Reggae, to many, will conjure up images of Bob Marley, Jamaica, and probably summers of bygone eras.
Not a rainy Glasgow July. However, one pioneering posse of modern dub has garnered a worldwide reputation and a coterie of famous fans.
And Scots outfit Mungo’s Hi Fi even take their name from their home city, which to many is as well known for its clubbing scene as its guitar bands.
“Glasgow is certainly a dance and indie city, but also a real party city,” smiles Craig Macleod, a long-standing member of the six-strong collective. Mungo’s, however, know how to move with the times, throwing dub, dancehall, grime and hip hop into the mix over a career spanning close on 20 years.
Macleod talks fondly of pre-internet days buying Jamaican 7” singles by mail order and building the collection from which they draw inspiration as well as samples.
“The reggae scene in Glasgow nowadays is really thriving with lots of DJs, club nights and real physical soundsystems,” says Macleod of the actual amps and speakers that deliver the bassy throb that gets the audience dancing.
The duo’s reputation has spread (they even have a tie-in with Ugandan-based label East African Records) and this worldwide reputation has allowed them to work with legendary artists like Max Romeo – who had a UK top 10 hit in the late 1960s – and Sugar Minott, whose ‘Good Thing Going’ made the UK top 5 hit some 20 years later.
“These were dream collaborations,” Macleod enthuses – “I think we recorded some of the last tracks with Sugar Minott, weeks before he passed away.
“It’s always a joy and privilege to work with foundation Jamaican artists and they seem to like our instrumental tracks and feel a vibe for them.
“It isn’t really a case of ticking off artists,” he says, “more we want to collaborate with good people and make something that will musically gel.”
“And this is something that was certainly the case working with Eva.”
Yes, the latest Mungo’s release, ‘More Fyah’, is a collaboration with Bristol-based singer Eva Lazarus.
“We first saw Eva performing at a festival down south and were immediately blown away by her,” Macleod recounts. “From that moment we really hit it off, personally and musically. We started working together on a few tracks and it naturally grew into an album.”
That new release contains 10 tracks which draw from all corners of the reggae world – the opener a poppy take on ‘Dub Be Good 2 Me’ (originally a hit for Fatboy Slim’s Beats International), the ragga mash-up title track, ‘Light As A Feather’ with half-Panamanian, half-Italian singer Kiko Bun, and the Max Romeo-sampling ‘Babylon Raid’.
However, despite the effort involved in constructing such a wide-ranging collection of tunes, the band and Lazarus relished the challenge. “Eva is a multi-genre artist,” Macleod explains, “which allowed us much more scope to experiment.
“It’s refreshing to try and create music that is not directly reggae or even that easy to pigeonhole into a certain genre, but still retain a sound that is recognisable as ours and works well.
“I feel the album strikes a good balance between reggae and a more electronic style – we are comfortable with a foot in the past musically while still keeping in touch and enjoying modern bass music and the last thing we want to be is one dimensional and make albums that are clones of the previous one.”
And the new release sees Mungo’s on production duties with the tunes largely written by their newest collaborator.
“Variety is the spice of life!” Macleod laughs. “Writing our own music allows us more control of where it goes and how it sounds, remixes have the influence of the original track and kind of allow for further experimentation and are a different kind of challenge, often with tighter deadlines.
Lazarus is a rising star on the scene, but the act have worked with some of the biggest names in dance – Leftfield and Coldcut.
“As you have dropped these names…” Macleod smiles “they were two really enjoyable projects and a real honour to work on, if I could tell my teenage self that would happen you would be peeling me off the ceiling!
“Leftfield are a real musical inspiration and possibly the first dance act to blend club music with reggae, other world music and not rely on a steady 4×4 throughout.
“We have both worked with vocalists and friends Earl 16 (of Dreadzone) and Cheshire Cat,” he continues. “Chesh called us when he was playing in the Barrowlands with Leftfield and we came down to see them, he brought us backstage for a beer after and Neil from Leftfield already knew of us and said he was a fan – we couldn’t believe it and were even more stunned we he asked us to do a remix.
“Same with Coldcut, another inspiration, both musically and how they set up the Ninja Tune label with such a DIY ethos.
“We are just waiting for the call from Orbital or Chemical Brothers now!”
‘More Fyah’ is out now. More at www.mungoshifi.net.