Reggae and sound system culture hold firm roots in the UK. Yet despite the rich heritage of the scene, Positive Vibrations is one of only two major weekend reggae and sound system focussed festivals held in the UK this summer.
Located in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, this year saw a huge line up of greats from Roots Reggae, through to Hip Hop, DnB and Dub. From day one this poster got wide eyed reactions - deservedly so.
First and foremost it’s important to take note of the Baltic Triangle; the inspiring inner city industrial area that has become Liverpool’s artistic hub. A very short distance from the city centre, the triangle speaks wonders for the city’s creative intentions. This is exactly the sort of space that the Northern Strongholds should be protecting. If the triangle manages to keep its land from the reach of property developers then this could become a blueprint and a hallmark for other cities. Amidst the creative offices, the microbreweries and the pop ups we find ourselves in a network of modern and well kept industrial space for a weekend of all things Reggae…
Wrongtom got the good times flowing early on in the courtyard with light afternoon dancehall, rolling dubs and Prince Buster’s classic ‘Enjoy Yourself’. The sun was out, the pints were flowing, there was a haze in the air and under the guidance of Busters wise words we were all certainly enjoying ourselves. Rodney P and Skitz represented the hip hop end of the spectrum and killed it with a lively set. Skitz has been on the ones and twos for quite some years now and the confidence really shows. The aggressive and perfectly clean mixing style is notably good and he has no problem genre switching whatsoever – a pleasure to watch.
Subatomic, the dubbed out space controllers, always arrive ready to shake the foundations. These guys played an extended set with Screechy Dan followed by the legendary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The enigmatic man with the pink beard always manages to pull the crowd in and played to what was probably one of the busiest moments of the festival. Lee Scratch is a bizarre and mesmerising spectacle and you never quite know what you are going to get. The set was a slow and dub heavy experience and whilst I obviously have a lot of respect for the legend, it was Subatomic that carried the show.
Mungo’s HiFi always know how to get a party started and the Scottish sound boys have made a name for themselves with their heavyweight system and commitment to the sub-genres of the Reggae Scene. With digital steppers, dubstep, garage and roots influenced sounds, the Scots have stood out for some time now as one of the only home built reggae sound systems to step away from a strictly roots and dub policy. They are also one of the only sound crews to regularly have a female mike controller – Glaswegian legend Soom T. Sound System culture is undoubtedly a male dominated society and despite hard work from crews like Caya and Rebel Rock, it is still a novelty and a welcome change. The fairly new partnership of Eva Lazarus and Mungo’s was a very good decision. Eva was an absolute boss lady this weekend and gave them a softer, more melodic depth that I haven’t seen for a while. That being said the lady also draws on some pretty tough bars when she wants to and struck a really nice balance throughout the set.
Roni Size got a great reception at the end of the night as he pulled out some serious rollers and dub plates. People went absolutely nuts for the dnb and jungle vibes after a day of more down tempo sounds. There were some sound issues and his set cut out twice but the crowd ended the awkward moment with screams and applause, and the tunes returned to the ears of a lively and adoring fan base.
The real story of the weekend, however, is Sinai Sound System. Huw started out training under Iration Steppers, grew his own sound and the stacks to support it and now seems to be the go to crew for a large portion of events countrywide. The takeover has been dominant to say the least and hard earned. Sinai were the only home built reggae sound system to represent the culture at Positive Vibrations this year. Considering that the lineup included the head honchos from Iration, Channel One, Mungos and Legal Shot, the selection of Sinai for the dub room was clearly one that was not taken lightly and is a sincere nod of respect. There was also an announcement that very day, that Sinai will now be taking over from the ‘Mungos Arena’ at Outlook Festival to celebrate 20 years of SubDub. This is huge news in the scene and combined with Positive Vibrations marks a new chapter for a very hardworking and committed sound.
To put the cherry on top, Friday night saw a rare cross-pollination and a real tangible sense of unity as Murray Man (Channel One) joined Mark Iration on mike duties. This was no novelty job. Iration went rough and tough as usual and Murray Man absolutely killed the mike with serious flow and hooks galore. ‘We’re gunna break down the barriers’ they chanted, and that is exactly what happened before our eyes. Three serious men from sound system culture, all on Sinai- madness.
Day 2 had a lot to say for itself as Desert Island Disks eased us through the afternoon with their chirpy picked guitar rifts and carnival undertones. Dubkasm and Solo Banton brought their infectious energies to a quiter room and everywhere you turned in the festival they were visibly having a great time which was nice to see. Solo even came into the crowd for a little knees up skank during their set and showed those that don’t know him his light hearted nature.
Sister Nancy and Legal Shot in the dub room was special. Energy was high, the people were up for the dance and Legal Shot were dropping dubplates left right and centre. Nancy sounded a bit strained as she tried to keep up with the dance and bassweight from the system, but all in all it was a good set.
Seani B brought Rory Stone Love for a rare appearance, and the pair were given two hours to lay out their vibe. Seani told us straight ‘I’m going to play the tunes I can’t play on 1Extra’. The result was 2 hours of tough roots and dubs and Rory Stone Love really stole the show with his selections.
Manudigital brought the digi-stepper sound that many of us have come to know and love. Parly B and Tenja were the perfect accompaniment and outside of the dub room this was probably the best MC work of the weekend. Parly B has been making a name for himself for sometime with regular slots at SubDub. Both his animated style and distinct tone translate really well on a system. Tenja has a serious range and can sing like an angel but spits like a gritty rasta robot. The three together are a force to be reckoned with.
The highlight live act of the weekend would have to be Macka B & the Roots Ragga Band. The eccentric nutritional rasta has been bringing the goods for some time, but has gained serious momentum as a cult online figure promoting veganism and a healthy lifestyle. Over the last few years we have seen Macka become a light hearted and highly likeable guru of sorts, and the role suits him down to the ground. There are few people that can get away with dropping a tune called ‘me na want no bigmac’, but Macka throws it out like it was born to be a festival banger. The band themselves are insanely good and for the most part the set was almost studio quality throughout. ‘45’ and ‘What me eat’ got the best response and everyone took a smile and a bit of healthy living advice away with them.
Positive Vibrations was a resounding success this year and can be taken as an example for others on how to run an inner city festival. The curation was brilliant, the crowd were friendly and the vibes were on point. The only clear improvement and development to be made would be to extend invitations for more sound systems to get involved in future. The in-house systems and Funktion One in use certainly did the job, but it would be nice to see this festival grow into a sound system affair. All in all a brilliant weekend though – massive thanks to the organisers for having us down. See you next!
Published on 12 June 2018 by Jack Fittes