Frenchie’s Maximum Sound label celebrates its 25thanniversary in 2018 and it’s been quite a journey – one involving many of the biggest names in reggae and dancehall from Jamaica, the UK and Europe.
The Paris-born producer, who got the name “Frenchie” whilst learning his craft at Fashion’s A Class studio in London, has long valued authenticity, as well as quality. He knows what he wants and applies this throughout the entire recording process, from the building of the rhythms, the voicing and song construction and final mix to the marketing and promotion. That’s irrespective of whether he’s making dancehall or roots hits and it’s led to some exciting collaborations over the years with newer Jamaican artists, musicians and producers – Lenky, Anthony B and Mr. Vegas included – as well as legends like Sly and Robbie.
Frenchie’s love of reggae and dancehall began when rifling through his brother’s record collection, which was well stocked with Studio One and Treasure Isle releases. In the late 80s when computer rhythms were setting dancehalls ablaze, the teenager from Paris headed for London, where he met John McLean, Chris Peckings and Captain Sinbad, who introduced him to the vibrant London reggae scene. Dub Vendor’s John McGillvray then invited him to become apprentice engineer at Fashion Records’ A Class studio – a hotbed of musical activity where Jamaica and London met on more or less equal terms. It was at their Forest Hill premises where Frenchie worked on hits by Cutty Ranks (“The Stopper”), General Levy and Top Cat, to name but a few leading artists of the day learning his craft from ace engineers Chris Lane and Gussie P as well as in house musicians Mafia & Fluxy. His apprenticeship would encompass dancehall, roots, lovers’ rock and even old school reggae, since legends such as Augustus Pablo, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Frankie Paul, Alton Ellis and Junior Delgado were all regulars at A Class.
In 1993, he launched Maximum Sound and began producing tracks featuring local and international reggae acts, including Gorillaz’ star Sweetie Irie and Stylo G’s late father, Jamaican deejay Poison Chang. Frenchie’s love of sound-system fuelled remakes of rhythms such as “Chill Out,” “Waiting In Vain”,”Sensi Addict” and Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come”(which Frenchie renamed “Intercom”) and also spawned the hits that put Maximum Sound on the map. By the mid 90s he was working in Jamaica with the likes of Sly & Robbie, Dean Fraser, Richie Stephens, Mr. Vegas and Red Rat – also Stephen “Lenky” Marsden, who became a frequent collaborator. Frenchie encouraged Lenky to make the leap from musician to producer and helped to establish him as one of the greatest producers of the early 2000s, cemented by one of the biggest-selling rhythms of all time. This was the classic “Diwali,” which spawned international hits by Sean Paul (“Get Busy”) and Wayne Wonder (“No Letting Go”.) Frenchie was also executive producer of two Mr. Vegas albums for Greensleeves, including “Heads High.” More recently, he co-produced Mr. Vegas’ worldwide hit “Sweet Jamaica” featuring Shaggy and Josey Wales. Once he’d made his mark and proved his worth – not an easy task for any overseas’ reggae producer – Frenchie’s tracks began to regularly feature on albums by artists such as Capleton, Sizzla, Morgan Heritage and Junior Kelly, whose “Tough Life” ranks among the sing-jay’s finest work. He also, although unaccredited, recorded tracks as an engineer on Buju Banton’s masterly 1997 release “Inna Heights”.
Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, T.O.K, Sean Paul and Vybz Kartel all flocked to his label as the Millennium got underway. These artists were among the biggest names in Jamaican music at that time, and appeared on one-rhythm albums such as “Jumbie,” “Blue Steel,” “Fowl Fight” and “World Jam” – the latter being a matching version to Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock”.
Whilst continuing to make strides in the dancehall arena, Frenchie was also busy spearheading a reggae resurgence back in his native France with hits by Raggasonic, who’ve sold more than 600,000 albums to date. Their album “Raggasonic 3” is testament to the band’s lasting appeal, but then Frenchie was never one to let the grass grow under his feet. In addition to his work with Raggasonic he’s also produced tracks on solo albums by Daddy Mory, Big Red, Daddy Nuttea and Tairo; recorded songs with France’s No. 1 rap group NTM and collaborated with Neg’marrons, with whom he had a Top 20 hit with “Tout le Monde Debout”,featuring Mr. Vegas. This in turn led to a collaboration with sensational French rap group 113, who he paired with Buju Banton on their album “113 Degrees”, which reached Gold status in France.
