Coney Island Reggae

This Sunday, I will have the honor of opening up the summer season for the Coney Island Reggae beach party with a set at noon! If you’ve been to the event before, you know how much fun it is… but just in case you haven’t, I’ll break it down for you right here. I had a little chat with President Carter Van Pelt of WKCR radio, the founder of this party, to shed some light on its history and its future on the boardwalk. Huge thanks and praise are due to him and Sound Liberation Front for keeping this event running for years, and hopefully many more years to come. I look forward to seeing you all this weekend, right by the Space Needle!

Coney Island Reggae 2012

Sunday, June 3 – Coney Island – Boardwalk at West 19th Street, Brooklyn, NY – No Cover

100dBs: Talk a bit about how the event started and what inspired the first Coney Island Reggae.

Carter Van Pelt: For years I saw guys playing small PA systems on the boardwalk under the little pavilions and thought it would be good to do that with reggae. I didn’t realize it was as simple as a Parks Department permit and a sound permit from the NYPD 60th precinct. I wasn’t originally thinking we could get away with a proper soundsystem because of the volume they can produce, but I tried the first one on June 5, 2010 and it was a pretty big success for a trial run. A handful of loyal WKCR people came out and we were capturing interest from random people on the boardwalk. The volume was never actually a problem because the boxes are pointed out at the water, and whoever didn’t want to hear it could walk away. That first time it was me, Vaughn Davis from WKCR, Dave Hahn (Solo), and Joseph Ladipo aka Sound Demension, a brilliant young selector from Queens. Mikey Jarrett, Peter Ranks, and Willow Wilson came out and gave us great vibes on the mic, and both Niney the Observer and Clive Chin were there to endorse it.

At the first event two years ago, Quoc Pham and Oona McCarthy from Sound Liberation front were there just checking it out, and later Q approached me about partnering, and we’ve done that going forward. They do a great job branding and promoting the event and bringing people from outside the WKCR reggae community.

Setting up the sound system at Coney Island Reggae

100dBs: What were some of the biggest challenges in organizing this event (besides getting dreads to show up on time)?

CVP: Running a sound system off a gas generator is a challenge because technically, it has to provide enough amperage (power), and if it falls below what the system needs, everything goes to hell fast. We kept having trouble running the first sound system, with my friend Basil/742 Sound. He is not used to running his system off a generator. Sir Tommy is friends with Barry Chanter Dinham, who has a huge rig at his place, also has vans, and has a generator. So I’ve been working with him since last year, and he and his sons, Timeless Movement, are really professional. Barry is old school and has been doing this since the 70s.

Chanter at the controls on Coney Island

100dBs: Right. We had some people asking about stereo, and you explained why mono is more efficient with power and easier to set up properly. Do you wanna recount some memorable moments from years past?

CVP: Can’t top two years ago when Johnny Osbourne and Carlton Livingston hit the mic. At the first event, I was carrying a copy of Dennis Brown’s “No More Shall I Roam” and flipped it for Willow Wilson, and he just killed it, totally channeled Brown. That same first event, I got the vibes going along mid-afternoon, playing mellow lovers rock, and then Vaughn came in and took it to another level. Vaughn is really good and playing a combination of records people know and records people don’t know. He started off with the Mighty Diamonds “Pass the Kutchie,” which while it may seem like an obvious song, when it came to the line “I could feel it cause it was the month of June…” people went bananas – crazy forward vibes. That’s the art of selecting.

Last July, Fidel Luna, aka Twice, knocked out a really tough digital set with Daddy Lion on the mic and that was memorable because it changed up the vibe. Also last year we started doing a tune for tune at the end of the day and the energy and joy and friendly oneupsmanship of that is a blast.

Deejays and selectors combine at Coney Island Reggae

100dBs: Do you see people from outside the NYC reggae scene getting interested in the music through the event?

