Labels We Love: Truckback

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Every day this month we're rolling out a new feature on XLR8R's Labels We Love of 2009. Whether it's the eye-catching aesthetics of Type or the model-for-the-future approach of Interdependent Media, these cut-making selections of the best in underground electronic, indie, hip-hop, and experimental imprints punch way above their weight. Feast your eyes on the features and then download many of the labels' related podcasts here.

An enterprising label delivers fresh dancehall riddims to the world.

In keeping with Jamaica’s tradition of ingenuity and making “something outta nothing,” the inspiration for Kingston-based dancehall label Truckback is hardly surprising. For label CEO and producer Steve Locke, it came down to economics and time management. “I had to have my own studio because it’s difficult to create on somebody’s time if you’re watching the clock,” says Locke on the line from Kingston. “So our studio is actually in a truck.”

In 2005, after returning from touring with Maxi Priest as a bassist in the band Kaushun, Locke looked at the fleet of idle 26-foot cargo trucks that were used for his concert production business and thought, “Let me run some power chords in here and see how it sounds.” He eventually blocked off different sections, added a vocal booth, sound insulation, and a Pro Tools system, and Truckback was born. Since then Locke, along with his brothers Adrian and (New York-based) Andrew, has released a string of well-received dancehall cuts, culminating with DJ Erup’s 2008 number-one single “Click Mi Finga” on the Gearbox riddim. Locke is confident about replicating their success: “Anyone cyaan make a music, but Truckback is a brand. Everywhere you go, you’re gonna hear Truckback somewhere in the mix.”

Along with the fast-rising Erup, Truckback manages singer Baijie (pronounced “bay-gee”), DehDeh, and Shaq the MC. Located in New Kingston’s Hip Strip club district, the Truckback yard buzzes with artists hanging out, writing songs, and vibing on the label’s new beats, which include the automotive-inspired Clutch, Springblade, Ole Axle, and Dashboard riddims. “I play bass guitar, keyboards, and program drum machines,” says Locke, “so [a riddim] can start anywhere—trust me! It can start with a hi-hat, a conga drum, or a piano riff. I use Pro Tools 8, Reason, Native Instruments plug-ins, T-Racks systems; we also use live instruments or overdub the drum machine with live drums.”

Locke’s knowledge for what works in the dance was derived from following concerts rather than the soundsystem circuit. “I grew up on live shows, seeing Early B, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplain, and artists in that era,” he explains. “And I was inspired by three live bass players—Derrick Barnett from [Yellowman’s] Sagittarius band, Dr.Paul from Riddim Kings, and Mikey Fletcher, who plays with Shaggy. Their technique, style, charisma, and whole vibes made me think, ‘This is good, I like this.’”

After touring with Kaushun, and backing Gregory Isaacs in Africa and Shabba Ranks in Europe, Locke decided it was time to start making his own music. And while some Truckback riddims have a decidedly American pop feel, the label is devoted to making authentic Jamaican sounds. “We want the harder kick, a harder snare,” says Locke. “Come man, keep it roots so the girl dem cyaan bruk out to it, so our girl can wine dem waist to it!”