O.B.F sound system makes no secret of the influence Iration Steppas have had on their development as sound boys, operators, technicians and entertainers. Watch Rico and Mark in action and you can see why they might get along… Well Iration Steppas have just reached 30 years in dub service and who better to unearth the full origin story than his long running French fan and counterpart. The feature length documentary made by Dubquake Records Ina Vanguard Style is about to hit cinemas all over the world, as a celebration of the huge reach that Iration have had on sound system culture worldwide. Before the launch, we took a moment to catch up with Rico and talk about how this all came about.
How did your relationship with Iration Steppas begin?
Back in the days in Geneva I was building tunes on the little Yamaha sequencer and I gave a CD to I Natural. When he went home he's listening to my CDs and then a guy knocks at the door - Mark Iration. So Mark says, ‘Yo, who's that young guy from Geneva?’ Two days later, I received an email - ‘I love your dubs, from Iration Steppas’. I was like what the fuck is going on? It was such a shock! Of course I replied and he asked me for some dubs and mixes. I think it was 2003 or something and I was a big fan already.
So you were already following Iration at this point?
Yeah. Sub Dub - the dub mecca as we used to call it back in the day! We used to go to West Indian Centre when we're young French dub addicts. Because it was different to London and it was cheaper than London...We have some easy flights from Geneva so we used to go every year. I don't know how you call it in English but…
Like a pilgrimage?
Yeah a dub pilgrimage! And time after time, session after session we meet Mark Iration. He knows about O.B.F. He sees that we are young and we are hungry. We are building our roles. We're organising our party. So he was always saying, ‘Rico, you remind me of a young Mark Iration.’
How established was O.B.F as a sound system when you were first interacting with Iration?
When we were young we would go to squat parties run by Cultural Warriors sound system. And they used to invite UK sounds. So the first time I was there we were like 16 or 17. We're used to reggae, but classic reggae. And we were totally surprised and shocked in this smokey room. The songs were different, proper steppers vibes you know. I was like, ‘Fuck what is this?!’. So then I went to the record shop the next day and asked for this kind of sound. There was a little bit and some Iration Steppas in there but not so much. From then we decided to build our own sound system because we are living in a squat in Geneva and we have no money to rent a sound. And we wanted to organise our own little event, play our own records and build our own identity.
From the technical side, O.B.F as a sound system seems to have been influenced heavily by Iration - you’ve had a similar preamp journey right?
Well G the operator of O.B.F is like a preamp fanatic. We started with a Jah Tubbys preamp, the original three way and we loved it! But then we changed to the four way and yeah, I dunno, it was a bit different. So we tried the Link preamp, because Iration was playing Link yeah? It was just warmer and when we modified it we could really get the sounds we loved with the Links. But the main thing is we saw Iration Steppas are building up this new sound with just two boxes we said, ‘Fuck this guy is clever you know…’ Because it's such hard work and we have no time to waste. We have 30 minutes to string up the sound so we need to be more professional. Iration was showing us the way in terms of this professionalism.
Has there ever been a clash or meeting between O.B.F and Iration?
Yeah we had some meeting in France with Channel One and Iration and we were young, bro! It was hard. As a young sound man, meeting with experienced sound like Channel One playing tunes from 80s and Mark Iration… Well we did it! We were lucky it was in France yeah? We can drop some French line on the mike!
The second test is when you bring the sound to the UK. Some people say, you know, it's all love when you go to a session and bring your sound. But when you have to play another sound, yo, it's a fucking challenge. Yeah, man. Especially when you French and it's coming for the first time in the UK, bro. You have to be ready. But anyway, it's life experience. It's building us and making us tougher.
What has pushed you to make this documentary?
In 2009, Mark invited us to play in Leeds for the first time. That Sub Dub was the first time we played in the UK. The first UK artist who played O.B.F dubs was Iration Steppas. Mark was also the first UK artist who took me under his wing and helped me in producing and [showing me] how to bring the vibes entertaining. 15 years later, it's my turn to give back.
So we decided as it’s the 30th anniversary we would re-issue their first two albums, Original Dub D.A.T and Dubz From De Higher Regionz. And then I said, ‘Mark, we should do a documentary’. Because many young people know about Iration Steppas as a selector sound system nowadays, but they don't know the background.
So where do you even begin with a project like this?
I flew with my friend Andre from Dubquake records to Chapeltown in Leeds and it was not what we expected at all. Straight away it was so much more than just an Iration Documentary. We needed the whole context from the 70s growing into the 80s. You know, like, ghetto culture, Jamaican descendants, police brutality, the DIY party culture.... And then into when Mark has been influenced by Detroit house, launching Kitachi and winning clash in Leeds and then the Iration story - yo, that's some crazy shit! So yeah, it was impossible for us just to do like a short documentary. [It’s taken] almost two years.
That’s a long time. How often did you fly to Leeds?
Maybe two, three times? It was the COVID era so it was a bit fucked up to travel. So we started to do as much as possible in Leeds filming interviews, meeting the family, organising interview in the West Indian centre. We wanted to really capture Mark and all his friends and influence. All the people that surrounded him when he was young and helped build his career. And then we asked some friends in London as well. Mark got a London crew as well because, of course, Dennis Rootical is in London.
Did any of the team have experience in documentary making?
We (Dubquake) did a small documentary in Brazil, because I was there and felt really shocked by the scene in São Paulo. But it's a 20 minutes thing and it's more the process of recording the artists in Brazil and how we got together. The other one we did was on Charlie P, because many people don't know Charlie P started at five years old. He lost his mom and his mom was like, helping him writing lyrics and pushing his [talent] into sound system culture. His uncle as well. So I wanted to show the people, because many don't know about his background.
What was the biggest challenge?
All the archive footage! Mark did so much work to find all the archives, but then it was all on VHS, it was on cassette tape, video, maybe some on DVD. Hardly anything was digitized! So we dig through the archives and our editor and director did a lot of the work digitizing. We're lucky that Mark was a fucking geek - he always had his camera with him! Yeah. Many archives bro. We could do a four or five hours documentary.
What surprised you most about the origin story of Iration Steppers?
I knew a lot about Mark already because we’re friends and he told me a lot. But actually I didn’t know about his ghetto blaster. It was always with him. He was always walking around Leeds with his ghetto blaster and a bag of batteries blasting out some tunes in Leeds city! Yeah. I didn’t know that. You will see people laughing about it because Mark always wanted to be the loudest.
Are there plans for more documentaries?
I mean we're feeling alive from the work on Iration Steppas. I'm not going to mention the ideas right now, but… This scene, the dub scene, it’s not big. It’s not commercial - it's a niche. But this niche has many code inside. People who are following this culture are really into it. It's a small world, but luckily we're working like a family. So there's some codes and so many things to say and to feel from this culture and the work [that goes into it]. So yeah, we have some ideas.
Thanks Dubquake family - we look forward to seeing the doc in action!