Album Review: Interrupt, Jago, + Deemas J, ‘We Don’t Stop’

Listen to We Don’t Stop

We Don’t Stop, out 28 April, is the release between Jago, Interrupt, and Deemas J on Interrupt Music. The album is the convergence of three long-time collaborators with deep-rooted, overlapping ties to sound systems like Reggae Roast, Solution Sound, and Unit 137.  

It only makes sense that We Don’t Stop refers to the hyper-local of London, calling out different neighbourhoods and sound systems, but never losing sight of reggae and dancehall’s universal messages. As Deemas J says on the upbeat, swaggy ‘Area Code’ (my favorite track) – “you don’t question where someone’s from when they’re dancing, that’s how it should always be.” The song is a far-reaching map of neighborhoods from Turnpike Lane (N8) to Ladbroke Grove (W10) to Penge (SE20), swooping south through Brixton, Lewisham, Woolwich, with Deemas J and Jago taking care of business, visiting friends and sound systems, and having adventures.  

“I don’t like all this gun business and people talking about you don’t belong to an area,” Deemas said. “I’m southeast, Jago’s a southwest bredda, we’re talking about our experiences. All that is true. As long as you know how to carry yourself, you can go anywhere.” 

They may have grown up in different areas, but Deemas J talked about the crossovers in their lives and bouncing off each other to write songs. They have a collaborative writing process, both referring to their immediate experiences, and will sometimes sing each other’s lyrics when it feels like a better fit. In the opening track, ‘Sweet Little Bird,’ was written iteratively between Jago and Deemas, drawing from their connections to nature. Jago sings about the peace the bird brings when it visits him in his garden; Deemas J wonders about the hard winter it must have as it sits in a tree outside his window.  

If the roller coaster on the album artwork (illustrated by Most Ill) is in London, it’s whizzing us through different eras. Interrupt’s heavy production mostly evokes the excitement of new digital sounds of the 1980s, but reaches further back with ‘Summertime,’ a synthy and syncopated take of the Gershwin classic, lyrics reworked into a heady portrait of a London summer spent in front of reverberating sound systems. We Don’t Stop is doing some serious work chronicling the universality of sound system culture, but never takes itself too seriously. The tracks don’t shy away from hard subjects, as in ‘Rollercoaster Ride,’ which Deemas J wrote about being hungry youth followed by the police in an eerie falsetto. Regardless, they keep a ragged realism and optimism for survival. Taking us back to the present day, in ‘Keep the Faith,’ which was inspired by the isolation and uncertainty of lockdown, Ciann Finn encourages listeners to keep hope and stick with each other. 

Jago’s gruff, gravelly MC’ing and Deemas J’s wide-ranging vocals play off each other. They often dig deep into incantations of roots reggae, linking to first-generation Jamaican sound systems in London 1960s and 70s, but move into the 1980s with a sparser rude boy style on the title track, where Jago, Deemas J, and Clapper Priest testify to endurance of sound systems to bring people together with a catchy hook and Sarah Telman on backing vocals, who adds refreshing harmonies throughout the album.  

Deemas J shows his versatility as a vocalist throughout, still energizing listeners with his MC’ing that keep pace with the most frenetic drum and bass beats (he performs every year at Notting Hill Carnival), but branching into soulful crooning and supplying the effects that’d usually have to be added in digitally, like chirps, robot sounds, and scrambled words. Interrupt’s production matches the vocalist’ range, seamlessly spanning the decades of reggae and dancehall. He knows when to make space for the vocalists, and when to layer in sticky horn lines from Papa B. ‘Roller Boot Disco’ also starts off with some retro aural imagery of skating in the 90s, but keeps an intrigue with its sparser bass. Despite the tour across the city, We Don’t Stop starts and ends in nature. In the final track, ‘Sweet Meditation,’ Interrupt hints at a clanging drum and bass, before backing it off into an easy, low-slung dub, receding until the listener hears only waves lapping on a beach.