Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Interview with Do The Dog Music Boss Kevin Flowerdew

Do The Dog Music is the top Ska label in the UK. The label has been running strong, dishing out a wide variety of ska music from some of the UK's finest acts. They just celebrated their 12th anniversary this year and the big boss Kevin Flowerdew agreed to sit down and tell us all about it.

So Kevin, you have been in the music business a long time. Can you give us a brief history of how things started for you and led up to running Do The Dog Music?

Well I first caught the ska bug way back in 1979 when the 2 Tone scene exploded in the UK. I was instantly captivated by everything about 2 Tone, especially the brilliant high energy music that the bands were releasing, the superb black & white imagery of all the artwork & the fantastic clothes & look that everyone in the scene had adopted. Being only 12 years old at the time I was too young to go to any real gigs, but I was soon donning my red Harrington jacket (complete with a Madness “M” pin badge) & skanking the night away to the likes of The Specials, Madness, The Beat, Bad Manners & The Selecter at my school’s discos.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that I actually became actively involved in the UK ska scene. Around this time my younger brother Sean had started up a 2 tone style ska band at school called The Loafers. Although only aged 15 & 16, The Loafers very quickly established a huge following & soon began gigging all over the UK. It was through attending London gigs by The Loafers that I first became aware of all the new ska bands that were emerging like
The Hotknives, Maroon Town, Potato 5, The Trojans, The Deltones, Forest Hill Billies, Skin Deep, Mr Review, Casino Royale & many more. Sean asked me to write a monthly newsletter for The Loafers & when the band split up in 1989 I decided to start my own sk azine called Rude.

In 1990, wanting to keep the ska flame burning in our local town of Newbury, I formed my own 2 tone ska band called The Bakesys. Like The Loafers before us we quickly established a strong local following & soon expanded our horizons to gigging all over England with the likes of Desmond Dekker, Special Beat, Bad Manners, The Selecter, Intensified, Maroon Town & The Newmatics.

In 1992 The Bakesys played the first of four highly successful German tours where we played some amazing shows with The Busters, No Sports, Bluekilla, Blechreiz, Ska Trek, Ngobo Ngobo & Court Jesters Crew. Due to other commitments The Bakesys stopped gigging 1994, but Rude Skazine was still going from strength to strength & by 1996 had notched up almost 50 issues.

To celebrate the 50th issue of the zine I decided to release a CD compilation featuring some of my favourite bands that had featured in Rude skazine. The compilation was titled “Rude Vibes” & included tracks by Intensified, Ruder Than You, The Bakesys, Skankin Pickle, The Porkers, Secret Cajun Band, The Kingpins, The Invaders, MU330, The Peacocks, Unsteady, Steady Earnest & Ngobo Ngobo.

The “Rude Vibes” compilation was only supposed to be a one off release, but I found that I really enjoyed everything involved with the release, from the gathering together of the tracks, to the designing of the artwork & promotion of the CD. The compilation sold really well & picked up some great reviews & airplay from all over the ska world. Inspired by this I decided to start my
own record label to further promote the UK ska scene & so Do The Dog Music was born!

You mentioned Rude Skazine being the springboard for Do The Dog Music. You have also published Do The Dog Skazine for some time right? Can you tell about how that got started, how long it's been going, and what the focus is?

Rude skazine ran for 52 issues from 1989 to 1996. When i launched the Do The Dog Music label in 1996 i decided to change the name of the zine to Do The Dog as well. So basically it is the same zine, just with a different name. To date Do The Dog Skazine has notched up 48 issues, so the latest installment was actually the 100th issue of the zine altogether! The focus of the zine has always been to spread the word about the UK & global ska scenes. When Rude skazine first started it did include interviews with bands, but over time it has evolved into more of a straight up newsletter keeping people posted on the latest ska happenings around the world. As the Do The Dog label has expanded, the amount of Do The Dog label news in the zine has grown too, but i do try to include as much news as possible on non-Do The Dog ska stuff in every issue.

So Do The Dog Records is about to celebrate it's 12th anniversary in April. As you look back over the years, what moments stand out to you the most?

Well pretty much the entire 12 years have been a very exciting time for me. Being able to do something I really love doing as my full time job has been fantastic fun!
Standout moments for me have been: releasing that first “Rude Vibes” CD comp (actually holding my very own CD release in my hands was something that blew me away at the time), releasing a CD that featured 2 of my heroes from the 2 tone era (Lynval Golding from The Specials & Madness’ Lee Thompson both appeared on the Pama International “Float Like A Butterfly” album), seeing many Do The Dog bands become household names on the UK ska scene (Smoke Like A Fish, Rebelation, Splitters, Too Many Crooks), hearing several Do The Dog Music releases being played on the UK’s biggest radio station BBC Radio 1 & attending the Do The Dog Music 10th Anniversary Bash in 2006 when 7 of the label’s bands played storming live
sets to a packed out venue at the Camden Underworld venue.

