham, it’s clear The Heatwave are continuing on their mission to not just give their crowds a good time, but educate them too, and as such their role in the rise in popularity of dancehall in the wider bass music scene over recent years is of real significance.
“Yeah, I think we have helped,” agrees Gabriel when this is put to him. “We’ve made an effort to show people that it’s something they can connect with, understand and relate to. When we started doing the nights in London, as much as Jamaican music has always been at the root of UK music, people just took it as an influence and something to sample; they weren’t interested in what the Jamaican artists were doing currently.
“For a few years when we were pushing the sound, people weren’t getting it so much. But now, people are watching what’s happening in Jamaica, they know the tunes, the dances, and they understand the lyrics more. I think that’s one of the barriers with it, people can’t get the lyrics at first, but it’s just a case of getting used to it.”
“Dancehall is at the root of so many things,” continues Ben, “and people have now started acknowledging it for what it is in its own right. I think it’s things like The Heatwave hammering it out there, playing dancehall in places where people wouldn’t normally hear it, so then they start connecting it up; it begins to make sense.”
“A lot of the Hot Wuks have a lot of students, it’s a really mixed crowd at them,” Rubi adds. “It feels like we’ve educated a lot of people about bashment, dancehall; what it is. They get the gist of the forwards, the banging on the walls, and they get involved now.”
Hot Wuk is the final piece of The Heatwave puzzle. Along with Showtime and their weekly Madd Raff parties every Wednesday at The Social in London, Hot Wuk is The Heatwave’s weekend party that’s recently evolved from an occasional London dance to a nationwide dancehall brand, with events popping off all over the UK. Brighton, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and of course London all now have regular Hot Wuks to call their own, with more cities coming soon.
“Hot Wuk; it’s carnival vibes, people having a good time,” explains Rubi. “You know sometimes you have a really bad day, and you wanna go somewhere and forget about it all? Hot Wuk is a place where you can come have a good time, there are loads of girls, we give out whistles and horns, people just get into a frenzy, get mad and express themselves in the way they dance. There are no bad vibes – if you wanna be a bad man, be a bad-man dancer!”
“Until you come to a Hot Wuk, I don’t think people understand the vibes,” Ben agrees. “We’ve built it up and got a family connected with it, so you know when you go there, you’re gonna hear upfront dancehall, hardcore dancehall, and the people will appreciate it. It means we can now go to Leeds or Brighton and it has that same energy and vibe.
“And the Hot Wuk girls are magnificent in themselves, they’re a magical thing. I love Hot Wuk and it’s exciting spreading it. I can’t wait to take it to cities overseas; I think they’d love it. What’s not to love! It’s the international language of absolute madness. All cultures have an element of carnival spirit in them; most people will be able to connect with that. Getting mad excited; it translates well.”
“Yeah, we’ll get it established here then try and take it to Berlin, Amsterdam, those places…” says Gabriel. “But we wanna keep the parties small – not do arena parties or anything like that; it would lose what’s special. We want that community vibe and Hot Wuk is where people that know each other and love dancehall can go and meet and dance. We’d like to build a live show with dancers, MCs, bring the carnival thing. We’re playing a lot of festivals, so would be good to get a big summer stage show going.”
“The sound is called Heatwave,” adds Rubi, “and every time we play it gets so hot! It’s the levels of energy and hype! All we really need now is a big yacht and to sail ourselves to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, be there for a hot minute. That vibe!”
The first Hot Wax release, Wiley’s ‘Ninja Riddim’, is out soon.