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Musically Mad

Musically Mad

Musically Mad

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This Swedish documentary is a snapshot that should stand the test of time.

A really good music documentary will draw you in whatever you think of the subject matter - and even if you don’t care for UK roots ‘n’ dub, Karl Folke and Andreas Weslien’s Musically Mad is fascinating, informative viewing.

Musically Mad

Filmed between 2004 and 2008, and clocking in trim at one second shy of an hour, the film takes a detailed look at the UK sound scene, starting with London and expanding outward, via the great cities of the North, towards the Continent. The well-edited, fact-packed interview clips should educate newcomers while confirming and immortalising on screen what aficionados already know - a welcome antidote to the US style TV doc where the same diluted argument is repeated over and over in case you’ve just tuned in.

At the very start Channel One owner Mikey Dread warns that he could “talk about the sound system all day but you have to FEEL it”. Yet there is a lot of interesting and accessible information on the technical end of running a rig : from pre-amps to dubplates to how its fortified noise differs from radio and club PAs. The over-arching message is that the sound system experience galvanises everyone involved – not just the selectors, mcs and punters. Even Shortman the sound builder is enthused by his job.

We also see and hear plenty of the tradition’s rich history – the legend of Coxsone’s Magnum pre-amp, Dougie Wardrop’s evocative reminiscences about kids practicing melodica in playgrounds, brown soupy VHS footage of Jungleman and Baron Turbo in early 80s Moss Side, and Jah Life in Wandsworth. On the soundtrack Dennis Brown’s The Little Village and Robert Lee’s Too Much War rub shoulders with recent releases like Faya Horns’ God Of Dub.

For its denizens, the sound seems to be what you make it. Levi Roots sees it as a spiritual thing and a source of guidance. To DJ Stryda it represents an answer to the increasing conformity and regulation of British life. For African Simba the sound is catharsis, cleansing you of your troubles for one glorious night. Where many of the talking heads agree is on the culture’s status as the protector of a style that is no longer taken seriously by the local youth. Luckily a wave of second-generation talent - in the form of Mad Professor’s son Joe Ariwa and Shaka’s boy Young Warrior - are riding the burgeoning enthusiasm for this fundamentals music in Europe, as attested to by King Shiloh Sound. Sadly Shaka senior – who for many embodies the scene - wasn’t interviewed for the disc.

It all goes to prove what open-minded lovers of reggae have known for a long time: that UK dub doesn’t entirely deserve its “dogs on strings” reputation. While some tunes may be slowed down techno for aging ravers or descend into how-big-is-your-bass bragging rights at the expense of spirituality and soul, much of it is simply classical roots played on digital instruments to immense effect.

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