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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.

read the rest here

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Explosion Sound System Interview

explosion

[photo by Explosion Sound System]

“If you want to distribute flyers, either you pay a licence to distribute flyers for gigs, or it’s about politics and religion. If it’s for politics and religion, then it’s free. if you want to do it for culture, you have to pay. That’s how much religion and politics there is in Belfast.”

The Explosion crew very kindly accepted to have a chat with me before their first ever session in Glasgow alongside Crucial Roots. 

So how did explosion sound system start and when ?

Neil : Well i’ll answer this question I supposed. It was myself,another guy, Paddy, who has since moved on. We started up about 2002. And we kind of started it up as reggae nights really, because there were no reggae nights in Belfast at all.
I used to be into a lot of hip-hop, punk kind of stuff back in the day, and then I just got into reggae one way or another.
I moved down to London for a few years, and loads was happening obviously.
So that’s kind of how we started up. We used to just play bars in Belfast at the start.

And when was that ?

Neil : 2003. Well before that we were playing unofficially as Explosion, 2002. And we played a bit of everything at the time. A bit of ska, rocksteady,  Roots… Just a kind of crossover. Because there was nothing at all at the time, not that I knew of anyway.

Well that was the next question, what is the sound system scene like in Ireland ?

Neil : In Ireland there is. In Northern Ireland we are the only proper sound system. But in Ireland, from Dublin you’ve got guys like Firehouse.. Worries (Outernational) as well.

Dub Foundry : I think Rootical Sound, since ’95 as well. Rootical from Galway.

Neil : Yeah, they’re from the west coast. Then you’ve got Revelation down in Cork. There was another sound, Community came from there too. I like them, they run nights in London as well.

Dub Foundry : there is another one as well but I forgot the name.

Neil : And especially with things like Electric Picnic, and Body and Soul festivals, the guys from Trenchtown, they set up reggae areas in those festivals. And they set up a couple of stages and set up a sound system arena and stuff, and that goes down well. And there’s loads of people now who are really into it.

Okay. But in Northern Ireland it’s mainly just you ?

Neil : Well that’s badly said.

Dub Foundry : well with a sound system yes, we are.

Neil : With a sound system yeah. We are the only crew with a sound system. We’ve just moved venues, to the Mandela Hall, which is Queens (University) Student Union. So for our first night we had an « All tribes gathering », with all the other reggae nights and crews, and got them all together, and play through our sound system.
I think we’ve kind of evolved now that we’re not just going out to play,we are physically promoting reggae now. I think we are trying to push the scene out, you know. Hopefully.

And how long have you had the sound system for ?

Neil : In one shape or form, about six or seven years. I don’t know, i’m really bad with years (Laugh)

Gumbo : Since about 2008-2009.

Dub Foundry : But the first scoops were in 2010.

Neil : Yeah, what you could call a sound system was more recent.

Gumbo :  The original boxes and amps that we bought were from this guy, we used to rent them off him. Once a month, to do the shows. We’d pay him 200 quid, come and collect the boxes with my brother in a van, pick up the boxes, pick up the amps.  It was a simple enough set-up. Two double 18inch kicks and then a top section. Just 4 boxes and 2 amps. And that’s what we used for a year.

But we got pretty friendly with him, so we approached him and said « we’re giving you 200 a month for this, how much would it cost to buy it ? ». He was like « i’ll sell it to you for 2000 pounds ». So i asked him if we could continue to pay him th 200 a month, and bring it back each time, but it would go towards buying it off. He was up for it.

So after like a year or so you had the sound system ?:

Neil : It didn’t even take a year.

Gumbo : Well some gigs we would give him 500£ if we could, if we had the money. But we paid it all through gigs, the original boxes.

Neil : But that’s the thing with Explosion. Everything just gets put back into the sound. We’re still upgrading. But we were talking about it with Ranking Fox the other night, about how we’re always fine tuning, and that’s not a bad thing.

Well it never really ends does it ?

Neil : No it doesn’t. As I say, I started doing the reggae nights, and the guy who started them with me – Paddy – he moved to Berlin, and I was kinda knocking on my head. And actually then through his cousin, we [Gumbo and I] hooked up, and we decided to keep Explosion going. And it was through Martin joining that we started the idea of putting a sound together. It always a dream of mine, but i’d never had the resources or the inclination.

Gumbo : He was playing on bar or club systems before that. And then we came along and started renting, and then bought one.

It’s not really the same is it, a bar PA and a sound system. You don’t really get the same vibe.

Gumbo : no not really (laugh)

Neil : and then a year after that, we met Damien (Dub Foundry), after a Sly & Robbie gig actually, in the Deer’s Head where we ended up having a residency. And at the end met Damien, and he wanted to do stuff with us. And then Fox came down one night and took the mic. We’d had mic men before, but not like Fox.

Are there quite a few MCs in Ireland then ?

Neil : Yeah there are.

Dub Foundry : There’s Cian Finn. He’s producing an album with Prince Fatty at the moment. It’s finished, I think it’s to be released.

Neil : He’s from outside Limerick.

Dub Foundry : Then there’s Ras in Dublin There’s Revelation’s old MC Benji… There is Larry. But there are very few, not enough.

So isn’t the scene in Ireland quite new ?

Dub Foundry : not really because in ’95 there was Firehouse with their sound system.

Neil : But there was another small sound system that operated in the 80s in Dublin.

Dub Foundry : The difference is you don’t get the Jamaican-English people who moved to England and spread (the culture) there, even in Scotland, but they didn’t come to Ireland. There are no Jamaican communities in Ireland.

