Producer, musician, and selector Emch has been running his Subatomic Sound System label for nearly a decade, with notable releases like Lee Scratch Perry’s first dubstep tracks, and collaborations with reggae artistslike Anthony B and Elephant Man.
He’s also been in radio for almost a decade, and is gearing up to relaunch his radio show in New York, Subatomic Sound Radio, which has featured past guests like Dub poineer Adrian Sherwood. Currently on tour with Lee Scratch Perry, recently had the chance to discuss touring, his label and his radio show. He peforms Sunday during Dub Mission at the Elbo Room, with Treasure Don, Delhi Sultanate and more.
You are currently on tour with Lee Scratch Perry. How is that going?
It’s like in the movie Star Wars when Luke Skywallker goes to train with Yoda. It’s such a gift to be in his presence because he is constantly radiating his wild creativity and hitting you with pearls of wisdom. The other night as we were about to start he stuck his head out of a tent behind stage and shouted “Play the musical scale, up then down.” We couldn’t really hear him so we shouted back and forth. “Play it up, Do re mi fa so la ti do, then down. Two times. Like a monster walking in space. Then start the song. Horns! Bah baaaah, bah bah bah bah!”
Every show has had some really magical moments. The morning after the first show in DC he looked at me and the only thing he said was “Remember last night’s show, when I put my arms out and we were flying? Remember that feeling. Balance.” Then he walked away and I had to figure out what he meant, but it made sense. He is just a really otherworldly and mystic personality.
You can really see how he shaped the style of Bob Marley and created reggae and dub. He says things that force you to be more creative. I worked so hard to represent his music going back to the original Black Ark and Randy’s recordings and incorporating them with new elements to make it current. His production is just really genius and I love that our performances incorporate those in a proper dub style while at the same time involving live bass, percussion, and horns—all running through my mixer. It’s the real thing, the dub studio on stage thanks to technology and some Subatomic creativity. I’m not sure that he has really done a tour like this before. People have been losing their minds a the shows.
You studied philosophy in college. How did those studies evolve into a musical career?
I think it shaped everything really. I actually studied philosophy in high school and my teacher Mr. Wichterman really inspired me. It gave me alternatives to spirituality and morality and how to assess the meaning of life. Existentialism gave me the motivation to create the life that I wanted.
Music and philosophy have a lot in common. I was always interested in music, books and films that had philosophical messages and I just felt that in the 21st century, music was the most alive of all forms of art. It can be done as an individual or a group. It’s a balance of math, science, poetry, all the faculties and incorporates all aspects of the brain. Every culture around the world throughout time has had music and religion. Often the two are intimately intertwined. Even animals use similar musical scales. It’s in our DNA. We forget in a commercialized commodified western pop music culture that music is actually I end our connections to something intrinsic at the core of out spirituality.
What inspired you to start Subatomic Soundsystem?
I was working in 1999 with a bass player, Noah tha Riddim Doktor in NYC experimenting with dub, hip hop and jungle in a live band as well as the studio. It was a side project but when we ended up posting up these experiments on a site called mp3.com they just took off. It was a good lesson that when you do what you love in a sincere and pure way, people will respond to it and paths will open up to you that you may not have seen before.
Tell us a little about the newest single off the label, “Dem Can’t Stop We From Talk.”
Wow. It’s a long journey for that music but I’ll try to tell it in brief. It started with the NYC-2-Africa riddim an attempt to balance reggae, hip hop and African influences, recorded in partnership between Subatomic Sound Systemand Nomadic Wax with drummers in Senegal and completed in my studio in New York City.
I recorded Jahdan Blakkamoore on it and Bajah from Sierra Leone’s Dry Eye who both flipped for the riddim. Then I was in Kingston at the time the Riots and Tivoli gardens raids were brewing—a lot of political unrest that the government was trying to silence. I played it for Anthony B who on the spot started singing over it, backed it up three or four times, then called the engineer to set up a session and just was fire on the track—literally bouncing off the walls and doing kung fu kicks while recording.
There is a great video on YouTube of the session. From there all these producers hear the tune and hit us up to remix it. The next thing we knew we had 15 versions of the tune from digital Cumbia out of Colombia to crazy electro dubstep dancehall from Europe and the Middle East to wild ska versions. Every one is mind blowing!
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