What do you think has given the label it’s staying power?

I suppose a lot of it is down to the fact that I have never got bored of ska music & that I keep coming across these amazing UK ska bands who want me to release their CD’s. Do The Dog Music is only a very small one man DIY label, but the bands work really hard to promote themselves & the label with regular gigs all over the country.

In the last year of so you guys have been dishing out a constant heap of new music. How do you do that?

Like I said above I just keep coming across amazing new UK ska talent & as the CD’s keep selling, I keep releasing more! The UK scene in general is really strong at the moment with bands like The King Blues, Sonic Boom Six, The JB Conspiracy & The Big all putting out superb releases & attracting big crowds to their gigs.

Speaking of new music, who are the new up & coming bands on the label right now?

The last few months have seen 5 really cool new bands join the label. Cartoon Violence are a superb Welsh 2 tone ska/pop side project formed by 3 Minute Warning keyboardist Chuzz. Also from Wales, Dirty Revolution are a fab female fronted 4 piece who play fiery anti-establishment roots/rock/reggae/ska in the vein of The Clash. Drewvis is a one man ska sensation from Brighton who has a rootsy sing-a-long campfire acoustic ska vibe in the mould of Chris Murray. Jimmy The Squirrel are a Nottingham based 4 piece who kick out a soulful stripped down ska/reggae style like The King Blues or Bedouin Soundclash! And the latest addition to the Do The Dog kennel, The Lockup are a kick ass uptempo 2 tone ska beast from Berkshire with a 4
pronged vocal attack & swirling keyboard & brass melodies.

The Do The Dog stable of bands is so diverse, with many new elements being introduced to the Ska sound. Do you feel it is important to have such diversity and for the music to keep evolving? Please explain.

Yes i definitely think that diversity within the ska sound is a good thing, both for my label & the scene in general. It is important to pay respect to the long & illstrious past of ska & for contemporary bands to play "old skool" styles like trad ska, skinhead reggae, 2 tone, etc, but if everyone sounded just like The Skatalites or just like The Specials then the scene would become stale & boring pretty quickly. The vast diversity of the ska scene from jazzy trad ska right through to blazing ska/punk is what attracts so many different people to the genre, & these people often then go on to explore & enjoy other aspects of ska music. What is more important to me is not what type of ska a band plays, but how well they play it!

As for the global ska scene, how would you describe it's current status?

The Global ska scene looks pretty strong to me at the moment. The US scene seems to be picking up again after the slump of a few years ago. I really like the sound of newer bands like Westbound Train, The Aggrolites, The Green Room Rockers & The Impalers. Europe always seems to maintain a strong scene, particularly the likes of Germany, France & Spain. & Japan also continues to impress, i'm really getting into the Japanese all girl ska outfit Ore Ska Band at the moment!

You guys just had a 12 year anniversary bash, how did that go?

Yeah it happened last Saturday (5th April) at The Rhythm Factory in London & it was a fantastic night! There was a great vibe in the audience all night & the 5 Do The Dog bands that played (Smoke Like A Fish, Splitters, Ettin, Four 0 & Dirty Revolution) all played excellent live sets. Smoke Like A Fish in particular had the whole venue jumping with their headline slot. I've been running these Anniversary Bashes for 3 years now in London (since the 10th Anniversary in 2006) & this year have decided to expand the celebrations a bit more. There is a second 12th Anniversary Bash in Swindon this Friday (18th April) & then the Do The Dog Are 12 Tour hits the road for 12 dates all over the UK in May & June. The tour will be headlined by Rebelation, with New Town Kings as the main support & various other Do The Dog bands will be appearing at select dates.

One more quick question. Running a ska label for so long, what advice do you have for young ska bands trying to get their music out there?

Well the arrival of Myspace seems to have helped many small bands spread word of their music much quicker & much further than ever before, so i would definitely recommend getting a Myspace page & using it to contact other ska bands, fans & live promoters. Practice as often as you can & play as many live shows as you can locally to build a local following. Also try to set up gig swaps with other young ska bands in other areas, so that you have a ready made ska friendly audience waiting for you when you venture further afield on the road.

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