I first heard of Prince Fatty, aka Mike Pelanconi, ten years ago. I found him through one of the most unique voices in the UK reggae dub – Hollie Cook. Together they produced two reggae albums and one incredible dub LP, along with many singles. His project and the nickname started as a direct homage to King Tubby, while all of his productions consisted of a cool club of collaborators like Horseman, Shniece, Mad Professor, The Skints, Little Roy, The Last Poets, Winston Francis, Earl 16, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Mutant Hi-Fi, Monkey Man and Gaudi. His songs are ground-breaking, with heavy fat bass and pumping groovy drums, that make you think and dance at the same time.
Prince Fatty is famous for his work engineering, recording, mixing, and mastering Jamaican sounds, ever since 1996. He started in The Lion Music Studio, recording for Acid Jazz Records bands like the Brand New Heavies, N’Dea Davenport, and even Jamaican legends like Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths, Dennis Alcapone, Big Youth, Cornel Campbell, Dub Syndicate, and Tippa Irie. His portfolio includes high-profile music artists ranging from pop to rock, to hip-hop and electronic: Lily Allen, Graham Coxon of Blur, Kula Shaker, A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, The Sugar Hill Gang, Luciano, Capleton, Nostalgia 77, and Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra. Eventually Prince Fatty built his own studio, first in London, then in Brighton and he also worked from a remote studio in Thailand.
With his famous alternative versions, Prince Fatty has always created bridges to connect reggae, dub, ska, rock, disco, electronic, and hip-hop. His albums often feature re-recorded classics like Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Gin & Juice, Got Your Money, Insane in the Brain, The Model, Fever, Take Me As I Am, Black Rabbit aka White Rabbit, and a full-on Nirvana reggae re-workings with Little Roy called Battle For Seattle.
The interview with Prince Fatty and Shniece followed topics such as recording, mixing in Thailand, touring Brazil, friendships, and studio time.
Yes, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh toured with Stevie Wonder. Strangely, most people don't realize, but there is a strong relationship between reggae and soul music. Bunny Lee told me he used to work for Atlantic Records, dealing with their promotion in the Caribbean, and he used to take Aretha Franklin to Jamaica, Barbados, and the Bahamas, she and other groups were touring in the Caribbean in the mid-sixties. That connection was always there, ten years before Marley. All the big soul artists The Impressions, The Temptations, the Motown people, were big and would go to Jamaica.
I had my own big, big recording studio in the UK during the period I was working with them, so there were times when we were creating a concept from a discussion and then we just did it. Often times things are done on instinct, so we generated the ideas, we got the melodies together and we went for it.
With the Mutant Hi-Fi album, Return of the Gringo, we kind of made around 15 songs. He took six and I took six, and we both did what we wanted with them. For his songs, he did the melody and I did the backing, and to my songs, I did the melodies while he composed the backing. We were involved in a different capacity. Then we swapped and completed them. I think this type of approach assures a balance of collaboration. I can compare it to football and swapping from defense to attack the field. One game I defend, next game you defend, but we have to change position and change mentality to succeed. It's not easy, but it can be good fun. Often, I had a match environment, so almost all the time, even if people came to hang out, we ended up making music because it was a nice place. You see the drums there and you jump on it, you see the piano, synthesizer, organ, you play them, you plug in the guitar. We made music 18 hours a day. That's how I began and did the Prince Fatty vs Mungo's Hi-Fi album, all the Hollie Cook albums, and dubs, and Manu Chao came to record, UNKLE - James Lavelle came to record, we had many people coming in. Some of my collaborators were also involved in the main projects I had, Mutant Hi-Fi also worked in my studio as a sound engineer. Maybe for a year, he was working in my studio a lot.
Likewise, my connection with Adrian Sherwood came from my start in recording studios. At the time we shared the same space, I had a studio in London City and Adrian closed his studio and decided to come to mine to record. About a year, he would come a lot and it was brilliant, really good fun. We worked with Sinead O'Connor, we worked with many artists. Through Adrian, I got to meet Style Scott from the Roots Radics and other Jamaican musicians, that eventually became my friends, and we began to work together. That was back in 2003 and then we stayed friends and he's always been very positive about my music and productions. Sometimes we would meet at festivals and hang out. Another connection is that his daughter Denise married my friend and manager Harry Devenish. That was another happy accident. Adrian came to visit me in Thailand and we always exchange advice and support our work. Adrian is one of my favorite mixers in the world. I think he's very, very creative. My style is a bit more boring, he's more adventurous. Everyone has their vibe, and I respect him a lot.