Neil : very few.

So there is no West Indian community

Neil : Very little.

Gumbo : Especially if you are talking about where we’re from – so Northern Ireland and Belfast – there is very little immigration there. In the 70s, 60s, when immigration became more popular in the UK, it didn’t happen in Ireland. It didn’t happen in Belfast specifically. It probably did happen in Dublin a lot more. But Belfast wasn’t seen as somewhere to go to in those times.

So how are the crowds in Ireland, do people know about reggae and sound system culture ? or is it still quite obscure ?

Neil : In Belfast, more and more.

Dub Foundry : it’s taking time but it’s building up.

Neil : There hasn’t been anyone setting up sounds like we have, and even so far, we’ve been renting the sound out to drum & bass nights and fricking techno nights, and they’re loving it. It’s a small place if you know what I mean.

The guys from Rampant were saying that the problem with glasgow for a long time is that it was a techno city.

Neil : So is Belfast

Dub Foundry : yeah, so is Belfast.

Neil : That’s a kind of northern UK, maybe European thing. I think the colder it gets the more into techno people get.

Dub Foundry : the way I see it as well is, because of the history of Belfast, of the Troubles and all that, there was no immigration, and very little places for culture, so there was no development of music and underground activities and culture. There was some, There was punk.

Neil: There was a huge punk scene during the Troubles, and it’s always been a big rock & metal crowd in Belfast. And I think that’s kind of bred from the Troubles.

Dub Foundry: But also in Ireland you have a lot of club music because it’s mainstream.

Neil: yeah there is all the other crap, the generic crap.

In France a lot of people who are involved in sound systems came from the free party and techno scene. But there didn’t seem to be that loop as much here (Scotland). It sort of stopped at techno and raves.

Dub Foundry: were there raves and free parties in Ireland?

Neil: Yeah there was. There was always raves. And even free parties outside and stuff.

Dub Foundry: But that was all in the 90s right? So there was no bridge between the raves scene and the sound system scene..

Neil: no there is no bridge.

Dub Foundry: Like in France, in the early 2000 when the raves started, there were [reggae] sound systems already. So people could move into the scene. But I think maybe we arrived too late [in Ireland] to catch those guys.

You were talking before about places to play, as in there were no community centers to play in and stuff. 

Neil: Nah, there”s nothing like that. As we were saying, we would play in bars and stuff, but we’ve actually outgrown a lot of venues. We would get involved with the city festival, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and the do a sister festival called Out to Lunch. And we brought over Sir David Rodigan.
But those are the only places in Belfast that we can play with the sound. And even those gigs, we get complaints from the hotel next door and stuff. That’s why we’ve ended up at Queen’s now.  Because there’s nowhere else for us to play. We get noise complaints everywhere.

Gumbo: In the East of Belfast, or on the other, when we play in one (side) it’s almost like you’ve made a decision. I mean we’re not that way at all, so we try to stay neutral.

Neil: they wouldn’t be into reggae anyway, up in those neck of the woods.

Well there is the idea that reggae is quite political.

Neil: It’s not to say that we don’t care about it, but none of the politics out there, for me personally, isn’t representative of anything that I think or that i fell. But I still care about it.

But is there a political ideal or message through Explosion sound system?

Gumbo: yeah there is. it’s fuck politics (laugh)

Neil: No I don’t even thing it is a political thing. We just want to send good vibes out, really. That’s pretty much the bottom line.

Gumbo: There’s enough politics in Northern Ireland. You can go over there and experience it yourself. It’s too much. So we stay away.

Dub Foundry: something we’ve learned recently. If you want to distribute flyers, either you pay a licence to distribute flyers for gigs, or it’s about politics and religion. If it’s for politics and religion, then it’s free. if you want to do it for culture, you have to pay. That’s how much religion and politics there is in Belfast.

Neil: They’ve obliterated flyposting, there’s nowhere to advertise your dances or anything.
It has to be online or in cafes, but there’s no designated area or anything. Licencing laws as well are really shit. everywhere closes at quarter to 1 for last orders, everywhere is out no later than quarter past one. Clubs are 3am, but the bar shuts at 1am. So we’re doing night at Queen’s where we can go on until 3am, but we don’t, we go on until 2, because who’s going to stay around when the bar is shut.
We used to do all nighters and stuff before with BYOB, but that’s past now.
We found Mandela Hall, which is a basement hall, in a big massive stone building so there are no noise complaints, so that’s perfect for us.

What would you consider makes a sound system’s identity, or what makes your identity?

Neil: I think it’s a combination of everything. Tunes… I love playing tunes, pretty much always loved playing tunes so i’d be playing them off my laptop speaker if that’s all I had. So for me it’s tunes. And now, because we’ve relentlessly been getting our sound right, it’s the sound as well. And we’ve been running with Ranking Fox for a while as well, and he’s an extra element as well. And also, just the vibe as well. There’s a lot more to it than just those who play.
It’s a vibe that can kind of carry through, which is a whole combination of everything.

Gumbo: We do it because we enjoy it obviously, and that’s the only reason really.

Neil: We’ve all got full time jobs.

Have you ever had any productions or releases?

Gumbo: Well that’s something we’re working on at the moment. We’ve got a couple of ideas. it’s something we’re working on. Probably a fair bit off yet (laugh).
There are ideas, there is definitely something there. We’ve got a vocal from Ranking Joe, who we had over at the start of the year. And we’re looking at a couple of other guys too.
There is a project, but it’s not near. Things could change a lot.

You did a gig recently with an all girl crew?

