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Interview: Iration Steppas

Interview: Iration Steppas

Interview: Iration Steppas

By on - Photos by Gerard McMahon - 3 comments

"Back in the days we were fighting for our freedom - in music - to get acknowledged that this is reggae music, this is dub music"

Iration Steppas was originally set up by Mark Iration as a soundsystem in Leeds. Over time it has scaled the barricades and now stands at the peak whenever such systems clash.  Described as the producers of the ‘hardest music’ coming out of the U.K., it’s little wonder that Iration Steppas have been enjoying extensive worldwide exposure. After performing at the Irish ‘Life’ Festival in May, 2012 Iration Steppas main man Mark shared his thoughts on music and related matters with United Reggae.

Iration Steppas

You’ve been in the music business a long time. Tell us a little of your history?

My history is too long, so I’ll cut it short! I was born in Leeds. I lived in Jamaica for 6 years when I was young, about 6-8, came back to England due to some domestic affairs with my mum and her ex. and lived in Sheffield, London etc. It started with my cousin from school days in Leeds, collecting music, listening to friends’ music, coming together in someone’s house, in a cellar, a community club, a youth club to play music on the hi-fi system there. The local record shop down the road called Sir Yankees helped. And we also had the big HMV shop which was very good on reggae music at that time. Because I was a regular, the records were put aside (for me), so I was really blessed. Then I went through loads of different sounds as an ‘apprentice’ – sounds like Leeds Sounds, Magnum 45, Ras Sparta, Ambassador, Genesis... so many soundsystems I went through as a youngster. Soundsystems were a hobby in a man’s game. We played football and then we went ‘soundsystem’, it was a weapon of fun. It started really by accident, then it got intense. We’d stay up all night listening to John Peel (B.B.C. Radio Show) who would play at least 3 reggae tunes a night and I got into punk at the same time. It just evolved from there.

How many albums and singles have you released?

Maybe 10-12 singles, then there’s compilations on different tracks called Dub Heads (back in the days!) and I think we’re now on our fourth album, due out this year. We don’t push out releases like a lot of people because we’re so busy playing all over the world. The way we get our music out is through ‘specials’, rather than having a guy sing a song for release, because then the pressure would be on us, but we’re on tour.

Tell us about your career highlights?

One of the highlights for me playing Glastonbury – coming on before a group called ‘Daft Punk’ – with thousands of people in the tent, it was just ‘ram’ and we smashed it good. We were ‘Kitachi’ then, which was kind of ‘trip-hop’ on a ‘hip-hop’ beat. Also playing before and with Prodigy was a highlight (in Germany). That was ‘mental’ and we became good friends after.

I just love it... it's not money-orientated or anything like that. I just want to deliver the music and the message

Are you full-time musician?

I won’t say I’m a musician. I don’t play instruments. My musical partner is called Dennis Rootical, he’s plays live bass - he’s definitely part of Iration Steppas -  he’s the other half. He might start something off and I’d finish it, or vice-versa, as we collaborate in our studio. Sometimes we do a live set, sometimes it’s deejay. So yes, it is full-time.

What keeps you going after ~25 years?

Iration SteppaEnergy and music, I just love it. It’s hard to explain, it’s not money-orientated or anything like that, I just want to deliver the music and the message.

What impact have you had on reggae?

A lot of people have credited us with generating a style in Iration. This happened when we released ‘Iration Steppas meet D.Rootical - Original dub D.A.T.’. We experimented and put different sounds on the dub. In other words, we ‘evolutioned’ dub and made it a lot more accessible to other ears because it was digital style. Playing in France etc. back in the 90’s, they had little monitor speakers (that was their full system) in a pub or club and we’d go there with bags of wires to link up. So I’m still being told we influenced a lot of people in the sense that they can make music in the bedroom and experiment in different ways. Realise that Scientist, King Tubby’s etc. experimented, that’s why dub is now. King Tubby’s ‘mistake’ made this music as big as it is now.

Tell us about some of the more interesting personalities you’ve worked with?

Wow! I’ve been privileged to work with nearly everybody that I’ve grown up listening to. I remember the first time I got a call to do a tour with Johnny Clarke (he screeches as his eyes light up). I remember getting on the bus and sitting next to Johnny Clarke and thinking ‘f**** hell, is this real’, and then we started talking like we’d known each other for years and from there we’re really great friends. So that’s one of the highlights. And I’ve worked alongside Burning Spear, U-Roy, Brigadier Jerry, Culture, most of the main ones ... we’re live on stage with or deejaying for them, so many artists, too many to mention.

