Since the release of Wild Life's debut album "Too Tuff" in 2009, Not Easy At All Productions has established its name as one of the most ear-catching and respected production houses in Europe with their works on highly acclaimed albums such as Earl Sixteen's "The Fittest", Apple Gabriel's "Teach Them Right" and Chezidek's "Judgement Time". It was actually Manu Genius' Dubshelter that has been the creative headquarters from the start and sheltered all those lovely artists and productions. With some interesting projects on its way, but now under the new banner Dubshelter Recordings, the time is right to introduce the humble and amiable Manu Genius to the Reggae massive.

Q: First off, could you please introduce yourself?

A: Yes, I'm Manu, I'm 46 years old now and I'm living in Purmerend, the Netherlands. I'm a musician, engineer and producer and the founder and CEO of Dubshelter Recordings.

Q: Is music in your family bloodline?

A: No, not really. My sister played a bit piano, but never professional. So, I'm the only musician in the family as far as I know.

Q: What kind of music were you listening to in your younger days?

A: Well, I started off with all kind of things like Stevie Wonder and whatever was on the radio... Elvis Presley and so. But my first real love in music... would surprise you... was Kiss. I even played a small show dressed like Ace Frehley, complete with make-up and homemade guitar. We playbacked as Kiss group. And I think I was 10 years old or something like that. After that I moved on to the Punk music... things like the Clash. And then from New Wave on to Reggae. I heard the album from Burning Spear, "Garvey's Ghost", and I was hooked immediately. So that was my start with Reggae music.

Manu Genius at work

Q: Besides that, can you recall some other favourite records/artists from those days?

A: I used to listen a lot to bands like The Cure, Dead Kennedys, Stiff Little Fingers and so on. More or less a classic 'Punk marries Reggae' development from there in my musical youth. When I got into Reggae, I only listened and bought Reggae music from that time. So there was a lot to explore from that moment on. Those were the real good days of Reggae in my opinion. The time legendary records came out. It was normal for me in those days that you bought a record like Ini Kamoze's "World A Music". Well, I thought this was the direction in which Reggae was going, but it went into another direction obviously. Well... in those days we didn't realize that all the great records were launched. One after the other. So there was really a lot to explore in those days... All vinyl of course. No cd's yet. So good times.

Q: How did you get started in the music business?

A: Well, when I was 13... that was the time I heard that Burning Spear album... I had classical piano lessons from since I was 6 or 7 years old. And then I decided to play Reggae, on the piano of course, and so I started my first band, Piepdeloo, at the age of 13. And I still work with the saxophone player, Hans van Scharen, who was also in that band. That's how I started. After that I formed a band called Judgement with among others Marcus Hillman, who is responsible for all guitar works in all the bands I played in, as well as all recordings I made for Not Easy At All Productions and Dubshelter Recordings. When we split as band I was asked by three other musicians to form another group called The Vibe and with that band I played for years and years, got some name in Belgium after a successful UB40 support-concert and toured the circuit here in the Lowlands extensively, ending up playing with a full 13-piece Reggae-band, horns-section, background-singers, percussion etc.

Q: Back in the 1990's you were part of Rohan Lee's backing band The Recipe. How did you get involved in working on his debut album "For The Poor"?

A: Actually I saw Rohan Lee perform at the Reggae Geel festival on a small stage, only with his guitar... I was there together with Hans, the saxophone player I just mentioned. And we thought... "Well, this guy has some great songs. And we have a great band, but could really use a great singer. So it would be a good idea to get these things together." And Hans already had contact with Karel Michiels, who got Rohan Lee to perform at that festival in the first place, and told him we should go and check out this rastaman at Geel, so we contacted Karel and then also Rohan Lee. He sent us a tape with the acoustic versions of the songs. Basically at that time I founded The Recipe together with my good friend Hans, the saxophone player. Hans and I got the best band together we could, with musicians coming from groups we played in during the years with some new blood and great talent added as well. Basically we made songs from it with a full band... I worked on the instrumentation a lot, horn-arrangements, basslines, riddims, from an acoustic version to a full band-version song so to speak. We rehearsed for a couple of months, sent the tape back to him and so on and so on. Then, on my wedding day, it was the first time I met Rohan Lee in person. He had just arrived from Jamaica and we played at my wedding. It was a kinda strange experience, 'cause it was the first time he performed with us as a band. And it was also the first time that he heard his songs played live by a full band. It was a kind of magical experience, for us but also for Rohan Lee.