Neil: Legs Eleven yeah.  That wasn’t our session. There’s a Dj/Promoter back home  and he runs kind of afrobeat nights, and afrofunk. But he’s also involved in a lot of music workshops and stuff with schools.
He’s friends with them, and he’s brought the girls over to do workshops about females in the music business and stuff. And he wanted to put them on. So he asked us to bring the sound out.
They were good, they’re a good crew, man. They have a good selection and you get a good vibe off them.

 Well that is a comment in the scene, you don’t get that many female run sounds, or crews.

Dub Foundry: there are a couple

There are a couple. You get a few singers, but you don’t get that many female soundsystems.

Neil: yeah. They are the daughters of Joe 90, who’s a North London Sound system, from the 80s. they’re his daughters I think. Or else two of them are.

Gumbo: I’m not sure they’re his daughters, but they’re connected. But they grew up around sound systems. But they’re cool. There’s one operator, one selector, and one on the mic. They have a pretty tight operation.

I mean the only one I know who’s in a crew is Lylloo from I-Skankers, and I know there’s Bliss Zion and stuff down south, but there aren’t that many in the spotlight.

Dub Foundry: Yup, Lylloo is number 1!

Neil: Yeah man, she knows how to run a sound, serious selections.

Gumbo: But you could say the same about the dance scene, and the techno scene. I wouldn’t say that’s specific to reggae.

Neil: Actually, i got asked one night from a female DJ why there aren’t any girl on our crew. And said well nobody’s come up, or showed interest. I don’t know anybody who’s come up to me and said “can I get involved”.
So she says ‘well I can get involved’. And I say “okay, can you give it 100% of your time. And i mean not go and play other gigs if you’re playing jungle or techno all night. It’s 100%”. And she say’s “I can’t”. I says “well sorry then, but no”.
I don’t think it’s anything to do with gender.

Gumbo: I think it’s across the board. Specifically with DJs.

Neil: But it’s wierd, you see things on facebook like some big house party with a female DJ and she’s standing there in a bikini. You know what I mean? it’s like page 3 Djing. How is anybody meant to take that seriously.

Gumbo: you close your eyes and listen to the music

Neil: even the music is just…  But then you get the likes of frickin Paris Hilton.

Dub Foundry: But it’s a tough job for a woman, the reggae sound system.

Neil: Really?

Dub Foundry: yeah i think so.

Neil: Well physically yeah, i suppose. But that’s the thing with Legs Eleven, they’re lifting boxes even with their nails done and stuff. I don’t how they do it.
They really had a good show.

Are they based in London?

Neil: yeah they’re based in North London, Tottenham I think.

Another question which is quite interesting is how would you describe a sound system dance to someone who has never been to one.

Dub Foundry: It’s a physical experience.There is some sort of trance to it. You don’t get it after 15 minutes, you get it after a few hours, when you get into the vibe. You really understand the mindset you can get into when you really get into the vibe, and start just to forget about everything and just get into some sort of trance.
You don’t get that when you walk in the room and start dancing, you get that after a few hours.
And the bass of course, which everyone knows about i think, but which is more than just bass. It’s something else.

Neil: I’d even like to think that lyrically we try to put a message. I mean we play a lot of songs, and a lot of Ranking Fox’s lyrics and stuff all try to be positive lyrics.

Gumbo: We don’t play slack.

There is a conscious idea behind it?

Neil: yeah completely

Gumbo: It’s the fact that we like it, i don’t really think of it as trying to make a statement or something. it’s more than we like playing it, and people enjoy it.

Dub Foundry: Talking about sound identity, one of ours i think is, we don’t play UK steppers like 90% of the sound system in the UK. Or in france, in Europe.
We play lots of 70s roots, most of it now. But then we are a bit more open minded and we can go 80s digital, we can modern roots, we can play some more steppers stuff as well. But more open minded than just a UK stepper sound system.

So there’s not that much of the London influence?

Dub Foundry: No. There’s the Belfast influence.

Neil: I’ve been to a couple Jah Shaka session and that’s probably about the only influence from there. But there have been bigger ones.

Gumbo: At the start we started playing everything, a bit of ska, a bit of roots, a bit of 80s, whatever. Even more modern tunes. But i guess it’s more of an evolution. Because a couple of years ago I would of put on big ska tunes. And I guess that we’ve kind of evolved and fine tuned. But as he says, it’s not a steppers sound.

Dub Foundry: We narrow it down. We started very large and we are narrowing down. We quite like the influences. We have 3 different selectors, with 3 completely different tastes.
And we’ve been trying to merge everything together and find common ground.

Neil: we’ve all come from different directions really, which is the really interesting thing.

It’s true steppers does create, another vibe. It’s very techno.

Dub Foundry: It can go very techno.

Gumbo: there’s some nice stuff too, but for me a lot of it can be just too much too hard. Too repetitive. It doesn’t break down really.

So there is a certain vibe you try to set through your sessions.

Gumbo: yeah definitely.We try to build it a little bit to be honest. We start off with some slower rootsy tunes, 70s stuff. Then we’d go into some early 80s digi stuff as well.

Neil: That’s the idea. It’s not as if it’s a narrow genre to play. There’s a vast amount. You’re always finding something new. And that’s the just old stuff. And some of the new stuff as well, some of the news Tuff Scout stuff is quality. And even some of the Partial reissues are really nice i think. Although I think he’s a bit all over the shop in what he releases. But there’s a couple there that I really like.
So yeah, we try and always kind of play some of the modern stuff as well as the classic stuff.

I think that’s about it, unless there’s anything you’d like to add?

