Ben Alpha Steppa : « My dad John (Alpha & Omega) is doing what he’s always done : making tunes and drinking cups of tea ! »

DUB INTERVIEW: ENGLISH VERSION. While busy running one of today’s most innovative dub projects and traveling up and down Europe alone or with Christine Omega for Dub Dynasty, Ben aka Alpha Steppa accepted to answer our questions about his roots, inspiration and vision of dub. His next album, Rooted & Grounded will be released on october 10th and the English producer is playing next saturday for the « Full Faya, dub invasion » session in Combs-la-Ville, near Paris.

Ben Alpha Steppa en pleine session à l'Island Station festival, le 22 août dernier. Photo : Grégoire Roudaud.

Ben Alpha Steppa in session during the Island Station festival. Pictures : Grégoire Roudaut.

Musical Echoes : Can you please introduce yourself ?

Alpha Steppa : I’m Ben, Alpha Steppa, one third of Dub Dynasty and I run Steppas Records and Trigram.

M.E. : How did you begin music ? Was it through the influence of your family ?

A.S. : Besides being in my Mother’s womb, my first intimate experience with music was via my Dad, he would sometimes take me to his studio when I was a kid, one of my earliest memories is recording my voice for a track on Alpha & Omega’s Almighty Jah LP. When I got a bit older I learned to play bass on a two-stringed acoustic guitar at school (that’s all we could afford), from there I learned various other instruments and started experimenting with recording and production as a young teenager.

M.E. : What is John doing presently ?

A.S. : My dad is doing what he’s always done, making tunes and drinking cups of tea. He’s working on a new Aphan & Omega album with Christine and we’ve just finished the next Dub Dynasty album.

« My intention is only to make music that can uplift, educate and inspire, as long as it does that I don’t mind what it sounds like. »

M.E. : How do you see the influence of the Alpha & Omega style on the style of your music ? What kind of sound do you want to produce as Alpha Steppa ?

A.S. : Alpha & Omega is a big influence, not just for me but for many dub producers. They kick-started the whole steppers movement, back in the day it was only A&O and a few other producers doing this. Rolling bass lines, 4-to-the-floor kicks, skanks, dub mixing and soundscaping, these ingredients were all very new at the time. So in a broader sense and on a very personal level A&O have been a huge influence on me. As Alpha Steppa my intention is only to make music that can uplift, educate and inspire, as long as it does that I don’t mind what it sounds like.

M.E. : Your style seems to be between UK dub and bass music, quite close to electro dub which is very developed in France (like High Tone or Mayd Hubb), how do you see your music in this context ?

A.S. : I like a lot of that electro dub, I have a lot of respect for the scene in France, I think it’s especially great for partying and it’s very current, but sometimes I feel the extreme high-octane stuff is a little cold. When I make music I try to picture our ancestors as well as future generations listening to it, if it fits both settings then I’m happy. If a track becomes too testosterone filled and macho then I either scrap it or find a way to balance it. I think balance is the key.

M.E. : How do you see the evolutions of dub in England and in France (and in Europe) since the 90’s ?

A.S. : There was the 90s boom, and then dancehall took over… and when dancehall started to loose popularity it cleared space for dub. Which is why we’re now seeing this dub renaissance across Europe and various other places around the World. As with a tree, new branches grow and fall according to the seasons but the roots continue to grow underground. This is very special as there aren’t many genres with such longevity, if you make honest music with no ego attachment it will last for generations. I’m really happy to see so many young people connecting with not just the sound but with the message too, I think it signals a potential shift in consciousness for a whole generation. Considering the current political and economic climate we need this music and we need this message more than ever.

Christine Woodbrige.

Christine Woodbrige.

M.E. : How did you get the idea to make music with Christine? How would you define the Dub Dynasty project ?

A.S. : Dub Dynasty is the collaborative musical works of me, my Dad and my Aunt. It’s something like a tripod, remove one of the legs and it won’t function! Luckily we work very well together, when we make music it is a very natural process, in many ways the music is making itself.

M.E. : Most of the MC’s we can hear on Thundering Mantis are not usual MC’s, so how did you choose them ?

A.S. : I like to find new and unusual singers, but truthfully I don’t care about names, if I hear a voice and a lyric that resonates I immediately want to work with that artist. We’ve been really lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such talented artists.

« You can find inspiration in strange places »

Ben Alpha Steppa.

Ben Alpha Steppa.

M.E. : How do you compose the tunes with Christine ? And on stage, how do you share and organize your roles ?

A.S. : I go to Christine’s cabin where she lives, in a place called Dartmoor, this is where I grew up too, it’s one of the only truly wild and untouched areas of the UK. We spend a few days working on tunes, a lot of the time is spent building the vibe, you can find inspiration in strange places, like chopping firewood, walking across the hills in the rain, wading through rivers and feeding the chickens. Then when the time is right the music just shows it’s face and we press record. Then my Dad comes to add the finishing touches and crucially, to mix the tracks. Live is quite simple, I mix, Christine plays bass, and often we have guest singers and musicians.

M.E. : When we see your show, we can notice a great respect between you and Christine, how does it feel to play with your aunt and run a family musical project ?

A.S. : I have a lot of respect for Christine, she’s very supportive and we treat one another equally. When I think about it, it might seem strange for a lot of people, the idea of making music with your Dad and performing with your Aunt, I can’t really explain how or why it works, I’m just happy it does.

M.E. : You have started an unusual label with a specific artwork, a variety of supports (especially electronic which is not common in dub) and kind of sounds : could you explain these choices ?

Rooted-animated-562x562

Original artwork fort the next Alpha Steppa’s record, Rooted & Grounded.

A.S. : Steppas Records is a platform for primarily reggae, dub and steppers music, Trigram is an outlet for more experimental bass music. I like to release music that goes beyond the surface, so when the surface has been scratched you can keep digging and continue to discover new layers, textures and meanings. Visual identity is important too, I believe a record should be a work of art, it should provoke emotion and make people think and question their beliefs and the beliefs of the societies in which they live.

M.E. : What are your upcoming projects ? And for the label ?

A.S. : Too many to mention, the big ones are the debut Alpha Steppa album, Rooted & Grounded, and the third Dub Dynasty album. Keep an eye on the website (www.steppas.com) and facebook (www.facebook.com/alphasteppa) for more news.

M.E. : How does it feel to be at the head of the bill of the Island Station Festival ? Did you accept easily to play at this festival, even if it is a small one, on an island ?

A.S. : It’s positivity great, I love Island culture, from Jamaica, to the UK, to Belle-Ile!

Interview by Nico W.A.I.

 

* The upcoming Alpha Steppa’s abum, Rooted & Grounded, will be released on october 10th. You can preorder it from now on. More news here : http://alphasteppa.uk/

Watch Rooted & Grounded teaser here :


More news about « Full Faya, dub invasion » session with Alpha Steppa and many more, on september 19th, in Combs-la-Ville (77) here : http://musicalechoes.fr/event/full-faya-dub-invasion-combs-la-ville-77/

 

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Listen a Apha Steppa’s mix here :