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Interview: Russ Disciples

Interview: Russ Disciples

Interview: Russ Disciples

By on - Photos by Gerard McMahon - 1 comment

"Making music and getting it played by someone like Jah Shaka... was quite a revelation"

The Disciples are a dub roots reggae group formed in 1986 by brothers Russ D. and (now departed from the team) Lol Bell-Brown. Named by Jah Shaka, they have worked with a host of popular artists including Prince Alla, Michael Rose, Sugar Minott, Lutan Fyah, Prince Malachi and Tony Roots. After performing at the Irish 'Life' Festival in May, 2012 Russ Disciples shared his thoughts on music and such matters with United Reggae.

Russ Disciples

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

Been in the music business for just over 25 years now, but I was listening to reggae music from an early age (1978), partly through (the influence) of my older brother. We've always been into the same kind of music. In 1976 we were into the punk thing. When that finished up I was looking for the next kind of music to listen to and I used to hear reggae coming from his room and I liked it. We were in a record shop once and I asked him what albums are worth buying and he said Joe Gibbs 'Dub - Chapter 3' and Dr. Alimantado's 'Best Dressed Chicken'. Got them, listened to them 24\7 and just got fully into it.

How many albums and singles have you released?

Since getting into the music business myself – it was 1986 when we linked up with Shaka – Shaka released 4 albums for us over a 4\5 year period and then we took control of our own thing. So I've been on lots of albums. Myself, I've only released a few albums, about 3 or 4 and countless 7, 10 and 12 inches. I've worked with a lot of different people over the years, so there must be somewhere upwards of 20 plus albums that I've been involved with.

Career highlight?

When you first start off – it was me and my brother making music – just a couple of guys from out in the suburbs in Surrey, who have no real connection with anybody in the music business, so then suddenly to find yourself making music and getting it played by someone like Jah Shaka – when I first heard my tunes played by him in session (it) was quite a revelation. And to see the reaction that the tunes were getting at that time, that's pretty much a highlight. Especially at that time, the 1980s, there were very few white people involved in the music, and those that were didn't know each other, (being) spaced out around the country.

Are you a full-time musician?

It's pretty much my living, making music, deejaying and I work in the Dub Vendor record store one day a week. So it's all within the music business.

What keeps you going after ~25 years?

I love the music. I don't think I'd have much skill for anything else. I worked as a storeman in a hospital before that, not a great career choice, so it's music, and it's kept me going!

For me with reggae, bass is the main melody of the music, so it has to speak to you. When you hear some bass lines it's almost like their talking a message to you

Any comment on the U.K.'s impact on reggae?

There's a big U.K. impact. We had big influences from Jamaican music, (as) that was our love first off. Even though we might have been doing things with drum machines and stuff like that, in the early days it was very strictly dub stuff, but the influence there was still from Jamaican music, whether it was old or new. These days - especially across Europe - a lot of the influence on their music comes from people like us, like Alpha and Omega, Iration Steppas, Manasseh and people like that. So I think we've had quite a big impact in Europe, though no real impact in Jamaica.

How do feel about the move toward digital as opposed to CD\Vinyl retailing?

Well I've not got into doing much digital retail. I have a few bits that go through the Reggae Music Store in England, but I've not got into it as yet. That's not to say I'm not going to, but I'm still trying to release vinyl. As a long time collector of vinyl that still seems to me (to be) the format for the music. It's died in Jamaica, which is unfortunate. So it's left the (vinyl) business happening in Europe. Reggae as a whole misses a side of the music I think. The music is still being made in Jamaica but there's no vinyl business, it's more or less dead over there. One or two labels there might release things now and again. But it's a sad state for the business. Because if you check over the years - even in the 90s and early 2000's - you had a lot of maverick or grassroots producers that would do 'one away' tunes and stuff like that as part of business hustling or runnings. So you'd get these odd little tunes that worked (but) now that business is gone for them. There's one pressing plant in operation now (just about) in Jamaica, but the distribution network and all them kind of things have just disappeared. The public can download off the internet or off YOUTUBE. So you find that the smaller producers that might have done more interesting types of tunes are no longer there. All you've got is the main few Jamaican producers – Corleon and Stephen Marley and guys like that – who do quality music, but they're commercial. So you never get that underground tune coming through no more, which is a shame.

How would you compare 'digital' music with that of the 'real instrument' or band effect?

Russ DisciplesI never had a problem with it. When things like 'Tempo' came out, that was a revelation. That was a digital tune that changed the whole style of making music. I love that tune and I got into listening to digital tunes from that period. I wasn't really into the dancehall stuff. Anything that had a more roots kind of flavour I loved it. And obviously when we started making music we had a drum machine, but the rest of it was live instruments. I played live bass, my brother played rhythm guitar, banging bits of percussion, blowing melodic and that kind of stuff. But then you start utilising sound modules and sequences and stuff and it's an interesting movement. So I never had a problem with it or with Jamaican or U.K. digital music.

