Since the age of 18, Sam Howard aka DJ Stryda has been pushing the local roots scene, whether that’s through roots music duo Dubkasm with longtime pal Ben Glass (Digistep), his influential Sufferah’s Choice radio show and record label, or his regular Teachings in Dub soundsystem nights at Trinity Centre.

So much so, that many of the Bristol artists we’ve spoken to over the years at Nitelife have cited Stryda as a direct influence and mentor figure.

‘I think maybe that’s through the length of time I’ve been doing it. I started on the radio in 1996 on Ragga FM when I was 18, and I was the youngster looking for guidance from people in the scene around me and feeling my way into this music scene that I loved.

‘Over the last ten years, I’ve become established in my own right and then younger people coming up have collaborated, and that’s the way it’s just naturally unfolded.

‘Teachings in Dub especially has always been aimed at young people coming along, because it was set up initially with involvement from the Bristol Reggae Society at Bristol uni. It was always aimed at handing stuff on to the next generation, or at least being a place where people could come and see stuff in its authentic set up, with actual soundsystems coming in.’

Teachings in Dub was always aimed at handing stuff on to the next generation, or at least being a place where people could come and see stuff in its authentic set up

Teachings in Dub was originally set up in conjunction with Pinch’s now iconic Subloaded nights in Stoke Croft’s Clockwork in 2007.

‘Upstairs was Pinch’s Subloaded and downstairs was Teachings. A lot of people came for dubstep as that sound had just been established – people were so hungry for it that they were flocking through the door. But they would venture downstairs and hear the Teachings room for the first time – sometimes hear a reggae soundsystem for the first time – and slowly people latched onto that. When Clockwork closed down, Subloaded continued on its own and Teachings continued on its own. I took it to Trinity Centre and everyone followed!’

One thing that Stryda has been clear on from the very beginning is respecting the origin and tradition of roots culture and soundsystem music – disappearing to Kingston, Jamaica to meet Rasta elders and explore soundsystem culture instead of handing in his A Level coursework. Although he says he regrets not finishing his studies, it was an early indication of his passion for the music he has dedicated his life to.

‘Roots soundsystem sessions differ from your average mash up night where it’s a mixed bag and you’ve got hourly sets and different genres, it’s a bit more purist with Teachings.

Roots soundsystem sessions differ from your average mash up night where it’s a mixed bag and you’ve got hourly sets and different genres, it’s a bit more purist with Teachings

‘For example, the next Teachings is Channel One soundsystem and there will be a certain order to the dance that’s dictated by Mikey (Dread) controlling the soundsystem.

‘I feel that it’s important to keep Teachings in Dub going because it gives a window into that world for people. In turn, some people have started to buy records and build their own little sounds, or become production outfits – for example, Gorgon Sound used to come to Teachings nights. It’s lovely to see them going around the world and doing their thing now and know that they were influenced by coming to those nights when they were youngsters.’

Stryda continues to play an important part in forging relationships between the worlds of dub and dubstep through collaborations with Deep Medi boss Mala, having become good friends since bumping into each other on the Eurostar and deciding to go for a cup of tea.

He can be held responsible for Deep Medi’s first ever outing in Bristol, thanks to his Teachings in Dub presents: Deep Medi event in 2015, the success of which led onto a TID x Deep Medi Weekender later that year. The Weekender is now an annual highlight for heads from both spheres.

We want to celebrate soundsystem culture as a whole and bridge the gap between the scenes

‘We want to celebrate soundsystem culture as a whole and bridge the gap between the scenes. Generally, one night has been more dubstep focused and the other has been a bit more foundation, dubwise focused. But it’s still been amazing to see Mala do his old school set on the more Teachings focused night and see those worlds come together under one roof and in one room, as opposed to the two separate rooms from the Subloaded days.

‘It’s a one-off, once a year thing, but it’s nice to break down those barriers. It’s been a good meeting of minds and I feel really proud of the vibes that have been generated at The Weekenders.

‘They’re not two extremely different worlds. For Ben and I, when we had our album remixed by the dubstep greats of Bristol at the time (Transform I Remixed contributors included Pinch, Peverelist, Appleblim, Gemmy and RSD) that was an experience we could never come back from.

When we had our album remixed by the dubstep greats of Bristol at the time – that was an experience we could never come back from

‘You hand over your material and it comes back to you reinvented – it’s amazing, because you don’t know what’s going to come back to you. Everyone was experimenting with sound and vibe, and it was brilliant. I’ve always been such a roots man – and still am – but that took the blinkers off a little bit and allowed me to appreciate that there’s so much great stuff out there, and in our city particularly.’

