Shanghai's only Reggae sound system Uprooted Sunshine celebrates four years of positive Reggae vibes tonight at The Shelter. From parties back in the day at The Beaver, C's, and LOgO, to sharing the stage with the top Reggae MCs, DJs, and producers at The Shelter, the crew has been growing steadily in momentum and creative focus, and these days they're at the top of their game with new MC talent on the mic and a core group of producers making original music.
SmartShanghai sat down for a round table interview with most of Uprooted Sunshine earlier this week as they were practicing for their anniversary tonight at The Shelter.
Speaking herein is most of Uprooted Sunshine. A few were missing. But, like... 85% of them were there. That's B+/A- territory. Getting a bunch of Reggae dudes all in one room is no easy task. I used to have a roommate in college who was really into Reggae music and it would take him four hours to get a bag of chips from the store. He would usually come back, baked as hell, with like 20 bags of chips, two other guys, six new records, random stolen lawn ornaments, and an ice cream cake or some shit.
But I digress...
Their party is tonight. Head on down and have a good time with the nicest bunch of kids in town. Cover: 40 dubloons. Starts 10pm. Special guests and more.
[Long awkward silence with no one saying anything.]
Gaz: My name is Gaz. I DJ and I'm one of the original members, along with Israel and Yo, who's not here.
Israel: I'm Israel. As Gaz said, we met four years ago...
Deville: I'm Blaise. DJing with Uprooted Sunshine for three and a half years.
Esia: I'm Esia. MC -- joined a couple of months ago. Well, more like a year ago.
Arminda: My name is Arminda, also joined recently. And I sing.
Chacha: I'm ChaCha. I��m a singer in the group. I joined Uprooted Sunshine two years ago.
Didje: I'm Charlie. MC Didje, or Didjilerium, depending on how complicated you want to be. I was the first MC to join the crew three years ago, about the same time I came to Shanghai. But it��s grown since then -- many MCs, five DJs...
Gaz: Yeah, Yas couldn't be here because he lost his phone in Hong Kong, and no one knows where he is. And Alisandro as well. No one knows where he is...
Didje: We're trying to make it more of a routine.
Gaz: We've also got enough tracks for an album now so, and we're also working on making more of a proper live show. We've got the four-year anniversary this Friday, and we're also playing at the JZ Festival, so we're working on putting together all our own music.
Didje: Well, we've always had a few in the crew who produce their own music and we've been recording some stuff, but right now we're many different people with many different experiences and quite a lot of music experience and sound experience, so after four years we're doing it...
Gaz: In the past year, the MCs have been properly recording, putting tracks down.
Gaz: It's released this Friday, 12 tracks -- originally it was supposed to just be an EP with five or six tracks, but we decided that we had a nice collection of songs.
Some of them are old tracks that have been around for six, eight months, and some of them are brand new. All the MCs have each recorded solo tracks for the album, some of which are produced by Charlie, some are old classic Reggae rhythms.
Didje: Yeah, it was in my... home recording studio. [Laughs.] Well, we had a good sound card and a good microphone. You know, so far, it's not like a commercial big-ass production. That's next month [Laughs], but for now..
Gaz: It's more like a bootlegged album. But it looks nice.
Gaz: Charlie is the main producer.
Didje: Well, I just do music because I always have sounds in my head. But for three years in the crew and one and a half years with four MCs, we have quite a lot of lyrics and sounds. And it's quite the natural way to be some beats on that. It's quite the Reggae spirit to get some rhythm and get people on it and share it, so we kind of have it like this.
Gaz: We tried in Nanjing but it didn't work really because... I don't know. It was just weird.
Israel: Yeah, it was a small crowd.
Gaz: We've never been out as a full crew anywhere, but myself and Charlie have played in places like Hong Kong...
Didje: Yeah, the thing is, it looks good on stage with like nine people, but when you need to fly nine people some place to play and pay them, its more complicated. So we did stuff like Uprooted commandos -- some people play there, some people play there. Maybe we get a bus and just drive around outside Shanghai.
But also it's hard to because people like Israel have real jobs.
Gaz: Yeah, he's a real person. [Laughs.] Everyone has their own situation. Yas just had a baby last year with his wife, and more responsibilities. A lot of the time I��m stuck here because of The Shelter on weekends.
Israel: Well, I think all of us play in different areas of Reggae, and what's been fun is that everyone has different tastes, not just in Reggae but in other music. And that goes for the MCs and well. They sing with me, the sing with Blaise, with Yas... but it's always different. My style is more like deep Dub and more minimal and deep. So that's sort of the basic sound, but then people play on top of that. It's like cooking...
Deville: Me, I'm coming from more of a Hip Hop background, and more like Dancehall. More like party stuff. Now, I'm trying to stick to Dancehall, but it's more at the roots of Dancehall -- the early stuff.
Israel: Jamaican club music.
Gaz: And that's the thing, Jamaican music, there's such a wide spectrum of styles, and even just music influenced by Jamaican music. We also do a night called Sub-Culture, which is more contemporary Dub Step. Occasionally, it's got nothing to do with Reggae, like when we had Dam Funk.
