The 72-year-old Upsetter talks about dub, drugs, groupies, vampires, madness and jerk chicken.
On 25 May, Fabric plays host to Dublime – a night celebrating the evolution of bass culture, from roots and reggae to dubstep and digital dub. And in the middle of the dance will stand the crazed dub colossus himself, Lee "Scratch" Perry, a man who once burnt down his studio just because it gave him bad vibes. "I wanted Dublime to incorporate all the music I love which has always been linked to dub in some shape or form,” says promoter Matt V. “I feel dub is the heartbeat of all electronic music, be it jungle, house, techno or dubstep. Lee Perry invented dub, and to surround him with artists such as Dillinja, Kode 9 and Rusko. You could call it a massive timeline of dub, illustrating the way it has morphed and influenced modern day electronic music." So what better way to celebrate this awesome night of living bass heads than with an exclusive interview with the 72-year-old Upsetter himself? Read on for Lee’s essential insight into dub, drugs, groupies, madness, baby mama dramas, vampires, Michael Jackson’s nose, and jerk chicken...
Dazed Digital: Are you excited about coming over to play at Fabric?
Lee Scratch Perry: Of course! It will be a pleasure. We have new songs and old songs. We change the words sometimes from an old melody and sing a different part to bring out the vibration. We make old things new and new things old. We do magic. I believe in what I sow. I’m going to sow the good seed and the good seed I sow is what I expect to reap. What I give I get.
DD: Have you ever sowed a bad seed?
LSP: I know that people are wise to the fact that I created dub music and I created the changes from ska to rock steady into reggae – that is my payment and I’m glad for that even though I didn’t get the big bag of money. I wasn’t here to get the big bag of money I was here to present God’s holy work, or something like that.
DD: Do you like modern dance music?
LSP: The young people end up dancing like they’re having sex. It’s not too respectful to dress like a whore girl and dance like you’re in bed. That’s not all. If you have sex too much you can dry out. You want to save yourself. God wants the poor and native people to have sex but there is a time for sex and a time for God.
DD: What’s more important sex or God?
LSP: God because he’s the lifeline - you can sex out your lifeline and you’ll complain and he’ll let you die. Don’t sex out your lifeline.
DD: Are you romantic Lee?
LSP: Of course I am! If a girl likes me in the dance she can come and see me backstage. If she wants to come backstage she can come right in front of me when I’m onstage.
DD: What would your wife think about that?
LSP: I show a lot of respect to my wife but I also have to respect my fans. My fans have real love for me and I cannot turn my back on them because of my wife being jealous.
DD: Do you still get a lot of groupies?
LSP: A lot of meat and lots of beef. Uh huh. I get a lot of presents. I get a lot of love, unity, peace and harmony. That is greater than money.
DD: Do you see yourself as a joker?
LSP: Not like the real type of joker who makes jokes, I’m above joker, but I do things to make people laugh. Instead of making people sad I try to find a way of making them laugh. It’s good for them to enjoy what you’re saying like a big comedian – but it’s reality.
DD: A defining point in your career was burning down the Black Arc Studios – do you regret doing that? LSP: Naaaah. It wasn’t hard to do it. I would have to support vampires all the time. I wanted to change my heart but I didn’t know the difference between the rude bwoys and the bad bwoys. I had too much evil sprit coming into my studio. When you have too much evil spirit the only way to get rid of them was to burn down that place. You purify it and get rid of the guppies and get rid of the beggars and get rid of the evil spirits. Re-incarnation.
DD: Was this a message from God?
LSP: When I go to bed in bed at night there’s only my body in my bed, but my spirit flies out of my body to a land they call dreamland. When I’m in dreamland, the street that takes me to dreamland show me everything, it lets me know what I’m going to do when I wake up in the morning. So when I wake up in the morning it’s not a surprise because dreamland showed me the beginning of the day from the night before.
DD: What did you dream about last night?
LSP: Last night I dreamed that I was seeing one of my baby mothers in Jamaica. She was making plans about how to get back to me because she had run out of money and she had discovered that I was the inheritor of the pound, shilling and pence. She had run out of money and thought that God was punishing her. Her name was Pauline, and Pauline didn’t have no more money so she was planning on how to get back into my life. To stop that happening I will have to pretend to be God.
