How people got to be reggae music lovers or fans has always fascinated me. Maybe partly because reggae still is off/outside the mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is not found that easily, let’s just say. It requires (to a degree) an extraordinary life path: that is, different from copying the masses, or simply following what’s commonly on television or the radio.
Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”. Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.
These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.
About 10 months ago – a post on this blog of 5th of June 2012 - I started this series by interviewing my “bredda” (Jamaican Patois for “brother”, but also “friend” or “mate”) Abenet, who was in his late 20s (see: http://michelconci.blogspot.nl/2012/06/reggae-music-lovers-in-netherlands.html).
This time I interview another “bredda” of mine, Bill.
Bill is a younger bredda who as I write this is 18 years old. His full name is Bill van Oostrom. He is a DJ (or “Selector” in reggae/Jamaican parlance) of mostly reggae music, playing and selecting songs in different clubs and at different reggae- and/or dub-minded events in and around Amsterdam. His DJ name is (Selectah) Ill Bill.
That is more or less how I first met him: Bill, a younger, Dutch guy with short to medium-length dreadlocks, was at one time “Selecting”, being the DJ, or – as some say - “spinning”, in a reggae-minded club in central Amsterdam (while I was there). But I encountered him more and more after this, since late 2012: at a Mad Professor concert in Amsterdam, other reggae concerts (e.g. of Ziggi), or King Shiloh sound system sessions. And at other times when he worked as DJ/Selector at reggae-minded clubs (e.g. Frontline or Café The Zen) I visited regularly in Amsterdam.
Ill Bill was also one of the Dee Jays at the 10 Years Anniversary party of the (Dutch-based) reggae organization the Black Star Foundation. This party/event named ‘A Decade Of Reggae Music’ was held the 22 of March of 2013, at concert venue the Melkweg in Amsterdam. Dutch and Jamaican reggae artists like Joggo, Vivian Jones, and Spectacular performed at that event on stage.
In short: I know him from the broad reggae scene in Amsterdam, as both DJ and visitor..
Since I heard him “select” tunes (mostly old-time vinyl, by the way) as a DJ in clubs and at several parties, I already got a vague idea of his preferences within reggae. Talking to him in person it was specified more, as well as through (modern times!) Facebook posts by him of songs. Often the songs he either played or linked to I liked as well. Sometimes he pointed me to names I did not know. Partly, our reggae tastes seem similar.
Still, there is enough that remains unknown to me about Bill as a reggae lover, about the person behind the DJ Ill Bill. That’s why I asked him some deeper questions.
Bill estimates he got into reggae really somewhere between his 10th or 12th birthday, at first mostly listening to music of Bob Marley, as well as Dutch-based reggae acts Beef and Ziggi (Recado). Alongside reggae his musical tastes were, at first, varied and he then also listened to hip-hop, rock, grunge, or pop.
He relates that what strongly appealed to him in reggae was the “relaxed vibe” that combined with rebellious lyrics and messages. He also found the apparent “simplicity” of reggae to be - in fact - powerful.
In time he started to specialize and “delve deeper” into reggae. It was around when he was 15 year of age that Bob Marley became less interesting, too well-known for him, and he started checking out other reggae artists who were at their prime at the time: Sizzla, Buju Banton, Capleton and others. He got to like them, and around that time (around his 16th) he had become a DJ, starting to focus then more on Dancehall Reggae, and he got into that: including the type of dancehall with “slackness” lyrics.
He explains how he by then understood the lyrics – in Jamaican Patois and English - better, also of this type of Dancehall. He found out that the lyrics consisted indeed too often of “slackness”, meaning often boastful, and violence- and sex-themed lyrics. He did not appreciate this slackness so much, and got bored with it.
He tells how he then searched other directions, but still within the broad reggae realm. In his school, the new, not quite reggae, but reggae-influenced genre of ‘Dubstep’ was then upcoming and had fans. Through this Bill got interested in deeper origins of this Dubstep: namely more original reggae 'Dub', as it arose since the Roots Reggae era in Jamaica, in the 1970s, pioneered by King Tubby and developed by Lee Perry and others, and later variants in Britain, such as by Mad Professor and the Vibronics. He really got into dub.
The phat echoes and heavy, pounding bass lines of dub was “what he really was searching”, he states. I imagine he partly means the kind of bass that you, with piled up, large speakers (sound system style), feel vibrating through your whole body, especially your belly.
This does not mean that Bill since then only likes dub. It is only one of the types of reggae he got into. In fact, he points out how he is a big fan of vocal songs combined with dub versions. It was long common in Jamaican music, in the vinyl age, to have a vocal song followed by an instrumental or dub version of it. This became customary for many Jamaican records since around 1968. Interestingly, Bill says that this dub version of a song actually gives you time to think better about the A-side with vocals, that played before.
Bill surely has maintained this strong attention toward lyrics, also of the tunes he plays as DJ. He presently even claims he knows all the lyrics of all the tunes he ever played/spinned as DJ/Selector! That’s remarkable.