Tell us about the importance of the bass sound in your work?

Well for me with reggae, bass is the main melody of the music, so it has to speak to you. When you hear some bass lines it's almost like their talking a message to you. So even if you're hearing a dub tune without any vocals you can feel something from that. Some of that is missing today because a lot of people are focusing on the sub-bass, so it's all bottom ends rumbling and stuff. You find a lot of one fingered bass lines revolve around 2 or 3 notes in a low register and there's no real melody there. I think people need to rethink some of that. If you come from playing a live bass (as I do), when doing stuff on a keyboard you're trying to interpret that from the live bass. So it's not always just a continuous 2 bar loop. You're playing notes that move and have different node lengths, and you might change a little key here and stuff like that. To me, that's part of reggae music.

What's a 'subsonic bass tone'?

It's just a really low bass, getting down to low-low notes that you don't really hear, but you feel - obviously through the soundsystem.

It's bass signals falling below 30 hertz?

Down to that kind of frequency, yes. It's low stuff and it rumbles away, it moves a lot of air. It's through the soundsystems getting very heavy these days and you've got speakers that are 1,500 watt etc., so it's really a movement of air, rather than listening to a bass note. I always remember what Shaka told me once, when he heard the new sounds coming out in the 90s, these big heavyweight sounds, and he said he's never played more that 3,000 watts of bass in his life and he rolls of the sub a little bit to let the note come through, because the note is the melody of the tune. You have all the pretty stuff with keyboards and organs and horns etc. but it's the 'B' line that has to talk to you. That's always what reggae has been about.

It's the bass line that has to talk to you. That's always what reggae has been about

Did you study music or 'pick it up'?

I just picked it up. I can't read music. I do know where middle C is!

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

We've worked with a few different people over the years. One time we had Prince Alla in, it was really nice, because he was a roots hero from the 70s. And then suddenly he's coming down to the leafy suburbs of Surrey to my little back garden studio, which is kind of bizarre. He's one of the sweetest guys you could meet in the business, a pure, natural guy. It was a pleasure meeting him. Someone brought down Sugar Minnott one time, and it's interesting to see how the man voiced his tune – he had a very quiet voice, but when you hear it in a tune it sounds big.

Jah Shaka named 'The Disciples'?

He gave us our name. He asked us whether we had a name and we said no, and he said I'll think of something. One time at a dance he played one of our tunes and said: 'This one is the Disciples in the area'. So that's what he's called us, it's like Shaka's Disciples.

Who has had the greatest musical influence on you?

I think there's many. Obviously there's things from King Tubby's - and Scientist's mixing back in the late 70s was a big influence. I loved that kind of style, what he did with mixing tones, bass lines etc. Augustus Pablo - another big influence obviously because he was an instrumentalist. I loved things like Studio One, Treasure Isle and all them kind of melodic music things, and Freedom Sounds productions because they were hard, raw and heavy.

Do have any remaining ambitions in music?

That's hard after 25 years. I'm happy to keep on going the way I'm going and hoping that people listen to what we're doing. Reggae music has done all its variations. So when it starts to get too diverse - mixing things up with dubstep etc. – for me it's away from reggae music. It might be more popular with the youngsters these days, but I'm 50 years old. So it's not so popular for me, not to 'diss' it, but it's just not my kind of thing. Even in the 90s it was a thing with me that if you hear it down at Shaka then it's the right type of tune, if you don't it's not.

How many festivals\events\gigs are you playing at this summer?

Summer is usually quiet for me – which I don't mind. But we've got ROTOTOM in Spain and Outlook in Croatia this summer. They should be interesting.

'There's many messages in the music... It's a thing of trying to live a good life in this time

Would you describe yourself as Rastafarian?

No. Not at all. I'm a white guy from the suburbs. I know my reality. I don't need to wear dreadlocks, red, gold and green to be someone who's into reggae. I can appreciate Rastafari and acknowledge it and have respect for it and for what the singers sing - if they're dealing with the right way of life that's all good by me. But I don't need to take it on for myself.

You've been quoted as saying you 'make music with a message'. For those who've missed it, what's the message?

There's many messages in the music. Obviously there's the usual ones of peace, love and unity. It's also about having respect for your fellow man. Though I'm not a political animal, there is politics within the music as well. It's a thing of trying to live a good life in this time. We don't need to feed off each other, we should try to be good to each other.

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Posted by guest on 03.03.2013
Thanks for this.

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