Making note of a slightly newer generation of heads and a slightly older generation of movers & tastemakers, for the past few years Boston has been leaping and bounding within New England dance music; steadily living up to its golden grasshopper iconology. During & after the Together Festival last month, Big Love Archives spent some time speaking with Chris Ward (C Dubz); local promoter, dj & co-founder of BASSIC, one of the first premier dubstep/soundsystem events in the US.
The first time we met was at Good Life the night Mark (Mala) played. That Bolt Bus ride was long; something like 8 hours. I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I finally arrived just as he was going on… I remember walking down the stairs & feeling the vibes in that room hit me thickly. The sound is so packed in there… By far, a memorable experience. For those reading who might not know, tell me about BASSIC. How did it begin?
Well, basically we’re recreating how we experienced it when we first got into music & dubstep, if you want to say that. It was around Spring 2007. Damien and I were sick of drum and bass. We were hardcore jungle heads. If you look at my record collection before that date, I really didn’t have much. It was all drum and bass. At that point, I was personally frustrated where I was in life. Sort of not finished with my undergrad… all these other personal things… trying to find a place to live. It was April or March of 2007. It was Damien, myself, my friend Nick Isotope, my friend Josephine. We had all gone to New York for the weekend. My friend Nick worked for Cakewalk. At the time, he was in NYC for a tradeshow & he had a hotel… Josephine was like “Yo I found this crazy party and Kode 9 is playing”. I remember walking in and we got in & I heard ‘Night’. That was the 1st time I’d heard Night & I think it was on dub. I think Joe was playing it or Dave. I remember walking in and seeing Kode 9 doing a live PA & he just started playing dubs. Joe just started pulling up every record. Damien & I were like ‘What the f^ck is this? This is crazy’. So we started going to Dub War…
We used to do this thing at the Solstice Cafe in Mission Hill. These older guys were yuppies. They’d totally bought the place from the previous owner & tried to make it into this posh slick synthetic place. They didn’t get what we were doing. We did a little weekly thing (there). The whole thing about the spot was the soundsystem. Otherwise who cares, this place had like 30 people. These guys were like “We want you to play samba”. & we were like “We don’t even have samba”. That was like April or May. & this guy KC said “Talk to my buddy Peter”, owner of the Good Life. That was june 2007 & so we did it. & we all just played our records we’d all collected up to that point. (Getting Fridays) was definitely the turning point for us, finding a larger audience, being more sustainable. Because Wednesdays are hard… (but) we had a crowd. & we were starting to get to the point where we were telling our regulars to come early. Falty DL can tell you about that. He had just learned Ableton. We had like 20 people in the room downstairs. It was like Drew & his friends. I think he was just too new at that point.
So what kept it going?
It was just who we are as people. It’s not like we’re trying to get famous or get money. We literally break even every time. If we have a little extra cash, it goes back into the show. Damien wants to put together a party. For me, it’s like hearin the music I want to hear outside of my bedroom. (This is) not really a negative or selfish point of view, but I don’t really care what other people think about it. We really were never about hype or flashy. (It’s more) just what I want to hear… except the scuba M&M thing.
What Scuba & M&M thing?
I didn’t tell you about that? Paul (Scuba / Hotflush) is kind of shy. My girlfriend came up with this idea of a Good Life logo on one side & Paul’s face on the other side. It was cool but it got all funky on people’s hands.
Otherwise it’s been all about setting a vibe. Not to say we are like Dub War because I don’t think we are. But as far as what we want in our night, it’s similar to Dave & his vision of how we wanted Dub War to be. We’re doing it here because it’s about the music. With Mala, we did a cover of 10 but normally we try to keep it at 5 so it’s open for people. It’s not that niche where people are paying 15 dollars. It’s 5 bucks so people can check it out. That’s how it was when I was younger… It’s the same for Damien and Todd. Damien uses his laptop because he doesn’t really have time to buy records anymore. Andrew plays his laptop only when it’s music he makes. Otherwise Andrew & I are pretty much playing strictly all vinyl.
Yeah. & or cuts… That’s what we grew up on. l remember seeing DJ Flight in 04. She had 2 bags: A bag of dubs & she had a bag of Heathmans. I don’t know if you know Heathmans. I don’t know if they’re still around. It’s a place to get dubs cut. You can’t ask to go there, you have to get invited. It’s super exclusive. Like when Google first came out, you had to get the invite.
So (it’s about) trying to keep traditions around that we experience - of ‘coming up’, in a way. Because that’s sometimes gotten lost. We do that through the artists we bring. It’s not the same old people or clique of artists that we consider to be specific to something, but we probabably wouldn’t book Skrillex ‘cause that’s not who we are… But as far as booking at Good Life, we want to bring different stuff. Like Rashad we’ve wanted to get for awhile. Poirier was another. We had Glitch Mob 3 or 4 times before they got really big… It’s walking that fine line. I find (it) challenging. As soon as you say yes to booking one person, you automatically say no to the infinite [hands spread] whatever else that’s out there… to what we know & don’t know.
How do you keep it open to different sounds?
I think we do that well between the 4 of us because we have our different tastes, searching four different sources. Damien’s Puerto Rican & has that funky perspective. He’s also the manager of Good Life. Andrew is very focused on his music & connected with other artists & lesser known people. Todd’s the mystery man. You never know what Todd’s gonna throw at you. I’m really into minimal stuff right now… Personally I think the next big thing is no more snares…
And we’re always changing, too, which I think is good. Because before it was the four of us. It was with our friend Jamal & our friend Dan & our friend Josephine. Josephine was there in the beginning as well. & then she moved to Hawaii, which was hard because she was definitely our hype man… So I think Andrew & Todd really stepped up to fill Jo’s absence in their own way & I think they’ve done a really good job of that.