Q: So what came next, after working with Rohan Lee came to an end.

A: Let me think... besides starting up Not Easy At All Productions as a home studio and writing my first riddims, I think we started to play with Coco Jr, the Belgian TV personality... and we did quite a few projects with him. A project called "Vibes Alive", basically a collection of great classic tunes done in a Reggae version combined with Jamaican number one hits. That was quite nice to do. And there was also another project called "DUBieuze DeciBelgen", the same idea but now with songs sung in Dutch given the Reggae treatment. Songs from Raymond van het Groenewoud... whatever... We played at a lot of big festivals with Coco Jr... obviously because he's a big name in Belgium. That's what I did after Rohan Lee.

Q: Together with Marc Baronner you founded Not Easy At All Productions. What was the philosophy behind Not Easy At All Productions?

A: Basically trying to make productions with the two of us as the hard-core of the operation. We were like the spider in the web. Getting all the musicians together and produce tunes out of our little home studios. We kept on working with a lot of our old friends from our previous musical adventures, like Marcus Hillman for the guitars, Lode Busch on drums, and met some new friends like Cédric 'Tribuman' Munsch from France (t-pet) and Obed 'O-bat' Brinkman out of Groningen (t-bone). Making full productions with full instrumentation without the hassle that comes with playing and rehearsing with a Reggae-big-band. That was the philosophy. It's quite simple nowadays to send over tunes and overdubs over the net so most musicians can record at home and send in their musical parts conveniently. To lift up the vibes and keep it personal I always also recorded these friends at my own place,

Hans van Scharen

Marcus Hillman

Lode Busch

Obed 'O-bat' Brinkman

Cédric 'Tribuman' Munsch

Q: How did you come up with the name Not Easy At All Productions?

A: Not Easy At All was the name I came up with after my visit to Jamaica some 17 years ago. There I got into a strange conflict with a German guy. It was the only trouble I ever got during my visits to Jamaica. I had a big bag of ganja on the table and a spliff in my hand, and the German guy wanted a spliff. I just had lit the spliff and he was shouting at me "Give me the spliff! give me the spliff!" and I said "Roll a spliff yourself. There's ganja on the table. I put it there. No problem." Then he drew a big bread-knife and started to wave with it and again shouted "Give me the spliff!". So I started to shout at him and cursed on him in Jamaican patois. "Bloodclaat, bomboclaat this and that." My two Jamaican friends were really laughing their ass off, falling off their chairs, laughing and holding their belly, because I was shouting bad Jamaican words at the German guy. So the German guy was a bit confused and he drove away on his motorcycle, while the Jamaican guys were still laughing really loud. Then one of these guys said to me: "Oh Manu, you're not easy at all." That's how I came to the name Not Easy At All productions. So it's not what many people thought: it's not easy at all in the Reggae business or it's not easy at all in the world. No, it's... I'm not easy at all so you'd better watch out! (chuckles)

Q: What role did Marc play in Not Easy At All Productions and what was your role?

A: When we started the idea was that we would do all the things together, so we tried it that way. But in the end basically I did most of the musical things and Marc more or less did most of the facebook things and things like that.

Q: Can you tell us something about Not Easy At All Productions' very first project?

