Roughly this time last year, I ventured to some of the dubstep sound’s founding father’s birthday party.
DMZ 8 still stands as one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had working in our scene – partly thanks to the fact I met Gritsy founder Suraj and photographer Huy Cao. Since meeting them, we’ve kept in on-off contact as I’ve followed their efforts as they ventured through the trials and tribulations of promoting a fairly niche sound to the American faithful.
Inspired by a well-penned (if slightly inflammatorily titled) article on Mixmag at the beginning of this year, Huy and I got chatting about ways best to document how America is ‘doing dubstep’ in the current climate. We hatched a plan to somehow document the return of Mala and Coki to Houston – but didn’t iron out the finer points of how we’d actually do it.
What follows is Huy’s experiences from the night DMZ played Gritsy. Huy is known for his photography skills, but he’s also put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) to create his recap. Together, his images and review form what might be the best article to ever grace this site. I hope you enjoy the below as much as I have, reliving the event through Huy’s truly, truly brilliant recap…
Some eagle eyed readers may recognise the green vehicle A.K.A Big Juicy as the one seen in this shot.
Our day started bright and early around 10 A.M. Before any equipment is moved, the first order of business was to have a healthy breakfast consisting of a number of donuts. When the trailer door makes contact with the ground, it signifies the start to a long – but very worthwhile – day. Every night has that magical moment where I just stand back and realise that all the work has definitely paid off. Every set-up day is slightly different, but this one in particular had an air of both excitement and anxiousness as Gritsy would be hosting none other than the Digital Mystikz.
These subs are HEAVY so 3-4 people are REQUIRED.
Loading in usually requires 4-5 people and the number one priority is getting those amazing RCF subs down the rather steep incline without any damage. This is a trial and (and thankfully not much) error-ridden process and notes are always taken to see what can be done to improve efficiency for the next time around. With the help of soft rubber mats and homemade caster boards, this process takes full advantage of the incline and also reduces physical strain on both the equipment and our backs. One by one, the stacks are carefully brought down and loaded into the trailer. Repeat four times.
The ever-welcoming black tooth grin of the Gritsy rig.
Before setting off to the venue, the inventory is all double checked to make sure everything is loaded. This includes not just the speakers and decks; but also every single cable, stand and anything else that would be required for the night. Gritsy does not have the luxury of just simply showing up at a venue with the equipment ready to go, but I feel like this gives a greater sense of pride and accomplishment when all is said and done. How can one be proud of something if they are not the one to build it?
Suraj leading by example.
Once the equipment arrives at the venue, the process of unloading begins. Once again, top priority is placed on not damaging any of the equipment. On the rather uneven cobblestone sidewalks of downtown Houston and tight confines of the club entrance, there is a lot of room for error. One misplaced push into a metal handrail can mean a damaged sub. Presentation is equally as important as performance so we try our best keep all the gear in tip top condition. The one thing that must be avoided is for the night to be over before it even began.
This area will eventually become the DJ booth. The subs are placed facing away from the street to avoid further noise complaints. This was learned the hard way.
The windows are reinforced to prevent any unwanted vibrations and to also keep the sound within the venue.
Sound-insulating curtains are also put up to keep the sound inside of the club and to provide a private area for the artists to have some time to themselves before performing.
At this point, the decks and the rig haven’t even been set up – but that’s okay. These preventative measures are the top priority as they are the deciding factor in how loud the rig can be turned up. What’s the point in having a rig like this if it can’t be flexed to its full potential by none other than the Digital Mystikz? All of this has to be taken down at the end of the night but that is a non-issue. Extra work in the beginning, to prevent potential headaches later on in the night, is always worth the effort.
John The Third begins to prep for soundcheck as soon as everything is set. He controls the rig remotely via a mixture of the iPad and some wizardry.
Fast forward a few hours and most of the heavy lifting has been done. The decks have been set up, the subs centered and locked into place, the tops and monitors mounted and all cables have been neatly organised to make the space as clutter free as possible. Of course, we had to match the Velcro straps to the color of the caster boards. It’s not something that can be easily noticed but it definitely makes for a more photogenic rig.