CVP: I have to think it’s possible if it’s done right, because I swear that reggae can be a revelation when played on a sound system. A song you know or a song you don’t know can sound like the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard when it’s larger than life. This music was conceived to be played this way, and we hardly ever get to hear it this way in the States. So hopefully it does bring in new people and the older heads are reenergized and reminded why they love it so much. Plus, Coney Island is a wonderful place and the combination of the sound system at the boardwalk is about perfect in my book.

Crowd at Coney Island Reggae

100dBs: Who ripped your favorite sets in the past, and who are your favorite selectors participating this year?

CVP: I’m not going to reveal who the new names will be for this year – most of the people from last summer will be back, including Downbeat (Tony Screw), Digital English, Sir Tommy, Son’s Junior, Jah Steve, and Clive Chin, plus I’m going to have 3-4 key people who haven’t come out yet – some reclusive types. It’s really really important, actually critical that this event includes people who have been doing this since the music was cutting edge – who were going to dances in Jamaica in the 60s and 70s and really know the music through the 7-inch single and the dancehall. That’s the real foundation. There are a lot of younger people who are more visible, but I feel strongly about cultural authority. Not that we who are outside Jamaican culture can’t do it well, but I will always respect the elders, because without them we wouldn’t know anything about this music. On top of that, I respect the amount of work, time and money they all had to invest in learning about music and building collections when there were no MP3s, no internet databases, no sharing of that sort. It was learned at the dancehall and in record stores.

Selecting is an art at Coney Island Reggae

100dBs: That’s great insight and wisdom. I don’t shun technology but it’s vital to know the roots. When did you move to NYC and how did you get your start with Jamaican music here?

CVP: I moved here in 2003. I previously had a life as a concert promoter, radio deejay and “music journalist” and had written about Jamaican music extensively in the 1990s for The Beat, Reggae Report, and Dub Missive – all key publications that are sadly out of print now because of the internet. More people knew me then than now, I think, because I had a reputation from those magazines and as one of the first people to use the internet for reggae journalism and oral histories. That’s why my name is in the Rough Guide to Reggae, for example. I also was well connected in Jamaica before I moved here – Linval Thompson is like my Jamaican step-brother, or something. He’s always looked out for me there, and I can move around with ease in Kingston as a result of him and other people who check for me like Willi Williams, Mutabaruka, et al.

So getting into the community here was just a matter of meeting people, and WKCR was a key. I was in grad school at Columbia and met Vaughn and Vinnie of King Crown at the station. I used to fill in for their Thursday slot, then took over when there were some station politics that left them without a show. I was able to bring Vaughn back circa 2009. Their audience was longtime and very loyal and very largely Jamaican / West Indian. So when I was able to go in and get validation from that audience for what I was doing, I knew wasn’t a total impostor. I have been playing out more in recent years and invited to be on community shows, thanks largely to Vaughn and the WKCR connection.

Coney Island Reggae goes from noon til night

100dBs: Nice. Have you thought about expanding to different cities or doing a different spot in NYC?

CVP: Taking a soundsystem on the road would be a full time job. I wouldn’t attempt it without a strong singer and a strong emcee, but I would love to do that. I’m not sure people would “get it” though. It could be fun to try, or possibly a nightmare!

Coney Island Reggae 2012 - Directions

Double Header & 4/20 Weekend

During an intense basketball game with Ticklah, The Forthrights and The Frighteners last weekend I somehow managed to fracture my finger. Despite this and because I am a bad bad man, tonight I will be spinning records at Motor City Bar once again for Roots Rock Reggae with Hahn Solo and President Carter. After that wraps up, I’m heading up to Otto’s Shrunken Head for Move Your Mule with the Crazy Baldhead crew. I will have nuff 45s in my box to murder any sound.

On 4/20 itself (Friday) I’ll be engineering some sound for Top Shotta at Sunny’s in Red Hook. This is out of the way for most folks but well worth it… it’s the best bar in Brooklyn, in my humble opinion.

