Silly Walks pushing reggae from German base
Germany, it would seem, is leading the way for Europe, earning a massive reputation for itself in Jamaica, especially with the quality and authenticity of its sound. Step up one of the leaders of the gang, Silly Walks. Consisting of Oliver Schrader and Joscha Hoffman, they are a production outfit whose roots are firmly entrenched in Sound System culture, and they are pushing the boundaries for their passion.
"We founded in 1991," Oliver tells me. "We started playing in Hamburg, at a venue called Silly Walks, which was named after the Monty Python sketch. As we started off there, we decided to name ourselves after the building." But they are not men that stand around idly. Oliver continues: "We also create productions and run our own label. I was the tour DJ of a band, and in 1994, we started a studio-management venture.
"It didn't last long but gave us the vibe to do remixes and create new music that we could showcase. These were mainly for German hip-hop acts who wanted a reggae twist. We opened a new studio in 2000 and focused on our music and did a compilation in 2002, which did well for us. We worked with the producer, Jr Blender, too, who was down with us."
One of the most successful Silly Walks productions is Chronixx's Smile Jamaica - a certified hit. "I knew of They Don't Know from Chronixx, and we already had the Honeypot Riddim," Oliver says. "We met up, and when he heard the drum roll, he already had an idea for the riddim - it seems he was in the studio a few days earlier when Luton Fyah did his version on the track. Chronixx already had a song lined up, and the whole thing was complete within three days. It's the biggest song in our catalogue, along with Brighter Days from Busy Signal."
It seems that it isn't all positivity from Germany, though. On a recent trip over there, I noticed that the true one-drop style seemed to be relegated to the last hour of the event, with raw dancehall running the place all night. I wanted to know if that was a one off or the trend in the scene.
"We have seen it rise for many years. I feel like the interest in one-drop reggae is at an all time low, but on the other hand, the dancehall-influenced music is on the up and up," Oliver tells me. "People divide the two different sounds of one drop and dancehall. Now, you have the situation where reggae fans don't come to reggae dances anymore because they think it's just going to be dancehall all night."
"On the other hand, reggae is still strong in the festival market and you hardly see any dancehall acts on there. There are declining numbers attending these festivals, but that is mainly because of the amount of choice available. Every weekend there seems to be one during the summer."
PROGRESSION OF THE MUSIC
He continued: "The other issue is that there aren't that many real reggae headliners for the festivals." So what about the quality and progression of the music? "Without brand-new reggae music from Jamaica, the industry isn't going to go anywhere," Oliver says emphatically. "I miss my reggae jugglings with the big names on them from Jamaica. I want the tracks that have Tarrus [Riley], Chronixx, Romain [Virgo], and everyone else!"
I wondered what it was about Germany that made the movement so strong. "I don't know. I don't think it is necessarily about Germany as such, but thanks to artistes and sounds like Gentleman, Pow Pow, and ourselves, there is an audience available who want to hear the music. We big up the success of producers like Jr Blender, who spent over a decade making strong reggae before now working in the pop field and diversifying," Oliver said.
For those who don't know, Jr Blender is now one of the most sought-after producers in the dance and pop world and, seemingly, his reggae background laid an incredible foundation for him to go on and conquer other musical areas.
"It's hard to compare the new generation with the likes of Gentleman because when he was coming through, he did loads of shows across the region - sometimes for free - just to put the work in and get known," Oliver says. "I'm not sure people want to do this anymore. He is very charismatic and was the first to bring European reggae to such a wide audience. He is a pioneer."
With Brexit looming, it seems that the rest of mainland Europe works effectively with each other. is that really the case? Oliver says: "We definitely work together, but equally, we work individually. We see ourselves as a European sound system, but we are also very proud of us as Germans, so we can be seen as such locally, nationally or internationally."
And the future seems very bright indeed for Silly Walks.
"We are doing a new series of events, including a UK Afro Bashment, one with music from Lotto Boyzz, Not3s, and J Hus. We see it as a hybrid of Afrobeats and dancehall elements. We feel it can work here," Oliver said.