A: Very first project... Well in the beginning we made a lot of riddims and threw most of them away because they sounded not good enough. But then when Marc was on holiday in Indonesia, I made a riddim called the "Collie Weed" riddim, and sent it all over the place, all over the world, to the contacts I already had. Just like... well, this is a riddim and if you like to voice it, please voice it. One guy from Jamaica called Wild Life, he voiced a tune called "Ganja Yard" and I was really impressed with him. A big voice, a protégé of Bunny Wailer. Now he has a little hit , maybe already a big hit in Jamaica with "In A Mi Old Corolla". You have to check it. A real nice tune. That was the first project, with Wild Life, and then after that first tune we made a full album with him and we released it on the internet only, on i-tunes and things like that. It's still there, Wild Life - Too Tough, if you're interested. Tough tunes..

Q: You've done albums with some legendary Reggae artists such as former Israel Vibration member Apple Gabriel, Earl Sixteen, Brinsley Forde of Aswad fame and Vernon Maytone. Especially the release of the Brinsley Forde album was a big surprise since he hadn't been recording that much for many years. How was working with him?

A: Well, it was great working with him. It was the first album I did with JahSolidRock, that on my request was done in a way that we both worked on the tunes... not that it was a riddim-based album, but more a tune-based album. So Brinsley wrote some things, he sent it to me, I made a bassline, we adjusted it. So it was a lot longer lasting process because of that. Obviously because you don't start with finished riddims where an artist just puts some lyrics on. But this also made it a more interesting process. And Brinsley is very professional. I never worked with a singer/songwriter who is so professional like him. So that was really a great experience. Also a great learning experience mixing-wise, because he worked with the biggest artists. I had to convince him that it is possible to mix an album with an artist like him in just a small studio like I have. To get him excited about the sound took me some time, but I managed it and we are both really happy with the result. I'm really proud of that. It's quite an achievement to make an artist like that really happy with the tunes and sound... and everything. For instance the horns can imagine that he's really critical about horns and things like that. But in the end, a great experience.

Q: Your collaboration with Vernon Maytone is something special. Can you tell us how you both linked up and how you experience working with this veteran singer?

A: I think we linked up because Ras Denco from JahSolidRock asked him to voice a few riddims, but I think JahSolidRock wasn't really happy with the result. However Vernon and we were more excited about it. Yes I think that's how it went. Then Vernon released the tunes on his own label. That was the start of a long lasting collaboration. I'm now already working on the 4th or 5th album with him. And he introduced me to a lot of his friends. Ricky Chaplin, Carlton Livingston... and many more... a lot of artists in Vernon's musical family and they all like to work with him, just like I do. He has a great network of veteran singers around him. I have to say Vernon Maytone is the most lovable person I ever met in Reggae business, and one of the most important reasons I am still involved in it. Always a real big pleasure to work with Vernon Maytone. Large up King Vern, everything is everything! (like Vern always states).

Q: You also worked with younger artists like for example Chezidek. How about working on his two albums, "Judgement Time" and "The Order Of Melchezedik"?

A: I only worked on the first album, "Judgement Time", to put that right. I didn't work on the second one. Yes Chezidek... that was how I met JahSolidRock actually. They were working on an album with him and they needed something like two or three more tunes, but they couldn't find the riddims. Then Ras Denco heard and really loved our "Collie Weed" riddim, Wild Life's version 'Ganja Yard', on a mix-tape called 'Cultural Drop" from UK-dj L.Slinga, so he sorted out who made that riddim and was really surprised that it came out of Amsterdam from Not Easy At All Productions. So that's how he came in contact with us and then Chezidek voiced that tune called "Walk With Jah" on the riddim. He also voiced "Live And Learn" on another riddim out of the Dubshelter, the "One Blood" riddim, So two of our riddims made it to that album. It was more or less an unfinished album, we finished it for Ras Denco, and the collaboration with JahSolidRock was born.

Q: Tell us something about Lloyd de Meza and his "Back To Eden" album.

