When we consider the long and eclectic history of UK soundsystem culture, few sound systems spring to mind quicker than the legends of Mungo’s Hi-Fi. Besides their wicked creativity and gregarious energy, longevity and authenticity are the words best suited to describe the movement started by this small rag-tag group of glaswegian dub pioneers.
What started with the discovery of a battered and bruised Atari speaker found in a lonesome skip in Glasgow, quickly evolved into a thriving dub club that stood as a steadfast defender of Jamaican soundsystem culture.
Over the last decade Mungo’s Hi Fi have continued to shape the sound of contemporary block parties and aspiring sound systems, not in small part due to their legendary collabs with the likes of Eva Lazarus, Kiko Bun, Charlie P & Kenny Knots. Now, Mungo’s are preparing to flyback to Amsterdam to perform at this years Cannabis World Cup. We sat down to chat with founding partner Doug Paine about the systems history, musical influences and future projects.
THIS IS A 2&6 INTERVIEW WITH: MUNGO’S HI FI
Obviously your track Amsterdam is incredibly popular here in the city, so i would love to know how this track came about and what inspired you to write a track about Amsterdam? What was it about the city that you wanted to capture in the song?
The theme and lyrics for Amsterdam are by Eva Lazarus and reflect her real life experience. They talk of Amsterdam as a liberal parallel universe on our doorstep, which for many in the UK it is – both deeply connected and totally other.
The roots of Mungo’s Hi Fi are deeply immersed in Soundsystem culture, having built your first soundsystem out of an old ATARI and a speaker you found in a skip. I would love to know if there is anything you miss about those early days of DIY soundsystem culture now that you are all established artists with international followings?
The buzz of setting up our first dances will be hard to beat for sure: the sense of achievement putting the system together and making it work; persuading people to trust us with providing the music; but mainly pure youthful exuberance. Soundsystem events are about community, and we did play more to our friends and local crowds in the early days.
But every time that the music touches people is still meaningful to us – Playing to bigger crowds is great, but really it’s about the quality of the experience that matters, much more than the size of audience, and now we have a much bigger, geographically spread group of friends, although we see them a lot less frequently.
Mungo’s Hi Fi is beloved for many reasons, however one main reason is that the artist that you choose to bring onto your projects always elevates the tracks to another level. You have worked with some incredible people like Kiko Bun, Eva Lazarus, soom T & YT. But how do you decide who you want to work with? Is there a particular collab that sticks out as a lot of fun to make? & is there anybody else you are yet to work with that you would love to create a whole project with?
We pick artists who we feel a connection with, and who share our musical vision. This means work we with people we can get on with personally, as well as professionally. The process is hap-hazard – thinking back, there was never a master plan.
Right now I am reading Akala’s book, and I am thinking I would love to do a musical collaboration with him that can explore contemporary ideas of identity, which is a tricky subject generally, and particularly in Soundsystem music. But we always have a lot of projects on the go concurrently and like to work in an organic way.
Jump Up Quickly is a perfect example of how you guys blend and experiment with a wide variety of genres and sounds, taking on a more drum & bass inspired riddim than some of your other work. Who are the groups biggest musical influences both when you were starting up and now? Do you draw on a wide variety of genres for inspiration?
Sometimes it feels like we exist between genres. I think this is a more general phenomenon among musicians and fans alike, who are less likely to identify with one group or genre. We see ourselves as following the tradition of Soundsystem music, but this has many roots and branches, and in reality we are influenced by all kinds of music, from techno to jazz.
It was recently announced that you will be performing this year at the Amsterdam Cannabis Cup Championship at Westergasfabriek, are you guys excited to come over and perform?
The thought of travelling is especially exciting at this time, and it is always a great pleasure to come to Amsterdam. I really hope that we’ll be able to stop a little longer and take in some of the town. I had a great weekend in January 2020 when we played at Paradiso and were able to stay an extra night and walked many miles through the city streets. Would gladly continue that if time allows.
If you could see any 3 solo artists or bands from history in a live show who would you choose?
This is so broad I am going to slightly adjust the question to which 3 artists I would like to see perform a soundsystem session live together.
First person who comes to mind is Burning Spear – I saw him once in Montreax and I’ve never seen another performer with such mesmerising stage presence. Another artist I wish I could see on the lineup would be Dennis Brown for his good times funky soulfulness and it would be great to hear a female voice among them, so why not Koffee, who seems to do no wrong right now in bringing a fresh style and energy.
We always like to give shoutouts to the unsung album art heroes who always create dope covers so I would love to know who creates the amazing artwork for your projects like Forward Ever, Serious Time & Listening bug?
These artworks, as well as other albums and countless event posters have been created by Ellen G from My Lord Sound. We have collaborated musically and artistically with her for nearly 20 years. She has a deep understanding of Soundsystem Culture and incredible skill in capturing the mood and energy.
Is there a core piece of industry or business advice that you would give to a new soundsystem looking to start up now? Does the industry present different challenges now then when you guys entered?
Yes! It was hard when we started and even harder now to rise up above the crowd and noise in social media. But the principles of hard work and dedication are constant, even when the landscape changes. I think people can still connect with integrity and appreciate it all the more when they find it.
Lastly, we always like to end on a non music related question, so we would love to know where would you take someone who has no clue what Glasgow is about to show them the real city?
While being on the edge of Europe, Glasgow is a port and has a really global history and a distinctive open vibrancy about it. Food wise, among many other local and far flung traditions, Glasgow has been a gateway to curry culture for the UK. Our favourite place is called the Banana Leaf and is near our studio, which is handy for their lunchbox deals. They do really authentic South Indian cuisine, and my favourite dish is the dosa.
For live music…Probably the most Glasgwegian venue is the Barrowlands Ballroom. Built next to the old Barrowlands market in the east end, it opened originally in 1938 and is still independently owned and run today. It misses out on the more commercial tours these days, but it’s 2000 capacity and oldschool arched hall are definitely worth taking in.