Monthly Archives: October 2015

‘Systems of Sound’ by Joe Muggs

Great sound reproduction is vital. From the first Jamaican dancehall systems – brought to the UK for the first time 60 years ago this month by “Duke” Vincent Forbes – through the Klipschorn speakers put by David Mancuso into his own home for the Loft parties that created disco culture as we know it; through rebel sounds like DiY, Desert Storm and Spiral Tribe that epitomised the outlaw spirit of rave culture, to the perfect 21st century techno sound of havens like Berghain and Trouw. The technology of sound has informed the culture and vice versa throughout the modern age.

What “great sound” is, though, is tough to define. What makes good sound is not a simple science. The study of acoustics is beset by complexities of turbulence and interference patterns – and the art of filling an irregularly shaped room full of moving bodies with sound that will satisfy on an aesthetic and physical level has sent many great minds round the bend over the years.

And it’s not just about sound either, because the soundsystems themselves have a mythic quality. They are the beating heart of the layout and décor of clubs, parties, festivals and dances. The glib old adage of “dancing about architecture” doesn’t seem quite so silly when you are moving to and through the air pushed out from a legendary system.

Mikey Dread, creator of and selector for London’s venerable Channel One Sound System, talks of sound fanatics coming to watch the rig being set up each year at Notting Hill Carnival as “like tourists coming to see Stonehenge”. He means it jokingly, as if to say it’s something people like to tick off on their holiday itinerary, but he actually hits on something profound: the speaker stacks are in a very literal sense monumental – “majestic and authentic” as Positive Sounds‘s Darren Kis puts it – and maybe even ritual in their function. 

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Jah Shaka: Testament of Dub

Great little interview of the legendary Jah Shaka and his thoughts on the dub-reggae scene in the far-east (via JUICE):

Perhaps the greatest sin committed by the dance scene today, in certain parts of the world at least, isn’t its perceived dwindling quality. That point is infinitely arguable. Instead, it’s the lack of attention paid to sound on a more obvious level – not the technicality of composition, not the how of the music, but something more basic; the sound system with which these tunes are amplified on. Jah Shaka was one of the pioneers of sound system culture, a Jamaican subculture that was brought to the UK during a tumultuous time in their migration history. Any of the genres that branched off dub you pay allegiance to right now owe the seemingly immortal Rastafarian an invaluable debt. Shaka’s lecture during Red Bull Music Academy 2014 in Tokyo was expectedly an erudition of the importance of audio – from trajectory and acoustics to the effects of potent bass on a biological level to aural spirituality. JUICE had the rare opportunity to converse with the living legend, and filtered through the Jamaican-inflection of the man’s Ent-like pace of speech were the words of a godly man whose testament was less proselytising and more universally positive.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk to you. It’s already a pleasure to attend your lecture! To start our own little session – we’re not sure if it’s a rumour, but we heard you actually dislike standing on stage when you play? You’d rather be with the crowd, in a circle of people. 
Yeah. Mostly with our sound system when the crowd is around us, we feel energy from fans, feel energy from the crowd. We like to do that. In travelling, sometimes better on stage, too much people, too near. So, sometimes abroad it’s better to be on stage although we like to be amongst the people. But when you’re with people who don’t understand you, you have to first balance it out. When they know you, then you can be near them.

You’ve been to Japan quite a lot…
Japan… about 17 years. I’ve been to Australia… tour in Israel, Germany, Italy. So many countries! Nonstop.

There’s another rumour we would like to check if it’s true. Was there one show where the lights were so hot that your dubplates melted and you walked off stage?
No, rumour! (Laughs)

When you’re a legend, there are many rumours. Music is very spiritual to you. What about people who don’t believe in religion but when they listen to your music, they find themselves getting lost in it. How does that work when you don’t believe but still find the music ‘spiritual’? 
What we are doing is planting seeds to grow. So when you hear something, you go into the community and practise. It’s good. And then you get to believe after. When people tell you, “You are a good man,” people say, “You are doing well,” [it’s] so you will know that you are doing something good. Whether someone believes in the beginning, they will believe eventually because of feedback from people. You have to know that when you’re playing [the] keyboard and you play a wrong note, you have to know that the note is wrong! [It’s] not good note… so religion – religion to us – is a way of life. How you live with people – that is religion. Love, respect others, help the sick, help the poor – people under privilege, help them. And whether you know or not, you are looking for God! Whether you know or whether you believe or not, it’s good.

Japan has a strong reggae scene. Even huge sound systems…
Mighty Crown [comes] to England sometimes, I see them.

Why do think the reggae sound is so big in Japan?
Influence. Jamaican artistes come to Japan. Great artistes. People recognise importance of legendary singers. People recognise [their] importance. So many bands in Japan at [Fuji Rock Festival] – ska bands! Playing Jamaican ska. [They] practise what they see in Jamaica. Someone would be in Japan and is like Miniman, or like Sizzla. Y’know, Japanese people produce lookalikes, whether [they’re] watches [or] shoes – they do it in music too. They can copy.

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