A: Yes, that was a kinda strange thing, 'cause Lloyd was in the studio while we were working on Earl Sixteen's album "The Fittest", and he heard those tunes, grabbed the mic and started singing. At one time we had so many versions of him and they were all so nice that JahSolidRock decided that they had to bring it out. Unfortunately due to some personal issues the release was hold back for about a year. And after that, well like so many times in Reggae business, no promotion, no marketing, so it kinda faded away. I think it is a great production and Lloyd de Meza is a great singer, but after that, I think, he got back into his original style, the R&B music. Maybe he was a bit disappointed with the support he got from the record company, and what I said, the marketing and the follow-up of that album.

Q: What do you think of producers and artists who often work with modern relicks of classic riddims?

A: Oh, I love all the old riddims and most of the time I love the relicks too. Modern sound and the same good old riddims, so nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned. But I myself prefer to create new riddims. That's more interesting. Good luck and all the best to the producers and artists who use the old riddims. Also... or maybe I've to say it's a bit poor to relick these old riddims again and again. Some of them I hear for the fortieth time and that's a bit too much I would say. But nothing wrong with a good relick.

Q: You've also done quite a few notable dub versions of songs. Can you explain what inspires you to turn a certain knob at a particular point in the mix?

A: We talked about that a little bit before. I think the best I can explain it is... it's a kinda form of magic. You just turn a knob and push a button and the inspiration comes from the divine.. or the universe... I just don't know. It's something magical. I like to think Singers and Players of Instruments are magicians 'cause we can make harmonies and frequencies come together and sound like a chord, or even a song that can really hit someone, if that isn't magic? Making a dub for me is like playing on the mixer like it is an instrument, so same kind of magic going on there.

Manu Genius at the controls

Manu Genius at the controls

Q: Do you have a favourite Dub album?

A: No I couldn't say I have a favourite Dub album. I have so many Dub albums that I love. Maybe one special is from Joe Gibbs, "African Dub Chapter Two", which I have on vinyl... the original red vinyl release. Maybe I should call that my favourite Dub album.

Q: And Reggae album?

A: Reggae album?... uh... well...basically all of the official Bob Marley albums are my favourite Reggae albums. I couldn't mention a single Marley album. All the Marley works. Not talking about the illegal demo versions and things, but the albums he worked on with Errol Brown in the studio. Yeah great.

Q: Which producer or engineer in Reggae music influenced or impressed you and why?

A: Errol Brown as an engineer. I think he's the top engineer. Best sounding albums ever. Especially when you realize that in those days the equipment was something else compared with the days in which we're living now. When you hear those albums... it's recorded with so much care... I don't know. It's great work, great work. I always try to get somewhat close, only a little in that direction... but I'm pretty sure that I will never succeed in that, 'cause he's obviously one of the best of his time. And producers... Well King Tubby. I love the work of King Tubby... the Dub style. He's one of the men who inspired me a lot. And some of the other guys like Prince Jammy... But let me say... King Tubby. When I start making the dub versions of the tunes here in the studio, I make a King-Tubby style setup in Protools, and mix the dubs 8-channel style with a little 8-channel digital controller. Still works best, Drums, Bass, Rhythm.

Errol Brown

King Tubby
Q: Imagine you were given the opportunity to choose any Reggae artist (dead or alive) to work with, whom would you choose and why?

A: Well... uh... I almost don't dare to say it, but Bob Marley of course, because you never know what happens when you make a tune with Bob Marley. And maybe it's nice to mention a living artist also... I really would like to work with Gentleman. Perhaps a strange choice, but I really love his voice, his intonation and his timing. He has great harmonies, great tunes and some great lyrics as well. And he has a broad audience, and that's what I like... to get Reggae a little bit out of the dark corner that it sometimes is in.

Q: Why did you stop with Not Easy At All Productions and founded your own Dubshelter Recordings?