Gumbo: Maybe just one shot from Foxy? warm up those vocal chords.

Neil: You’ve been very quiet Fox.

Ranking Fox: i’ve been very quiet indeed. Listening to you guys talk.
Well for me, i’ve always loved the music man. Always loved it from when I was a young man, and meeting these guys with the sound was just the best thing that happened. Now, with Dub Foundry we are doing some mad work in the studio, got lots of productions coming in. So from my side, coming in and being able to get a record out -well, Big up Explosion Sound System!
I’ve always loved it, and meeting people with likewise minds. And getting something like this forward.
It’s nice to know that it’s all about the ‘one love’.  All the tunes that I try to write myself as well, it’s just all enrichment. So for me that was the big call, meeting these guys, getting this sound, getting on with the works.

Dub Foundry: The first night I played with you guys Foxy showed up.

Gumbo: So we’ve had two more people, it’s an injection of energy.

Neil: We’re pretty much a six man army.

Ranking Fox: You know going around trying to be an MC and getting a mic, its not difficult, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s what I found out. I was going along in Dublin trying to jump on the mic but the mic is not always available (laugh). But the first time i met these guys, there was an MC there, and he was just like “yes man, jump onto that mic”. That was how it started wiith Explosion.
And I was asking myself why didn’t I know these guys the last few years i’ve been here.
It has all been genuine, and now we have to keep on going.

Dub Foundry: The night we met, when he took the mic after one minute i was like “wow, he’s wicked”. So I got his phone number and a week later he comes to my studio and does what became “Don’t You Worry“. That was one week after we met. The very first tune we did together straight after the first session.

And how long had you been MCing before that?

Ranking Fox: Before that, it had not really happened before. Growing up, I always liked writing my own lyrics. I come from a dancehall scene you know. Elephant Man, Beenie Man, that was me growing up, dancing to all that.
And then coming to Ireland in 2002, listening to reggae, but still always writing a little bit here and there. I always wanted to sing. Then by listening to more reggae in Ireland, I used to go to Outer Worries Outernational. They used to play every sunday night in the Temple Bar Music center.

Dub Foundry: For 10 years or something. One of longest going reggae nights

Ranking Fox: I went there for  6 years. And they knew that everytime I could get a chance I would get on that mic.
That’s when I became more into roots/reggae. And my first recording was actually in a house with the mic tied to a broom (laugh). My friend who is in Cork now, the first time he heard me sing he went and bought a mic and a computer straight away, and plugged it in the flat, downloaded some software to record, and he said “We have to record that song”.
So it was always in the background, I just never reallty got to put it out. But I came to Belfast, met Explosion Sound System, Damien (Dub Foundry) with his studio, and this is how it’s been going since.

Okay, well that’s about it.

Dub Foundry: Big up Crucial Roots for getting us over!

Ranking Fox: The men like Laurie and Cammy.

Dub Foundry: and Big up I-Skankers

Ranking Fox: And everybody out there promoting the sound system culture.

Many thanks to the Explosion Crew for their time, and thank you to Crucial Roots and all those involved in the event.
AF

Breezak Interview [english]

breezak

Long interview with Jerome aka Breezak, the man behind Mungo’s HiFi’s sound system and his own Bass Alliance Sound System. Here he talks about the technical issues one faces when running a sound, the importance of DIY culture, and how the sound system becomes part of the crew’s identity.

So for beginners, could you explain briefly how a sound system works ?

I think we should stat even before that, that is : why do people build their own sound systems

OK, let’s hear it :

The main reason is that very often there is no sound system in venues. So when you want to organise a night, either there is no sound, or the system available doesn’t sound good. So that the main reason people bring in their own sound systems.

So that you can have that sound that is right for you

Exactly. But everyone has their own system. There are some who buy factory-built systems, so they have a very clean sound, that corresponds to the brand of equipment they bought.
But you can also go with the home-made sound systems, so like us, like Iration… the sound system in the traditional jamaican style. Thiis system is more or less home-made, with sometimes a few things that are factory-bult.

[…]

We use a digital crossover, and we feed the signal into that, which then goes into each speaker. We split the signal into 5: the sub or the low bass – whiich goes from 85Hz to 30Hz), then the upper bass or the kick – which is between 85Hz and 140Hz. And then to have a much clearer soundn, but which isn’t traditionally done in ‘old school’ sounds, we have mids, high mids, and the tops or tweeters.

Each frequency is specifically for each speaker

Well each frequency will correspond to what kind of box you feed it into. The signal you enter will be between 20Hz and 20kHz. Whether you use a digital crossover or a pre-amp, you cut the signal in ways that will give you best frequency for each speaker.

You could technically put a full range signal through a scoop, but it will sound really bad in the upper frequencies. So to have the most power and the clearest sound, we put only 30Hz to 80Hz through the scoops, because that’s when the speaker is best. You will get the best sound for that range.

[…] You can’t have one speaker that plays all the frequency ranges at high volume. Take a ghetto blaster, and let’s say it can reproduce form 50Hz to 15kHz. It might sound as thought it plays all the frequencies well, but only at a low volume. As soon as you want to play it louder, you are going to have to separate each frequency. But of course you have to make sure all the speakers and frequencies work together.

Reggae Sound Systems have a lot more colour, a sound that is – and not in a negative way – muddy. It’s warmer. It’s not a clear. And to the human ear, if it’s too clear, it doesn’t sound right.
That’s why even with new technologies, you can have a very clean sound, which one would think would be good, but that people will not enjoy. Because the human body is not used to something that clean. It’s too clinical.