As I was taking these photos, I was informed that the Digital Mystikz were on their way to the venue. This was it. The whole afternoon’s worth of work must now be approved by our special guests. The soundcheck also provides an opportunity to alleviate any potential issues with the decks, mainly vibrations, since we all know how fickle dubplates can be.
Look, listen, and feel (on the rig) but never touch.
When the guests of honour arrived, so did the moment of truth. Mala picked out a few records and played them while John The Third adjusted various settings to optimise the sound system. After about 20-30 minutes, there were no longer any issues to be found. Suraj and I looked at each other and we simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief (coupled with even more enthusiasm for the night to come). It really was a pleasure to hear those tunes being played at their maximum potential in an empty club. It will be even better to see their effect on a packed club. It was now about 6:00 P.M. and part 1 of our day was officially done…
The (un)official Digital Mystikz seal of approval.
I love to capture the small details that many attendees do not see.
After a quick trip home to relax and clean up, it was straight back to the venue. Time was of the essence as Mala and Coki were billed for a 3 hour set. This meant less time to find the perfect camera settings and more internal pressure to “warm up”, especially given this was my first time shooting an event since October 2013. As I did some typical shots, my confidence grew and I felt like I was finally ready to capture the night.
The best way to build confidence is to shoot complete strangers when they are least expecting it.
The second best way comes courtesy of some liquid courage aka bravery gravy by way of a Gritscle. Tastes like candy, hits you like a train.
There was a definite air of excitement and anxiousness as the evening drew closer to the 23:00 hour that marked Mala and Coki taking over the controls. I stopped shooting about 10 minutes before they came on and just observed the room. The crowd grew denser by the minute. Those sitting down began to stand up, those who were outside slowly made their way in and the soldiers at the front stood firmly holding their ground. It was that time and everyone in the room knew it. One last check on the camera settings and it was time to go.
One of the most recognisable silhouettes in the scene.
As Mala selected the first tune, I snapped the first image of him. While this was happening, the crowd can heard chanting loud and clear, but Mala seemed to be in his own world and I did not want to disturb that. To me, a photographer must be invisible in order to get the best result. It is one part art, one (maybe two) parts voyeurism.
Nonverbal communication speaks volumes!
A sense of moment creates a more dynamic image.
As the night went on, I watched John The Third make small subtle tweaks to the system and the effect it had on the crowd. The more the rig was turned up, the more people began to let loose. It felt as if everyone simultaneously released all the stress of their Monday through Friday lives and took on their Saturday night persona. Some danced their heart out, some went eyes down, and a select few simply stared in amazement.
Tune after tune, the vibe was reaching new levels. It was also a pleasure to see that Mala and Coki were thoroughly enjoying themselves, sometimes even dancing more than those in the crowd. Those tense moments of potential technical issues were long gone. The system was sounding great, the tables had no issues with Mala’s dubs and everyone was loving every bit of it. This was the moment when I realised that the whole day’s work had been worth every minute.
One of the personal highlights for me was hearing the Dread VIP. It was promptly given the rewind treatment of course.
Once again, look, listen, and feel (on the rig) but never touch.
Three and a half hours passed very quickly and it was almost time for the night to finish. I was a bit sad the night had to end but also extremely happy that I had the opportunity to document such an incredible event. I didn’t take as many photos as I could have, because honestly sometimes it’s just better to put the camera down and enjoy the moment.
As Mala announced that he was only able to play one more tune, a collective groan was let out by the crowd. However, it couldn’t have ended in any better fashion than this:
So that wraps up my wrap up of Digital Mystikz at Gritsy. I hope you have enjoyed this little bit of insight into what goes on behind the subs (so to speak). Thank you to Wil “One L” Benton and the rest of the FKOF goons for giving me the opportunity to put my thoughts into words.
Also, a huge thank you to all Gritsy staff – and the attendees – for making Gritsy what it is. See you at the next one so we can do this all over again.