Tartan and bagpipes. Celtic and Rangers. Reggae and dubstep? Yes, add another thing Scotland can claim for its own, thanks to Glasgow's Mungo's Hi-Fi crew, a three-man sound system and production team that's swiftly put its stamp on bass-driven music. Whether it's playing vintage Jamaican roots records or innovating with digital dub scorchers on their Scotch Bonnet label, Mungo's has a knack for catchy tracks, while its collaborations with UK talents like female MC Soom T have generated deserved international interest.
The group's second full-length album, Forward Ever, offers 8-bit digi-dancehall beats, traditional reggae, and innovative dubstep flavors with vocals from respected Jamaican artist Sugar Minott (R.I.P.), Lee Scratch Perry's son Omar, and new names on the scene like Pupajim, Mr. Williamz, and Kenny Knots. Mungo's drop the bass in San Francisco with Soom T on the mic at the Elbo Room this Sunday at Dub Mission. Mungo's selector Doug was kind enough to tell us about the group's "conscious technology" as well as its global connections.
First up, what's the origin of your brilliant sound system name?
Glad you like it. We named the sound after Mungo, a Celtic apostle who lived in the late 6th Century in the kingdom of Strathclyde and who founded Glasgow. His real name was Kentigern, but he was popularly known as Mungo, which means "beloved." I love history, particularly the times for which there is little written record, and finding links between people from the past and those alive today. We warmed to the stories and myths about Mungo, and being rooted in Glasgow ourselves we felt a strong affiliation. It just seemed right.
How did Mungo's build its international audience? Was there any big tune or event that pushed you out there?
As with most music enthusiasts, we started out DJing in bars and clubs before building our own speaker [cabinets] and hosting regular club nights ourselves, bringing all kinds of acts to Glasgow. It must have been Tom's productions that brought international attention. Early on from 2000 or so we started bringing Brother Culture to Scotland to perform, and each time we recorded more tracks with him, leading to the album released on Dubhead records in 2002.
We got a particularly good reception for the tracks "Wickedness" and "Ing," especially after Mr. Scruff licensed it for one of his Solid Steel compilations. "Belly Ska," our first release on Scotch Bonnet, has also proved a big hit, now being a staple track for hundreds of artists from Ranking Joe to Luciano. Otherwise it has been an organic growth through DJs playing our music, and individuals inviting us to come and play in New Zealand to Sao Paolo, Shanghai to Guadalajara ... somehow the music seems to move people, no matter where they are from.
Was there ever any resistance from the Jamaican community to your sound system business? How did Mungo's earn their stripes in the sound business?
There isn't much of a Jamaican community in Glasgow, so it's not been an issue; we've not encountered much hostility anywhere. If anything we've just been a bit ignored. We have never really broken into the traditional UK sound system circuit; probably we don't play strictly steppers [digital dub]. We just continue to do what we do to the best of our ability, constantly upgrading the sound and building its reputation playing at bigger and better events.
What's the reggae scene like in Glasgow?
There were some sound systems in Glasgow before we started -- most notably Rampant Sound, who we collaborated with on a few occasions. Also Messenger Sound in Edinburgh has been flying the roots flag since the 1980s and continues to do so. We realized that in the absence of a vibrant scene the onus was on us to create one. There wasn't much of a scene here, and we wanted people to be able to experience reggae and dancehall music played through a proper rig.
Ten years later, the picture has drastically changed: three sounds have their own rigs and play regularly in Glasgow alone, as well as a number of DJ crews collecting dubplates and building their own crowds. People must have seen our success and realized that it was actually possible to put on nights and have good numbers turning up, rather than thinking it's all a government plot to silence the music.
Tell us about linking with the late great Sugar Minott before he passed. How did that session come about?
There's a guy based in Glasgow called Craig, who runs JA Ecosse, and has put his neck on the line many times to bring foundation artists to Scotland while they are in the UK. So it was him who brought Tony Tuff and Sugar Minott to Glasgow. They had a couple of days free, so we thought it was too good an opportunity to miss to get them in the studio. We got a few great tracks done, which still need to be put out. Sugar's lyrics became all the more haunting when we heard of his passing a few months later. When he talks of the "wolves at the door," it almost sounds like he knew what was about to happen.
Mungo's productions incorporate modern electronic elements -- digi-dancehall, dubstep, etc. How did come to that production style?
First and foremost, we are music fans. Before we got heavily into reggae, we listened to all sorts of stuff in the '90s. Tom produced house music before he started building reggae riddims, so I guess there was a bit of that sound creeping into earlier productions. Since then we have not lived in a bubble, and we continue to be influenced by all kinds of styles that inspire us.
We love all the reggae sounds and culture that have inspired them, from the earliest ska and rocksteady through what has come up in the half century since. They have all been products of their times, and have all been influenced by technology, recording techniques, world events, and other music. Many people try to recreate these sounds, but we feel that there is a gaping hole when it comes to creating something truly contemporary, which builds on the foundations, but still reflects today's consciousness.
When did you meet Soom T? Is she a resident with your crew?
We have known Soom T pretty much since we began making music in Glasgow in the late '90s, since she has been moving in similar circles. We have been recording together for years, but it is only since 2005 that we have gravitated more and more towards each other musically. She now lives in Leipzig in Eastern Germany to be near Disrupt and the Jahtari crew, but we still meet up regularly on tour.
She is one of our residents in that we play out a lot together, but we work with many different vocalists and MCs in order to keep things fresh for us and them, continually recording new work and building on the live shows we can put together.