Jesse I (Chant Down Sound)
Jesse I has played a part in Melbourne’s music scene since the late ‘90s when he started Chant Down Babylon for student radio station SRA. In 1999 he took his bags to PBS FM where he hosted the same show, now known as Babylon Burning. He has also played guest spots on various radio shows nationwide as well as internationally, as far and wide as Kiss in the UK and Jamaica’s Power FM. And his great love? The reggae and dancehall movements.
Needless to say, Jesse is well entrenched in the scene now – and as a result is in the process of putting together another birthday at the club night he runs with fellow Chant Down member Ras Crucial, which you need to know about. Fair to say then that he has been around for a little while and done his fair share of what you could comfortably call the ‘hard-yards’. Explaining that he discovered reggae when he studied overseas for a short time, the country boy from the Murray River laughs when he reminisces about his early life and times.
“You never hear anything like that up there,” he says in jest. “I was actually a gangster rap fan until I heard reggae, and that just opened up my eyes to a whole new world of music. When I first met Ras Crucial in 1998, it was like meeting a kindred spirit, because we had the same love of classic Rasta reggae, but also a keen interest contemporary dancehall sounds of Jamaica. At that time there was nobody else in Melbourne playing reggae and dancehall the way we were – staying up to date with the latest releases in Jamaica, and importing 7” singles regularly. We first played together at Revolver on Saturday afternoons but eventually got tired of just being relegated to afternoons and chill rooms. We wanted to give the music the spotlight and play in prime time! It’s pretty hype dance music so why only put it on a Sunday afternoon?”
With his wish granted, thoughts of conquering the world subsided – but a love of the music and the message it seeks to deliver – hasn’t. The spark is still there and the candle is still burning brightly. Indeed, Jesse explains the local scene is pretty strong.
“It’s pretty healthy overall, both locally and overseas. But personally I’d really like to see more reggae coming out of Jamaica because it has really been taken over by dancehall over there. Most of the older producers have dropped out of the game and the young guys are just interested in dancehall – a lot of the younger kids there dismiss reggae as something that belongs to another generation – so there has been a real decline in the amount of roots and culture reggae coming out of Jamaica in recent years. That said, there is still plenty of good stuff out there, so we’re never short of quality music at More Fire. We generally try to keep it primarily roots reggae early in the night and then get more into dancehall later in the evening.”
Having travelled extensively to the region (you know the one), Jesse has collected his fair share of exclusive dub plates, which he can’t wait to lay down. And the DJ lay-down happens at Chant Down club nights and not by accident. “The night is actually called More Fire but more people seem to call it Chant Down. Chant Down is actually the sound crew that Ras Crucial and I formed towards the end of the year 2000, before we started the More Fire nights in April 2001. Both Ras Crucial and I dj separately as well, but when we play together as Chant Down, we play more in the Jamaican soundsystem style with more mic hype and dubplate specials”
And while Jesse draws the line at the travel, the mixer and the headphones (he is a DJ after all!) he admits that while the production bug hasn’t bitten him, he is well and truly involved in the dub plate culture. “Reggae has a really big “dubplate” culture, where artists will voice custom songs for different crews that literally nobody else in the world can play. Whenever we go to Jamaica we spend a lot of time in the studio recording dubplates, so we have a big selection to bring out for special occasions like the birthday bash”
That said he is looking forward to the birthday gig, which he recalls from years past, are always wicked. “It’s sort of a friends and family vibe, as the lineup is mainly comprised of people that have played with us for years. Nowadays we’re a bit limited by the smoking laws, but we still try and make sure everyone gets into the party spirit. As well as the usual selectors and guest MCs, we’ll also have the Burn City Queenz dancing on the night, so that also adds an extra element. Basically it’s just gonna be some pretty crazy hyped people having a good time.
“The night first started 11 years ago down in the Mercat basement, and we were there until it closed in 2006. We moved to Brown Alley for two years and then to Miss Libertines for one – but when the Mercat reopened in 2009, we were stoked to return. It’s our spiritual home and it’s great to be back there.” Now grab your red, green and gold vibe and get down.
Chant Down play at More Fire's 11th Birthday Bashment which takes place at the Mercat Basement on Saturday April 14.