Some labels are intrinsically motivated by a mission. For the Portland- and Detroit-based Foundation Channel, that quest is to preserve and promote electronic music’s dub roots. They go at it with the zeal of faith healers anointing listeners with material drawing from original roots-reggae instrumentation and vocals, augmented with both analog and digital dub mixing techniques. They’ve christened their eclectic brand of bass music “subwise,” and have released compilations and EPs devoted to expanding on their sonic palette.
In 2012, label co-founder Evan Glicker, right, who records as Satta Don Dada, began reaching out to his dub producer peers to connect and trade music. But as the Detroit native’s contact list grew, his focus turned to assembling a compilation that would showcase fresh talent representing the kind of earthy, echo-drenched sounds he favored, and reintroduce reggae DNA into bass music’s increasingly aggressive, alien structure. At the time, mainstream “brostep” had reached a popular apex in the U.S.—and Glicker aimed to counter the trend.
Glicker contacted his eventual label partner, Portland resident Douglas Keeney (a.k.a. Modi Bardo), left, to contribute a track. At the time, Keeney had been working for producer DZ’s Badman Press label, and knew the ins and outs of the music business. Keeney also had a deep appreciation for all things dub, so joining Foundation Channel’s missionary activities made perfect sense. “We were both into dubstep and slow-and-low reggae-influenced bass music,” Keeney explains. “At the time, the reggae sound [in dubstep] was on its way out.”
Originally planned as a series of casual posts to Soundcloud, the project became a serious venture after the label secured tracks from U.K. talents DJ Madd and Cotti, plus American heavies Roommate, Djunya, Matty G and Dubsworth. Foundation Channel Volume 1 was released July 2013. Proceeds from the collection were donated to Street Child Africa, a conscious move to connect the label’s sounds to greater social issues. “We wanted to do the compilation as a charity-based project,” says Glicker. “The idea was to get the general gist of the label out there and tie it in with something deeper, to give back to something foundational as well.”
“Whether it’s a future-sounding track, or an expansion on the remix concept, the roots [of what we do] are always in dub.”
Things moved fast from there with the Foundation Channel Remixes collection hitting the streets at the start of 2015, followed by several new EPs, albums and remixes. Contributing to their rapid output was Glicker and Keeney's mutual agreement on the label’s core sound and where they want to take it. Both share the view that electronic music and remix culture have their origins in dub; the Jamaican music innovation is the centerpiece for all their releases. “All our releases and everyone we sign to the label has that same idea,” says Keeney. “Whether it’s a future-sounding track, or an expansion on the remix concept, the roots [of what we do] are always in dub.”
From that base, Foundation Channel’s releases expand into diverse electronic styles, from Golden Eye’s G-funk-tinged dubstep to Tusk One’s ethereal, minimalist tracks, to Glicker and Keeney's own low-end bass work. As Keeney sees it, although the label was set up to pay homage to everything dub, they want to keep things open to experimentation. Recently, the label has started working closer with vocalists, including Canada’s Collinjah and Jamaica’s Carlton Livingston, to name a few.
“We really want to work with the originators,” explains Keeney. “In fact, Golden Eye and myself recently just put a free track on Soundcloud called "Run Dem" featuring Ranking Joe.” A veteran of Jamaican sound systems like Ray Symbolic Hi-Fi since the '70s, Ranking Joe lent his distinctive toasting style to the track. Glicker says the label is exploring releases with other original Jamaican icons, including Horace Andy, but they’re just as motivated to feature newer vocal talents. “We have a track that Doug made with Canada’s Clinton Sly we’re excited about and hoping to get out in the new year,” says Glicker. “I had a track in works with U.K. singer Rod Azlan, but he’s just so busy right now that it will be a while before that one comes out.”
The pair have been devoting so much energy to collaborative projects and EPs by other artists that they haven’t had time to execute their own releases recently. They’re looking to change that soon. “I would like to see a Modi and Satta album in 2016," Keeney says. "We have a lot of tracks started, so we’re definitely moving in that direction. Ultimately, our aim is to keep exploring within in our own sound—and see how far we can take it.”
