This has been a defining year for one of Charleston’s most diverse bands. The Dubplates, a reggae/dancehall riddim band born and raised in Charleston, draws much of its identity from the diversity of both its members and its fanbase.
Performing with anywhere between seven and 10 members, the Dubplates are a combination of traditional Jamaican Patwah and Lowcountry pride. Charleston native Dave “Big Hair” Brisacher started the band with his business partner “Daddy” Brady Waggoner back in 2002 as Dub Island Sound System. Somewhere between 2007 and 2008, the band brought in a full horn section, a few more vocalists and percussionists, and became the Dubplates.
Throughout their evolution, Brisacher says the band has held to one philosophy: the value of diversity, which is a something they witnessed at their shows after the Emanuel AME tragedy in June. Though grief ran rampant through the community, Charlestonians turned to each other rather than against each other. It was a scene the band was proud to step up and be a part of. “We did a show on the Friday right after the shooting,” Brisacher says. “We had a moment of silence and a candlelight vigil. It was such a beautiful scene of just how mixed and diverse and positive we are, with as much love as could be, when so many other cities have handled an event like that by going in a totally different direction. There could have been riots, but instead everyone was coming together with love and positivity.”
For years, the Dubplates have strived to emulate this same sense of togetherness among their fans. “One of the cool things about what we do is we bring a lot of different groups in Charleston together at our shows,” says Brisacher. “You’ll see people from all different races, different ages, and socio-economic backgrounds. People from Broad Street to the East Side to Folly Beach to Isle of Palms, you get this whole mix of people together. It’s different from a lot of music because when they actually come together, they’re really coming together.”
The Dubplates’ hometown pride saturates their music, particularly with songs like “843” and “Chucktown.” Even when they make the pilgrimage down to the reggae mecca in Kingston, Jamaica, they bring a piece of the city with them. “When we perform or our music is playing in Jamaica, it can be very confusing to the people there,” Brisacher says about the band’s Charleston-specific references.
Speaking of the Holy City, the Dubplates seem to take pleasure in the confusion that comes from challenging stereotypes, especially when it comes to judgments of the South. Brisacher sees contradictions to the state’s separatist history every time he steps on a Charleston stage. “When we get this totally diverse group of people dancing together, that’s one really nice, true side of Charleston as opposed to a lot of stereotypical stuff people would think about South Carolina.”
Nearly a decade after the band’s formation, the steady rise of the Dubplates shows no signs of slowing down. The band is currently planning a series of events around their upcoming studio release Box Full of Steel, which will be available in early 2016 and will feature collaborations with several major hip-hop and reggae artists like King Yellowman and Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys.
“We’re not going anywhere,” says Brisacher. “So many of us are fathers, husbands, and business owners here and have so much love and respect for this city. We’ll keep on moving forward here until the children of the Dubplates take over.”