He's got more dubplates than any man alive, goes mental behind the decks and is a copper-bottomed British institution. Give up up for Ram Jam...
Rodigan is a British institution, like crumpets or the Queen’s corgis or dodgy pub quizzes surrounded by girls drowning in WKD. Dammit, the man’s got an MBE! For over 30 years, Ram Jam has been proclaiming his undying love for reggae music across the airwaves and the dancehalls, and has touched numerous generations along the route.
Having started his obsession in the 60’s, he became overwhelmed by the vibrancy of the language and the melody of this fast rising genre. He wanted to share this music with anyone that would listen; yet you have to realize that this was an era where the DJ wasn’t cool or the centre of attention, rather, in his words ‘the nerdy kid in the corner with the records’. It was his own diligence and determination in sourcing and collecting these tracks, these pieces of black vinyl that meant so much to him. He developed, over these formative years, an encyclopedic knowledge of the culture that he retains to this day; even in his DJ sets he will pick up the mic, hype up the crowd whilst simultaneously educating them on dates and artists and tracks. It’s wondrous to behold.
Our favourite Rodigan video…
A crucial element of reggae is the soundclash; to those that don’t know, it’s a battle between a number of DJ’s that, over the course of several rounds, have to outplay the other through a blinding selection of records and personal dubplates, in a bid to ‘bury’ the other DJ. Rodigan is no stranger to the clash: for years, he has travelled globally, taking on all comers and, more often that not, destroyed them. His extensive collection of dubplates is astounding: tons of classic songs from across the reggae spectrum that hail his name in his own special VIP versions. Indeed, earlier this year, he won the ultimate clash victory when he took the Champion Trophy at World Clash Reset in New York. Something that he gloriously flaunted when I saw him in Fabric a month later.
Over the course of his career, he’s moved from station to station across 34 years of broadcasting, earned himself a wealth of broadcasting awards as well as his clashing trophies, and has stayed true and dedicated to the sound that inspires him the most. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, he was awarded an MBE for his ‘services to broadcasting’, as part of a select few DJ’s that have earnt themselves such an accolade, alongside legendary figures such as Norman Jay, Annie Nightingale and Gilles Peterson.
In recent years, Rodigan has gone through something of a renaissance; with the rise in underground and popular culture of more bass heavy music, from the escalation of dubstep to the commercialization of other genres (it still surprises me to hear Drum & Bass being played on rotation during the daytime on Radio 1), Rodigan’s inspirational perspective has taken on new meanings. New generations are embracing this father figure, taking his worldly wisdom and knowledge and applying it to their own craft, whilst he simultaneously encompasses the new veins and strands of reggae that now are so wholeheartedly merging and warping alongside current sounds and trends. Dubstep figureheads like Breakage and Caspa included him on their albums, and he’s taken these and pushing these sounds worldwide.
I have had the pleasure of witnessing the tour de force that is a Ram Jam DJ set a number of times, yet a few months back I had the utmost delight in bringing my dad along to a show he was curating at legendary nightclub Fabric. My dad is an avid record collector and DJ himself, and he is the inspiration behind my own love of music. He used to run his own reggae night called ‘Cool Runnings’ (that’s right, and he predated the film too!) and has worshipped at the temple of Roddy for years. So to take him to one of the greatest clubs in Britain to see a man he hasn’t seen in years was a real treat. Good lord, the man did not disappoint. Picture it: two guys, 30 years between them, going nuts in the centre of room 1 to a guy that predates both of them.
What’s more, we weren’t the only ones: if anything, Rodigan defies generations and cultures: a 60-something white man, in thick rimmed spectacles, being the ambassador for reggae music in the UK has one of the broadest audiences I’ve ever seen, especially in the melting pot that is Fabric. The energy he brings to the stage puts any other DJ to shame: leaping at dubplates, shouting into the microphone and pulling the biggest rewinds you’ve ever seen. He is one of the best DJ’s you can see live. True fact.
So, truly, it is a shame to hear the news of his departure. Nevertheless, the memories of his time there still ring true; my parents used to listen religiously to his show throughout the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, it was only the other day that my Dad produced a box of cassette rips of his shows, including a few with shout outs to them as well as (a very nervous) mum on the phone to him for a request! He even got banned from phoning in for competitions as he kept applying week in, week out! David may have moved on, but he’s never going to stop his quest to further the voice of reggae. Let’s be honest, he won’t struggle to find a new home.
To listen to someone talk with such personal investment and outright exclamation of their own topic I personally find a joy to behold. Be it art, or film, or music; if someone genuinely loves it, and they have the hours/days/years of experience and expression to back it up, it is the best way to truly appreciate and understand an art form, just by listening. Sir David Rodigan is that man, that icon, that ambassador, that straight up fanboy of reggae music.
A truly brilliant interview and insight into the man himself on RBMA, hosted by the inimitable Benji B: http://vimeo.com/48883948
Travels to Trinidad to clash with King Addies sound – shows you his energy, his knowledge and his dubplates:
A short piece on the history, and his own experience of, soundclashing (including one of my favourite of his soundclash stories):
Interview with Urban Nerds crew, gives some good definitions if you don’t know what I’ve been on about:
To give you an idea of how long he’s been doing this: classic from the 90’s:
And, finally, some proper classic soundclashing, from ’97: