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We talk to the legendary Iration Steppas

iration steppas
Photography by Amy Cochrane

From bringing you the worlds top heavyweight sound systems, to spinning dubplates ‘in a year 3000 style’, the Iration Steppas are recognised worldwide for a good reason.

Initially set up by Mark Iration during the early 90s, the Leeds based sound system first began promoting their avant-garde music style at their temple of Subdub - infamous for its speakers packing enough bass to bring down the walls of Babylon… If you’ve seen these guys live, you will know what I’m talking about.

Since then they’ve continued to pump out fresh dub vibes with a futuristic twist, mixing analogue and digital to craft their signature sound. The Iration stamp on sound system music has helped bring the foundations of reggae/dub into the twenty-first century, giving them huge credit within its community.

Tell us a bit about how you’ve developed your sound from original roots reggae with your original project, ‘Ital Rockers’ to your new Year 3000 style music that Iration Steppas has become so well known for?

Ital Rockers developed from my passion for dub in my school days, but when I built my first house track Ital's anthem, I used the reggae roots style sounds and synths to create that hybrid sound. I then progressed to the year 3000 Style by evolving the original roots vibe with certain things that have happened and influenced me in the past to create the future sound of dub.

That’s what I really enjoyed about your style. When I came to see you recently, if you were an outsider who hadn’t listened to how reggae has progressed over the years, you wouldn’t think it even came from the same genre!

What we’ve done to make it sound that way is to use sounds that you often wouldn’t find in reggae or dub music. It made that sound more now, more current, more futuristic, rather than just keeping it the norm! Even with an album we made 20 years ago, it’ll still sound current, just like all of the stuff coming out of Jamaica in the 1970s still sounds current. We said to ourselves we’re going to make tracks that aren’t thrown away.

I was reading a lot about how you’ve combined digital software with analogue hardware to create your characteristic sound?

The secret is, I’m not a computer buff. I’ve got certain guys who teach me about all the digital. We know the analog, and the interface of the modules that we use. We’re still old school, we use all the old equipment to get the old sound - all the flavour is in the old, analog stuff. Digital sounds a bit too clean and crisp and doesn’t have that warm vibe which is what it’s all about. But as you said we link it with the new school, digital. I still mix off my big mixing desk, I love mixing live, I’m not a fan of mixing with a mouse because you miss the vibe. You can’t beat live because you’re right in the moment of whatever sound your feeling at the time. It’s all about creating that vibe right there and then. It’s like DJing! I play for the crowd rather than myself. You’re creating something right there and then with the mix you do, which won’t ever be recreated again unless you do it right away!

When I see you play with the system, I enjoy how you switch between your standard mixer and the sound systems preamp to really work your sound system.

I’ve been using the Allen & Heath mixer for the DJ side of things, which obviously others will plug into when they’re playing off the system. I control the preamp though, and all sorts of little sound effects only I use! It gives it that flavour, creating and revamping the tune's live, meaning every time a song is played it’s a special version exclusive to the crowd.

I know you’re very passionate about your house, techno and hip hop as well, do you take much influence from those various genres?

When I got introduced to Chicago house back in the 80s it was a new thing. When I first heard house on my sound system it was like dub and I was like “wow”. So them guys, namely a guy called Mackie Miller, introduced me to house in the 80s and from then I never looked back. When we were doing our Iration Steppas stuff, I was talking about bringing in different sounds we’d taken influence from before, which we took from house and hip hop that made the dub more unique. A lot of people talk about how we changed the dub scene in a way that it bought variety to dub, which I’m proud of.

There are people out there who have fused their sounds differently in dub already, their using lots of digital sounds now which makes it sound quite technoish. A lot of the tunes can work in a festival. I call this sort of music European Dub; it’s sort of got a digital flavor that they control.

I guess that’s just because it started so much later for them - when it started for them the music was past the analog stage. Digital was where it was at when they started so that’s where they progressed from.

Totally, they weren’t around when analog was analog in the 80s. A lot of these people are quite young so they came after the live was the thing. It’s getting easier for people to create tracks now, they can do it in their house and on their laptops.

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement in Chapeltown Carnival? I know it’s the longest running carnival in the UK.

We used to be involved, back in the 90s and 80s, when it was real carnival. We used to have our sound system on the bottom of the street. That was the best time of carnival ever - to walk down the street and have different sounds playing, different music and a posse of people dancing and properly enjoying themselves was great. We did that for quite a few years with Ital Rockers. When the gangs in Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield started to form together and gathered together at the carnival, the vibe became not so nice. The carnival blamed the sound systems for involving these gangs to get together, which is when things kick off. It wasn’t actually nothing to do with the sound systems, it was just feuds which were already happening. Since then the sound systems stopped and carnival wasn’t the same. That’s why I do this thing called Unity Day - it’s a free thing for a purpose to unite the community together again after all this gang stuff. I was there when it was a gang ting, and I’m trying to see how I can move it away from that.

With Unity Day they don’t release the date. Is that purely so people only in Leeds know about it?

The thing about that is that when they released the dates back in the days, people literally came from all over, even overseas! We used to have loads of people there, and more people means more police. The police asked me to not advertise it and to keep it quiet, basically, which means that when the date comes up, the people who really know about it will turn up. If you’re local you’re gonna know it’s Unity Day!

Can you tell me a bit about how you’ve integrated the younger scene, the younger sound systems, DJs, producers and MCs to help keep the scene growing?

There’s always gonna be a revolving door in any music. The thing about Leeds is that it’s a student based city, and an evolving city, which is building up everywhere we look. In the next 5 years Leeds will look even nicer! If we keep doing our job properly and making our nights good, then there’s no reason why the revolving door won’t keep opening to keep new people coming in. We’ve got to keep our side top so the punters can come in and enjoy themselves. It’s about putting on nights for Leeds and to keep Subdub running. We’re doing it for the people!

Are there any particular artists really grabbing your attention at the moment?

I’m just glad that MCs are coming and grasping what this scene is about. You’ve got to realize it’s an underground scene so people can come and go. It’s about holding your own and being consistent in what an MC can do. All I want is for people to keep coming and to take it serious - it’s not a joke, do it seriously and you can prosper.

I love how Subdub keeps the culture alive, and is predominantly based around sound system culture when it’s at the West Indian Centre. That’s how it was all about originally at the carnivals wasn’t it?

When we first started Subdub, we wanted to keep the tradition of sound system. At West Indian Centre we only really use one turntable, so we’re not constantly mixing. We play and then we talk to people, get them involved, then get another tune on. It’s new and it’s unique to many people round here. Bringing sound system culture to Leeds we had to keep it real and do stuff for Subdub, for Leeds.

Must’ve been really ideal for you guys to get the West Indian Centre seeing as the carnival scene developed out of Chapeltown. Having a venue within your actual local area must make it much easier to get a good crowd in.

You have to realize as well that we’re talking Chapeltown. Back in the day it was given a bad name and we didn’t like that because it wasn’t. People stir things up sometimes, so we had to break it in nice and easy so that we got tunes and the people of Chapeltown linking together in harmony. West Indian Centre got it’s own tradition because it’s been there for years and it’s a nice little venue. People have realized it’s a community down there, and everyone who goes there talks good about it. It’s in the heart of the ghetto in Chapeltown, yet all that mystery is gone because people know they can go down there and have a great night.

Catch Mark at Subdub meets Jungle Jam, for the biggest party this year!

Check the Facebook event.


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