Posted by: pascoesabido | June 16, 2009

De Tropix deliver the summer sounds

Originally published in Volume 6

Summer’s on its way and with it the sweet spice of dark rum and ginger beer, but where’s the soundtrack? Pascoe Sabido hears from mad duo De Tropix about their Caribbean style, looking like a Cadbury’s wrappers and St Vincent’s alcoholic aphrodisiac.


From the outside it could be any other trendy antiques shop, but coming from behind the pristinely-aged furniture, strange voices can be heard: “It’s fallen off!”

Beyond the retro lampshades, the source of the commotion is traced to the kitchen-cum-studio where De Tropix are eating bananas and pulling faces for the camera. “Uff… it’s off again”. The culprit? Only one option: the stiletto-kicking, spandex-rocking, utterly mad winder-grinder and vocal-half of De Tropix, 27-year-old Cherry – minus an earring.

“Maaaan – It’s done it again!”

Between the snapping of a camera and the delectable shapes bring thrown over music-partner Damon, an enormous disco ball that once hung from her ear is back on the floor and refusing to clip on. Left with only one earring, there’s little choice: “Fuck it, let’s do it pirate stylee!” says Cherry. “Aaaargghhh” yells 29-year-old Damon.

Life is positively fun for De Tropix and the pair are finally doing what they love most: performing their urban tropical sounds wherever they can. “We did a gig a couple of weeks ago supporting La Roux at YoYo’s”, says Damon. “It was wicked! One of the best we’ve ever done. We don’t get paid so if it aint fun what’s it for?” Asks Damon, “I’m the brokest I’ve ever been!” But even if the pay is non-existent, the experiences have been special: after hearing Bad Name, the super-cool Radio Nova invited them across the channel to record it live in their Parisian studio. The track is now being played all over France. “Yeah!” Damon enthuses, “It was mad. You gotta just have a laugh and enjoy it all”.

They clearly do: posing for the photographer, the duo bounce off one another, radiating a raw chemistry. Cheekiness can’t contain itself, and neither can Cherry: her mischievous grin and delightful cackle can’t be contained behind the semi-serious pouting. Damon gives as good as he gets, but like on stage, is happy to leave the limelight to the queen of the tropical.

Born and raised on the Island of St Vincent, the Caribbean influence is more than skin deep: “It’s a big big part of who I am”, explains Cherry. You can hear it in the Patois singing, see it in the raw sexual dancing, but even off the stage there is such colourful animation in everything she does, it is obvious what she means.

“She’s a wicked front woman”, admits Damon, who despite his own paternal St Vincent roots, grew up DJing in Luton and is now a London-based producer. “I’m the laid back dude – let Cherry be at the front and I’ll jam behind the decks doing a verse now and then!”

A born performer, you won’t find her complaining: “I admit, I’m a full-time broke-arse artist, but I just love it on stage”, she exclaims. “I have so much fun – there could be one person and I’d have fun!” Those that do come to watch – or stumble across De Tropix accidentally, en route to other bands (“which is what usually happens!” guffs Damon) – can’t help but enjoy Cherry’s performance: “I’m a big sweaty bitch on stage, sweat, fire and vulgarness – I like to gyrate and stand on my head!” she laughs. The energy being radiated is infectious: you can’t help wanting to wind your backside all the way down to the floor – it’s just the standing up again that’s tricky.

“Cherry interacts with everybody”, says Damon, rolling his eyes, “You can’t resist her – no one can. On stage she flips: from London girl to bashment girl, from English twang into Patois.”

Cherry grins: “When I put on my wig, my sexy spandex and my accent, I’m a completely different person!” From sweet playful lion cub into a man-eating lioness; it’s a fairytale transformation if Disney were to do dancehall.

On stage her movement’s impressive, but what else would you expect from a life time of carnivals? With the exception of a Scottish grandfather, it’s clearly in the blood: “I rang my mum last month and she was jumping it up grinding a speaker – it’s like ‘fuck, I’m at work and you’re at Trinidad Carnival!’”

While the rhythm of Cherry’s derriere definitely comes naturally, it doesn’t hurt to be a trained choreographer. Aged only 12, she left the sun sea and sand for a dance scholarship in Leeds: “I look back on it now – moving so far away from my family at such a young age”, she says, “and my head spins; I’m like wow that’s crazy! I guess when you’re young you don’t think, you just do things.”

Rumour has it that in swapping bashment for ballet, Cherry even wore a tutu: “I’m not telling you that! Somebody will dig out the pictures” she cackles. “I looked like a Cadbury’s wrapper – it’s awful!”

Even if it’s true, classical could never replace carnival, so clearly embodied in De Tropix. “My Caribbean experience had to be on the forefront of what we did, but we’re both just trying to express ourselves”, says Cherry. “Musically, my background is a bit of soca and a bit of reggae… But Damon, he comes from the English grime and R&B side of things; I kind of banter with that, ride with it.”

Tap Tap, borrowing strings from Burt Bacharach, and Oi, featuring Andy Williams (“this old crooner from the 60s” says Damon”), are the obvious examples, combining tropical rhythm, dancehall vocals and a sharp urban twist in production values. Bad Name is another, beginning somewhere near Santogold’s Say Aha and Shove It, then put through a nineties rave machine. However, if it’s the old-school nineties rave piano keys you’re after, Oi Oi Oi cannot be beaten – and the lyrics? Clearly written by Jack Iron: “It’s the name of this rum from St Vincent, an aphrodisiac – it makes you super horny!”

But it is a track not from the forthcoming EP, Brap, which has ‘summer anthem’ all over it. Distorted basslines and dubby guitars provide the Caribbean backdrop for Cherry’s distressed Patois, mustering images of super-sprung Cadillacs bouncing away, windows down and heads bopping inside.

“Our music’s just a mish-mash of everything”, admits Damon, the man who is currently serving up musical jerk chicken from a fish and chip shop. The source? “I listen to such wide varieties – I love old music – but I’m a spontaneous guy, I just sit down at the computer and have a play around.” Although clearly a euphemism for something a bit dirtier, it has served him well. That said, getting to this point has not been easy. Kicked out of college and living on pirate radio stations, one thing kept Damon motivated: “Music’s been my life – no exaggeration”. It even provided a belated education – and a potential role model: “I went to the same music college as Freddy Mercury – what a don!” He laughs, “That dude could really hold down a stage!” Watch your spandex, Cherry.

These are exciting times for De Tropix, but they’re not about to get carried away. “We’re new at all this”, says Cherry, “Every time I step on stage I’m developing my style”. Damon agrees: “We’re nowhere really, tiny, grass roots. You have to work at your art and we’ve still got a lot of improvements to make”. Although they’re happy to take it slow, the summer is approaching fast, calling out for a soundtrack: Camden Crawl is the next marker on the horizon and festivals are already showing an interest.

But however it pans out, Cherry’s got a backup plan, and I’m sure Damon’s invited: “I’m gonna be a horticultural teacher! I’m gonna buy a little plot on my island, a little eco paradise, and grow fat amount of weeds and vegetables. Any one wants to make music can come to my paradise and smoke weed!” Room for a little one?

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Responses

  1. La Roux is … fab though


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