So what happens with the pre-amp is that the signal at the beginning is weak, then it goes through the amplifiers, where it is amplified, and then into the speakers. But there is also something else to take into account : the alignement.

So if you take a scoop for example, the sound comes out from behind the speaker, goes through the horn. So the horn is what will amplify the signal as well. But when the sound comes out of the speaker, and goes into the room, it will not be in line with the other speakers. The horns of our scoops measure 2m20. So when you stand in front of the speaker, the you hear the sound from the scoop will be 2m20 behind the other speakers.

So the bass will be a little late.

Exactly, it’s a bit offbeat. Which will give it a certain style. But it can also cancel certian  sounds. I mean it’s a matter of taste.

So that’s why often in raves and free parties,  when they string up loads of speakers togethers some of them can cancel each other out ?

Adding up lots of bass speakers will not necessarily make it louder if they aren’t of the same design.
i’ve had the experience before, if you reverse the polarities – you turn one scoop on, it becomes louder, you add another one the volume goes up, you add a third the sound actually goes down… You’ll still hear the sound, but the volume will go down.

So that is something else that has become possible with the digital cross-overs, you can put everything into digital. You can align the sound output. So i put in the length of the horns – 2.20 meters, the length of the kicks speakers – 80cm – and it aligns it for me, so that when you are in the room, the wavelength of all the speakers come out at the same time.

So you don’t have to adjust it manually 

I enter the information manually for each speaker, I tell it the distance and it puts a delay of several milliseconds where it is needed . But it’s something that wasn’t possible on older pre-amps, and which gives a certain style. You could say it’s better, ot worse. It depends what you like.

Then you also have the equalization. The speakers will not have the same volume, they won’t have the same frequency. Big tournig companies who equip huge rooms with sound systems for gigs, they will equlize all the speakers so that all of them are aligned : all the frequencies are at the same level. That’s why it often sounds a bit shit. So the bass will be at the same level as the tops.

And that’s where in regae we tweek it much more. It depends on what you like, what music you play, but a reggae sound system will not be ‘flat’. The bass will be a lot more powerful, the tops might be pushed as well.  Traditionally in the roots style, there was nearly no kick. They simply didn’t reproduce the frequencies they didn’t need.

But it’s also in the speaker cabinet that another part the magic of acoustics happens.

Well that was the next question: how do you decide which scoop, which type of speaker and speaker cabinet is best for you?

Well it gets very complicated. But a speaker moves air. So you can have huge speakers – the biggest i’ve seen was 26 inches – and a speaker like that moves lots of air.

But it’s the combination of the speaker and the speaker cabinet that creates that. You can put as many PD18 speakers in a room, but if they are just placed with no cabinet behind them, nothing will concentrate their effect.

The most important is the combination of the right speaker with the right speaker box. You can have a really good box with a terrible speaker inside – by terrible I mean weak.. You can put a 2KW speaker in a speaker box and a 500W speaker in another, the 500W one wil sound better of it is optimat for the speaker box’s design.

Then it’s a question of volume and ‘path’, the way the soundwaves will move inside the cabinet

That’s why they expand the space behind the speakers in scoops ?

Well bass have a very long wavelength, so that’s why it’s best to have cabinets with long horns. Whereas the tops have vey short wavelengths,  so the sound can come out pretty much directly. But you still need a guide that will control the dispersion.  But bass doesn’t have any direction, it goes everywhere.

But i mean you have loads of different speaker box designs. If you take of 5cm from the horn behind the speaker, it will completely change the sound when it comes out.

That’s why on forums for example you often have people asking « i bought this speaker, i was thinking of building this kind of box » and somone else will say « no that will not do anything, you’d rather use this design… »

Exactly, and more Kilowatts do not means a better sound. It’s really the way everything is put together. Then obviously it’s also a matter of taste. Some people will prefer a certain sound, while others will go for another.

[…]

So the difference between your sound system and let’s say OBF or Iration Steppa’s sound system is how the different parts are put together.

The principle is the same : it’s crossover – amplifier – speakers. But the combination will be different. So I use a digital crossover with my settings inside, they use a pre-amp with it’s own secrets. That the beauty of the pre-amp, you don’t know what’s inside of it. Each pre-amp is different depending on who built it, how they were designed.

Amplifiers will also give a colour to your signal, so we each use different amps. And the design of each speaker box will also change – I’m not sure what they use, but the design is not the same, so it will sound different.

So you base it really according to what you play, what sounds best for you.

What is best for you, and also according to what you can find or can afford. There are often things I would like to change on the sound system but that I don’t, mainly because of costs. Because of costs, of habit, personal reasons – some people prefer using one thing instead of another… it’s very personal. Everyone will assemble it in a different way, have a different sound, and that’s part of the charm.

But what happened with the Dub Smugglers, who have their sound system setup in a completely different way…  They have different amps, different speaker designs. But the way they tuned their system and the way we tuned ours, once we put both in a room, they sounded really similar. It’s quite impressive when everything we used is different.

The music you play will influence how you set up your sound. For us, I will often change the settings several times between the warm up and the end. If Tom plays a Roots-Ska selection on 7”, I will boost the tops and the bass, because the sound of the record is not the same [as on serrato].

Your systems has to follow what you play. If you play a recent digital production that has been mastered, well of course the settings on the sound system will be closer to the flat response, because the song itself will be have a perfect sound.

Several sounds have told me that often if you produce a tune that is meant to be played on your own system, and that you play it on someone else’s, it can sound completely different.