I've known and loved Mad Prof for a long, long time. My respect goes a long way for him. Horseman played his drums for the first time in ’81 on his song Kunta Kinte. Even now he is a studio session drummer for him. And so we've always had a good vibe. I've often met with him on the road and we do shows together with Big Youth and Horseman. Then it just kind of naturally built up to the point where we decided to do a dub release together. So he took five songs and I took another five and see what people think.
At the time, everybody was talking about the new way of cloning everything, so that inspired me to call it Mad Professor Meets Prince Fatty in the Clone Theory. If you look at the cover, you will see Mad Prof managing to clone Earl 16, but when it comes to Horseman the machine just can't take it. That's the idea, Earl 16 has been duplicated in the back quietly, but Horseman brought too much data and the thing stopped. It was a very fun experience, we did a little nice tour of the Caribbean, Guadalupe, Martinique, and the Virgin Islands. We did many nice shows together.
One of the songs, The Devil Dub with Winston Francis is heavy-heavy. And the funny thing, the vocal version is going to come out on my next album in 2021. Like I said, some of the best things I get to keep for my 100% percent exclusive live sets. I really enjoy throwing special things at the crowd. When people come to my shows, they try and use the program Shazam when I play and they go wow! They then complain: "It is not on Shazam. Yeah, man! It's private! What do you mean it's private? Right now, it's for you, but after that, it's unreleased." But sometimes people don't understand. If I meet you in the restaurant and I want your shirt, I can't take it off you. Music for me is the same, some things we sell and some are private. I like that power!
Amazing! I never imagined in a million years that would happen. But it was a twist of fate, a lucky accident. I worked with a guy called Ben Landen from Nostalgia 77 and we did a remix album together, In the Kingdom of Dub. After that, we were wondering what will happen next. We started recording and experimenting with some sounds of dub jazz. When the instrumentals started taking shape, we showed them to my friend in New York. I didn't realize, but he was friends with the Last Poets. So, at the moment, he was listening to those songs I've just sent him, the Last Poets were at his house. "Yo! What music is this? – Hey, it's my buddy Fatty from England." Ok, they decided then and there that they wanted that music for the poetry they were writing then, for their new album. And that was the beginning of the conversation. It was a 100% accident.
With all our discussions, they were very positive. I think at that moment they thought I was a big producer in sense of money and I had to be honest with them. I said, "Listen, I'm poor bro: I don't even have a car!" If you think this is a big money thing, you are talking to the wrong guy. And they were very honest, they said they wanted to make the music and the money will come after. And I thanked them for that, that's how I like to think of it too. We finished the ten songs LP, we got a deal after that and it all happened very, very good. Their mentality is amazing. I was in Thailand at the time they wrote the lyrics, then went to New York and recorded the vocals, and then we did the mixing. The shows followed, with all my team, Horseman, Dub Judah, Shniece. She is on the album too. It was great fun doing Understand What Black Is and a pleasure making Understand What Dub Us in the next few months. We also worked with Mala, who did a really, really good remix of the title track, their main single from the record.
Politically, when we did the album, at that moment, no one was really talking like that about Black consciousness. Eventually, a year and a half later it is on everybody's lips. I think we touched on the feeling of something that was coming.
Simple as this: the chill vibe and good ganja. Yes, my studio is now based in Thailand, and that is where I mix all our records. When the COVID lockdown started, I was already there working. It took a lot of time before I could come back to the UK with my friends. But, in this time, I did lots and lots of mixing, so many of the new songs were done in that time: Black Rabbit, Funkin for Jamaica were mixed in January and February. Then I also did the tune on Gaudi's 100 Years of Theremin (The Dub Chapter) – Theremin Dub Mafia, which by the way, as an LP looks very cool. I like the cover, what he did is very nice. There is not an easy thing to get so many big producers on a record.
* Prince Fatty is working on a new studio in south London and he crowdfunding it. You can be part of this by donating and getting back some cool benefits. Check them out here.
Prince Fatty: I met Shniece when I had the studio in Brighton, and a mutual friend, a soul artist, and producer from a band called Drivesban mentioned to me a couple of times that one of his singers moved to Brighton and that I should talk to her, as she is a very talented composer. Next year the same story. And then I asked for her number, but it took two years for us to meet. Eventually, after I got her contact, I called, and she invited me to her show, 50 meters away from my studio. On the first night when we met, we started playing music up until 5 in the morning. It was a very natural, organic thing. She started coming around at the studio, meeting the musicians, doing backing vocals for my projects and different jobs. And then she became part of my live show with Horseman, jumping on stage with us. It is very nice to have a female singer live. I and Horseman always loved a good female singer.
