Dancehall DJ and blogger Suze Webb aka The Large may be one of the hardest working women on London’s underground music scene.
As co-founder of music and media brand Shimmy Shimmy and an assistant at pioneering EDM label Mixpak, Suze spends most of her time immersed in the marketing of cutting edge music from across the globe.
We caught up with the 27-year-old brand manager at a trendy east London café to discuss Konshens, King Tubby, Tommy Lee and the launch of her exhibition, Art in the Dancehall, in New York.
Tell us about your work at Mixpak with Brooklyn producer Dre Skull…
Mixpack represents many strands of music so different scenes acknowledge the label for different reasons.
In terms of dancehall, we have a full-length Vybz Kartel album ; singles by Sizzla and Popcaan (Get Gyal Easy and System ); and this year released two new riddims featuring Beenie Man and Machel Montano.
Elsewhere, people look to Mixpak for forward-thinking dance music because there’s all kinds of stuff on the label.
Tell us about your Shimmy Shimmy brand…
Around four years ago, I noticed that none of the dancehall websites looked very nice and it was a struggle to find anywhere you could buy a reggae T-shirt that wasn’t red, gold and green.
I think it’s really important to go beyond all the clichés and make things look nice; so we tried to develop a brand that was reggae and dancehall-focused, but with an attractive design element.
Shimmy Shimmy started off as a blog and developed into what we now call a dancehall brand, with a website, T-shirts, parties and the No Ice Cream Sound printzine (below).
I was and still am really into other genres, especially hip hop, but decided to stick with reggae and dancehall as I got deeper into it. All I did was push things I believed in and tried to make them look nice.
How did you get into reggae and dancehall?
I was born in Yorkshire and grew up in Bristol, which has a large Jamaican community. I don’t really remember discovering reggae; it was just always around.
In the beginning I started getting into Horace Andy through (Bristol-based trip-hop group) Massive Attack , and from there progressed to the ‘golden era’ King Tubby and Bunny Lee stuff from the 1970s.
I was never really into the Trojan label, but Blood and Fire released some great compilation CDs and I bought a lot of those before moving on to newer dancehall stuff.
When did you progress from buying CDs to collecting vinyl?
I come from a family of serious hoarders and knew it was in my make up to collect shit [laughs]. So for a long time, I tried not to buy records because I knew once I started; I’d never stop.
But in 2006, I moved to Montreal, to study at university, bought an old turntable and began collecting all different types of music, including reggae LPs like Yellowman and Fathead (below).
How did you make the transition from fan to music and media brand owner?
Eventually, I started DJing, returned to the UK in 2008, came to London, and held my first dancehall night at a bar in Shoreditch. Things just grew from there really.
What would you most like to change about your industry?
Once you tell certain London club managers that you’re putting on a dancehall night, the first thing they ask is: ‘What’s your crowd gonna be like?’ It makes you think: ‘Would you ask me that if I was doing a house night?’
I’d like to change the stereotypes associated with dancehall and reggae and the vicious circle that stops the genre progressing to where it should rightfully be – but I think we’re getting there.
How would you review this year and who should we look out for in 2013?
Dancehall is full of crazy characters and that’s what I like about it. His Psycho video (above) was brilliant; you don’t normally see visuals like that coming out of Jamaica.
Mavado signing with DJ Khaled will set some sort of trend for cross collaborations, which have been quite good over the past couple of years. I don’t want to lose artists to people like Khaled all the time, but it helps to push the music forward.
Tell us about your international exhibition Art in the Dancehall…
Art in the Dancehall celebrates design and illustration in Jamaican music since 1980 and was created and curated by myself and DJ/producer Al Fingers.
The exhibition, which launched in the UK this summer and opened in New York earlier this month, features contributions from artists such as Tony McDermott, who did all of Greensleeves artwork, and we’ve managed to strike a deal with the family of dancehall LP cover specialist Wilfred Limonious to sell some of his super-rare prints.
What does the future hold for the scene in Britain?
Progress, I hope. I’d like to see UK dancehall artists getting playlisted, and more singles getting accepted in the mainstream, but I think we’re definitely on the way there; it’s really just up to the labels now.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in music and media?
Love what you do and do what you love.