Tom trials his new tunes on the sound system. And it’s true that they are mastered mainly to play outside. When he masters a song for a vinyl or a CD, it will not be the same.
And that’s the good thing about having two producers here, it’s that they produce music specially for the sound system, they know how it will sound.

Dubsy and Chikuma often used to come round during the set up to test their new tracks. And sometimes it could sound really good in the studio, but it would sound shit on the sound system.

So it’s really according to what you play, to how the session develops

According to the venue, the vibe…

Regarding the venue. At the Art School you place the system in a certain way. Is that a constant layout, or do you change that depending on where you are?

That brings us back to acoustics. Part of it happens in the box, and another part happens in the room.
When you are outside, there are fewer problems, that’s why often we add stacks because need to cover more space.

Inside there are several things. With a traditional sound system, you hear the music you play directly from the speakers. That’s the difference between a sound system session and a gig. When you go to a gig, the artists are on stage, the sound system is in front on them and facing the audience. But with a sound system, the crew always have at least one stack facing towards them. You them place other stacks to cover at best the room.

What you can have in a venue then is bounce-back, echoes against the walls. If you place your stacks in the wrong way, there are times they can cancel each other out, or create dead spots – places where you won’t hear any bass.

Here are several ways to avoid that, and they are more or less personal. If you want to hear what you play, you place one stack on the side, and another one directly in front of you.
often we put one right next to us, and another one in front of the other, at the other side of the room.

And you don’t put them in front of you?

It depends how many stacks we have, if the room is big or not. If it’s a small venue, what I often  like to do is to have one in the corner – because the corner amplifies the sound too, it will send the bass into all the room. So often if you put a stack in the corner it gives you a better bass.
the easiest is with one stack.

Outside, if the crowd isn’t too big, one stack is also better. You can cover the space, it’s easier to manage. But if you have a big crowd, you have to add one, two, three stacks. And if you look well, they are always at angles; you try and avoid having them directly opposite one another.

We aren’t really fans of the single stack facing us, as opposed to sound systems who are maybe more roots. Roots sounds like having one stack on the side that gives them feedback, and one facing them. What happens with that, is that when you are DJing, the sound will have a delay.
If you select like Channel One or Shaka, you’ll notice they don’t mix. But if you mix, you don’t want that delay.
That is why we don’t often have our stacks facing us in front, because it can become a problem when you are mixing.

Yeah it makes sense. All the sound systems who play with the sound in front of them generally only have one turntable.

Yeah if you have only one turntable, it’s good to have it facing you. And you don’t really care if when you stop the tune you have a delay of a few milliseconds.

When we mix, we have monitors next to the turntables, which means the sound is aligned with the mixer. Because if you have one stack in front of you, by the time it comes back to your ears, it’s gone through all the amps, 30m of cable and across a room… that’s quite a lot of delay. And if you try to mix  with that, you can’t.

So whether or not you mix, how you select your tunes will influence how you place your speakers.

And the home made aspect, what does it bring?

It’s a sound system’s identity. If you look at old speaker boxes – one came up on ebay recently, it was hand made, hand painted…  Mungo’s started with speakers they found in the bins.
But back in the days, the sound systems in the ghetto, they would start with a wardrobe. That would be their wood, they hammer some pieces together and add speakers. Home-made gives it that DIY aspect, that you made it yourself, it’s yours. And when you take it out, people recognise it.

Nowadays, you can buy factory made speakers. The superscoopers we have are from a design that isn’t ours, but we built them ourselves, so we can add the finish we want, the grids we want.
And also you’re not as dependent. If you buy factory made speakers, you will have that brand’s sound, that you won’t be able to change.
With the home-made, you can combine things. Our tops and mid cabinets are from Voids, but I changed the speakers inside. I can add what I think sounds better.

You can improvise

Yeah it’s maintly that. To be able to do what you like, to have it look however you like.

Albah from Welders Hifi was saying that you could guess if a sound system plays mainly roots, or steppas just by it’s appearance.

Yeah from the look. If a sound has a lot of Piezos [tops] a range of mids and scoops, you will think they play more roots and dub. If they have loads of subs and tops, you’d assume they’ll be more steppas.

I think what is good with our sound and why we are often hired for festivals, is that it’s multipurpose. We can play roots, steppas, dubstep… I did a few drum & bass nights, and I noticed that old school drum and bass doesn’t sound very good on it. But in that case you tweek it a little, and it sounds better.

But the appearance is important – it’s the sound’s identity. I mean if you look at King Earthquake, it’s got a beautiful finish.

Yeah and you can see straight away that he plays heavy steppers

Yeah just the boxes, they have huge grids, it’s painted in camo. You can look at a picture of only one of his speakers, not even of the whole sound, and you know it’s a King Earthquake box.

And then you have Channel One, and it’s all in wood, the grids are round… It looks more roots.

And a mix of speaker cabinets. You can see that they are not all the same design, the same year.
At first some of our boxes were purple, so we sanded them, so that it would go with the rest. Now people can see that they are from Void, but they know it’s Void Mungo’s [laugh]

But even if you go on the forum “speakerpla”, there are people who are surprised by our combination of spakers. I’ve seen comments like: “Mungo’s do it and it sounds good”.  There are people who say it’s not going to work, but it depends on the way we cut them and everything.

If you look at OBF’s boxes, they have the stencil with the logo, their own colours.

It’s part of the logo, if you look at the mungo’s logo, our identity is based on the sound system.

