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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