*Interview published Feb 2014
Inspirational Sound is a Dub Roots label and Studio based in Bradford, UK. They started in 1999 running a monthly reggae / dub night in Bradford called Dub Lab, playing alongside artists such as Alpha & Omega, Disciples, Rootsman, Jonah Dan, Iration Steppas, Nucleus Roots, Vibronics & Underground Roots, among others.
Inspirational Sound have built up a solid reputation on the UK dub sound system scene and make dubplates for some of the leading sound systems and DJ’s across Europe including Iration Steppas, Lion Roots (France) and OBF (Switzerland).
Over the years, they’ve had a number of releases on Independent labels across Europe but it wasn’t until 2009 that they set up their own Inspirational Sound label and have had a string of tuff releases working with artists such as Stephanie, Bongo Chilli, Dan-I, Hornsman Coyote, Jahfa Culture and Sandeeno.
The label is currently getting ready to launch INSP007 on 10 inch vinyl. The release features Sister Charlotte, Richie Ranks & El Fata, the release also includes a heavyweight dub mix from Inspirational Sound featuring Bunnington Judah on binghi drum.
We caught up with Pete from Inspirational Sound to find out more about how things started:
Pete: I’d been listening to reggae since around the age of 14 and was really into Lee Perry, some early reggae, rocksteady etc. That led to me and a couple of friends heading to Subdub at Leeds West Indian Centre in Oct ‘98 to check Iration Steppas meets Disciples and then Jah Shaka in Hudderfield the month after that. We were just hooked on the music, the bass and the sound system vibes.
Some of our friend’s parents kept telling us stories of Rootsman’s ‘Dub Me Crazy’ dances in the 90’s in Bradford and how it used to be a great town for dub and reggae. So, one thing led to another and we decided we’d put on an event in Bradford. We begged and borrowed records and saved up about £100 to go and buy our first tunes. That first dance was at Checkpoint community centre in Bradford. The original crew was me, Hugh and Tom – all friends since we were about 10 years old!!
Dubcentral: Running Dub Lab, you’ve been around some of the UK’s greatest artists and sound systems, all of which must have influenced you; but when did you turn your hand to production and who inspired you to start making music?
Pete: Well I’d been in rock bands on and off playing guitar and bass since I was about 12, just messing about with friends really. Then in 1998 I went to Leeds College of Music and studied music technology and in 2000 I bought a 24 channel mixing board from a member of the band Smokey and that was that.
My house mate and I put our meager collection of equipment together and started to try experimenting. We used guitar effects pedals for reverb and delay – really just botching together what we could. I guess that’s typical for dub really.
In the early 2000’s I was really influenced by digi dub and because I was going to Iration Steppas dances as often as I could. I was really influenced by Iration’s style and a lot of the Earthquake TNT dubs he played. One day – probably 2004, Mark Iration came to my studio and mixed some dubs. Sort of a lesson as I’d been giving him tunes for ages and he liked the music but thought the mixed needed some work. So yeah, maximum respect for the Iration Steppas crew and the help the Mark has given me along the way.
I also have massive respect production-wise for Disciples and Vibronics and from back in the day: Scientist (the Scientist dub mix of Johnny Osbourne’s ‘Love Is Universal’)
[Dub Lab have an event on Saturday 8th March ‘Inspirational Sound meets Underground Roots’ at The Mill in Bradford. Both of these sounds are celebrating 15 years in the business (1999 to 2014). Acts on the night include: Underground Roots Sound System / City Culture / Peppery aka Bongo Chilli / Mr Scratch & Red J / Inspirational Sound / Dan I / Stephanie & Richie Ranks]
We asked Pete what had been some of his highlights from the last 15 years:
Pete: Highlights – it’s a hard question because I enjoy the majority of what we do. (I probably wouldn’t do it otherwise!) I reckon the tour of Japan last year is right up there. All the promoters and sound systems treated us so much like family – it was a really great trip!
Also, the night we had Vibronics at Dub Lab for the first time in 2004. It was the first time we played back to back with an established crew and it was pure vibes all night!!
Another would be the first time I saw Iration Steppas really mash up a dance with one of my own productions (Iration meets King Earthquake). Iration played about 5 cuts of the tune and when he handed it over to King Earthquake Errol took the mic and said ‘Yes Iration, wicked. That’s how we like it’.
Also Johnny Clarke in the studio was great. Sorry lots of memories and the more I think about the more comes to mind!!
Dubcentral: Some great memories; especially the Iration meets Earthquake dance, that must of felt amazing. Could you tell us more about your time in Japan?
Pete: Yes – it’s the first time we’ve done a ‘tour’ as such. We played in Osaka, Shizouka and Yokohama. We were pretty nervous about the whole thing – kinda worried how our music would go down, but again it comes back to the universal aspect of the music; as soon as we got to the first venue we felt at home.
We played one dance with a sound called Pressure High in the basement of a bar in Yokohama and it really reminded me of when we used to play with High Pressure Sound from Leeds in the cellar of the Beehive pub in Bradford!! Like a parallel universe!
Those guys are SERIOUS about music. I can guarantee you that all of the rare tunes in the world end up in Japan.