Yeah it’s your brand in a way

Yeah it becomes your brand. If you want a good example, it’s Dandelion Sound in Germany. They have spent a lot of time on their system. It’s a work of art.
Another system, I can’t remember which one, they cut a star in the bottom of the scoop. It’s a purely structural feature, but they still made it into a star. It’s those small details.

Yeah it’s different from factory made stuff, where everything looks the same

In most venues and gigs, people go to see what’s going on on stage. They don’t care about the sound system.
In reggae nights, the sound system is part of the night. It happened a few times where I actually put the sound system on the stage and the DJ on the side. And that’s what people look at in those nights, it’s the sound system. You don’t have that focus on the DJ or musicians as much. Especially in France, people don’t look at the DJ, they have their heads in the sound system.

A few people have talked about that, and how it supposedly came from rave culture

Yeah because in raves they have the DJ behind the sound system. The DJ isn’t what people want to see.

Yeah people come for the sound system

And thus why it’s important to have it custom made, to have a different look.
And also the financial aspect. You can built a home made sound system for a lot less than if you bought everything factory made.
There is that idea that very often sound systems never really start with loads of cash.

And you can go further with the home made. You could even design your own speakers boxes, built your own amplifiers, your own pre-amps. That’s the more electronics side, where you build everything from A to Z. That’s the next level of home made.

We are often on the road, we tour a lot, so it’s best for us to buy something that has been tested and been in R&D before. Because if you make I yourself, there’s not that guarantee that it will last or hold.

But with the home-made you are always changing stuff. After a year of playing at session, you can still say “hang on I actually preferred how it sounded before”, or “hey this new thing just came out”. You can test it, and it evolves. You can change it bit by bit, you don’t have to change everything in one go – and that’s what you would have to do with a factory built sound. Either you keep it or you change everything.

You also mentioned how you tune your sound system during session, you said that it’s based on how it feels. Is it different from a sound engineer at a gig?

It’s a matter of feeling. If it’s a long night that begins with a very small crowd, you are going to start easy. If people start arriving ,then even through the settings you can bring them into the dance. You can’t start with everything full blast, you have to ease the people into the dance. It’s as if you were bringing them in with the sound system, and once they are warmed up, then you can start pushing things.
The role of the engineer is as important as the selecta’s during a dance.

The ability to read the crowd?

Well old school sound systems often only had one person, who was the selecter and the engineer – he would push his sound system as he was pushing his tunes. Now I’ll be doing the engineering stuf behind while the DJ select in front. And we work that way. Often Craig and Tom will give me a small signal, and I know what kind of tune is coming up, at when it will drop. If it’s a big tune, that’s when you push your system.

So you have to read the crowd but also read the others in your crew.

And little by little you get to know how your system works. You know when to push it. I push it too much, but you can’t do that all the time. It’s also a risk that we see more and more now – maybe because I go to a lot more sessions now – but there is a danger in pushing it too far at the end of the night, and it becomes too loud for people.

Yeah I remember New Year’s Eve party at Stereo, downstairs with the two stacks, there was a point where I couldn’t stay there anymore.

Downstairs it’s a concrete square; it hits you from all sides. And it was too much, and that was my fault, I couldn’t be in two places at the same time. Two speakers died that night [laugh].
It’s a rig that’s not meant for a space that small.

There will always be people who will ask you to put it louder, but then the next morning they’re like “yeah that was a bit too loud”.

So you have to keep a balance between the two. I think today we are a lot more careful, we have to think about our crowd. And I think there are more and more sound system at the moment – well it’s just that I’ve been noticing it more – but more and more of them seem to be pushing their sound all the time.

Personally I like to start off easy, and then as the night goes on get louder. Some people they’ll just start straight away really loud. It’s not because it’s a sound system night that it had to be loud from beginning to end. It can be dangerous.

One comment that is often made is that sound system play above the acceptable noise limits

Often reggae sound systems will seems  really loud but that’s because of the bass. If there is a complaint, it will be because of the bass. We are often beneath the noise limits, but the bass will be a lot louder.

The frequencies that can damage your ears are those around 2KHz, and I often lower them. The mids and tops, their frequencies can cause damage if they are too loud even for a shot moment. But the bass, before you can even reach those levels… it’s a lot harder. And even then, it’s not going to damage your ears. It will seems to be above ‘health and safety’ regulations, but all the frequencies that are dangerous will be underneath.

But that’s our job, to control that. And reggae music in general is not a music that can hurt your ears. If you compare it to a rock concert, you will probably get hurt a lot more than at a reggae dance. And that comes from the signal, from the distortion. An electric guitar with distortion will have a square wave, and that kills your ears.  Whereas a big bassline, you will feel it and it will seem loud, but without entering the frequencies that are dangerous.

One study of Stone Love Sound System argued that sound systems go against general ideas of ‘modernity’, where the visual was seen as the master sense. In a reggae night, it’s sound that takes over. Even in a normal gig, if you close your eyes, you’ll still miss out.

Yeah you can close your eyes and listen. During a gig you have a whole performance aspect.

And also you also feel the music, in addition to hearing it

Yeah sometimes a tune will have a bassline, and when you feel it it gives you chills – there are so many vibrations. You feel it, and people love it, that’s why they come.

Okay, and that comes back to a question, it’s how to explain this feeling to someone who has never been to a sound system dance

You have to go. It’s an experience. After the night in Leicester where we played this weekend, we saw comments on facebook with people saying “you could feel the bass”. Every time we look at comment after our nights, they are always about what the people felt, which is not really what you get at gigs.

There are those two aspects, the music and that sensory thing which is hard to explain. But it’s also what makes me addicted to it.