A: Basically because it was something like a 'dead marriage' between Marc Baronner and me. We had no real collaboration anymore. Like for instance the album with Brinsley Forde. It features I think12 riddims from me and 1 half-written by Marc. So the division of labour wasn't as I had expected it to be. Brinsley Forde and I made the album, not Marc and me so to speak. And also, I think, it wasn't that nice, especially for Marc himself, that he ended up only doing things like facebook and that I was the one who worked on the musical side of things. So that must have been quite of a disappointment for him as well. When I found out that Marc was working on Chezidek's "Order Of The Melchizedek" album without telling me... with riddims from House of Riddim... not that I don't like the House Of Riddim, but I went so mad, decided to call our collaboration to an end and to continue to do the works on my own. I was highly fed-up, learning that someone I trusted had only used me to get a lot of credits on productions. Without doing the musical works earning it to be labelled as writer of a tune. And now moving on to the next victim, - laughing -. Thats how it felt....Initially I would continue to use the name Not Easy At All Productions, that was nothing more than reasonable he agreed, but when later on he refused to hand over the website to me, it was kinda hard to continue the works under that name, while Marc on the old website is still making it look like he is continuing the Not Easy At All Production works. But then again, it's a new time, we did split up, I am not gonna fight over it so I changed my name to another name... and thought well... y'know... whatever... we did some nice works 'together', stick the name and website up your -beep- ,' - no problem at all.
<< Inside the Dubshelter 2.0 >>

Q: You have a brand new studio, Dubshelter 2.0. What makes this one different from the previous studio?

A: Well... the most important change is, that this is an acoustically treated room. So where in my last home I adjusted the room as much as possible to suit my needs... that was basically the master bedroom where I put my equipment... this is a specially built room for use as a studio. So for me it's a lot easier to make a good sounding mix, 'cause I used to check all my mixes on my speakers upstairs and in the car etc and now... more often you get the mix right straight away.. and when you check it in your car... well alright, everything sounds great. Basically the sound is a lot better. And now I have less windows that can distract my attention. You can only see the sky with maybe some birds and airplanes, but not people walking around and with things that can distract you from the music and things like that.

Q: You're working with Stefaan Colman aka Collieman, one of Belgium's major Reggae talents. How did you link up with him?

A: Collieman contacted us and asked us to mix his first album, so I did that for him. And, well I was so impressed with him that I immediately called him my protégé and said "I'm gonna make the next album with you". However, whatever.

Q: Can you tell us something about the new project you are doing with him?

A: Well... that's a project we are working on for some time now and that's basically because we take all the time we need and want for this project. We want it to be the best sounding thing that both of us ever made. So it's still in progress, and we need a few extra tunes. I played a few tunes for you, so you heard it...uh...anyway, we are getting there, I can say. He's such a big talent, but also such a perfectionist that we need a lot of time to get it how we want it. But I really like to work that way, because it's not always good to hasten up things. I think it's gonna be a really great sounding album when it's finally ready. But give us maybe one or two more years, no problem, we just take the time we need.


Q: What more can we expect in the near future to come out of Dubshelter's creative headquarters?

A: Well... I'm thinking about a lot of things. But right now I'm mixing a next album of Vernon Maytone for Uniteam from France. I'm also planning to bring out a few EP's... riddim-based EP's... vinyl only. And releasing a 7-track EP with Benaissa in a little while: "African Blood (The JahSolidRock Sessions)" which is a collection of previously recorded tunes that were still on the shelf but too nice to be kept hidden, supplemented with some brand new tunes. Those are some of the plans for the near future.

Q: Finally, what do you think about the 'Reggae Revival' movement in Jamaica that gets a lot of attention due to artists like Protoje, Chronixx, Jesse Royal and Jah9?

A: I'm really happy about that. I was waiting for that for a long time. Really happy to hear the music that attracted me to Reggae in the first place... that it is played again... also by some bands like Pentateuch, Uprising Roots and Raging Fyah... It's really good to hear young artists and bands bringing back the old vibes... and not so many computer-based riddims... real musicians... like I always try to work with a real drummer, real horns, real guitar player... I play the keyboards myself most of the time. I sometimes also programme the drums, but it's always nicer to work with a real drummer and let the things grow and flow... that's like how I think it should work. It's not a 'one man thing'. It's never like that. Giving thanks to Reggae Vibes and all our fans for the great support every time!

© September 2015, Teacher & Mr. T
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