Version Xcursion
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Version Xcursion

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Most people equate dub with "chilling out." You know, kicking back with some green, blasting off and letting your body ride the bass. Local dub outfit Version Xcursion wanna get dub off the couch, out of the basement and back onto the dance floor.

Not that Sassa'le (aka Lee Castle) and Aram Scaram (aka Aram Lee) aren't into "getting in the zone." They're just not here to chill you out.

"I know there are a lot of people who want the next level," offers Sassa'le in his transatlantic accent. "Some people who love reggae and dub have to go to a house club to shake a leg. We're here to set something up and tell people to bring their dancing shoes.

"When you tell the club that you play dub," he continues, "they think people are just going to come and smoke pot. And we're like, 'Yo, we're going to pack the floor. '"

Sitting in the concrete bowels of CKLN gearing up for another session of their long-running Saturday-night radio show, the pair chat excitedly about DJing, producing and the release of their debut LP, the aptly titled Radio.

"We want to take on all of North America," declares Aram confidently. "Everything comes from dub – garage, jungle, house, even a lot of the vocals you hear in today's R&B. As DJs, we're trying to make you dance. On the album, though, we wanted to get in your head."

No kidding. Two years in the making, the new joint packs pristine production and deep-as-Baikal bass, and features a ton of top-notch contributions from people like vocalist Katie Murphy and the Resonators' Graeme Moore. The pair even roped in house boss Nick Holder and Rob Smith of Bristol's Smith & Mighty for remixes. (Both producers will also appear at the VX record release party).

"A lot of it was trial and error," concedes Sassa'le. "Part of the reason it took so long to make is because we were learning along the way."

VX's genesis dates back to the mid-90s, when the Bristol-bred Sassa'le arrived in Toronto and kick-started his dub-centric radio program. Back then, artists like Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead were exploding out of Bristol and popularizing what became one of the decade's biggest musical movements: triphop.

With cats like Massive Attack and Smith & Mighty in the booth, Sassa'le was among the first to tune Toronto audiences into the triphop. Nine years later, he and Aram Scaram, who signed on in 2001, are hoping the "new dub" sound will blow up in a similar way.

They point to tracks like the recent Crazy In Kingston Jay-Z remix, a jacked-up mishmash of roots reggae, echo-heavy effects and big-room bass, as proof positive that the dub sound can rock the party – hard.

"You can play that anywhere and it fills the floor," says Sassa'le. "But it still has that reggae feel. We're saying, 'That's not the only track out there. We've got a whole crate of this stuff. '"

Though Friday's set will be a live-to-air DJ set, the pair are also planning to bring the bass in the coming year with the VX soundsystem. They'll drop samples, spin records and be joined by a vocalist, bassist, violinist and what Sassa'le mysteriously refers to as "the black box."

"We shouldn't have to leave Toronto do this either," says Aram. "We should be able to be recognized for what we do right here."

NOW | DEC 2 - 9, 2004 | VOL. 24 NO. 14 - Now Magazine


In the post-Marley diaspora, you're either part of the adventurous and much-reviled dance-hall massive, or the faithful who endlessly resurrect the sound of early reggae. Version Xcursion, a.k.a. local CKLN radio hosts Sassa'le and Aram Scaram, filter their sensibilities through mid-'90s Bristol groups (including Smith & Mighty, whose Rob Smith contributes a remix) though their debut, Radio, rarely strays from the monolithic bass and chattering effects of their forefathers in dub. While tracks like "Sound Fi Av Sound" and both parts of "Rock da Dub" spice up old formulae through rhythms that crackle with tension, VX's weakness lies in their singers, whose turns on "Pushing Flowers" and "Champion Sound" fall short of the effortless testifying of their heroes. Staying on the well-trodden path invites endless comparisons, and though they sometimes falter, VX shoulder their self-imposed burden with admirable resolve. DAVE MORRIS - Eye Magazine


By David Dacks
April 07, 2005

Aram Scaram and Sassa’le are the hosts of “Version Xcursion”, a tightly mixed two-hour journey through up-tempo dub, both old and new, that many have termed “Nu Dub” on Toronto’s CKLN-FM. Their approach to dub de-emphasises the slow motion psychedelics of dub in favour of spacious yet danceable grooves that would maintain the flow in a hip-hop or house oriented context. If you’re thinking Bristol, you’d be correct — probably the best track on this disc is the Rob Smith (Smith & Mighty) remix of “Champion Sound.” The VX crew rhythm method features spare, even bare bones production, a bass line, a riddim and vocals of some sort. This isn’t headphone dub, it’s dub for the dance floor and improves with volume. Standout cuts are the two versions of “Rock Da Dub” with recitations on the social power of dub by Ayume Dukutata. This represents another link in the long chain of notable Toronto-based dub poets that stretches back more than 20 years. Some spots would benefit from stronger songwriting and perhaps a full band, notably the two tracks with Katie Murphy that have inferior lyrics and forced deliveries. The VX crew are moving in a live direction, though, putting together a touring band that should expand the solid foundation of what they’ve captured and push it forward. - Exclaim


Beyond dub
Once a month at Andy Poolhall , the Version Xcursion 's Sassa'le and Aram Scaram throw a party called Dub And Beyond , which, as you might expect, focuses on the sounds of dub and dub-influenced music. This month's happened May 7.

They're also joined each month by vocalist Tre-Son , who drops his silky voice over the tracks and generally hypes up the crowd. Musically, the vibe ranges from vintage dub reggae to 80s dancehall to modern music with dub elements. The classics are effective at getting the dance floor moving, as nostalgia always is, but it's the "new dub" sounds that really set this night apart.

Dub has had a strong influence on the development of DJ culture; it was the first real example of remixing tunes and abusing the studio specifically to make a single more friendly for DJs. As such, elements of this sound have filtered into a wide variety of styles outside of the reggae canon, which allows a dub-focused night to be much more eclectic than you'd think at first.

By BENJAMIN BOLES - Now Magazine


Discography

VX Radio (Independent)

Light rotation on Community radio cross-Canada.
Regular rotation on Toronto's community station's CIUT and CKLN.
Regular rotation on CBC's Galaxie radio. Chart 9 & 10 on Galaxies Canadian reggae spins for November 2005

Photos

Bio

VERSION XCURSION a.k.a. SASSA'LE and ARAM SCARAM continues to break boundaries and concepts in pushing the music they love 'DUB'. Their radio program, now 10 years strong on CKLN 88.1 FM has established itself in the community and internationally, as a source for dub music new and old, and for pushing new and exciting Canadian sounds.

As producers VX released their debut album RADIO in December 2004, pushing their signature new dub sound and feature several talented Toronto based vocalists. This record was well recieved locally and nationally, which lead to a live taping on CBC’s arts and cultures show ZED TV. Internationally, the release of their single ‘Rock Da Dub’ on Nick Holder’s label DNH has lead to licensing the song to 2 compilations, Strictly Dub and AirJamaica.

Currently they are working on putting together a ‘Radio Remixed’ album , and are both releasing solo projects . Scaram’s release Jen-ee-Rocka featuring Toronto's hottest singer TRESON is making the rounds and Sassa'le's ‘System Echo ep' is set for release.

As promoters they are involved in 2 monthlies, Dubwize, a quiet pub night at the Embassy, and their popular Dub & Beyond series at Andy Poolhall, that has seen the likes of Bristol’s Rob Smith (Smith & Mighty) and San Fransisco’s J.Boogie (OM records). It was also the launching pad for their Radio album, and the Treson meets VX single.