I've been privileged to work with nearly everybody that I've grown up listening to

Jah Shaka gave you encouragement early on?

Oh yes, definitely. Back ‘in the day’ Jah Shaka was the warrior.

Who has had the greatest musical influence on you?

Soundsystem wise – when I was small - Jah Shaka. Jah Tubby’s too. ‘Back in the days’ Shaka was a man possessed, a young lion, one that we could see and feel, very mystical, very spiritual in the dance. Then we were fighting for our freedom in a way, in music, to get acknowledged that ‘this is reggae music, this is dub music’. Everything has changed now, it’s not as hard as ‘back in the days’. Everyone knows Bob Marley. But this is dub music. People forget about Dennis Brown and people like that, so when I’m at the dance and Brown, Linval Thompson or Barry Brown spin in dub, I think ‘this is it, this is what I want to hear, this is another story’.

Iration Steppas

Who has had the greatest ‘life’ influence on you?

I don’t know. I never had a father. I don’t know what a father is to tell you the truth. For me to get where I am now, it was a challenge to find myself. My mum had 4 kids and she’s doing what she’s doing, looking after us in a good way. But she couldn’t be there to watch me playing football at school. And if she was, she wasn’t a father, and there were other fathers there. So you think ‘I just gotta get on’. So when the music came, it put some fire into me and I found that I liked it. I wanted to be part of it, but I didn’t think I’d find myself like I am now, being an influence on people or going all over the world. It wasn’t planned that way, it just worked out that way because I was a perfectionist. If I want to do a job, I want to do it proper. If it’s 10 people or 10,000 people I want to give them a show – no short-changing with Iration Steppas. I’m there for the music. Right now we are getting paid (right) unlike ‘back in the days’, which we deserve. What hurts me really is jungle djs or dubstep djs or the like who turn up at midnight for an hour and get a big wage. Then they’re gone again, play the same set at the next place and get a big wage again ... Hold on, this isn’t right, because as you know, with our soundsystem we’re there first and we’re out last. Look at the artists making music in Jamaica. They weren’t paid. They got food for the duration and got the record released. They didn’t even know it was released (it was released in England or somewhere like that). Now artists like Johnny Clarke, Linval, Spear etc. they’re getting paid, because the music is international. But ‘back in the day’ it was hard. It was like a love thing. You had to pay yourself virtually to get where you are. Now you can demand a wage.

I didn't think I'd find myself like I am now, being an influence on people or going all over the world

Remaining ambitions in music?

To carry on doing what I’m doing and to be better. I want to better myself, go to new places, countries and venues. One of my goals was to visit Japan. When we got the call I was .... what word is better than ‘happy’? Up to this day, Japan is my favourite country.

You have a busy summer again?

Yes, festivals and dances all over the place. I’m virtually booked up for the year.

Would you describe yourself as Rastafarian?

Iration SteppasI respect the livity. I want to be humble and clean in my heart, for what I do. No chucking badness or backbiting at people. I walk clean, talk clean, no involvement in bullshit. In other words I’m a ‘conscious’ person, more than a strict Rastaman.

Any view on homophobia?

I have loads of friends who are gay. I’m not gay, but I’m not against it. Even loads of friends who looked after me and put money up to help me back in the 90s so that I could do what I’m doing were gay.

Have you any message that you’d like to convey to the readers of unitedreggae.com?

Go see artists doing soundsystem – because soundsystem is the pinnacle of dub. Go see a good live act like Johnny Clarke. But there’s a lot of acts not being looked after in England, like Murray Man, Kenny Knots, YT etc., being bypassed in favour of Jamaican artists. And there’s a lot of English artists could give Jamaican artists a run for their money.

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Read comments (3)


Posted by mickey rose on 08.02.2012
iration steppas..you haven't been around long enough to call yourself foundation!

Posted by Nixfi on 08.09.2012
Been to a few of their shows in Croatia, and it's thunder all the way!

Posted by warrior on 01.15.2013
Bad ass sound system and some tight beats amazing iration stepas see you at subdub

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