London deejay Mr Williamz has been a Shimmy Shimmy favourite since he rocked the crowd at our first No Ice Cream Sound party in January 2011. His unique style & pattern can be found on records like ‘Real General’, ‘No Cigarette’ & ‘Babylon in Helicopter’, and his collabs with UK producers Mungo’s Hifi and Curtis Lynch. Last week saw the release of his brand new record, ‘We Run England’, so we thought we’d catch up with him from his studio in Kilburn, talk soundclashing aged 8, his numerous monikers, buying records in London and performing in Israel.
So we know that you ‘run England’ now, but back to the beginning – you were born here, then moved to Jamaica?
Yeah, I was born in London and moved to Jamaica with my father, and then returned to London at the age of 16 and I’ve been here since.
You started out clashing and performing in Jamaica when you were very young, at the age of 8?
Yeah, just for fun. Just cos people encouraged me, my friends and family; I wasn’t going in like really determined to do it, people just encouraged me and it worked out good.
Did you have a mic at home or did you just turn up at dances and have a go?
I think around the age of 9 I asked for a microphone. So I had my own microphone and my own cassette tape system.
So you were just doing that stuff at home with your friends?
Yeah just recording stuff at home and practising. We did little soundclashes with other friends who had cassette machines. So they’d come round our house or we’d go round theirs with the machine and clash with the cassettes, and the microphones.
And what kind of artists or riddims were you using to clash with?
We would use a lot of songs that would sing about ‘my sound’, like Richie Stephens and those kind of singers. We would collect those songs and have them fill up a cassette and that was our weapon, our artillery, when you draw one of them tune deh….
Who had you been watching & taking inspiration from to have learnt how these things work?
Well, I’d been listening to a lot of cassettes from all the sessions, and we went to the session in our local community, to see local artists singing in the dancehall, deejaying lyrics. So we get it from there and listening to professional artists like Shabba and Papa San, we’d listen to the lyrical thing there. When you go to the dance in the community, you see the formula in front of your eyes. As a youth you’re just learning without even thinking you’re gonna learn.
[Illustration: My Lord Graphics, forthcoming LP]
So how old were you when you were going to these dances?
I’d been going from very young, from the age of 4 or 5 with my father. But i started going to dances on my own from about 8 or 9. It’s near to my home, my father would allow me, he’d say ‘go to the dance, I’ll see you down there later’…
And when did you first get on the mic in a dance with a crowd?
At the age of 8 or 9.
Were you doing your own lyrics or borrowing other people’s?
We were copying the style from other places, other patterns, even using other artist’s lyrics, using a piece of this and a piece of that and putting it in with some of your own lyrics.
Was it strictly reggae & dancehall you were taking from?
Yeah it was just reggae and dancehall and roots music that I was obsessed with. That was what was around me. You’d hear some soul music on the radio but I’m not really soulful like that, I’m more into storytelling.
What name were you performing under at the age of 9?
At first I wasn’t using no name, cos I wasn’t planning anything, [deejaying] wasn’t my main desire, it was just something I got drawn to. So I didn’t have a name, I was just using my real name, Micah. Then when I started high school at the age of 10, they would have concerts at school on Fridays, so my friend encouraged me to perform. I went to an audition, the guy said flash a lyric and so I did and he said ‘yeah man, you sound bad ya know’ and he said ‘what’s your name’, and I said ‘Micah’, and him say ‘no, what’s your name, we want to put you on the poster’. He wanted to know my artist name but I didn’t have a name so he just called me Apache. He did the poster and then everybody knew that was me, just through the resemblance. Cos in Jamaica, if you have a slight Indian resemblance, they’re gonna call you apache or Indian or coolie man or something. Like Super Cat, he did the Wild Apache thing. So it just stuck and people were using that name for me, until about ’92, when i put on ‘cat’, cos I was coming in the style of Super Cat, the same energy to how we flex. That’s when I came to London. In London there was already Apache Indian, there was UK Apache, that’s why I changed to Kool Cat after cos I didn’t want people to mistake it, or think ‘yo he’s trying to be like Apache Indian, or UK Apache’.
So when you moved here, how did you set up music wise and continue what you’d been doing in Jamaica?
