Reggae in the Slope

This weekend, I’m back in Park Slope. On Friday we’re doing a proper show beneath the Tea Lounge at Port Royal on Union Street, with local favorites Dub Is A Weapon and The Brooklyn Attractors:

Friday, September 28 – Port Royal – 839 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York – $10

Port Royal, sometimes known as B Lounge, is a little known spot with checkerboard tiles beneath the Tea Lounge, and has been open and shut in random spurts since the 90s. Looks like we have the pleasure of putting the space to use again now. Let’s talk to Dave Hahn (Dub Is A Weapon) and Rich Graiko (The Brooklyn Attractors) about Jamaican music in our city.

100dBs: What do you like about this “new” venue?

Rich Graiko: This venue is ridiculous in mostly every way I can think of.  It’s a bit of a dream come true for me, I’ve always fantasized about being involved with a spot that has a legit performance space but is still comfortable for people.  This place is cozy, but big, literally underground, and it even has a pool table!  I still can’t believe it when I’m down there.

It was originally named “Port Royal” by Dave Dixon’s [the current owner’s] father years ago and was an active Brooklyn club up until the early 90s.  We were calling it “B Lounge” at first, but our first few trial parties were such a great hang without doing anything to the space that we decided to bring back the original name as a little tip of the hat to the originator.  It’s just seedy enough but really nice, down to earth, the perfect spot for some legit reggae alchemy to take place.  Well done, sir!

100dBs: For lack of a better word, do you think Jamaican music is currently undergoing another renaissance in Brooklyn? How do we bridge the gap between the “hip” crowd and the old guard? My favorite parties are the ones where I see young and old of all backgrounds mingling. This seems like a good space for that.

RG: For sure, I think we’d all like to see a little of that. As far as a renaissance, I don’t have the greatest frame of reference for that. I have only been living here for about three years, before that I was still on the road full-time and living in a tiny studio in Boston that I would camp at for a few days at a time in between tours. I’ve only been coming down here to play for about ten years or so and in my experience the NY scene has always been amazing.

As far as bridging the gap between young and old, and hipsters and heads, good question; this has been rolling around in my head for a while.

I think it all gets over-thought about when bands start to push their target mean audience ages lower and lower to make more money. The kids spend money on T-shirts and the heads spend it on beers. Bands can’t tour unless they have enough money to do so. I wish I had an answer for you. Lately my mission is just to play and record the music that me and my bandmates dig, to play stuff that I would want to listen to myself if I weren’t the one playing it, and to do my best to bring solid musicianship to the table… and of course to play and hang out with friends. I think of music as a facilitator of people coming together and sharing ideas and culture, and they give back how they can. Hopefully we hold up our end of the deal and people of any and every age, and genre persuasion, will want to come hang out with us.

Dave Hahn: I think that there’s just a constant evolution in the wider Jamaican music community in NYC. One the one hand, you have the local West Indian community for whom the music is their cultural roots. and on the other hand you have your “hipster” music lovers who just love the vibrations that the music produces. It actually shouldn’t be a surprise that these two communities might still feel a bit separate considering the very different rationales each has for approaching the music. And the fact that many of these so-called hipsters really focus in on Jamaican music from the 1960s and 1970s certainly doesn’t help – that’s ancient history when you really think about how quickly music evolves. But I do feel like all lovers of this music are beginning to interact in more meaningful ways, which is what a music that preaches about love and unity ought to be doing.

100dBs: Well said. Rich, you’ve been doing more gigs with the Attractors recently. What makes you guys unique in the sea of instrumental players of Jamaican music? Dave, Dub Is A Weapon has toured as Lee Perry’s backing band and played for thousands. Where do you go from here?

RG: The Attractors are my answer to all of the aforementioned years of touring and pushing of merchandise.  I would love to sell tons of records and merch and pay my band great, make lots of money and live happily ever after, but I’ve also been trying to accept and adapt to the current realities in the music industry.  I try to make money in as many diverse ways as possible these days so I can take the pressure off of my musical choices and, again, do what the group thinks is best.  We try to play with respect to the old school and have fun.  We also try to take the music seriously and incorporate what we see as some of the more desirable elements of American jazz.  I’m really lucky to have some ridiculously talented Jazz musicians in the group and I like to set em loose!  We’re 100% instrumental… but I don’t know if that sets us apart, just look at what Kevin Batchelor, Dub Is A Weapon, Dave Hillyard, Victor Rice, Mr. T-Bone, and the Drastics are doing.  There are some amazing players out there in the reggae/ska world!

DH: We’ll just keep doing exactly what we’ve always done: creating the best live dub experience we possibly can.  For me personally, I’ll be happy as long as I feel like my compositions are always pushing the envelope.  I really geeked-out on “Vaporized” with some polyrhythmic bass-lines and unorthodox song forms, so I’ll have my work cut out for me moving forward.  And while touring with Scratch and playing in fronts of lots of people is obviously great, I wouldn’t be happy if we were more concerned with notoriety than making incredible music.  The fact that we don’t employ a full-time vocalist as part of the line-up will probably guarantee that we’ll never achieve widespread “commercial” success, but I couldn’t care less.

100dBs: What about recording? I know both of you must be working on new material in the studio. Any light to shed there?

RG: Yeah!  The Attractors are currently in the studio tracking for our first official release.  I’m hoping to put it out late this year or early 2013.

DH: I’m really thinking about doing something totally different this time around.  Our last two records were recorded live, with the entire band in one room playing the tunes just like we would at a live show.  I really enjoyed that approach, but what it doesn’t really allow for is collaboration with other dub engineers who really just want “raw material’ that they can dub out as they please.  So don’t be surprised if I don’t add any dub effects myself for the next record.

Catch both of these guys playing live and me playing records between sets this Friday.

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