Chacha: I listen to more chill-out music, Trip Hop, and stuff. Actually I only started listening to Reggae like two years ago when I joined the group. So these two years have been growing up quite a lot. Growing up fast.
Arminda: Soul. Rap. At home I like to listen to Soul music.
Esia: I started with Hip Hop and then went to Dancehall...
Didje: Yeah, and Chacha is at first not into Reggae music but its not important because it's a voice that sounds awesome on Dub music, and really good on any kind of music. When she plays with Israel, it's really something. And then we have these guys, Arminda and Esia coming from a Hip Hop background...
Gaz: Yeah, it's much more powerful...
Didje: Good for when people really want to dance.
Gaz: Especially, Esia when he gets going.
Didje: For me a lot it's like... well, as a music producer it's like the colder the weather the darker the stuff. I come from Taihiti, so it's the weather on the music, you know. I came back from Taihiti and had a track called, "Living on an Island" -- really sunny, butterflies... woo woo...
Gaz: It's a terrible song. [Laughs.]
Didje: Yeah, well there is a split in the crew about this song. One day we like it and one day...
Gaz: I don't know about that.
Didje: [Laughs.] Well, it's like a sunny day, you're going to the beach in your car -- whatever makes you smile. You know.
Gaz: It's coming out on Charlie's solo album, which has nothing to do with us.
Didje: Yeah, but Shanghai is in the content of the songs. We have tracks about living in Shanghai, being a foreigner in Shanghai, spreading Reggae music in China, you know.
Israel: Yeah, well who are we missing now right here? We're missing Yo.
Gaz: Don Dada.
Israel: Yeah, he was at the first Shanghai By Bus, I remember.
Gaz: Yufah -- he's coming back for the weekend. Yo was supposed to be playing but it didn't work out...
Gaz: Yeah, since opening, we've had a lot of people come through. It was an honor to have Adrian Sherwood here. Vibronics. Madu Messenger -- fantastic as well.
Didje: I would say Vibronics of course because I'm a fan.
Israel: Cojie from Might Crown.
[Much ooo'ing and ahh'ing from everyone.]
Gaz: Yeah, he was unreal.
Israel: Well even Japan, the soundsystems are more specialized like in Europe, so either you are doing Dancehall, either you are doing Dub, either you are doing Roots...
Deville: And that's a good thing about Shanghai. Since we are not 10,000 soundsystems in Shanghai, we can cover the whole spectrum.
Didje: Also the Reggae culture is quite new, and because it's not cemented, people don't have all the categories. You can play a Bob Marley track and people can be into it and then play another track like Chacha's track and people are much more into it. In the end it's the same -- if the music is good, you're going to enjoy it. So we have the chance to do that in Shanghai.
Gaz: It's big mix. You know in Shanghai the way it is, the expat crowd is constantly changing.
Deville: The local kids, they're starting to like it though and there is a bit of a following. It started with we released the PAUSE: MUSIC mix and with ChaCha...
Gaz: It's now getting bootlegged in Xinjiang.
Gaz: Yeah, apparently someone took the CD back to Xinjiang and there are copies all over the place.
Didje: I would always like it if you see that strange guy on a bike with the speakers selling the dance music on the streets, I would like it if he had a copy of Uprooted Sunshine. It would be good.
Gaz: There's more of a scene coming up. There's a guy...
Chacha: Jiang Liang from Guilin.
Gaz: Yeah, we've not heard him play live yet but he's doing fantastic dub things. But there is more of a culture coming up.
ChaCha: Uh... everyone was very excited, you know.
ChaCha: Yeah, it was an amazing experience for me. We recorded the day after the Sub-Culture party with Kode9 at The Shelter. But that night I was totally fucked. And the next day on recording I was very badly hung-over, and I didn't know what I was going to do. He had produced a track for me but I couldn't catch the right mood and the right melody, so we tried something different and that came out.
It was a great thing for me. Big step. [Laughs.]
Gaz: One of my favorites was the second anniversary party at 4Live. I had just come back to Shanghai, and we had both floors -- like a Dub room upstairs and a Roots / Dancehall thing downstairs. And it was packed on both floors... it was a really nice thing to come back to. A great night.
Chacha: For me it's the Cojie from Mighty Crown.
Didje: I really enjoyed the Yue Festival because it was a really nice sunny day, you were outside, some trees, everyone is happy listening to loud music. It was a nice, nice day.
Arminda: I really liked Liquid Wicked.
Esia: For me, I can't choose one. I liked all of them.
Israel: For me the worst one was probably my favorite one. It was the first time we all traveled together, staying in a cheap hotel. I have a really great memory of that... walking with all the luggage...
Gaz: Yeah, well we never did it again but it was fun...
Gaz: Well, just for the album we wanted to say thank you to Kyle [DJ Sickstar], who came and helped me and Charlie with the mastering. And did a really good job. It's sounding great and we need to say thank you to him.
Busy weekend for Uprooted Sunshine. Their big anniversary is tonight at The Shelter, and they're also playing on the Electrograss stage at the Shanghai JZ Festival. Good weekend to be down with Reggae. Boooooka!
More on Uprooted Sunshine on SmartShanghai's sister website Louder.cn (in Chinese) here.