Building The Foundation: Key Releases
XLR8R exclusive download: Satta Don Dada & Modi Bardo ft. Collinjah "No Love In My City" (Dubwise Version)
Satta Don Dada & Modi Bardo ft. Collinjah - No Love In My City (Dubwise Version) V.10
From the opening kick, your ears are thrust into an echoey universe where vocals snippets drift through spectral piano chords, with only conga and percussion as a guide rope through the foggy rhythm. Collinjah sings forlornly that there is “no love in my spirit, no love in the town” before a crisp jungle breakbeat hacks through the track’s sinewy bass notes.
Golden Eye Mutual EP
The EP sees brooding reggae-fueled dubstep and brassy West Coast G-funk spread over four tracks, each revealing a varied take on the formula. “Hustlin’ and “Mutual Dub” are clean, synth-lead numbers that sound like an exquisitely stoned Dr. Dre making dubstep.”Fully Loaded” has a vintage Dub Police or Tempa quality to it, while “Saturate” is jazz chillstep reminiscent of Silkie’s R&B-tinged work. Keeney describes Golden Eye as a “really interesting guy” who lives off the grid, deep in the Northern California wilderness. “He’s got a serious analog studio with tape machines, vintage EQ units and stuff he’s built from kits,” he says, noting that the artist’s style is a culmination of things he grew up with: West Coast gangster music and reggae. “He’s got a really
clear, clean sound that’s still dirty at the same time, Keeney describes. “It has that analog stink on it.”
Professor Stone Bush Dubs (The Ital Collection)
Spatial, minimal dub, with live and electronic instrumentation from a prolific American producer. Think Deadbeat remixing On-U Sound label.
Tusk One Rite of Passage EP
Tusk One explores expansive foreign territories on sparse, moody bass tracks that blend in intricate minimal beats, ethnic percussion and atmospheric field recordings. If electronic experimentalists Muslimgauze or Pole were remixed by Digital Mystikz it might sounds like this. Tusk started his music endeavors under the guise DJ Porkchop. Keeney remembers hearing a set in ‘09 while he was “quite medicated”. “He went from super-deep dubwise to artists like Martyn and 2562, to really grimey garage, to 8-bit, to jungle-meets-world-meets-dub stuff,” Keeney recalls. “He blew my mind. I connected with him and his sound had developed a lot; it’s not restricted to any tempo. It sounds like he’s drawing from Rhythm & Sound, Basic Channel to heavier dubstep or footwork sounds. He’s an exciting addition to our family.”
Satta Don Dada & Modi Bardo The Coolie Rockers EP
Dub samples get chopped, edited and radically reshaped on this essential Foundation Channel release. Imagine snippets of King Tubby reel--to-reel tapes fed into a glitchy sampler. Add echo and mix. The result is fresh take on original roots dub that captures the original’s fervent spirit and adds its own futurist twist. Label cofounders Glicker and Keeney serve various original mixes while Professor Stone, Matt Green and Golden Eye add prodigious versions of their own.
Carlton Livingston & Modi Bardo "Country Livin'"
This forthcoming track features Jamaican singer Carlton Livingston, left, whose 1983 track “100 Weight of Collie Weed” is an all time ganja-smokers classic. Livingston’s soft vocals add a gentle counterpoint to Modi Bardo’s weighty, reggae-infused bass backdrop. Glicker connected with the reggae icon via Twitter, sent over some of Doug’s tracks to the now Brooklyn-based artist and the tune quickly came together. Keeney notes that when Satta eventually met Carlton in Brooklyn to shoot a video, the artists generously introduced him to the local reggae community, offered tips on distribution, and opened his network to the label.
Modi Bardo & Collinjah "Ganja Ting"
This upcoming track features Jamaica-born and Canada-based singer Collinjah, right. Keeney describes him as a versatile artist with a command of dancehall lyrics, uplifting roots vocals and dub chanting. “The work we’ve done with him sounds explosive,” Keeney enthuses. “He really gets both the dub aesthetic and hip-hop and is able to join them. Ultimately dub and electronic is where we started with the label, but we’re also stretching out,” say Keeney who adds that the collaboration see his own early-90s hip-hop production ideas mixed with Collinjah dancehall and dub background. “It was just what naturally happened when we mixed our sounds.”