A special look into what makes a Soundman’s heart beat
There’s no denying that Dub-Stuy has brought sound system culture back to the forefront in America since establishing themselves back in 2012. They are well known for releases on their label, blog, and of course their events that feature the 15,000 watt “pièce de résistance” that is the Dub-Stuy rig. By curating these events, we feel that Dub-Stuy certainly adds to the extensive cultural diversity that makes up the heart of Brooklyn,NY — an epicentre that’s forever imprinting itself on the city’s history.
In September last year, I had the pleasure of attending Dub-Stuy’s third instalment of their Backyard HI-FI Sessions featuring the musical talents of Poirier, Yaadcore, and The Dub-Stuy Collective. After arriving to Trans-Pecos I was completely immersed in overwhelming feelings (in a good way). I was so in awe I had to sit down for a few minutes to catch my breath. For four years I had been dying to link up and make it to one of Dub-Stuy’s legendary events and, upon arrival, I truly felt at home. Usually the Dub-Stuy dance stack is deployed outside at Trans-Pecos but the weather forecast called for rain so they moved the main event indoors with some additional sound outdoors. Regardless, the event was perfection.
Indoors, the room was warm and lively — especially with the gentle bodies flowing to the speakers and the impeccable sound they provided. The vibrations all around were positive, everyone was open and friendly and the attendees seemed to be blanketed in pure happiness. The bass was heavy, and the floor flexed to the beat. When the music stopped and the event ended I could tell no one wanted it to end, myself included. However, as most sound system events go… when the music is done it’s time for everyone and everything to get the F- out! However, I did get to pleasure of speaking with Q and Damian. I can’t wait to reach out to future events and continue our friendships and our mutual love for sound system culture.
“However, as most sound system events go… when the music is done, it’s time for everyone and everything to get the F- out!” -Steph FKOF
To support and pay their respects to sound system culture, the Dub-Stuy Collective also run their own record label. As well as having several singles, the label features one fire breathing ten track LP dubbed Battle Cry from Tour De Force. Tour De Force are comprised of Double Tiger aka Jay Spakerand Dj Q-Mastah aka Q aka Quoc Pham. Dub-Stuy truly pays homage to the roots by landing vocals from greats like Luciano, Ranking Joe, Brother Culture, Jahdan Blakkamore, and Johnny Osbourne. Also available is a compilation dedicated to the one and only Prince Jammy entitled Dub-Stuy Presents Punanny 2016 which features tracks from artists such as Miss Red, Turbulence, Mikey General, Kurry Stain, and of course a revamped version of Punanny Riddim by the one and only DJ Madd.
Since interviewing Q in April last year, the Dub-Stuy Collective relecently dropped a few other weighty releases such as String Up The Sound by newly signed artist Dubamine and of course Guns n Fiya from Bhukka(released in September last year). Dub-Stuy have another EP that has since been released after my link up with them in September from Dubamine (entitled Joker Smoker).
Since starting back in 2012, Dub-Stuy has grown tremendously. In addition to the label and their live events, the crew also have a team of very talented writers slinging articles left and right about sound system culture, and music on their website. Make sure you subscribe via email to get daily blog posts from them!
In closing, I was able to have a chat with Q (as I mentioned previously), so I’ll leave you with a little bit of history that fuelled a prominent piece of the puzzle that is Dub-Stuy today…
Steph: What was the first soundsystem you remember hearing that had a noticeable impact on you?
QP: I was thinking about that question actually… I’ve listened to a lot of soundsystems, and you know like I used to be into the soundclash, like a dancehall soundclash. I used to be a dancehall DJ before getting into dub, so I’ve been exposed to the whole culture, like Stonelove Sound, David Rodigan, all of that, which I think is more about the music selection of each soundsystem, vs the actual soundsystem itself (like the rig itself). I had listened to a lot of different rigs, and while I was into it, it never really made a big impact on me. I was more about like “I want to see Rodigan, or I want to hear Stonelove, I want to hear dubplates”.