AF

The Secret Ska history of Stamford Hill

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by Malcolm Imrie

Stamford Hill is right at the northern end of the London Borough of Hackney, bordering Haringey/Tottenham. I’ve lived around there for about 15 years now and have always had an interest in its history.

Last May, Richie (Maharishi Hi-Fi / Musical Fever) hosted another one of his excellent nights, this time at the Mascara Bar (previously Panagea Project, opposite Morrisons Supermarket). I’m no die-hard Ska or Rocksteady expert, but Richie’s nights are always excellent (see reviews here and here). I’ll happily leave the selections to Richie and his favoured DJs any time – an amazing night for the old and young is standard.

Riche also has an uncanny habit of organising great events within about 2 minutes of my flat, which is most definitely to his credit. This time one of my favourite reggae writers of all time, Penny Reel, was on the bill –and there was a local history angle. I was sold.”

read the rest here

OBF feat. MR Williamz – Mandela

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We are not even halfway through 2015 but it seems like the biggest release of the year has just arrived, courtesy of OBF and Mr Williamz.

Any release by OBF tends to make a lot of noise, and although this comes fairlly quickly after their first LP release, it is ready to steal the spotlight: OBF have been mashing up dances for the last year with this tune, so it is a great choice to bring it out as their first 7″.

On the A-side, Mr Williamz pays a conscious tribute to Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela, “the great freedom fighter from outa South Africa”. His lyrics and flow tie in  perfectly with OBF’s heavyweight riddim. This distinct brand of digital stepper, recognizable by it’s heavy bass lines and a slow tempo, has been OBF’s trademark style for a long time. But this does not mean it has lost any of its power, and anyone who has seen OBF in action can vouch for that.

The version itself is a fairly untouched instrumental, with a few effects and additions, but that will still work wonders in the dancehall.

Don’t miss it!

O.B.F feat. Mr. Williamz – Mandela (OBF Records)

A: Mr Williamz – Mandela
B: O.B.F – Version

AF

Wheel It Up: History of the Rewind

words: Laurent Fintoni

When the DJ stops the music and spins the song back, energy shoots through the crowd and Jamaican sound echoes across genres


Jamaican sound is the heartbeat of modern music. Of the many practices to emerge from sound system culture and take hold across music genres, one remains most arousing and the most maligned: the rewind.

For the uninitiated, the rewind is the act of stopping a song—generally playing on a vinyl record or, in more recent years, on a CD—bringing it back to the start, and playing it again. In Jamaica, rewinds are normally performed by selectors in response to crowd demand. You may have heard a hip-hop or dance music DJ do the same thing.

Some rewinds are smooth, the record stopping by use of the turntable’s start/stop button, while others are a little rougher, the needle hurtling across the vinyl’s grooves as a hand frantically spins the record back.

I love rewinds. A good rewind is that rare thing in life: a product of the moment. If the timing is right, a rewind will bring excitement to the dancefloor, a celebration of the music being played, an energy charge for the place and the people.

Unfortunately rewinds are also subject to abuse, with performers misreading the crowd, indulging in rewinds for their own satisfaction. As such, rewinds can be hated too; some find them obnoxious due to how they interrupt the flow of the music or seem to be a mere celebration of the performer’s musical ego, an attempt at trying to fake excitement.

And it’s not just fans either, plenty of performers, DJs and critics also find rewinds to be borderline. It’s this dichotomy that has led the rewind to become one of the most interesting and divisive sound system practices. Yet, despite a growing body of work on Jamaican music, the rewind remains largely untouched by historical thinking. Most critics mention it simply as a tool the selector has in his bag for the dance (aka the party).

I went looking for the roots of the rewind, an attempt to trace its history. Along the way I realized that, after forty years, not only is it still intrinsic to so much sound system, electronic and dance music performance, it’s also a truly democratic musical practice. The rewind allows the audience to have a conversation with the performer. It is the great equalizer, ensuring the discourse of music does not flow just one way.

But where did the rewind originate? And how did evolve? Let’s take it from the top.

read more

Telerama Dub Festival #12

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The Télérama Dub Festival has now become one of the biggest French dub festivals. During one whole month, it tours the country with some of the finest french and international dub acts and sound systems.
For this year’s 12th edition, the Telerama Dub festival stopped in 12 towns, including Marseille, Besançon, Montpellier, Bourges and Lyon. At each of these stops, the sound system(s) would be set up and the nights filled with heavy bass and skanking crowds.

But it is this weekend that the grand finale is taking place. The last town is of course Paris, and it looks they are bringing out the big guns.
This saturday will effectively host two of europe’s biggest sounds – OBF sound system from Geneva, and Mungo’s HiFi from Glasgow (in one of their rare appearances in France on their own system). Each sound will have a separate room, and will welcome a number of acts throughout the night, from 8pm until 5am.

The OBF hall will host a very european line-up: Bristol based Dubkasm featuring Solo Banton; France’s Kanka & Biga Ranks, Weeding Dub, and MC Shanti D; Spanish MC Sr Wilson; as well as the collaboration between Ackboo, the Bush Chemists, and S’Kaya.

On the other side of the venue, Mungo’s HiFi’s system will bring the more international flavors. Tour de Force (Dub Stuy) out of Brooklyn will showcase their Battle Cry sound on their first ever french tour; while Sak Dub from Japan will share his distinct style of steppers. Radikal Guru from Poland and Deng Deng HiFi from Sweden will also join the party, alongside Mungo’s HiFi regulars YT and Charlie P.

So if you are in Paris this saturday, you know where to go.

Tickets for the night can be won with Musical Echoes