DD: How can you pretend to be God?
LSP: I'll have to call judgement and deliver judgement myself. I will have to say, "You have lost the chance to be with me, you're too late and there's nothing that I can do. The date is over. The door has been closed. There's nothing that I can do for you."
DD: Are you still scared of vampires?
LSP: Why am I scared? I deal with them in my sleep, in dreamland before the sun rises. Vampires live in the flesh here but their spirits are dead and their bodies are dead – they jump into other people and change them into negative beings. They get coke addicted, rum addicted, wine addicted, and get them nicotine addicted. I was smoking cigarettes a lot – I was almost addicted to cigarettes. I was addicted to rum and wine. When I burnt down the Arc I made myself over, I conquered those vampires.
DD: If you had to save just one animal from extinction which one would it be?
LSP: I would save the white dove! Noah sent out two birds and the first was a black raven, but the black raven did not come back. The black raven saw dead meat and ate dead meat, which means that the black raven was a cannibal. He sent out the dove and the dove comes back, it doesn't eat dead meat.
DD: When did you last do drugs?
LSP: Well honestly a lot of people say that I take drugs, people want to know where I get my energy from so they think that I take drugs. But I don't take drugs.
DD: Did you leave Jamaica because it was so violent?
LSP: Well yes, the people. If you are too soft in Jamaica you're going to be in bad trouble. You have to act like you're badder and tougher than them to survive. If you don't act like you're badder and tougher than them you won't survive. You need to act crazy to survive.
DD: What do you say when people call you mad? You don't seem that mad to me.
LSP: Naaah. People who are intelligent - I know how to deal with intelligent people. People who are cannibals - I know how to deal with cannibals. I know how to deal with rebels and I know how to deal with devils. I know how to deal with righteous people and I know to deal with God. I have everything here.
DD: What is the essence of dub music?
LSP: Well dub music is like creating a building. It's an experiment. If you take the wrong musicians to the studio it can be a disaster. Everyone argues. They think they just come to finish the job, wham bam finish the record. But when you make the dub and take three great musicians to the studio you listen to what they do and then you think about what needs to be done and what you'd like to hear.
DD: What are you listening to at the moment?
LSP: I love soul music. Otis Redding, Ben E King, Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Al Green. Soul music to me is like a spiritual vibration. You can make reggae but the inspiration is from soul music. I also like hip hop. I like Snoop Dogg because he sings and raps. I like Xzibit too because he pimp ride. I like Dr Dre too.
DD: You wear a lot of mirrors on your clothes – what do you see when you look in the mirror?
LSP: I am communicating like the water because the water is a mirror. The water was the first mirror. If you go into your bathroom and you turn on the light, you might not see yourself in the water. But you have a shadow and your shadow is your spirit. You may not see this shadow in the water.
DD: What does Michael Jackson see when he looks in the mirror?
LSP: When Michael Jackson sees the man in the mirror he starts to complain about his nose - that it's not pretty. So he talks to the man in the mirror and the man in the mirror says that he has to change his ways but I think he thought the man in the mirror said to change his nose.
DD: Do you like his nose?
LSP: I don't like his new nose, I like his first nose much better. He looked into the mirror and now he looks like a phantom. Hahahahaa. It was a magic mirror!
DD: Before you go Lee I need to know something very important – what is the key to making a good jerk chicken sauce?
LSP: Hahahahaaa. Honestly? When I was in Jamaica and didn't have much understanding of different forms of life, chicken used to be my favourite. I used to eat them. When I left Jamaica I found the notion that man should not kill. So why should I eat what other people kill? After you murder the chicken you eat the chicken so that cannot be a blessing - that has to be a curse!
DD: So no more jerk chicken for me?
LSP: No, we shouldn't kill none of the animals because they were here before us. And we should not eat them because we will change into cannibals.
DD: Right. One last question Lee. Bass – how low can you go?
LSP: How low can I go? I will go so low that I will tell my shit it stinks, even though it fed me when I was hungry.
DD: Well, thanks Lee, see you in the dance.
LSP: Alright. Enjoy yourself.
Dublime is at Fabric on 25th May 2008. For tickets call 0870 0600 100 or go to www.fabriclondon.com -10pm-6am, £13 or £10 for NUS/FabricFirst members)