We made some good friends and we’re still in touch with some of the sounds and producers we met – sharing tunes back and forth.
Dubcentral: Do you have plans to go back to Japan?
Pete: I would love to go back – we spent two weeks there and we just scratched the surface of the different places to go and things to see. I hope one day we’ll do it again.
Dubcentral: Do you have a big following outside of the UK?
Pete: I think we have a bigger following outside the UK than we do here. Most of UK gigs are local around Leeds and Bradford. It’s all quite underground and low key but over the years we’ve played in loads of places around Europe and people know all about us.
It’s quite weird to be in another country and meet someone who has all the tunes on the label and want us to sign copies of the records – it’s great that the work I do sat in my little bubble in the studio reaches out across the world!! There was one guy who we met in Germany who had handmade Inspirational Sound t-shirts for Stephanie and I. It’s really cool to meet people who feel a connection to us from the music and vibes we create.
Dubcentral: I have to congratulate you on the label; it’s growing from strength to strength. You’re known for having a distinct sound and you’ve released some unique sounding vocalists such as Stephanie. Can you give some insight into the making of an Inspirational Sound release?
Pete: Usually the bones of the tracks are from me messing around with ideas in the studio. Sometimes Stephanie will come in and show me where I’m going wrong! She has a great musical knowledge and fixes up harmonies etc. straight away.
On some of the released tracks I’ve brought in guest musicians to add the bits I can’t do myself; Bunnington Judah is a regular on binghi drum and we’ve had Hornsman Coyote laying down trombone. I love the sax work Digistep from Dubkasm did for us for the ‘Revelation Time’ tune with Sandeeno. Recently I’ve been moved to more a roots sound – live bass, guitars, percussion etc.
I know a lot of people start with vocals and use acapellas that you can pull down from the internet etc. but honestly I struggle with that. I’ve done some tunes like that that have worked but I’ve got an old school mentality about it. I build some dubs and certain tunes sound like they’ll work well as vocal tracks so I put a little batch of them together and then think about who I’d like to voice them.
I like to give the vocalists a choice of track so they pick the one that they’re most comfortable working with. I don’t see that I’ll get a good result forcing people to sing on a track they find awkward or when they don’t feel the vibe of the track.
Dubcentral: You incorporate live recording into your dub tracks and you mentioned moving to more a roots sound with live bass, guitars, percussion; are you steering toward releasing some different styles on the label?
Pete: To me, my live style productions have a definite 70’s roots style but I guess I’m adding into my existing dub style – they’re still dance floor tunes but with a bit more culture and detail that the 4 x 4 techno dub stuff…
Dubcentral: Sounds interesting, I’m looking forward to seeing how the live project develops. Are there any other Inspirational Sound projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Pete: Well the next 10inch (INSP007) features a beautiful vocal from Sister Charlotte, a militant vocal from Richie Ranks from Leeds based Symbiosis Sound, a vocal from El Fata and a tuff dub. Richie Ranks has been voicing some killer tunes for us so I reckon we’ll definitely see some more of his work on the label this year + as I said at least one tune from Stephanie.
I have been meaning to do an album for a long time but it’s hard to pick the tunes – I’m probably too critical of my music but I hear things in tunes I made 6 months ago and think “hmmm I can do that better now”. I guess I should get someone else to listen through and compile it for me!!
At the end of Feb Stephanie and I are playing in Florence, Italy and I’d really like to get out and about with our live dub mixing show.
Lots to keep busy with, plus we’re getting married in April!
Dubcentral: Congratulations on your engagement! We wish you all the best.
Dubcentral: …and an album would be a big milestone for the label too.
Pete: Yes for sure – I really liked those Dubhead label CDs from back in the 90s so I was thinking of something along those lines…
Dubcentral: Could you explain more about your live dub show; is this something new to the performances you have been doing recently?
Pete: The live dub mix involves setting up a mini version of the studio and dubbing the tracks live !
A couple of years ago we were playing out lots but doing DJ sets about an hour long. After a while it seemed like we were playing the same tunes every week so I was looking for a way to make things more interesting.I run the tracks from a laptop running Cubase out via an 8 channel sound card into a 16 channel mixing desk, a couple of effects and singers or MC’s live. I’ve also brought in an old friend to play live bass sometimes.
The beauty of it all is that what you get on the night is unique every time! Sometimes it’s not easy though – there’s a huge difference between mixing tunes in a studio with acoustic treatment and in a big echoing hall with super loud bass!
Dubcentral: We’d definitely like to catch you doing as live show sometime. Perhaps next time you come to Sheffield!
Thanks for speaking to us Pete. It’s been a pleasure to find out more about yourself and Inspirational Sound. We’re looking forward to seeing the forthcoming projects and hopefully the release of an album too!
To finish is there anything you like to say?
Pete: I guess the final word should be a HUGE big up and thanks to everyone who’s supported us since 1999 and here’s to the next 15 !
Inspirational Sound are definitely moving from strength to strength and it sounds like we’re going to see some great stuff come out of the studio over the next 12 months. It’s definitely worth keeping up to date with the Inspirational camp. For information on all forthcoming Inspirational Sound events and releases check the links below.