Steph: When was this?
QP: Well, I’ve been DJing for 15 years, so I would say it started in the early 2000s when I was into the dancehall culture. Soundclash was a big thing, where they would have massive events with sound systems from all over the world who would be clashing.
So yeah, that was like 10–15 years ago. It was really my first exposure to one side of sound system culture, but I would say the trans-formational experience for me in regards to contemporary sound system culture, it was in London actually, I went to see Aba Shanti-I in 2011. I was working in Europe on a work project, I was visiting a friend in London, and this event was happening called University of Dub which is kind of like a legendary event in London run by Aba Shanti-I. This was where I really first saw a sound system itself that made a difference, because it was really about the rig, and the whole experience was all about the rig. I remember it was Channel 1 Sound System with Blackboard Jungle Soundsystem from France, and King Alpha. So they had 3 sets of stacks in the room. The entire room was like an arena, with 6 stacks total dispersed throughout, and it was so incredible. It was like going to church or something. I never felt that before, and it blew my mind. I told myself “I get it now, this is what it should be, these frequencies coming through the sound systems and this is what it should all be about. This is amazing, and this is what we should do”.
“It was like going to church or something. I never felt that before, and it blew my mind.” -Q
I think hearing a proper sound system for the first time is a transformational experience. Once you’ve heard good bass, you just can’t go back. And that event I mentioned was that experience for me, I decided right then that I was going to build my own.
Steph: What was an influential song that you heard on a rig that also helped grow your respect for sound system culture?
QP: That one is a hard one, there are so many. On top of that I think that every sound system has its own soul you know? Every sound has its own characteristics, and every song sounds differently when played on different rigs and that’s what I really appreciate; every sound, and the way it’s operated is really unique, so it’s a combination of hearing a track on a sound system and its unique rendition that is exciting to me, not so much the track itself.
But if I think about it a little bit about it, I think 1 track that really stood out when it came out was Gorgon Sound’s Find Jah Way. What I thought about the release is it really connects different elements of the culture, the minimalism of dub music combined with new school production techniques, with reggae vocals from junior dread on that release. That whole release was really amazing for me. This is the release I bought 3 copies of just because it’s so good!
Steph: When did your love of music compel you to actually own your own sound system?
QP: For me, sound system culture and sound system music is something that I’ve been around since I first started DJing. When I was back in France, (I moved to the ‘States for college), when I was growing up in France, I used to be involved in the local music scene, organising events, playing in bands, and a lot of my friends were into reggae. I was into a lot of different types of music, but those friends introduced me to the reggae scene, and even at this young age, going to these concerts really blew my mind, cause reggae music is so powerful because it’s so simple, focused on the bass and the drums. That’s when I started to compute that it didn’t have to just be about the melody, but the rhythmic elements can be at the forefront of the music.
That’s when I really started to get into reggae, and when I moved over to the US, and got into DJing, it really all clicked and made sense, because I realised that the music itself was written for the sound system playback format. So when they were mixing the tracks in Jamaica in the ‘70s and ‘80s, they didn’t have iPods, they didn’t have Beats or whatever: they had sound systems. That was really the only format for which the music was made. I started to really gain interest in this whole concept of sound systems, and I think what was really interesting to me was the whole sound system culture took many different forms based on location. In the UK, you had, at the time, jungle, and drum and bass was big, and in America, you had hip-hop, and the beginning of hip-hop was really connected to sound system culture, with block parties in the Bronx, and lots of Caribbean immigrants bringing their culture of sound system parties into an urban environment, and in that way hip-hop is similar to soundsystem culture. So basically, I’m a nerd, I’m a music nerd, and I love all this shit, and I get really passionate about the history of it, the culture of it, kind of the anthropological side of it, how sound system culture has travelled around the world!