She features on all my latest LP’s and production; she is on my last album In the Viper's Shadow on Deep Sleep and Trouble. As when we were doing this, we realized we needed some tracks for her in the live show.
We always do versions of songs when the musicians come down to the studio. And that is where our latest collaboration Disco Deception comes from, we did those for the live show, like dubplates, and we played them for a long time. People and friends in the audience always give us feedback about them. They basically picked which ones we should release first, Take Me As I Am, Fever, Funkin' for Jamaica. People come and say: "Please release that!". And the time came this year to do just that, as we are working on Shniece's original music solo album. We had to put these songs out now before her solo LP. At the end of the year, you will be hearing new things from her. She is a bit more open with her own original material.
Shniece: I'm pretty excited to be putting out my first original material, as in my career I have done a lot of work for other musicians. I have been a session vocalist for a long time. I am really excited to get something out that is a little bit of me. The Disco Deception EP are songs that we massively love, but a time comes when you move on from versions. It was right for the last couple of years but now we must release them.
My process over the years was to keep the best ideas that I've had. I have done a lot of top melodies in the past couple of years. I have this bucket, my song bucket, that I kept putting songs in for my own debut album. I don't think I've got a specific inspiration for it, but because I love more genres of music, the aim is simply not to be put in a box with my solo album. I have a narrative that follows different vibes.
Sound-system culture in Brazil is amazing, it is bigger than anything in the world. Brazil was a very good experience, not just for me, but also for Shniece and Horseman. The quality and caliber of the musicians in Brazil are exceptional. They are all incredibly well trained and they practice for a long, long time. Everybody is very natural and they sound amazing. We came back very inspired from Brazil. It was like "Oh! We have to be as good as them. Ok, back to work!"
In Europe I think, we can get a bit lazy if we're not careful. We travel a lot, when we go abroad, from California to Brazil, Chile or to the studio in Thailand, Shniece in South Africa, all these spaces they all bring very special influences and inspiration. They remind us we are lucky. We work with international artists as well, so the people that come into our lives come from many countries: our percussionists are from Africa, I worked with The Last Poets from New York City. We've worked with jazz musicians from Panama. Some of the musicians on the Disco Deception EP are Thai musicians, the horn section, all the brass sections are done by my Thai friends. I will be getting into trouble now, but they are better than my London guys. You understand? I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but it is just the truth. The boys from Thailand work hard, they practice more, their culture is really work-based and that influence is very strong. When I go around the world, I listen to these great musicians and it's "Wow, we can work together for sure!".
We were down in Brazil at festivals with OBF, we did a lot of shows with them and we made friends with Ricko. It was a nice surprise because we learned later that we synchronized being there and that we were all booked for the event. He came into Sao Paolo and Ricko was in the studio downstairs, while I was living upstairs. It was a pleasant surprise to bump into each other. I and Shniece spent nearly eight months there. We visited the country all over, we went swimming in the waterfalls and made music.
Prince Fatty: One interesting thing we learned when we went to Brazil, for the first time ever, we saw a 100% female sound system called Feminine Hi-Fi. Sometimes we don't think about those things, we notice female singers or maybe there is one female musician. But I always liked to have more ladies on my records and we often collaborate with Diane White, a very talented bass player from London. I had worked with ladies like Hollie Cook, Marcia Richard’s of The Skints, Hanna Mawbey from The Meow Meows, and the legendary Marcia Griffiths.
But in Brazil, we were inspired to see how these ladies made an entire sound system all on their own. It is incredible: female selectors, female DJs, female MC's and of course female technicians. An awesome all lady crew. It was very special. At the end of the night, I was asking "Hey, need any help?" But no man, they didn't need help from Prince Fatty, believe me. I said it, to be nice, to be cool, but they were like "Oh, thank you Fatty! (But we don't need you.)" For us, it was the only place in the world we've been to, where we have seen that. Sao Paolo is amazing, if you haven't been there, try to!
Sao Paolo has 400 sound-systems, there are more record shops in the city alone than in the whole of England. They have the Brazilian sound-system culture, but the reggae, dancehall, and hip-hop sound-system culture too. It is incredible! What happens is, the reggae guys like hip-hop and samba, so they all have that experience together. When it comes to parties, they don't have the same regulations, they are free to party and play music for days on end. If I take a big sound system into my neighborhood and put it in the park, the police will arrest me in 20 minutes. Brazilians have a different agenda, everyone makes music, and sounds are very much a part of their culture. Sound-system is part of their life, it is not the same in Europe or North America. And another cool thing is the carnival, in some cities like in Salvador, in the north, the carnival lasts for one month. So yeah Brazil is another world.