In what way?
Todd (McLeod) does a lot of graphic work for us. He doesn’t do as many flyers anymore; more graphic design & internet stuff, forums where people know where to look. Andrew has own following with his music & he’s always trying to network. Super professional & outgoing…. Damien’s managing the bar. I’m not super outgoing. I’m more distanced & cut off when it comes to interacting… When we do BASSIC, I like to sit back & watch other people as far as their reactions… observing what they’re doing versus engaging (with them). Am I seeing new people, are they liking this? What’s going on? On occassions where it’s amazing, I’m too… caught up in the moment. Or I am never fully caught up… I like seeing people enjoy themselves. We are approaching it from a business mentality, but it’s about making sure everything’s lined up to go off well & then sit back & enjoy it. Say, for (Mala on) Friday… he can throw his bag down, he can get in the booth, he doesn’t have to worry about a soundcheck. He knows our M.O. He knows what we do. He can do his thing. & people can enjoy themselves. I have less to worry about.
You’ve set your foundation.
Yeah. I had a good convo with Joe Nice about this. 1st & foremost you have to look at this as a business. It’s not like we’re setting up & letting people know we’re coming. It’s never like that. I think the moment I don’t feel stressed about it, that’s it, I shouldn’t be doing it anymore. If I dont get those butterflies and tension & stuff, then I know it’s not right. So when the artist & everybody is happy, then I’ve got that afterbuzz, I can’t sleep. I can’t explain it. When the party comes to an end, the tension is relieved & I just get hit with it.
The other half is you have to have a business mentality. But it also has to be very personal. It’s not just like we want a good party. We’re booking these artists because we like their music. I think it’s always better to have a personal connection. There’s a deeper bond. It makes things better…
It’s about letting (the artists) know you appreciate their music & letting them know what makes our city our city… letting people know who you are. I guess I have a similar approach to working with students & my own work in education. It’s like trying to understand the immeasurables. So you can judge people how they do on a test. But then you can judge your interactions, dialogue & all those other things that you can’t quantify or put in numbers.
Will you continue to do this for awhile?
I can definitely say I want to stay involved in music in some form… Our five year anniversary is coming up in June. Summer’s gonna be hot for us. I definitely see us doing this for awhile longer. We’ve all got our own lives. We might change our format of how we do it… We’ll see where it goes. & then I gotta find a real job.
Do you see Boston supporting new directions for you? How do you see things developing from here with regard to this music & the city, its history?
I think it’s good. I think it’s turned around. I used to be a drum & bass head. Around 2003, there used to be a line around the street. By 2004, 2005 there was definitely a real slump. Not necessarily in Boston, but I think overall. There was a boom in the 90s & everybody was like ‘Yeah. Rave’. Back then I was going to the parties. & when we were doing our parties, there was one called Heartthrob. I think that was a Tuesday. At a club called Middlesex. They really blew me away. They did really good stuff for electro. They had Chromeo before they blew up. They were hitting capacity on a Tuesday at 10:30… I don’t know. I wasn’t real big on their music but I had a lot of respect for Julian & Greg.
One thing that kills me in Boston is it’s a rock city & their soundsystems are just crap. You need it all. I think Boston is starting to become a city where people are seeing that things are going on. It’s not just some sh^tty rock town. It’s totally different than when I moved here in 2000, 2002. It’s not just gentrification but the overall changes in the city itself. I think it’s definitely for the better. For the most part, it’s come a long way. But there’s still a long way to go.
The other thing I’d say is there are a lot of producers coming up out of Boston. When I first moved here there were the Hot Pink Delorean guys, the Tanner Ross & the Soul Clap guys. I used to see these guys when they were young djs & now they’re putting out tunes & that’s nice. When I first came here it was always like New York or SF making tunes. But now it’s here. & then you’ve got the younger guys Wheez-ie & Prism. & they’ve both got great attitudes… & a lot of the other people, they’re not assholes. They’re cool people. Which is nice.
One other thing I’ve tried to do recently is connect more with the younger kids who come out to my night. I try to school them without giving out too much info about how we do things. I like to give them some insight while also letting them find ways to do things on their own, which is challenging because I’m kind of low key… I didn’t really have that when I was younger. I didn’t have mentors. I did a lot of dumb sh^t. But now I try to pass things on, especially for how it works for me. Which is hard because I don’t like to share. It’s like secret magic. You’ve got to earn your way into the club… [laughs] But I’ll show you some & not give away everything, which is also good for me in education. It’s not just me, but also Damien (who does this). I see it as a community. It’s like ‘Come out to this night & get involved’. Which is a great thing about Together, which has given a place for people to come out & connect with each other.
Anything else you feel people need to know right now?
Don’t underestimate the power of people who get you. It’s not always about next man. Maybe it’s about man or woman standing right in front of you. There is no such thing as tomorrow anyway. To think there is anything outside of this moment is delusion, fantasy.
One more. In the bag…?
I’ll give you 5 at the moment. Movado - Dem a talk (Compa Refix), Killawatt & Ipman - Schizophonia, DJ Q - Brandy & Coke, VIVEK - Feel It, & Orson - Kraut.
Big Love to the Good Life, Mala, Moldy & the Together crew
“Big Love to Alex Incyde, Josephine, Dabu, Jam-2, those who walk before & everyone that has shown BASSIC love” - C Dubz