When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I wanted to get back into organising, or doing stuff with music, because that’s really my calling. So I started a few projects related to music that were not directly tied to reggae or dub, but I got into the music scene, promoting events, and organising festivals, and back in 2011 I actually produced a dub festival with Lee Perry, Mad Professor and many others. It was a pretty big project, spanning 2 weeks, with masterclasses, panels, all related to dub music, and it was good, but this is when I realised that people don’t really realise what dub music is, or what sound system culture is. In America, there isn’t as much history that keeps it tied to popular culture. I think that many in the US have a big misunderstanding about what the culture is. That, combined with how expensive it was to organise and host really big events, made me realise that I needed to build a sound system if I was to really educate people on what sound system culture is.
When I started building the sound system, this was before Tour De Force, before Dub-Stuy was really just like a crazy madness that I just realised this is just what I need. I knew the system was the next logical step to building the culture and building the community around it, which led me to link up with Jason Geban, who assembled the rig.
Building the sound system was such a deep experience for me. For my daytime job, I sit on a computer all day, so to do something with my hands, like live and breathe it, to literally breath the fumes, it was like, this is my baby, it actually making an object out of nothing, and as I was building it, that’s when I met Jay Spaker, who became my partner with Tour De Force. I knew him before, from the community, because he’s a musician. But he was starting to get into electronic music production, and he approached me because he saw I was building a sound system, and he shared some music he was working on with me, and that’s when it clicked for me.
It was like “this is it, you are making tracks, I know a lot of people around the scene, we need a brand, like an umbrella to connect it all”. And this was how the idea of Dub-Stuy came along. We were like, we need a record label as this will be the entry point for sound system culture and how we are going to present it. This was really how the idea for the label started, kind of halfway through the process of assembling the rig. And then our idea with Dub-Stuy was to try and incorporate different elements musically. Different aspects of what we like about sound system music, from the foundation, to the newest styles, putting together something we thought was representative of the culture.
“So basically, I’m a nerd, I’m a music nerd, and I love all this shit” -Q
Steph: You have a lot of heavyweight artist’s signed to the label already. Luciano, Ranking Joe, Brother Culture, Johnny Osbourne, amongst many others. All of these people are really influential to me. How did you go about making those connections?
QP: Well as I said, I’ve been a DJ for 15 years, so I’ve been “In the Scene” with touring etc. I lived on the west coast in Seattle as well. I really put effort into reaching out to the community. It’s just a small community at the end of the day. It’s kind of like being part of a little family, and once people know who you are are, and what you do, it’s actually easier to make contact than you might think. If you have a good project and you are explaining your vision, I think a lot of those artists are really interested in having a broader reach, because a lot of those artists are from the old school, so for them to have a project like ours, which may be a little unconventional for them, can be really exciting as it opens up doors to another crowd that they might not be exposed to on their traditional forms of releases. So it’s a win win for everybody. The word spreads fast, and actually we have another really good contact in Jamaica that is doing all of our studio work there. Now we are starting to work more with younger artists in Jamaica, and discover newer talent, giving them the opportunity to release on newer style riddims and more bass music stuff, so I think it’s going to prove to be a valuable link that hasn’t been tapped too much, and I think it’s going to lead to some really good music.
That’s kind of what I want to focus on this year. The release that is going to come after the one I sent you will be a bit of an introduction to a new release series we are doing, trying to revive the concept of riddims. Classic dancehall-style riddims. The first release is actually produced by DJ Madd, and it’s a famous dancehall riddim, we have Miss Red, Mikey General, and Turbulence. With the label, I’m trying to curate releases in a way that’s open minded. We are trying to cover different aspects of the music, and put it all back together in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
Steph: How did you get linked up with the badman Jason Geban who helped you assemble the Dub-Stuy rig?
QP: Well I returned home from London from that gig I talked about, the Aba Shanti-I gig, and I had become obsessed with trying to build my own system, and I was very much a rookie at this time, so when you are trying to get into something, you do research, so I got into this whole phase of immersing myself in online forums, and the whole community. Reading about building speakers, and looking up designs. I was on Speakerplans.com, which was started by Rog Mogale, founder of Void Acoustics, so a lot of the designs were in the British tradition .
