Writing about soundsystem events is something I have been intending to do for some time now, but the very nature of the beast makes writing a review as such rather difficult. Over the last decade or so Melbourne has blossomed with a variety of reggae soundsystems popping up regularly, and I’ve even lost count of how many exist, and are being built as we speak. Looking back we had the Heartical Hi-Fi, built and run by Derek Marr as the only dedicated reggae soundsystem in Melbourne. Times have changed, Marr’s sound now goes by the new name Heartical Hi Powa, and these days it is not unusual to find an event with two, three or even four soundsystems in the one arena.
Reviewing a regular soundsystem dance is a very difficult thing to do, as it’s not really about the DJ playing the music, it is about how the music combined with the soundsystem redefine the environment. If you haven’t been to one, it might be difficult to imagine. I suppose the main difference from a regular PA system is that the reggae soundsystem is designed emphasise bass, while splitting the audio signal into a three- or four-way split. Now, many venue PAs do this job too, but I reckon you just need to hear for yourself to know what I am talking about.
Anyway, back to the show. So tonight was the next in the Version events put on by Echo Chamber Sound, a bunch of ex-pat New Zealanders in Australia on the dole or something (just joking). Most soundsystem shows feature prerecorded music, usually on vinyl, with a live vocalist (a Dee Jay in the soundsystem parlance). Tonight’s show differed in that Naram and Art were going to be playing a set of their digital dancehall riddims live. On stage with a selection of old synths and newer playback gear, Art and Naram tore through an almost entirely new selection of tunes, featuring a myriad of vocalists, pre-recorded of course, some new, others well established. Naram’s love of early 90’s dancehall has had him make connection with a group of veterans from that era, people like Peter King and Daddy Freddy, proponents of the ‘fast chat’ deejay style. This sound featured prominently throughout the set.
Art’s virtuosic keyboard skills were highlighted as he tore around several old Casio and Yamaha synths (I reckon there was a CS01 and a CZ5000 up there) playing both the basslines and the skanks. Naram provided the drums and vocals and the live dub element, playing back off a digital multitrack player and incorporating a multitude of effects. Working through a mostly all new set and finishing up with Long Way by Daddy Freddy, from a pair of fresh 7” singles that have been just released on the new Colonel Mustard imprint, the crowd was very much enjoying the live dub. The Echo Chamber Soundsystem was sounding great and the night was pleasant.
As well as the Echo Chamber DJs, the night was rounded off by fine selections from local reggae DJ Mamacita Bonnita at the opening end, and a guest selection from Romain Iron Dubz popping through town from France on his way to the Ruapuke Roots Garden Festival in New Zealand with a healthy bag of dubplates.
While the soundsystem scene in Australia continues to grow, it is still relatively underground. Many mainstream acts like to add the ‘soundsystem’ tag line to their works, which dilutes the real concept of soundsystem and gives people the wrong idea about what to expect from such events. Once you have heard bass heavy music through a ‘proper’ soundsystem you will find it difficult to go back to any other amplification device, and if you haven’t checked out one of the many soundsystem gigs on around the country, well… now is as good a time as any.