It’s Tuesday 23rd October. Looking distractedly out of the window as I contemplate writing this review it’s grey, foggy, damp and worse of all, the clocks go back this weekend which means us poor folks in the UK lose a precious hour of daylight as we sink deeper into winter.
But then the horns kick in on “Old Time Stylee” and I turn my head away from the outside and I’m transported to back to a hot summer, sometime in the ’80s, as Deemas’ dancehall/ragga vocals break through under a throbbing bassline and everything is alright again in my world. This album makes you smile, bob your head and skank around the house. It’s utterly infectious.
Producer and DJ Wrongtom has been a fixture in and on the dancehall/dub/club scene for some time, originally making a name for himself with his remix work for indie ska heads Hard Fi. But it was his remix of Roots Manuva’s single “Buff Nuff” which was so well received he ended up in a full blown collaboration with Roots which resulted in the brilliant Duppy Writer album. That album was credited as Roots Manuva meets Wrongtom and sowed the seeds for a number of …meets Wrongtom releases of which this is the latest incarnation (albeit it is now Wrongtom meets…).
In East London plays homage to Wrongtom and Deemas J’s musical upbringing, explicit in the Dancehall tracks that recall greats like Smiley Culture, Tippa Irie and Barrington Levy, but it also serves to show the debt that current London acts owe to the music from this era, from Dizzie Rascal to Plan B highlighting the links from Dancehall to Hip Hop to Grime to Dubstep. But the album, and I guess this is pretty obvious by the title, is also a love letter to London Town.
“Old Time Stylee” has Deemas J talking us through his musical history reminding us of going “On a Saturday / I have a residency / Down a club Labyrinth, a Hackney you see / The jungalist business where we make the party” in his unmistakable London patter. This is such a joyous, head-nodding introduction to the album and segues into the single ‘”Jump+Move+Rock” with a heavier bass line and machine gun vocals from Deemas J which most closely resembles Smiley Culture in his heyday. Apparently all done in one freestyle take, it is almost impossible not to dance to this track.
Next up is “Riot Ting” a social commentary on the riots that struck London (and other cities in England) last year, it doesn’t condemn nor condone the actions of those rioting but neatly sums up some of the causes as to why this could have happened in this day and age. It also nicely brings back to the mainstream, the use of the phrase Babylon, another nod to black culture and language.
“At the Dancehall” is my personal favourite on the album, bringing together elements of dancehall, ragga and jungle all wrapped in a furious vocal delivery by Deemas J with a sparse pulsing backing by Wrongtom, and I think it is in this song that Wrongtom’s influence is so clear and why so many musicians are keen to work with him. He has no ego; he lets the songs speak for themselves. In both the Roots Manuva Duppy Writer lp and this album, he provides a backdrop, a sonic base, and then lets the vocalists take centre stage, but without his brilliantly balanced backing these songs just wouldn’t be the same. He maintains the tempo and interest on the album from start to finish, a timeless reggae bassline running throughout with horns and keys appearing as dancehall, jungle and reggae tracks come and go.
If anything, the second of half of the album has a slightly slower tempo, with Deemas J pulling back on the speed of delivery, slipping into a more reggae vibe on tracks like “Wa Do Dance” and “Late Night Dance” before ending with “East London”, all Linton Kwesi Johnson brooding, as Wrongtom and Deemas J take a late night drive through the city streets of Ronnie & Reggie Kray, where the girls dress up and look glam, boys looking mean in skinny jeans and getting turned away from the ‘packed clubs’ of East London. It paints such a visual picture! And on that note, it is worth noting the sleeve to In East London has been created by illustrator Tony McDermott, responsible for the legendary Greensleeves label look and another tip of the hat to London culture.
In the year where London has re-stated it claim as a leading global city – Queen Jubilees, Olympics and Para-Olympics, James Bond shenanigans and all manner of chest beating – Wrongtom has created a fitting soundtrack, celebrating both the city and the Jamaican music culture that has done so much for black music in England.
This is a great British album.