For next Thursday’s Pica~Sounds (that’s Thursday the 30th of June at Common), we’re joined by guest selector and all-round smooth operator Felix Hall. With a penchant for dancehall of the digital variety, Felix was a big part of London reggae revival session Trash and Ready, before moving back up here a few years back to study Civil Engineering.
He’s now a regular on NTS Radio’s Manchester offspring, and has just put out a tape on Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes label. Long-time listeners may also remember he did the second mix in our long-running Monday Mixtape series nearly six years ago. Small world eh?
I met him on a wooden bench in Chinatown. For context purposes, it was boiling hot, there were massive black clouds lurking in the sky, and Felix was telling me about finally finishing his degree.
How did you get into Civil Engineering? That sounds pretty intense.
I was always good at maths and physics when I was a kid, so I followed it up.
Is that what you want to do? Build bridges and that sort of thing?
You know, I’m still not sure what I want to specialise in. I think maybe geotechnical engineering.
It’s rock and soil, earthquakes and that kind of thing.
Sounds pretty serious. I suppose we better talk about music now. How did you get into DJing?
I started playing in London. I was from here originally, but I moved to London when I was thirteen or fourteen. That’s where I got into music. I’ve lived here for three years now though.
What are the differences between the two places?
Well, it’s a lot easier to live up here and rent a flat without having to spend a grand a month. London used to be bigger for the music I’m into, but I think the way that city is going now… all the areas are changing.
The Jamaican communities that have been there for 50 or 60 years are moving out as it gets more and more expensive. Gentrification has ruined the place.
I think you can see that a bit in Manchester with places like Ancoats.
Yeah definitely — Ancoats and Miles Platting.
Maybe a bit of a stock question, but how did you get into reggae and dancehall?
I was into 90s rap when I was 14 or 15. And then I started getting into artists like U-Roy and Jah Stitch as well. I found it out mostly through that, and just became obsessed with it.
From the age of about 16 onwards, I used to spend any money I had on records. I started playing at a few house parties, and then a bar, and then clubs. It just kind of cascaded.
What was it you liked about it?
I think it was the lyrical content of it. Hearing a certain side of reality that you’re never going to hear on the radio.
Do you remember what album set you off?
Maybe Down in the Ghetto by Bounty Killer. I could still play that today. I think I got that from a shop called Zen Records in Tottenham. There was a shop called Body Music as well, but I think that just sells DVDs now.
I used to collect sound tapes – live recordings of sound systems. There was a shop in Brixton under the arches ran by this guy Bionic, who used to build speakers for Frontline International. And he used to sell these tapes. I’d buy as many as I could off him. And there’s one DJ, Ricky Trooper who used to select for Kilimanjaro Sound System in Jamaica. I’d say he’s my biggest influence on how to play tunes.
Your dad is Terry Hall, who most people will know from The Specials. Did that have much of an effect? Was he playing reggae and stuff when you were growing up?
Well, he’s maybe into the older stuff, but with the dancehall stuff, I don’t think he’s that massively into it.
It seems with reggae there are so many different bits to get into. It’s such a massive thing. Which bit do you mainly go for?
I’d say anything from after 1985.
Is that when it changed to being more digital? Why did that happen?
I think partly it’s to do with political problems there. A lot of people who owned recording studios moved to the UK or New York, and it sort of left a bit of a gap in the music. And then King Jammys took over.
Out of anyone, I think he’s the person who kind of revolutionised it and laid the foundations to make what we know today as modern dancehall. The records he used to press, the sound of them really translates to being played on a system, and is really heavy. So I’ve always liked playing his stuff out. Some of the first well known digital riddims were created at his studio.
I don’t know too much about reggae or dancehall to be honest. Who would you recommend?
Artist wise, my all time favourites are probably Bounty Killer and Garnett Silk, neither have any weak tunes. For 80s stuff I highly rate the singers Eccleton Jarrett, Robert Lee and Puddy Roots. 90s wise I’ve always been a big fan of Terry Ganzie, Mad Cobra and Sluggy Ranks from New York.
For modern day artists, I’ve always liked Mavado and most Alliance artists.
I suppose like with anything, the more you get into something the harder it is to find stuff. Where do you buy your records these days?
When I first started buying records, they were dirt cheap. You could buy certain tunes for 50p at one point that now will go on the internet for 200 or 300 pounds. Now I try and stick to just buying modern stuff. It’s just too expensive really.
Is it still very much a vinyl thing? Do you play records out?
No, I play CDs now. I think there’s two separate scenes. I’ve always liked having records, but all the main sound systems in Jamaica moved to CDs and most play off controllers now. It’s a hell of a lot easier when you’re juggling 30 second tunes together.
Do you think people are too hung up on the record thing?
I definitely think it’s a European thing. There’s a lot of record collectors who put on this almost Northern Soul attitude to this sort of music, but it’s never really been about that. You couldn’t really say to a kid from downtown Kingston that they’re not a real selector because they don’t have an original pressing of a £300 record. I find that a bit dodgy.
When it gets to the point where people are just playing obscure records for the sake of it, I don’t really see the point of it to be honest.
Yeah it’s seems there’s this snobby attitude which is everywhere these days.
It definitely exists, but I think it’s just on the internet. I don’t think they leave their bedrooms.
Haha, definitely. I know you’ve played in New York a few times. What’s it like over there for this sort of stuff stuff?
At the minute I’d say it’s far better. I’m sure people here would disagree, but I just prefer the way sounds from over there play. In particular, King Addies and Tek 9 Movements. Selector Waggy Tee from Miami also.
What do they do differently?
I just prefer their taste. I don’t want to offend people, but I think a lot of sound systems here are very conservative, and are a bit stuck in this 70s mind-set. Especially the UK roots scene, which I have absolutely nothing to do with, and I never would.
UK roots is just too far removed. It sounds like techno. It seems like they go out of the way to discredit modern Jamaican artists. I find that pretty strange really.
Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve talked for a bit now, and it looks like it’s about to rain. To round this off, what sort of stuff do you think you’ll play at Pica~Sounds?
I’ve put some tunes together, I think it’s mostly going to be 90s stuff.
Felix Hall is playing Pica~Sounds on Thursday the 30thof June. Find our more info here.
Felix has also made another fast-paced whirlwind of a mix for us (the one he did in 2010 seems to have vanished from the net). Give it a listen below…