Every era has its’ pioneers, and the post-Internet generation of reggae fans are already celebrating record producer/re-mixer and DJ sensation Prince Fatty as one of their own. His futuristic take on old school reggae, soul and Latin grooves – served up in a style that’s uniquely his and full of character – has now made him hugely popular on the international club and festival circuit.
Real name Mike Pelanconi, he first rose to prominence after Brighton-based label Mr. Bongo issued his debut album Survival Of The Fattest in 2007. Veteran Jamaican artists Little Roy, Winston Francis and Dennis Alcapone were in attendance for a set brimming with feel-good factor, and that was an instant hit with the party crowd. Everyone liked it, whether they were punks, skaters, dub heads or club and radio DJs. Reverential and audacious by turn, it made people want to dance, whilst the distinctive sound of his productions and quirky artwork singled him out as an exciting new name to watch.
By the time his second album Super Size arrived, he was working out of a converted ironworks in Brighton and perfecting the Prince Fatty sound on records by Little Roy, Mutant Hi-Fi and Hollie Cook, who won rapturous acclaim for her own debut album. In the meantime he’d rejuvenated reggae’s appeal among younger audiences with inspired remixes of hits by Snoop Dogg, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Cyprus Hill – tracks which still tear the roof off every time he plays them during his DJ sets.
It was these DJ slots that fuelled the need for Fatty’s own exclusive dub plates. It’s a tradition he traces back to legendary Jamaican sound-systems of old, such as those owned by King Tubby and Coxsone Dodd. Like them, he’s always looking to be creative and make his dubs as individual as possible, even when revitalising rhythms from the past. No one does that better than Prince Fatty, who eased up on the sampling and cut everything “live” on that second album, using an all-star cast of reggae session musicians.
Whilst his first two albums announced the arrival of a serious new talent, it was those by Hollie Cook and Little Roy that put him on the map. Hollie is the daughter of Sex Pistols’ drummer Paul Cook, and a former member of all-girl punk band The Slits. Her first single Milk And Honey was a tantalising slice of modern-day lovers’ rock, mixed with a little soul and Columbian cumbia. Fatty calls it “Tropical Pop,” but then he always did like music with strong melodies. His father is from Milan, and worked for the United Nations. He travelled a lot, and would always return home with armfuls of South American records.
Hollie’s follow-up hits included Shadow Kissing and a languid cut of the Whispers’ When The Beat Goes On – songs that continued in similar vein to Milk And Honey, but noticeably expanded on it. Her debut album Hollie Cook was released in 2011, and quickly spawned a companion dub set, confirming Prince Fatty’s reputation as reggae music’s latest and most innovative dub-master.
His follow-up was Prince Fatty Versus The Drunken Gambler – a glorious romp through reggae music’s past, present and future co-starring Horseman, Dennis Alcapone, Winston Francis and the Pioneers’ George Dekker. This album underlined all that’s new and exhilarating about the Prince Fatty experience but whilst his sound is immediately distinctive, it’s never predictable. For sheer versatility, check out the set he recorded with former On U Sound stalwart Nick Coplowe back in 2011. Prince Fatty Meets The Mutant Hi-Fi: Return Of The Gringo was a wildly eccentric blend of ska and twang guitar, mixed with reggae and lots more besides. It’s what Dick Dale may have sounded like had he recorded for 2 Tone, except nowhere near as exciting. Even more barriers came tumbling down on Little Roy’s Battle 4 Seattle, after he and Prince Fatty remade a dozen or so classic Nirvana songs in a reggae style. Reviewers were full of praise for their upbeat interpretations of Kurt Cobain’s doomy grunge anthems; swayed no doubt by the album’s refreshing lack of artifice and Prince Fatty’s irresistible production skills. Soon, Little Roy was performing at the Reading Festival and receiving his first-ever exposure on UK television – a major transition for an artist who’d remained a little-known cult figure for much of his career.
For Fatty at least, this wasn’t such a radical departure as it may seem. His early musical favourites included punk bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, which he combined with a love of skateboarding. He then discovered seventies’ reggae artists like Big Youth, Burning Spear and Lee “Scratch” Perry, whilst becoming transfixed by Jamaican dub and especially Joe Gibbs’ African Dub Chapter Three. Soon, he was practising his editing skills on a reel-to-reel tape machine, given to him by an uncle. After leaving school he worked as a tape operator, and learnt how to mix on analogue equipment before being introduced to sampling by Rebel MC and the Ragga Twins, who also exposed him to London’s vibrant sound-system culture.
“I was Graham Dickson’s assistant engineer when he was at the Hit Factory,” he says. “I learnt a lot from him, and guys like him who’d been through the whole seventies’ thing. I never lasted more than a year at these places though. They knew I was either going to leave or get fired but during the first six months I would learn as much as I could, whether it was the equipment or the way the rooms worked, but then after a while I’d get bored and want to switch.”
Stints with Lion Roots, Mowax, Ninja Tunes and Acid Jazz followed. Brand New Heavies’ singer N’Dea Davenport then invited him to Los Angeles to finish work on her solo album. He spent two years in LA, working with Delicious Vinyl and establishing invaluable contacts in the hip-hop world. By the time he returned to the UK, he’d made the transition from working as a studio engineer to dealing with record companies direct. His CV will soon include names like Lily Allen (the reggae-infused Smile), Blur’s Graham Coxon, Manu Chao, Kula Shaker, A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde but it wasn’t until 2006, after Stussy asked him to produce some reggae tracks, that the Prince Fatty legend was born. Nina’s Dance was the first to be released under that name, and this in turn inspired Brighton label Mr. Bongo to sign him for an album inspired by his love of old school reggae compilations – hence the mix of different vocalists and deejays, dub and instrumental tracks found on Survival Of The Fattest.
Following on from projects featuring Lee Thompson’s Ska Orchestra and Horseman (Dawn Of The Dread) his latest album is Prince Fatty In The Vipers Shadow, which is another irresistible blend of good-time reggae vibes, star guests, innovative production techniques and knowing humour. This eagerly awaited third Prince Fatty set will be released on the Tropical Dope label, distributed by Tru Thoughts.
“After 20 years of making records and not getting paid any royalties I figured it was finally time to set up my own label,” he says. “Tropical Dope will look after its artists and producers. We’ve been busy recording and mixing our latest selection of “Out Of Order” riddims, as we call them. We will specialise in Reggae, Afro-beat, Hip-hop and Boogie.”
Releases planned for 2014 include albums by Prince Fatty and projects featuring Dub Judah and Jamaican reggae legends Marcia Griffiths, Big Youth, Winston Francis and Earl 16 – plus Remixes by DJ Muggs, Dread Flimstone, Moody Boyz and Gentleman’s Dub Club.