When I came here I went to the local youth club, Avenues Youth Club, they have a little studio there. You can feel a little bit more pocket money in London, we could buy some speakers and me and my brother we set up a soundsystem with our own speaker boxes at home. We bought a record player, we’d buy records and stuff like that, we expanded from cassettes….
Where were you going to buy records?
Dub vendor, Hawkeye…
Do you still buy them?
No, that’s over. We’re on a different level now, making the records…
Was the move from Jamaica to London difficult for you?
Yeah you know, in a way yes, it was difficult. Leaving all of my friends and my people, who I grew up with. In london you feel like a stranger, so I just got lost in the music.
What happened in between you setting up this soundsystem and then you getting involved with Curtis Lynch – how did you grow what you were doing?
That’s a lot of years! [laughs] We went to college and lived our life. We were still keeping a love for the music all through that time, in some way or some form, buying records, making mixtapes. In 2004 I went to Jamaica and when I came back, even before I went, I was working and I’d saved some money, so I had a plan to start buying some studio equipment. It had been too expensive before, but now it was getting cheaper and smaller and digital and everything like that so it was at that stage I came back from Jamaica and set up my studio at home. Then I linked up with Specialist Moss, who was an MC from around my area, we linked and we rented a premises and built it up more and got more equipment. We got fully in to the studio. We used that as a way for us to learn the programs and stuff, just experimenting, spending nights in the studio, recording and recording and learning new techniques.
Who was producing the tracks at this point?
My bredren Specialist Moss, he’s also a musician, not just an MC. Me and him would be in there building beats and I’d put down the lyrics. Then we’d just experiment with it, listen to it, try and mix it.
How did you end up working with Curtis Lynch?
We had our studio and my bredren Specialist Moss already knew Curtis cos Moss was signed on Virgin, so he knew Curtis and had done some work with him before. Curtis had his studio nearby as well, so we’d pass by and check him from time to time, and Moss introduced me to him. But Curtis was setting up his label at that time, I think it was about 2006, so then he linked me in late 2007 and we started to work from there.
How do you feel the UK scene has helped you move along?
It’s helped in a lot of ways because people are looking towards the UK, all around the world, looking towards London from everywhere, they wanna know what’s happening in London. It helped me a lot like that.
You’ve done a lot of songs based on London & England – how do you feel your musical life might be different had you stayed in Jamaica?
Well, no-one really knows, it’s just speculation but I think it would be a lot different, in terms of the music and the direction because Jamaica is that type of place where everything is moving and there’s a new style all the time. I think it would have been harder in Jamaica, because I’m from the countryside and the music is in Kingston, I would have had to have gone to Kingston to make the links.
You’ve toured all over the world now, which country has given you the best or the most unexpected reception?
The most unexpected was Israel. With the kind of western education we get through the news, you have a certain view of Israel and you don’t know what to expect, you don’t really think about it having a reggae scene. I think about AK47s and Uzis and machines, not about soundsystems. But it was really nice. India as well, I never expected to go there. Those places were a different vibe; in Israel in the session it was a real rub-a-dub vibe, the soundsystem, the tunes, stuff I haven’t heard for long time and it was all youths in the dance, aged 24-5 and all the selectors were youths, so for me to see how they were into the original dancehall style & rub-a-dub, that was inspirational for me. Cos a lot of the time the dance isn’t full of youths, it’s older people, who appreciate a certain style…good to see the youths inna dem Clarks and them Kangol!
[Illustration: My Lord Graphics, Mr Williamz in Israel, 2012]
Now you mention Kangol – every time I see you you have a different Kangol hat on, you have so many…
Yeah, them a ask if Kangol is my sponsor, but it’s not my sponsor, me sponsor Kangol! Growing up as a youth you’d see the rudeboys wearing Kangol. Where I went to school, the artist Apache Scratchy, he’s from that area, we’d always see the man dem in the white suit and gold chain and motorbike and a Kangol and it gave us a next inspiration for style. [Ed: I think he's got it down now]
So where are you at now?
Right now we’re running England. The new record is out, and it’s a song that really brings people on a journey in terms of listening, it’s one of those songs…
Catch Mr Williamz doing his single launch at Madd Raff tonight!