Shniece: I remember seeing the ladies from Feminine Hi-Fi setting the sound system up and walking around with the rider list. That was inspirational! And another LP released recently by a lady is Marina P and her Soul Food album with Mungo's Hi-Fi! Big up to her, she's excellent!
Yes, Jake, the illustrator and artist I work with is part of the Prince Fatty band. Just like Horseman and Shniece, and the other musicians. The thing is, within the band things can change, the bass player may vary between Dub Judah or Mafia, but most of the people in my team are consistent. I couldn't make a Prince Fatty without Jake, our visual team player. Even though he is not making music, he is part of our crew.
In the past of music, with records, with albums, once you put them together and you get to see what different artists do, they can either look good, bad, interesting, or boring. But I loved records from back when I was a kid, I grew up in the latter part of the eighties. By that time vinyl was already old. Everybody wanted the change their collection with CDs. So when I was a kid visiting family friends’ houses, I would look at the vinyl straight away. So everyone would say "Oh! Do you like vinyl? Do you want that? I want to get rid of it." And so, when I was 16, I had a very crazy big record collection, also very random. Obviously, it was all just donations, some were really good, some really bad. Within that whole context, I got to learn about the cover artwork, the credits. It is all very special to me, I like it a lot and with my releases, I try to keep that feeling. Even with our digital releases, we try to make the artwork really special.
The other aspect is that Jake and I are friends since we were 17. I've known him a long time and he is a great DJ and a big hip-hop fan. He has an impressive portfolio filled with special artworks, he's worked for George Lucas. He is very well known in the specialist circles. I have found his work in the most unpredictable places, for example in an art exhibition in Bangkok, Thailand. It was a graphics exhibition. Any artist who gets a phone call from George Lucas is very special if you know what I mean. I just love Star Wars!
Yes, Prince Jammy and Scientist did that Star Wars dub album. But it wasn't just the two doing those albums, two other engineers were working with them, Soldgie aka Anthony Hamilton, and Barnabas aka Stanley Bryan. And I am so crazy about dub music, that I can hear the difference between all the four people: Prince Jammy, Scientist, Barnabas, and Soldgie. And honestly, in my opinion, Prince Jammy and Scientist take the credit for what the other two did as well. All four of them, maybe they forget, maybe they smoked too much weed, maybe it was a very long time ago, and also, they worked very quickly. Sometimes, Jammy or Scientist both do a mix and the producer chooses the one that he liked best. By that time, none of them knows who's mix he’s chosen. Interestingly, four guys are doing the work, but only two of them are famous. With all the classic dub releases there are many confusions. But I love them all though!
When you understand sound engineering, you get to know there is more skill in recording than there is in mixing, in my opinion. Think of it like making a film, the cameraman has to get something beautiful that the editor can edit. Without the good footage from the director of photography, the editor can't do anything. For me, it is the same thing with mixing. The mixer can only do a good job if the recording engineer did an excellent job and Soldgie and Barnabas were the recording engineers at Channel One. The scientist didn't record until 1983. If you know the procedure, King Tubby's had a four-track, so when the engineers at Channel One knew that Tubby's will do the mixing, they had to premix the four tracks. So Soldgie and Barnabas used to mix down to four tracks, they mixed the stems. So, Scientist and Jammy's only ever mixed stems prepared by Barnabas and Soldgie. Therefore, in the process, they take all the credit, when they should say thank you to them too.
The thing with record companies and Mr. Bongo, in general, is that they really don't seem to care about the musicians. I get tired of that attitude and I just don't want to work with them anymore. That's why we do our own thing now. I am disappointed because most of them, get the musicians making the records and when they are done, they don't care anymore. It's a rough life being a musician because of that, often you make the music and the companies don't care about the product and your craft doesn't make sense. Why did you make it if you don't want to do anything good with it? I can say that they're being lazy.
In Mr. Bongo's case, because they were used to do mainly reissues, it was easy for them. Many of the reissue artists were dead, so no one was complaining. I and Horseman were alive, so that was a problem for them. We are alive, so when they made some big mistakes, we went on tour and when they didn't produce the merchandise, no CD's to sell, we just complained: "Hey man, you're crazy, how can you send us out on a tour and we don't have any CD or vinyl to sell?" Understand?
Those were the scenes, some mistakes are smaller, but in the end, you get to a point where you ask yourself: "Why are we working with these people? They don't care if we sell music or not. Best we do it ourselves and have Bandcamp."