He thus likes Jamaican Dub, and e.g. UK Steppers Dub, but equally - vocal - original Roots Reggae, and Early Dancehall.
I saw and heard Bill play (spin) mostly “old-time” vinyl records. That is an observation not a critique. I myself in fact slightly prefer the sound of “vinyl” as well: it just feels as if it makes the music flow better. I think that flow got lost a bit between the O’s and 1’s of digital transcription of sonic waves.
Bill says however he is not a Strictly Vinyl Selector, though I initially thought this. He confirms that recently he prefers vinyl, but he interchanges it still at times with CD or digital music (wav, mp3).
He describes how precisely this switching from digital to vinyl music is a “magical” experience for him. For with vinyl, he gets more the feeling he literally “has the music in his hands”. Added to this, he points at the greater difficulty of mixing vinyl tracks (compared to digital tracks): making it a more interesting challenge for him as a DJ.
His DJ name is, as mentioned, DJ Ill Bill. Why “Ill” Bill?, I asked him. Like many unusual nicknames there is a good anecdote behind it: at the Magneet festival he was with Doctah-T of the Dub Doctors. Soon after he would join the Dub Doctors. As a kind of contradictory joke he presented himself as a doctor who is ill himself. Hence the name. Before this he went under the name DJ Buffalo Bill, but it became Ill Bill.
Bill is a Selector, but he is also occasionally a musician, you might say. He has been playing the guitar since he was 8 (thus: for about 10 years now). In addition, he is involved with production of especially electronic dub and Deep Sounds. He also enjoys playing the melodica at times.
He also makes/composes instrumental music, such as dub reggae songs. These, along with his mixes of reggae songs by various artists, can be found on his SoundCloud channel (see: http://soundcloud.com/dj-ill-bill-amsterdam)
Somewhat in line with this musical creativity, though more indirectly, he also spins/plays the reggae instrumental or dub music for others to toast, chat, or sing over. I have seen him spin and change the tunes and collaborate thus live in clubs for upcoming and more settled artists like Netherlands-based (but from Saba in the Caribbean) Rastaman and “cultural” Dee Jay (in the Jamaican reggae meaning of “vocalist”) One Root Freeman, as well as for known Jamaican artist King Kong. Ill Bill selected for both One Root Freeman and King Kong at the New Year’s Party (2012-2013) at Café the Zen in Amsterdam.
Bill tells me that the message and lyrics of Rastafari-inspired, “conscious” reggae, the message of “peace, love, unity, and equality” appeared as natural and self-evident to him, and were in sync with his way of being. That is why he loves reggae, he explains: it has a message which meant and means very much for him. Moreover, he says it shows that he is not the only one who sees in daily life things that are in fact wrong and unjust.
In the present Bill is a big, and really committed, reggae fan, listening to it on a daily basis and constantly, and also spends much time searching reggae records. He mentions that on his i-Pod (again: modern times!) he listens now to, e.g., Augustus Pablo, King Tubby, Johnny Clarke, Twinkle Brothers, Black Uhuru, Capleton, Ranking Dread, Kanka, and also to Nyahbinghi drumming like of the Sons of Negus.
Bill has in common with the reggae lover I interviewed before on my blog, Abenet, the same importance he places on “positivity” in music and lyrics: Bill did say after all that he was put off and bored by slackness lyrics in much dancehall. Abenet saw aspects he could relate to within Rastafari, and Bill associates even more strongly with the Rastafari message.
Comparing with myself: what I suspected, based on my experienced and informed estimation (I try to avoid having prejudices), seems true: Bill’s taste in reggae is not too different from mine. Not identical, but close to my tastes. I also share the same association/identification with Rastafari, and find - like Bill - intelligent, socially conscious lyrics important.
Musically we seem to have a lot in common as well. A difference is maybe that I like Dub a bit less than Bill (only some selected dub albums and songs), and tend to be also more vocally oriented. I must say that I never got into UK Steppers too much, and even less into Dubstep or Jungle, but that’s me.. I do like some dubs of Augustus Pablo though, including with the melodica instrument, so that I do have in common with Bill, who likes to play the melodica now and then.
In common we also have our love for Roots Reggae, and Early Dancehall in the broad sense. More specific I also like the strong chatting “flow” of Capleton, and I am also a fan of Black Uhuru, to mention some artists Bill said were on his i-Pod. I have never heard before of Kanka, though, another name Bill mentioned. It turns out to be Dub-like.
Since I play bongos (percussion) my interest in Nyahbinghi drumming increased as well, just like Bill listens to it, though I always have been interested in drum patterns, and “grooves”, since I was very young.
All in all Bill has a lot of love for reggae, showing in a strong, sincere commitment to and interest in reggae music and culture, in all its variety, as well as in Rastafari and lyrics. It also made him quite knowledgeable about the genre and related themes. These seem to me good characteristics for someone who is a Reggae Selector/DJ at different venues and events..