Stryda can trace the beginnings of his career path pretty clearly back to when he started working on Bristol’s pirate radio station Ragga FM at the age of 18.

‘You’re talking pre-internet, pirate radio – high rise flats, old ganja growing rooms, disused crack houses, the back of shops – it was all proper pirate beginnings.

You’re talking pre-internet, pirate radio – high rise flats, old ganja growing rooms, disused crack houses, the back of shops – it was all proper pirate beginnings

‘I’d been a pirate fan since I was a kid, so I was getting on the radio to meet some of the people I’d been listening to on tape cassette for years. And actually transmitting to Bristol with a very small record collection – to the point where I did my first few shows and realised if I didn’t buy more records soon I’d be playing the same stuff. And it all started to grow from there…

‘My very first show, Ben was tuned in from his A Level art block in Cotham, and I was playing the first early Dubkasm. Then through the radio and going to dances, I got to know people in the scene. A guy called Dr Gaffa from Armagideon Sounds, who was doing a lot in the 90s for dub in Bristol, was putting together a compilation album called Dub Out West – dub out west of London – and we played him a track. He signed it and suddenly there was this first Dubkasm release.

‘I carried on with the radio, interviewing as many people as I could – Shaka, Aba Shanti-I, Augustus Pablo – many greats. Ben would often come along with me and, if they were a soundsystem, leave a DAT tape with them. Then Shaka started to play Dubkasm on dubplate – which was the biggest honour for us – and Aba Shanti-I followed suit. So Dubkasm became this underground dubplate name for a lot of years.

Dubkasm became this underground dubplate name for a lot of years

‘Eventually the reaction these dublates were getting was so good, we decided to put them out on our own label. That’s when we started Sufferah’s Choice – named after the radio show – and we put the first release out in 2003.’

Fast forward to today and Dubkasm remain a hugely respected name in the dub and roots world, with sought-after releases, huge collaborations and a strong live presence.

‘There’s lots of exciting stuff going on – remix projects, collabs, and an album we’ve been working on for many years, which we’re still trying to complete. And the live shows are still bubbling away – I feel very blessed that we can still do that.’

In terms of what advice he’d have for the younger generations coming up, in true Teachings form, he has plenty:

‘I’d always advise people to be true to themselves and the music they love, but also in terms of events, try and put things on where you feel there’s a need for it, rather than oversaturating things and doing it just because you want to. It’s worth looking at the bigger picture of what the city needs, as opposed to what the individual needs.

if – or should I say when – SWU FM gets a full time license, I think that’ll be a great thing for people to get involved in

‘In terms of radio, if – or should I say when – SWU FM gets a full time license, I think that’ll be a great thing for people to get involved in. That’s what I did, there was a radio station called Respec FM and I just phoned them up and asked if they needed help answering the phones.

‘Something I feel quite strongly about in this world of social media and always being in front of a screen – communication has changed so much, but I feel there was a lot to be said for me and my peers having to take that extra time to record a tape, package it up, send it in the post and having to wait for that person to listen to it, or until you see that person at a dance in Brixton.

There’s nothing wrong with still taking a bit of an old school approach

‘You had to make an extra effort physically, but because of that, the friendships that were formed were much more longstanding. Because we’re in an age when it’s so easy to hit someone up, I’ll get messages that say: “Here’s my new tune” or “Can you book me?” on Facebook chat with hardly any introduction, and I just think it’s such an extreme difference from where I’m coming from.

‘There’s nothing wrong with still taking a bit of an old school approach. If you’ve got a tune that someone really likes, maybe pay for it to be cut onto a dubplate at Dub Studio in Bristol and send it to that DJ.  Or try and have a chat in person and just make that effort.

We’re bombarded with information and you want what you do to count

‘I still to this day will send handwritten letters if we’ve got a new tune and I send it to say, Mala, for example. And he says he keeps the letters in the sleeve. It’s nice to still have that human element. Otherwise it’s all so quick – you blink and it’s over or you’re forgotten. We’re bombarded with information and you want what you do to count and to last, which is a part of our reason for pressing vinyl – it’s there physically and it’s going to last.’

Teachings in Dub returns this Friday at Trinity Centre with Channel One soundsystem, and you can catch Dubkasm at Trinity Centre’s Free Garden Party on 14 May.

EVENTS:
28 April, Teachings in Dub, Trinity Centre 
14 May, Dubkasm at Trinity Free Garden Party

photography by Martin Thompson: TheFaceCollective

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