As more traditional reggae style songs became popular, he compiled the best-selling “Biggest Reggae One Drop Anthems” for Greensleeves – a label with which he’s collaborated on many more projects over the years. He also embarked on a quartet of highly acclaimed albums by Anthony B, including “Black Star”, which gave birth to the anthem “World A Reggae Music” and “Higher Meditation”. He also produced albums with Jah Mason and Lukie D, whose two sets – incorporating a rich mix of soul, gospel, R & B, reggae and dancehall, and including the classic “Deliver Me” – have been hailed as the singer’s best-ever work. Frenchie was also executive producer of Fantan Mojah’s “Stronger” album – the title track of which (produced by Frenchie) became an anthem in Jamaica and spawned the No. 1 video on Jamaican television at the time. A succession of celebrated Rasta singers and dee-jays – including the likes of Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage, Jah Cure, Alborosie, Sizzla, Capleton and Gyptian – began to regularly grace his sessions from thereon, enhancing both their own reputations and that of the self-effacing Frenchman. Rhythms such as “Help Me Praise Jahoviah” featuring Mr. Vegas & Konshens (a No. 1 hit on Choice FM’s Official UK Reggae Charts), “I Know My Herbs”, “Matches Lane”, “Blackboard”, “Jah Powers”, “Vineyard Town”, “Ashanti Warrior”, “The Session” and “Rebellion 2010” displayed skilful mastery of the contemporary roots idiom, which then culminated in two volumes of “Bobo Revolution” – albums packed with killer roots tunes, and which one reviewer accurately described as “the best such compilations on the market.”
A series of reissue projects for Pressure Sounds, highlighting some of the best reggae music of the nineties further underlined his gift for compilations. Released under the banner of Maximum Pressure, this series has so far featured anthologies by the likes of Bobby Digital, Xterminator, King Jammy and the late Winston Riley – producers whose work embraces cultural and dancehall material alike, much like Frenchie’s own.
Other bestselling rhythms for Maximum Sound soon followed, including “Ghetto State Of Mind” featuring Bounty Killer, Assassin & Half Pint – a dancehall smash that brilliantly reworked the latter’s “One Big Ghetto” and that Bounty Killer considers one of his strongest tracks. Christopher Martin provided the label’s next hit. “Top A Top” lived up to its billing by reaching No. 1 on Choice FM’s Official UK Reggae charts. Matching cuts to the “Fairground” rhythm by fellow up-and-coming Jamaican talents like I Octane and Konshens proved just as impressive as did “Zinc Fence” from Stylo G, who’s now a name on everyone’s lips and rated as the UK’s biggest reggae star. It was Frenchie who produced Luciano’s “United States Of Africa” – an album that helped rejuvenate this well-loved Jamaican singer’s career back in 2010. The two also combined also on the genre defining “Skateland Killer” – a mighty roots rhythm that roared from speaker boxes worldwide thanks to hit songs by Tarrus Riley (“Rebel”), Alborosie and Captain Sinbad.
As 2013 approached, there would be no let-up. Tarrus Riley again starred on Frenchie’s next three rhythms. Yami Bolo and Mr. Vegas (with “Jah Is The Fire” and “Jamaica Be Nice” respectively) shone on “Rude Boy Be Nice”, whilst Cecile, Agent Sasco and Sizzla (“White Collar Boss”) provided highlights on “Most Royal”, which was another striking collaboration between Frenchie and Stephen “Lenky” Marsden. In the autumn of 2014 came”Jah Blessings” (led by Jah Cure’s sublime “Save My Soul”) and the heavyweight roots outing “Imperial Crown”. In addition to attracting big names to his label, Frenchie also shares a commitment to helping newer artists gain more exposure, and especially those delivering a cultural message. Jesse Royal’s “Raising Your Voices For Freedom” was one of the outstanding cuts to “Imperial Crown”, together with Exco Levi’s “What Is The Use” and Dre Island’s “Let Jah Love Shine Down”. Another finds Addis Pablo, son of Augustus, playing melodica just like his famous father. These names are among the new wave of talented youngsters to emerge from Jamaica and Maximum Sound also works with their counterparts from Europe and beyond, including Randy Valentine and Gappy Ranks.
