Walk into the nondescript office of Soulside Productions in West L.A. and you’ll find a framed platinum copy of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album not far from a plaque for GZA’s Liquid Swords. The anteroom to the main office may have a healthy smattering of records from famous names, but veteran record exec Marv Mack — who’s worked on many of those albums for Geffen and TVT Records, among others — doesn’t want to talk about that.
Mack would rather talk about his early love of ska, reggae and scootering, and Soulside Productions, his passion-project entertainment company that’s morphed into a force in L.A.’s soul and Jamaican foundation sound scenes. Now in its 11th year, Soulside hosts monthly soul and reggae DJ nights (Club Soulside and Trojan Lounge, respectively), puts out a small number of records and has done marketing work for the 50th anniversary of Motown Records and Northern Soul, a fiction film based on the British music scene of the same name.
“Soulside has just been my passion; the [jobs at] record labels are accomplishments,” Mack says. “I’m two different people; I have two personalities, one with business and all that, but I don’t mix the two.”
Soulside, which bills itself as “the music preservation headquarters” for rare soul, ska and skinhead reggae (named after a British youth movement that predates any racist connotations for the term "skinhead"), will celebrate its anniversary Sept. 14-16 with Soul Invasion Weekender, a three-day event at Cafe Club Fais Do-Do that will mix sets from a rotating crew of national and international DJs with performances from soul and reggae legends. It’s also the culmination of Mack's lifelong passion for vintage sounds and culture, which has its roots in the scooter scene.
“We’d have a scooter run and end up having a party or a barbecue, and end up with two turntables and people would bring records,” Mack says of the origins of Soulside. “There was never a name for it. Then next thing you know you’d have 20, 50, 100 people showing up. No one was really doing it on the side of town where we’re from, [and] because we were on the west side of L.A., we called it Soulside.”
Early Soulside parties served as fundraisers for the Westside Scooter Club, with DJ sets from members and their friends. But the event grew, and 11 years later, the annual weekender will feature DJ Stan Mair, who spun at England’s famed Wigan Casino and Twisted Wheel clubs during the height of the U.K.’s northern soul scene in the ’70s, alongside seven other collectors.
The Weekender was originally a DJ-only event, but Mack started inviting live bands for its 10th anniversary. That year, New York band The Templars, who play a British-derived style of punk called oi!, shared a bill with soul singer Ruby Andrews, whose 1969 song “You Made a Believer (Out of Me)" was sampled by Q-Tip on his 2009 track "Won't Trade." This year will see performances from Myron Glasper; formerly of Myron & E, Yvonne Vernee Allen of Motown group The Elgins; and Monty Montgomery of skinhead reggae anthem band Symarip.
“[The Weekender] feels like a big celebration, and I try to do it each year to give back to my supporters who attend my events and people who are passionate about vintage reggae and soul,” Mack says. “It’s also an 18-and-over event. I’m trying to educate the youth, let them know about where the soul started.”
With the Weekender, Mack likes to bring old and occasionally obscure artists to local audiences. Allen, whose band’s hits include “Heaven Must’ve Sent You,” hasn’t performed in Los Angeles in more than 20 years. “It makes me feel good to know that our music is still appreciated,” she says. “Young people are very familiar with the songs of the ’60s, the ’70s.”
Similarly, Symarip’s Montgomery says he “never, never, never dreamed” that his late-’60s hits “Skinhead Moonstomp,” “Skinhead Girl” and “Must Catch a Train” would still be popular more than a generation later. “We were the first group to target the skinheads in a nice way,” Montgomery says over the phone from Jamaica, adding that the term "skinhead" has been unjustly co-opted by neo-Nazis who don’t share the same subcultural sentiments. “When I go into a show, I keep behind the curtains. When I see just one skinhead or a skin byrd [a term for a female skinhead], I know it’s gonna be a great night. Because they come to party, they love my music, they love me.”
The Soul Invasion will be Montgomery’s first performance in Los Angeles, though he’s wanted to visit since childhood. “I’m looking so much forward to it. I can’t wait to get there. I grew up [in Jamaica and] I used to love movies, movies that were coming out of Hollywood and Los Angeles,” he says.
Montgomery and Allen’s appearance at the Weekender has special importance to Mack, who grew up listening to his folks’ Motown 45s, came of age during the ’80s’ two-tone ska boom, bought his first Docs and monkey boots at NaNa in 1984, and started digging deep into traditional ska and reggae in high school. Although he also listened to hip-hop, punk and anything loosely defined as “street music,” it was reggae, ska and soul that stuck.
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“I think it becomes part of your life. Reggae, soul and ska are good-feeling music. It keeps you out of your worries. It’s working-class music. … It makes you feel good even if you have to pay bills and you might be losing your home,” he says.
That same feeling has struck a chord with a lot of the venues where Soulside hosts events. Such niche events that are popular within a subculture of music lovers won’t pull the same crowd as a more mainstream concert, Mack notes, but oftentimes bar owners feel a similar passion for vintage soul and reggae sounds.
“L.A. is the No. 2 market in the country; people have lots of choices. If you put together events that you’re passionate about, that people are passionate about, [with performers] they don’t get all the time, then they’ll come and support,” Mack says. “It’s my passion for the music that keeps the torch lit. The reward is seeing people dancing and smiling and having a good time.”
Soul Invasion Weekender runs Sept. 14-16 at Cafe Club Fais Do-Do. Tickets and more info.