- Scott Blackburn
It's pouring outside, but all seven members of Dub Kartel happily pile into a small room with a long table, all smiles, maybe or maybe not hungover. Tonight is the video release for "PayDay"–directed by Jeff Miller, featuring a day in the life of percussionist Badger Stout, struggling to cobble together his rent for vocalist/roommate Kyle McCracken (AKA KDZ). His half-hearted attempts are derailed by his other band mates: surfing with Charlie Hill (AKA Chaz), busking, drinking, smoking and skating with guitarist Charlie Benoit (AKA Chaz Dos AKA Le Deuxieme), trumpet player Tom Hill, keyboardist Richard McNeil and finally getting his cut of the show money from drummer Teddy Skiffington. Does he make rent? I won't spoil it for you.
The vibe of the video is almost exactly like the vibe Dub Kartel put out in person. Fun, bordering on goofy, devoted to having a good time. They are a chatty bunch, full of genuine belly laughs and road stories. They're great friends, and the formation of the band was an organic extension of that.
"We all grew up in high school in bands together," says Hill. "We loved reggae, world and dancehall. Tom's family–and Kya Bamba–was a huge influence." Watching skate videos backed with dancehall mixes made them seek out every artist on the mix, a rudimentary dancehall education.
"Of course in high school we totally listened to Sublime, Marley–the usual standards for stoners," says McCracken. "Locally, Slowcoaster were a huge inspiration."
"Then we smoked some sensi and it became kind of a gray area–a green area I guess," says McNeil, laughing.
Dub Kartel's mix of reggae, dancehall and jam bands is clearly speaking to Halifax. "PayDay"–released March 14 at 4:20pm– hit over 1,000 views in a half day. The band's loyal following helped it sweep three categories in this survey. "The scene kind of came from the electronic community," says Hill. "When Kyle got into DJing a few years ago we started going to more DJ shows, that and festivals–Evolve especially."
Like a DJ, Dub Kartel plays seamless sets, transitioning between songs and bands on the bill without a break, keeping the dance floor moving. The afterparties (all hosted by the gracious Chaz Dos) have become as popular as the shows themselves.
What makes them stand out is not only their music–because who else is performing live dancehall music with the same energy and frequency of these guys?–-but how they book their shows. Six acts on a bill is the norm, ranging from hip hop, smooth jazz, world music or rock music. "What makes a DJ really good is when they can correctly read the crowd," says Hill. "I improvise the set," says McCracken. "I just freestyle and listen back after our jams."
"A lot changed after we first went to Evolve and saw jam bands," says Hill.
McNeil interjects, laughing: "I KNEW he was going to say that! 'It's all about the Grateful Dead, man...'." To be fair, Hill is wearing a Grateful Dead hat.
"But think about that summer we saw !!!, Man Man and Battles [Evolve 2008] then came home and played Paul's Hall–everyone played differently," Hill counters. They embraced the chaos, and years of playing together had gelled, the band could read each other, musically. "In grade seven when Teddy and I were playing in our band Chair In The Face, we were doing Blink 182 and Sum 41 covers," says McCracken. "There's not that much room to improvise, but as we grew as musicians. The 'east coast Maritime jam band' is a very pigeonholed genre–Jimmy Swift Band, Slowcoaster–all great bands, but it's not us."
Dub Kartel's summer plans involve a 25-date tour across the country hinged on festival dates–Shambala Music Festival in BC, Folly Fest in NB, Evolve, Hillside in Guelph. Before that, shows on April 20 at the Seahorse and April 30 (where Dub will open for Beenie Man at the Marquee) are in the works. What's most important, though, is that the audience is having a good time.
"With some of our concerts last summer I'd talk about that cyclical vibe," says McCracken. "The more energy the audience has, the more we have and we all go around and around like a happy little merry-go-round."
"It's just about having the most possible fun at all times," says McNeil. "That's what the band has always been about."