DIGITAL HISTORY

When looking back and trying to reappraise the history of ‚Digital Reggae‘ or ‚Digital Dancehall‘, there are two basic aspects we need to consider equally. On one hand, you can approach the subject from a musical perspective. On the other hand, the technical development of the instruments and musical equipment must not be neglected. Both aspects were largely responsible for the DIGITAL REVOLUTION King Jammy started in the mid-1980’s.

 

 

Let’s focus on the technical side first. In the 1_Oberheim-DX_1beginning of the 80’s, Roland came up with the first programmable drum machine, the ‚Roland TR-808‘. Soon after that, Linn introduced the first drum machine based on the samples. The ‚Linn LM1‘ was actually the first drum computer which worked with digital samples of an accoustic drum. The first version had only short kick, snare and tom sounds stored, because at that time, the machine did not have enough storage capacity to save longer sounds on the device. Therefore, the LM1 was still without longer crash and ride sounds. These were intergrated in the ‚Linn LM2‘ a little later. At the same time, Oberheim followed with the ‚Oberheim DMX‘ (later DX), the first competitor on the market. But a simple drum machine alone does not make reggae. Another important factor was, that a Japanese company named Casio, formerly known for pocket calculators (and LCD watches later), decided to move into the music market. In 1979 Casio introduced the ‚Casio Melody-80‘, a basic calculator, but with intergrated sounds. This particular move was the starting point which led to all of the later issued Casio ‚music boxes‘. In the year 1980 dx1000Casio, but also Yamaha, came up with their first portable electronic instruments. Casio did so by using semi-analogue sounds and percussions for their devices until 1988, whereas Yamaha introduced their first full-digital keybord, the Yamaha ‚DX‘-series, in 1983 already. During the mid-80’s, MIDI was introduced and established as interface between the various digital machines. The keyboard which is probably most important for digital reggae, was the ‚Casiotone MT-40‘, which was initially released in 1981. Roughly four years later, this keyboard should be the ‚music box‘, which King Jammy had used to invent the so called SLENG TENG riddim.

In the beginning, Casio mainly focussed on the home-user market. The term ‚Casiotone‘ refers to a series of home electric keyboards, as most of their ‚music boxes‘ were relatively cheap and affordable. From 1981 to 1986 Casio came up with lots of different types and models, some of them actually quiet experimental in terms of the features they came up with. The ‚Casio SK-1‘, released in 1986, actually was the first low-budget lo-fi sampler. Casio also tried to enter thecasio_sk1 pro market. They lauched their first professional synthesiser, the ‚CZ-101‘ in 1985. After a few forays into the pro-market, Casio launched it’s ‚EP-30′ model in 1989. The mini-keyboard was designed kor kids, and is still highly regarded among the circuit bending scene. Most of the ’newer‘ Casio keyboards were simple clones of their older inventions, using the same technology and with a lack of new inventions. In the USA, Radioshack had released licensed clones of Casio keyboards and so did the French company named Liwaco during the mid 80’s. In 1988/89, when Korg launched it’s ‚Korg M1‘, the first workstation with onboard MIDI-sequencer, the age of the so called ‚musicboxes‘ came to an end and the age of the synthesiser had started.

From a musical perspective, the early 80’s were caracterized by productions of Henry ‚Junjo‘ Lawes Volcano sound, Sly and Robbie for Channel One and King Tubby. Think of the heavy whopping and bassy Roots Radics sound, excellently mixed, accoustic reggae music. At that time Prince Jammy has worked as a technician, building and fixing amps and all sorts of electronical equipment. As a technician, Jammy could fly to England and the USA to acquire speakers and other equipment he needed to build his own sound back in Jamaica. His visits to England secured Jammy a deal with Greensleeves when he started his own career as a producer, with Half Pint being his first emerging artist.

On February 23rd, 1985 the dances changed over in Jamaica, when Prince Jammy faced Black Scorpio in the ‚Big Clash‘. For this clash, Prince Jammy had secretly prepared himself with a new riddim, made on one of those cheap Casio keyboards. After Black Scorpio had started the showdown and played for about an hour, it was Jammy’s turn to take over. Jammy and his sound finally won the title by unleashing various cuts on a revolutionary riddim! The first riddim that was made with a portable elctronic keyboard. Digital reggae and the SLENG TENG riddim were born. Because Jammy won the title at the ‚Big Clash‘ and the success of the new digital style his name changed from Prince to King Jammy.

Casiotone+MT-40

It’s reported that Noel Dailey and Wayne Smith [RIP] were the singers, that initially had done some experiments with a cheap casio ‘music box’, by slowing down the rock-pattern demo track. They took over the riddim to Jammy’s studio in the Waterhouse where Tony Asher laid down the final riddim track. The riddim was such a big success, that about half a year after the Big Clash, there were over 200 SLENG TENG versions for sale in the record stores. The riddim was – and still is – one of the most voiced riddims in reggae music history.

Jammy’s success was possible due to a lack of new impulses in the Jamaican music scene at that time but also because of the talented artists Jammy worked with. Half Pint, Tenor Saw, Tullo T, Pompidou, Echo Minott, Tonto Irie, Junior Reid and Johnny Osbourne to name a few. But also because of the great musicians Jammy had in his production team, such as keyboarder Wycliffe ‘Steely’ Johnson (formerly Roots Radics Band), drummer Cleveland ‘Cleavie’ Brownie (formerly Studio One), selector ‘Tupps’, mixer ‘Bobby Digital’and dubcutter Squingine ‘Squingey’ Francis (formerly Channel One). King Jammy was the pioneer of digital reggae and digital dancehall and many other great sounds morphed into digital sounds at that time. The so called digital era lasted for roughly 5 years and has seen lot’s of artists and producers to leave their marks on numerous first class digi tunes.

We personally consider this relatively short period of time as one of the most interesting and most changing time in reggae-/music history. Our aim is to create sounds just like those in the late 80’s, so we sample lots of analogue synths and drum machines to produce a sort of vintage sounding but modern day reggae music. Strictly digital we a tell ya’ll!

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