Prior to this, Frenchie had continued releasing hit riddims on Maximum Sound including 2013’s “Tin Mackerel”. The latter spawned Konshens and Romain Virgo’s “We No Worry ‘Bout Them” which was another triumph, and a hit all over Planet Reggae. These two young artists – both of them in peak form – had come together to celebrate the original dancehall sound and spirit of Jamaica, and for a label that has long forged important links between Jamaica and Europe. Also released that same year was “Number One Station” – a rhythm first heard behind Captain Sinbad’s “Reggae Music Will Mad Unu”. This was the title track of the veteran deejay’s comeback album, produced by Frenchie. It was a set that perfectly recaptured the sound of early 80s’ dancehall, and earned widespread acclaim on its release. Ras Demo’s “Sekkle Up The Score” on the “Armour” riddim reached No. 1 on Natty B’s Official MI SOUL – Gleaner UK Reggae charts in 2015, after competing for attention with matching cuts by Tarrus Riley (“We Want Better”), Iba Mahr, Exco Levi and fellow UK reggae artists Gappy Ranks and Mr. Williamz. It was then remixed by Belgian crew the Turntable Dubbers, who’d previously revamped Bounty Killer and Lukie D’s “Kill Another Sound”. Ras Demo’s success had heralded a renaissance of UK reggae. Gappy Ranks, Chukki Starr and Randy Valentine (whose Maximum Sound debut had been “Victory,” some three years earlier) all featured on “Maximum Sound 2016,” which also featured songs by up-and-coming Jamaican dancehall artist Masicka – now a big star in the Caribbean.
Randy Valentine’s “Love Advocate” was a cut to 2015’s “Selecta” riddim, as was Sara Lugo’s “Criminal”. Randy also contributed “Hold On” to Frenchie’s “Blueberry Haze” along with tracks by Christopher Martin and Vershon, before voicing “Protected” alongside Exco Levi. That was voiced on Maximum Sound’s “Royal Step” – a roots backdrop from 2016 also featuring Morgan Heritage (“Conscious Revolution”), Alborosie (“Tearful Days”), Addis Pablo and new roots sensation Samory I, who was a virtual unknown at the time.
If there’s one song that defined the latter part of 2017 it was Romain Virgo’s “Now” – a feel-good missive from a singer whose own career path took him from Jamaica’s youngest-ever TV talent show winner to national treasure. “I needed a few more happy songs to sing on stage – songs that will make them move and make people dance,” Romain told Echoes’ John Masouri. “That was the whole vibe behind Now, and I feel so good when I hear it playing on the radio or in a session. People said it was a breath of fresh air coming from Romain Virgo and that’s what we wanted. We wanted to come up with something unexpected, and I’m really happy with it.” “Now” was hugely popular in 2017 and became the standout track on Romain’s “LoveSick” album, released by VP Records. Frenchie also recorded Beenie Man, Ding Dong and Mr. Vegas on the same “Skank And Rave” riddim but it was “Now” that proved definitive, helped by a video embodying the spirit of young Jamaica.
Around the same time Frenchie assisted with a brace of acclaimed Bobby Digital compilations for VP, “Serious Times” and “Xtra Wicked”, issued as part of their Reggae Anthology series. More recently, he’s worked as A & R / Album Coordinator on new albums by Mr. Vegas and Alborosie. Frenchie also co-produced Alborosie & Chronixx’s “Contradiction” from the “Unbreakable: Alborosie Meets The Wailers United” set, which brought together two of reggae music’s most exciting new talents, along with members of Bob Marley’s backing band. Among the releases marking this anniversary year are several new rhythms such as “Vibes Maker”, co-authored with Richard “Shams” Browne and “Twilight”, featuring top musicians from Jamaica and the UK. The latter includes Christopher Martin’s “Bun Fi Bun” (as featured on his next album) and cuts by Sanchez, Etana, Ginjah and Mr. Vegas. A 3rd rhythm will be released in the later part of 2018 to close the year in fine style.
Listen out too, for “Maximum Sound at 25”, which compiles many of the label’s biggest hits that placed Frenchie’s music right at the heart of the Jamaican dancehall experience – something he’s successfully maintained from the start.