But the Shock team fell in love with it and started playing more home-focused sets; very quickly, they were in no man’s land. “The house party format couldn’t work for us because of the style of music we were starting to play – that’s when the idea came to go to Carnival, because at that time , all you had to do was show up.” In 1987, Shock got down to Powis Square, the first home sound system to do so. They quickly outgrew that spot and moved to Colville years later, where KKC, another house sound, still plays.
Although now far removed from the conscious reggae universe of their elders, Shock have retained the tradition of dubplate, essential to any sound worthy of the name. Saint even produced his first track, “Give Me Back Your Love”, for the sole purpose of playing it on dubplate. The sound found its way into venues in the north, where acid had already made inroads, and into legendary Clink Street, with Ricardo Da Force (of famed KLF) and Shamen frontman Mr C as MC. Paul Oakenfold, Nikki Holloway, Boy George and S’Express’ Mark Moore have all made an appearance at one time or another. “I wasn’t there for reggae or punk, but from what I’ve heard of it, in terms of how there was a connection between reggae and punk parties in the late 70s , for me, that was what was going on with house – it brought together all the different types of people.
In Bristol, sounds such as Enterprise, Iquator, Jah Lokko (later to become known as Unique Star Sound), Raiders 32 and many more were strong on the roots and reggae scene. But a new style of sound was emerging, the main one being The Wild Bunch, which laid the foundation for the trip-hop generation. Miles Johnson, aka DJ Milo, Nellee Hooper and Grant Marshall, aka Daddy G — of Massive Attack fame — spent weekends listening to reggae, punk and new wave records before their sound came to life. The trio, who gathered a crowd for these informal listening events, were starting to outgrow Marshall’s house, so decided to rent a room in a pub just off Queen’s Square in the city centre.
The team started with a large and varied record collection, a turntable, a realistic mixer and some amps, then moved on to a GLI PMX 9000 – the first mixer with a crossfader. They played random pubs and house parties, and finally, outdoor events, whose reputation grew from the Downs to Clifton, Bristol’s middle-class area, to St Paul’s – “the Brixton of Bristol”. A Terror of St Paul named them. “When we played St Paul’s it set the standard for us,” Johnson told DJ Mag. “We knew we were running into Jamaican sound systems, so we had to run with something that was going to be heavy or we’d be drowned. We were always right.
Like any other Bristol sound system, they had their releases, a collection of deep reggae courtesy of Marshall, and even indulged in the well-worn practice of labeling records. But it was the lively concoction of hip-hop, punk and new wave records that made the difference. They played UK DIY artists PiL, Jah Wobble and Delta 5, UK funk numbers from Touchdown and every early hip-hop cut they could get their hands on. The MC line-up also grew, with 3D (Robert Del Naja) joining for regular gigs, followed by Willy Wee (Claude Williams) and later, Tricky. “Because of when we were born and the social integration, it created something unique,” says Johnson. “We were doing what was natural for us – there was no ulterior motive. It filled a needed void, it was more of a spiritual thing.
A turning point came when the group got their hands on a copy of the soundtrack to Wild Style, a film widely considered to be the first hip-hop film. “Everyone in England was blown away by it and how familiar it was with what we were experiencing in blues dancing,” Johnson recalled. “That familiarity was something we could hold onto – the way they presented the music, that heavy bass, was exactly what we thought was the best way to present what we were playing.” Hooper flew to New York and got his hands on a reel of the soundtrack, which hadn’t been released in general – or limited release. It was a wise move. “If a lot of crews didn’t respect us before, it really put people in a different mindset, especially in London.”