Interview: Frenchie

November 9, 2011

Frenchie” got into Jamaican music as a Parisian teen through the Two Tone movement. He and his brother soon cottoned onto the provenance of the best tunes they were hearing and started collecting the vintage ska and rocksteady that inspired Madness, the Specials and co. Regular ferry trips over to London to Dub Vendor and Peckings in the late 80s led to a radio show and sound system as the then small yet determined Paris reggae scene got off the ground. But Frenchie was more intrigued by the bustling culture in London and in 1990, aged 19, got a job as an engineer at Fashion Records via Dub Vendor’s John McGillivray. Under the guidance of Chris Lane and Gussie P he learned his craft in the studio before, in late ’92, using the £300 he had in his pocket to get UK rhythm kings Mafia & Fluxy to lay a couple of rhythms he gave to Dub Vendor to press. Thus his now world famous label Maximum Sound was born, from which he has put out roots and dancehall albums and singles featuring everyone from Beenie Man to Bounty Killer, from Luciano to his friend Anthony B. Lately he has created his own UK roots label Calabash and released four new Maximum Sound rhythms, Skateland Killer (based on Eekamouse’s Star Daily News or Gleaner) Ghetto State (Letter From Zion), Sound Exterminata and the Fairground rhythm. Angus Taylor chatted to the man who is arguably Europe’s greatest reggae producer for far longer than intended several times over the last year, hence it taking so long for this piece to be edited down into readable – if still rather lengthy! – form…

Maximum Sound

When you started getting into the music you had to come over to the UK to see the best that reggae had to offer. Nowadays in France there’s a huge scene and in the UK people are wondering what happened. What’s your take on that?

The big difference with France and the UK is that here you have a huge Jamaican community. After Jamaica, England is the second capital of reggae, historically. The mass emigration to America came way after and if you listen to most styles of reggae that were prominent in America, even in the 80s, they’re very influenced by Jamaica, whereas over here they really had their own taste, their own music like Lovers Rock. In France, Germany and places like that it’s a fashion. It’s something that the kids picked up, a bit like they picked up hip hop in France. For me it was more interesting to come over here to work in that industry because there was hardly anything going on in France when I grew up.

But at the same time most European people didn’t grow up with reggae in the house so they have the zeal of a convert.

In Europe it’s fresher in their ears because it hasn’t really been there very prominently in their face, only for maybe the last 15 years. In France I would say that dancehall music really exploded in the mid 90s. Germany’s even a bit later than that. At that time reggae over here was slowly but surely fizzling out. And the other thing is the question of generation. Most Afro-Caribbean kids from the third generation Jamaicans, reggae for them is the music of their parents. It’s not their own music, they’re into grime, hip hop, UKG, R&B and that kind of thing. Music here has evolved into other forms.

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