A lot of inspiration for the Dub-Stuy rack came from the Mungo’s Hifi rig, so I found the plans for the Super Scoop, and the HD15 KickBins. I posted a message on the forum, looking for someone to help me assemble the rig in New York, and immediately I got responses that I should hit up this guy T-Gees Sounds (Jason Geban) who had a good reputation on the forum from posting a lot and building a lot of boxes.
I sent him a private message outlining my plan, and he actually responded to me pretty quickly, talking and engaging, and I ended up meeting him, and honestly I just really liked him from the get go. He’s such a cool guy, and he comes from a family of speaker builders; his Dad was a speaker builder so he grew up in that culture. And that was really cool to me, because my Dad was a speaker builder. When he emigrated to France that was one of his first jobs, he was the production manager of a speaker building company, so I have sound system heritage too. Jason and I got to be friends pretty quickly, and we would talk about how different designs work and what would be the best way to set up our stack, and what amplifiers to operate in our racks, and all the other components. Jason in a way became a part of Dub-Stuy, like part of the family. He brought his expertise, and his craft, and tradition of speaker building to the table, and that taught me a lot. I would assist him in building and finishing and wiring the electronics, and I started to get into the tuning part of it, the phase, the delay, and the crossover regions, basically I became obsessed with trying to get the sound that I wanted, and that’s something I think is unique to sound system culture; it can always get better, and when you build a sound, you never build it to mediocre. Your goal is to kill other sound, and you have this inherent competition in the culture that pushes you to be the best, and the best sounds are those that evolve; that get better equipment and always work to get better.
That was my thing. When we had the sound strung up, I used to spend days, listening to every box, listening to tracks over and over again until I could really understand the sound of the rig, and trying to be able to control that. So Jason and I kind of worked together from the beginning, and to this day, if I’m going to change a setting, or upgrade some gear, I always send him a message first to see what he thinks. I know he is a big part of this, and he deserves a lot of the recognition that he gets for building the rig, and we are going to be working together more on the rental side of things as well.
Steph: Last question! You might not realise this now, but Dub-Stuy’s past and future legacy is going to leave a permanent mark on US sound system culture. How do you feel about this?
QP: I see everything in life as a continuation of something else. Things get created, and die, and other things get created and die; it’s a cycle, things are always evolving. I feel like for me, my love is music, and sound system culture, I was just trying to find a way to be a link in that cycle for myself, and for the community, so other people can have that same transformation experience that I was lucky enough to have.
We have only been at this for 3 years now, and the way things have been progressing, the way they have ben built has felt very organic and very natural, so I really just plan to ride the wave, and kind of see where things go, try to connect with more people, and expose more people to the culture. That’s really my primary goal, and I guess if that makes me influential, that’s cool, but it’s not something you really think about, just something you do because you are passion ate about it.
Steph: I feel 20 years from now people will look back on what you have started here Stateside and find a long list of achievements that follow.
QP: Thank you so much, but like I said, we’ve just getting started. We are 3 years in, and I feel like we are finally reaching the point where we can do projects, releases, and events with higher and higher impact. It’s exciting to see how sound system culture in America has evolved, and being part of the movement is really great. We get a lot of messages from people who are trying to build their own rigs in the States and are getting inspired by what we do, and we are getting our brand recognised in Europe. It’s really great that people are starting to see us as a representative, or an important element of sound system culture in America, and that’s never something I really thought about when I got into this, but its just how things progressed. It feels good, and I think in the next couple years there will be a lot of positive changes, so I look forward to it.
If you haven’t made it out to a Dub-Stuy event, put it on your bucket list and if you havent copped any of the new releases do so now, via digital and/or vinyl (for your playing pleasure). For more info on Dub-Stuy please go to www.dub-stuy.com.
To relive the event I attended back in September, view exclusive footage from the event (shot, edited and produced by Seth Applebaum). Big ups to the Dub-Stuy Collective, massive respect to you and yours from the FKOF crew!