Few broadcasters can hope to have a career as distinguished as David Rodigan. He boasts a radio career spanning over thirty-five years, in which time he has become the leading reggae broadcaster in the UK, as well as starring in the massively successful “Ram Jam” club night throughout the UK. In 2012 he even received an MBE for his services to broadcasting.
But even by his lofty standards, 2015 has been a year to remember. Alongside top slots at Bestival, Secret Garden Party and Outlook festival amongst others, he headlined the Radio 1 stage at Reading and Leeds Festival as part of Rebel Sound, sharing the stage with Chase and Status, Shy FX and Rage. As we approach the one year anniversary of the Red Bull Culture Clash that started Rebel Sound, Rodigan shows no signs of slowing down.
“I do enjoy what I do, I wouldn’t still be doing it at my age if I didn’t enjoy it” Rodigan told us speaking ahead of his second show at Canal Mills this year – he is playing with Bonobo, DJ EZ and Maya Jane Coles the very next day. These days it’s nothing unusual for Rodigan to be playing twice a weekend alongside such esteemed acts. But he plainly finds his busy schedule rewarding: “There’s nothing more exciting for me than discovering new music and sharing it, and I am in a privileged position that I can share my love of music with like-minded souls when we come together in a club. I’ve always maintained that if I wasn’t up there playing music I’d be out there dancing to it”.
This love for music and performing certainly results in a strong live show, and you can now expect to see the Ram Jam name on club listings for years to come. However this was not always the case. By his own admission, David Rodigan is going through a “career renaissance” in which he is gaining fans from outside of reggae, and winning the 2014 Red Bull Culture Clash was a standout part of this journey. When asked if he ever envisaged being part of such an event, his reply was “No, I never thought that would happen. Not in a million years”.
The beginnings of Ram Jam were six years ago, with various parties at Fabric in London and for Chibuku in Liverpool, and whilst you sense he isn’t quite sure how those earlier nights resulted in the success he has now, he does identify a special atmosphere that has been present and prevalent throughout its development;
“I believe that if you give out a feeling of love, of joy and happiness, I’m sure that people get that and give it back, and that’s what happens. It’s not conveyed on video, it’s not conveyed in photographs, it is only when you’re there feeling it… it’s an amazing thing to have that vibe”.
As Rodigan is a man who made his name by sharing the music he loved on the airwaves, it is therefore not surprising that he hopes to use his Ram Jam nights to help a younger audience develop a love for reggae. “That’s exactly what it’s about. I use it as a way of introducing people to music which I’ve loved all my life, which I hope they will love too”. But he is equally aware that a show should never be all about him; “One of my important lessons in DJ’ing is that you’re not DJ’ing in your bedroom, or on the radio where people can turn off without you knowing. You’re DJ’ing in a public place where if you’re not entertaining people, they leave or they won’t want you to come back”.
From one short interview, it is abundantly clear that David Rodigan is a man who cherishes emotional bonds between music and the individual, whether that individual be himself or a member of his audience. This position is paralleled in his views on radio, and his dissatisfaction with the trend towards streaming non-stop music. “There is nothing that matches the relationship between a listener and a broadcaster and the music they have in common. I don’t think streaming will ever replace radio. There is something about pictures in the mind, and about the joy of sitting in my hotel room listening or streaming radio. In one two hour show you can learn about the songs of a certain era and why those songs meant so much to people. Music is a driving force in many people’s lives, and there is nothing more exciting – well certainly there wasn’t for me – aged 16, 17, discovering new music and learning that I’d found something that I felt was mine”.
Somebody who has reinvented himself so successfully without compromising his values has to be admired. David Rodigan has built a stellar career on a love of music and an appetite for crafting a bond between himself and his audience. And he has mastered his craft. That is why he keeps surprising himself with Ram Jam’s success and proving that age really is no barrier to achievement. It is certain that Leeds will be seeing Ram Jam again in the future, and you can be assured that a night of blissful reggae with a unique rapport between performer and crowd will last long in the memory.
Rodigan’s Hot Hits Chart, Autumn 2015:
1. We Want Better – Tarrus Riley – Maximum Sounds Records
2. Criminal – Protoje – Indignation Records
3. Sometimes – Kiko Bunn – Island Records
4. Ten Lbs – Keznamdi – ?
5. Ganja Mornin’ – Green Lion Crew Ft. Mikey General & Mr. Williamz – (label unknown)
6. The Message – Bunji Garlin & Damian Marley – VP Records
7. Ghetto Boy – Stephen Marley ft Bounty Killer & Cobra – Ghetto Youths International Records
8. Ghetto People – Chronixx – Ghetto Youths International Records
9. Babylon Chains – Peter Hunnigale – (album Remove The Chains)
10. Sweet Inna Mi Corn – Shany B – Fat Eyes Records
(Photo credits: Debug, Secret Garden Party & Rodigan.com)