With Working Spliffs and Raggs and Bush Doktor playing only sporadically, all local reggae falls heavily on the shoulders of a DJ act, Real Life Sound.
Simply calling them a DJ act, though, misses some key elements. What began that way, as DJs Yehochanan and Split spinning and occasionally drumming, has broadened to encompass several more -- Crow and Small Cuts among others -- each filling in at gigs when they can. More than that, though, says John Gardner (Yehochanan), Real Life Sound is an attempt to gather together like minds. Thus the promotion work that Gardner does with national acts in Spokane falls under Real Life's umbrella.
The collectivist mindset makes it less a DJ clique than a Benevolent Society for Reggae, aimed at building and sustaining a fan base. Gardner believes they're drawing from a crowd of around 1,000, judging by the throngs at the Wailers show on Jan. 10. The trick is getting those people to realize that good reggae exists independent of Bob Marley. "I get frustrated walking into a Junior Reid show and seeing 12 people," he says.
Gardner calls the group "nonprofit," though I doubt they're registered as a 501(c)(3). More likely he means with a crew as vast as they're building and the relatively slim pickings to be gained from DJ shows, none of them is going to get rich.
With so many gigs, they've either tapped into an underfed scene or persuaded bar owners to gamble on pepping up their off-nights. It's probably a little of both. They have a standing gig at Jimmy'z on Saturdays, and they've spun and percussed several Fridays at Blue Spark, which suggests demand. The majority of their gigs, though, happen at less desirable times: The Blvd. on Sundays, the Spread on Tuesdays, Caterina on Wednesdays.
They see those as opportunities to minister to Jah faithful and, in the case of the all-ages Caterina shows, as chances to incubate awareness in the youth. The way Gardner talks, he's preparing for a siege on people's conceptions of reggae, not a blitzkrieg. Babylon wasn't built in a day. Especially in Spokane, it won't be brought down in one either.