Destroy Babylon - Blasting the Reggae Stereotypes
Published in Performer Magazine By Nate Leskovic
Roots reggae/dub protectors Destroy Babylon are a case study in DIY success. Skanking strong since high school in New Hampshire, they've diligently built themselves an empire that landed them on bills this summer with some architects of the sacred sounds they proselytize: The Wailers, Eek-A-Mouse and Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Silk-screening T-shirts and using a crappy Radio Shack mic, a little yellow boombox and a stand-alone CD burner -- this was long before iPods and Garageband -- the crew began and remains fiercely independent. "It's not that we didn't have any confidence we wouldn't get signed," says guitarist/vocalist John Beaudette. "We just wanted to do it ourselves."
And in a way, this attitude is really a continuation of the Jamaican music culture they represent. With scarce equipment and minuscule budgets, reggae grew with nothing to feed on but the love pouring out of its creators. Dub -- the original remix -- began as an economic way to get the most product out of every studio minute.
Though Destroy Babylon remains respectful of the art, they make it their own by punking it up. You'll get plenty of distortion along with the requisite delay and other space effects that give dub its endless possibilities. They aren't part of the "popular" reggae scene that fills the amphitheaters and arenas with its bastardized, SoCal-version of Jamaica. They've even got an alter-ego second band, Growlers, which serves as an outlet to perform guitarist/vocalist Rob Carmichael's raw, elegant and moving rock compositions.
The band's latest release -- the seven-inch, '60s pop-influenced dub single, "Culture Pirates," which comes with a stunning 26-page book of art and a whole EP of downloads -- serves as a metaphor for where they see themselves. "It starts with an idea from the past," says drummer Marc Beaudette. "You build from there and start fresh." John adds, "We're making fun of ourselves. Roots reggae was invented by poor, oppressed people, while we grew up in suburban New Hampshire. But we're not just stealing it, we're trying to promote it."
While DB stays true to the essence of the style musically ("the 'D' stands for delay," says Marc) and politically (song titles include "Shadow Army," "Blackwater," "Dubblespeak" and "The President's Hidden Horns"), don't ask them to play any Marley or sing about Jah. "We don't relate to the whole Rastafarian religious thing, though I respect the passion," says Marc. "They turned to religion to get away. We chose music to get away. That's our passion. We wouldn't feel right about playing those songs."
It's those stereotypes that haunt the band and what they fight against. "It's a weird contradiction that reggae music is always associated with party music," says John. "It's those whiteboy bands wearing red, green and black. People write you off as being a trivial party band, but seventy percent of our songs are political."
The band lives together in Boston, with a studio in the basement that lets them cut dub mixes of their tunes. It's also produced their "Dub of the Month" series, which drops one track each month online that will later be compiled into an album. In addition, they've linked up their setup to The Kennel, a studio in Brooklyn, where Billy "Prince Polo" Szeflinski does live mixing for them.
And it's always been about the band. Marc went to school for graphic design and has produced an extensive portfolio of eye-catching promo material, as well as a commanding website. John studied music management. And it payed off, as they line up shows with legends. "They know we promote the shit out of everything we do," says Marc.