“Whatever your particular penchant of bass music might be, everything comes from the same source: Sound system culture. Having a sound like no other crew. Records like no other selector. A vibe like no other party. From jungle’s original dubplate culture to the never-ending quest among the most respected technicians to develop sounds and aesthetics you’ve never heard before; Jamaican sound system values are the true foundation of all forms of bass music. It’s informed the strong sense of community, too. Both in the sense of the sonic comrades behind the sounds and the music loving gatherings systems attract. Like-minded souls brought together sharing ideas, connections and a sense of what they’re involved with is special, from the heart, and belonging to them. It’s a spirit that has driven underground music since day one, that remains evident in all the most vibrant and open minded clubs and parties, and has played a crucial role in the development of dubstep. From FWD>> to DMZ, some of the most innovative, progressive movements to happen in contemporary bass music can be traced back to real night moves founded on original system community ethics” – UKF
As ever, always an important night for those in London’s sound system community, SYSTEM left its usual North London residence at Dingwalls, opting to stay south of the river this time and celebrating its 5th anniversary in Brixton no less; an iconic home for this iconic event in modern sound system history. By the grace of all things TRUSIK, (with some help from our friends at Soundcrash) I was granted access to join in the revelry and report back on what was to be a night of inevitably low-end tectonic ordinance powered by none other than Sinai Sound.
So, I arrived at Electric Brixton, the chosen birthday venue and after submitting myself to routine military inspection by London’s infamously strict door staff, I inched my way through the crowd and found myself amidst a swollen throng of bodies already caught in the throes of Iration Steppas, somewhere beyond the pale of moody auditorium half-light. Finding the sweet spot where I could experience the cleanest sound became my first priority, and after some navigation, I perched myself up in the balcony where I could feel the perfect balance of frequencies defined in the immense power emanating from Sinai’s massive rig. Hailing from Sheffield, the Sinai Sound’s modular rig is an undoubtedly beautiful and well-crafted feat of sound engineering, boasting huge stacks of scoops all refined into a crystalline experience of bassweight. The mids were crisp and articulated, the highs obviously taking a backseat but lounging comfortably in the mix, and the bass was immersive, eminent and well-concentrated. Always bringing the sunshine sound, Iration Steppas were deep in the dance already, with dubplates aplenty as the duo launched themselves into a frenzy of different riddims; eclectic dub tracks layered with exclusive vox from an extended family of MC’s and other dub poets, the perky bounce and jive of dancehall, the steady, bouncing heartbeat of heavy steppa delights. All this music was served with a healthy garnish of friendly competition between the two friends, who battled to generate the biggest uproar from the crowd in the time-honoured tradition of an amicable soundclash.
SYSTEM label boss VIVEK was next up on stage, and as always, delivered his own acetate masterclass. The set began with a similar sound system roots celebration, with Sinai scoops soon bellowing the soothing pulsations of reggae and dub. With the mood of the tracks gently evolving towards a darker aesthetic of sound, Vivs began to hot up the dance and accelerate the tempo. The main body of his set was delivered with clinical precision and force through the mighty hardware provided by Sinai, and the crowd was soon ignited by a vast array of low-end weaponry, almost all of which were dubplates, asides from a few recent releases from the likes of Bandulu, Deep Medi and SYSTEM itself, with Karma’s imminent release also worthy of a deserving nod. A highlight for me was an incredible dubplate that saw Foamplate’s Lionize cut with additional vox from the militant man like Jamakabi. The track tore through the dance; the Selassie I soldier riding the riddim with deadly flow and his immediately recognisable timbre, and it provoked a quick and well-deserved wheel-up (also shout outs to Foamplate, who was standing adjacent as the track was unleashed and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the carnage he had helped create). VIVEK eventually signed off, but not before toasting the crowd and giving humble thanks for the love and support that he had received and channelled into an event such as SYSTEM. With applause all around, it was a moment to savour, the torch of sound system culture was kindled and kept alive, for now, even amidst the overwhelming darkness it has had to fight through during the UK government’s war on sound. Whatever case, this felt like a minor victory amongst the many battles left to fight.
Following VIVEK, the illustrious DBridge took to the controls to illuminate the night with some alternative sensibilities of sound. Having recently provided the debut release of “Fashion Dread” for Youngsta’s new brainchild, Sentry Records, DBridge began his own proceedings with an initial focus on the dubstep tempo; all the while building a steady and seamless progression into his more familiar repertoire of minimal, colourful drum and bass. Always a welcome change of pace, the aptitude of DBridge’s particular sonic style was well suited to the evolution of the nights mood. By now the clock was hitting roughly 2 AM, and the liquid sounds and fluid, organic percussion in his selections really began to bleed into the ethereal twilight hour of cigarette breaks, enamoured conversation and closed-eye visuals. Stepping up for the final performance of the night was Alix Perez. The sound was noticeably quieter, I found this interesting considering the proud declaration that SYSTEM was an event not bound by sound restrictions; however, the crowd was thinning and the levels were obviously also at the mercy of the Sinai team, who understand the power of their rig better than anyone else. In fact, the crew did a stellar job tweaking and fine-tuning the sound throughout the night, even throughout the graveyard shift. It was especially enjoyable watching a member of the team take a moment to savour the power they had created as a solitary chair began dancing around the sound booth, caught in the rumbling reverberation of their sound system; a great moment to witness for anyone who understands the inordinate amount of time and energy that goes into collecting, fixing, mending, assembling, welding, and eventually engineering a vast sound system, simply out of the passion for projecting an immense sonic pressure and creating a unique, physical experience of music.
Alix Perez began his concluding set and took evident satisfaction in his duties; it was a set composed of unique sounds on the spectrum of 130 bpm. A contemporary sound that isn’t quite the pure adrenaline of drum n bass, nor the kind of meditation found in dubstep and not even quite the primal explosion of jungle; but instead his technoid selections danced the line between these different genres; all of which still evidently inspired by the original poetics of sound system music in their Caribbean and Anglo-Carribean roots (for those interested in how this may sound, check out Alix Perez’s label 1984 Records as well as perhaps JRobinson’s Tribe12 records for starters). Bleary-eyed and with my cerebellum still throbbing after yet another baptism of vibration, I made my exit into the cool morning air. Upon reflection, it had been a night that represented a beautiful historical moment for London in its ongoing struggle to keep sound system culture alive. The road home was long, the journey occasionally treacherous, but it was with companions and community I was sure of the path.
P.S. Throughout the night, I also caught sight of an elusive creature darting around the stage with a camera (I later found out this was none other than Ila Brugal). A big shout-out to her is in order for the incredible work done and all the amazing photos captured on the night.