Scotland is proud of its history of inventors – from John Logie Baird to Alexander Graham Bell (and that’s just the B’s). So with that in mind, it’s actually not so surprising with hindsight that a sound system and production house out of Glasgow has become internationally famous for their inventive take on reggae music.
Mungo’s Hi-Fi have been taking their harsh, sparse re-imaginings of Jamaica’s technologically limited yet imaginatively trailblazing 80s digital revolution to a new generation of festival and dance goers.
Via their Scotch Bonnet label they’ve collaborated with everyone from Jamaican veterans Ranking Joe and Sugar Minott to Mavado, Major Lazer and Scotland’s own Soom T.
Their latest album release – out March 24th – pits them in a musical remix battle with their island’s other great non-Caribbean reggae export Prince Fatty. Angus Taylor spoke to Mungo’s co-founder Doug Paine about the journey forward thus far.
Tell us your respective stories of getting into reggae.
Nowadays there’s seven of us and there’s a 16-17 year history since we started this project so there’s quite a lot of stories. But for Tom and I we just started DJing and collecting. We DJ’d other stuff before we got into reggae and then it was the Blood and Fire reissue albums that turned us onto dub and original roots music. We were coming more out of an electro, techno background and the sparse dubs appealed to us on that level. Then there were all the snippets of vocals in there that started to intrigue us more and more.
You and Tom Tattersall DJ’d for a while as Dub Dentists. Did you make people’s teeth rattle with your dub?
(laughs) It wasn’t so much about that. I don’t know what it was, there was the alliteration that appealed to us and also we were quite heavily into Keith Hudson (*Keith Hudson worked as a ghetto dentist before becoming a producer) at the time. That was our first DJ name once we had enough of a collection. It was the realisation that we’d been completely oblivious to this whole world no-one had told us about before – such a rich collection of completely under-represented music and having discovered it ourselves we were keen to show it to other people. It was almost entirely not present on the musical platter available in Glasgow at the time.
But you do make people’s teeth rattle sometimes now with your rig?
(laughs) It’s been known.
So what was the Glasgow scene like when you started in the 90s? What was out there at the time?
There was very little. There was one sound called Rampant Sound who’d been around for a while and were getting equipment together. We got involved and helped them promote nights and flyer, and then we started to collect equipment and bring that down when they needed an amp or a speaker. We began learning the ropes of running live sound with them, although we didn’t DJ so much with them. We were happy to be part of someone playing the music out on a real sound system, and that kind of got us going. We were collecting more bits of sound equipment ourselves to the point in 2000 that we had enough to actually run our own small rig.
Craig McLeod said you found your speakers in a skip?
Yeah, the first speakers were getting thrown out from the university theatre department. They were weird old homemade things with maybe one working driver still in them, so we bought replacement drivers, and fixed them up. We used them for years. They’re still sitting on a shelf, but I don’t think we have any plans for them. They may be collectors’ items one day.
Would you say that people in Glasgow are quite up for trying something new?
Yeah, it’s a really lively city for music in general. There’s good appreciation for good vibes wherever that’s coming from. It’s not very cliquey and people move between scenes. There’s an openness and a lack of scenesters or people wanting to appear cool. It’s a bit of a backwater. People don’t really come to Glasgow to forge a major career or become famous; they’re just getting on with what they want to do. I think it’s quite a fertile environment in a lot of fields.