Saturday will feature Dub Is A Weapon playing heavy sets at Zebulon in Williamsburg with me DJing between sets. I feel fortunate to be able to do nothing but Brooklyn and LES gigs all weekend. Big up each and every one of you in New York playing (and supporting) local gigs. You make me proud to reside here and eager to participate, every time.

Thursday, April 19 – Motor City Bar – 127 Ludlow Street, New York – No Cover

Thursday, April 19 – Otto’s Shrunken Head – 538 East 14th Street, New York – No Cover

Friday, April 20 – Sunny’s – 253 Conover Street, Brooklyn, New York – No Cover

Saturday, April 21 – Zebulon – 258 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, New York – No Cover

Roots Rock Reggae at Motor City Bar

Thursday night is reggae night in NYC. Between Dave and Carter’s night at Motor City Bar, Deadly Dragon’s party at Happy Ending, and Crazy Baldhead’s weekly takeover of Otto’s Shrunken Head, there are plenty of places to hear Jamaican tunes from the evening til the early morning. This week I’ll be joining Hahn Solo and trying my best to fill President Carter’s shoes at Roots Rock Reggae. Strictly vinyl and nice vibes every time.

Thursday, February 23 – Motor City Bar – 127 Ludlow Street, New York – No Cover

The Full Watts Band

This Saturday, I’ll be doing some ragtag sound engineering for The Full Watts Band, Eddie Ocampo’s latest foray into reggae classics from times past. Hearing this group play is a real treat. I’ve been fortunate enough to take some drum lessons with Eddie, who learned a lot from the late (great) Lloyd Knibb, of Skatalites fame. His wisdom lives on and shines through every time this guy sits at the kit. Come to Two Boots Brooklyn this weekend to experience it for yourself over some red beans and rice:

The Full Watts Band at Two Boots Brooklyn

Saturday, February 4 – Two Boots – 514 2nd Street, Brooklyn, NY – No Cover

Deep Brooklyn: Bensonhurst

This is the first post I’m making in a category called Deep Brooklyn – a highlight of places in my favorite borough that most people don’t encounter. If it’s easy to get there from Manhattan, chances are it will never be on this list.

I don’t find myself in Bensonhurst often, though it’s not too far away from me. On this particular day, I was not in the best of moods because I had somehow managed to get an eye infection over Christmas weekend while everyone else was getting gifts. The only doctor that could see me the following Monday happened to be on 86th Street near Bay Parkway, so I hopped the N train for my appointment.

When you pass 59th Street on the N, the train suddenly surfaces and southern Brooklyn opens up before you. It’s a different world when you’re used to riding underground. I got off at New Utrecht and switched to the D until Bay Parkway. The doctor was thorough, diagnosed my problem right away and instructed me to boil an egg and put it on my eye to increase blood flow to the area. Great, I guess I’ll eat some eggs later. After picking up some prescription eye drops, I realized I wasn’t too far from a great place to grab some more appetizing food: L & B Spumoni Gardens, at the border of Gravesend. So I walked east on 86th underneath the tracks.

Bensonhurst is a mix of mostly old-school Italians, former Soviet immigrants and newer Asian immigrants. I saw a lot of places on my walk that I wanted to stop into but I was on a mission. Next time I’m around I’ll check some of these other places out.

Most people don’t think about getting Italian ice on December 26th, but Spumoni Gardens is busy til closing time without fail. I’m not known for my proclivity for cold weather, but I grabbed a Sicilian slice (the best in Brooklyn by far) and a cup of spumoni and sat outside to eat.

For those of you who don’t know what spumoni is, the best way to describe it is a pistachio flavored cream ice. It’s the perfect dessert to follow up a piping hot square slice of pizza on a cold day. My hands were freezing cold but I didn’t give a shit. I walked to the train station finishing my cup, feeling fortunate that a mishap led me back to this neighborhood.