In conversation with Indica Dubs about sound system culture

Apr 27, 2020
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Photo credit: Win Van Wambeke

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Before the world went silent, at the beginning of March, I attended Ghent Dub Club #3, a two sound system session put together by Indica Dubs and his crew. I left Bucharest in a good company and with great joy for returning to Ghent, as last time I visited the city, four years ago, I went to a live concert of Autechre.

With Danman as his guest MC, Indica put up a strong lineup by inviting the mighty Channel One Sound System, and in so, making the event a hard one to be missed. I have talked to Indica in advance for the interview and he was kind enough to make time before the show began. We met at the venue just before he and his crew started to put the sound together and to prepare the space for the upcoming session. Very polite, speaking with profound passion about reggae and dub, our conversation floated around the sound system culture, his influences, future releases, his new adoptive town, and plans.

I consider now is a good time for this interview to surface as I believe that as the world is trying to return to its course, we should remind ourselves about the importance of sessions like these who bring such good vibes and joy.

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How did your journey into Reggae music start?

I was introduced to reggae and dub since 11 because I had these new neighbors who moved next to my house and they had a small sound system and they used to play in their garage in the back garden. I was hearing the bass from my bedroom and I was curious about that powerful noise, shaking the windows and stuff. From then I started to have a fascination with all the culture - the needle touching the records, the artwork of the record, the sound. That sort of stuff. The first session I went to was Abba Shanti when I was 15. I wasn't allowed to go, my parents wouldn't allow me, so I sneaked out from the house, I jumped over the back wall throw the alleyway, got my bike and drove to the place. He was playing in a small place, 150 people capacity and he had 4 scoops in there. When I entered, he didn't turn on the bass and I was already impressed, but when he turned on the bass, for a moment I couldn't breathe. That was the moment I said I want to have a sound. 

The same year, or the one after I went to Shaka as well, and then the others. But Shaka was always my favorite, he is special. No one can touch Shaka. It is something about him, his sound, and the way he plays. His sound is not all about the subs, you hear all the frequencies in his bass, and no one has that sort of sound. I don't know how old his equipment must be, but it is definitely older than me. I have seen pictures on the internet with his sound from years ago, and he still has them all. 

Shaka had an influence over me not just with the music I produce but in everything. I say everything. Even to the tunes that I play, cause I don't play only my tunes, I play other people's songs too. But normally I go Shaka and I hear what he is playing cause the special thing about him is that he doesn’t just play dubplates all night long, he plays people's releases and stuff. And that is important, because if key people like him don`t play people's releases, who's gonna hear it and be influenced by it. If people go Shaka and hear what Shaka plays, they will buy the record because he played it. So, it helps sell the records as well, it is good for the business, everything keeps moving. That’s a special thing he does, playing the new releases. He helps the community a lot. 

photo credit Dub Events

|Building a sound system now was a natural step in Indica Dub’s evolution as an artist?

I also had a sound system 12 years ago, when I was 18. I borrowed the money from someone to build a sound with three scoops and I did two sessions as I thought I could make the money to pay the friend back. Eventually, there was no money so I had to sell the sound and give the money back. I always wanted to have a sound, cause it's nice to have the big speakers. And now, I thought the time is right, I could give it another try, as I can say I have a name for myself and I have a crowd. If you start brand new it is hard to have a crowd. People know what music I make, so if they come to a session, they know what music to expect.

I also have a nice crew around me. I have got two friends here that have a sound as well, they are quite young, in the early 20s, called Dreadical Warriors. They help me with moving the sound. Kutty from QSS also comes with me whenever I play with the sound. He built my boxes. And there is also my girlfriend and her family who are helping as well. I get a good amount of help from people and it is a solid crew, people I can rely on help.
So far, with the sound system, I have played in France at Dubcamp Festival, Rotterdam, I have even been in Bristol with the sound, at Teachings in Dubs, twice. It is easier with the sound to move while being on the mainland.

 

|Raised in a London sound system culture, now based in Ghent. What drove you to make this change?

It's been two and a half years already. It was mainly because of my girlfriend's studies here. This was the main reason. But at the same time, I was building a sound system. That was a secret, no one knew about it. I was starting to build the sound and at that time she told me she will be studying here, so I just thought I will move along and take the sound with me. And then I got in touch with some organizers in this area and they helped set a session for me to launch the sound. This was September - October 2017th.

After the first session, we decided to organize an event and see how will go. I went to a venue and just before I signed the contract the guy there asked me "How would you call it". I wasn't ready for this one, but luckily my girlfriend was there and she said just call it "Ghent Dub Club". I think it is a nice name that speaks for itself. 

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|How is the Reggae community in Ghent?

The country is small itself. But a lot of people here listen to dub and reggae, they get a lot of influences from the festivals in the area, France is near, Germany the same, they have the choice to just drive 100 km that way and they are in France, 100 that way and they are in the Netherlands. 

For me is nice to be able to find venues as big as this one, with over 1.500 people capacity. In London, there are also big sessions but the biggest venue to host sound system is like 4-500 people, like Village Underground. Something about this place attracts lots of people. 

 

|There is quite a buzz around the event tonight, the same as it was for the previous two. Do you plan to do the events more often? 

 To fill that place every month would be difficult. And it costs quite a lot of money for the hire of the venue. All the costs I have to pay for the hire, for the security, insurance, all the fences. When you pay for the place all you get is the big room, every little thing you have to buy. That's why is only once a year at the moment because it takes 4-5 months of planning since I book the date.  I like to announce the dance early so people coming from far can book their travel while is cheap. This is the third edition now, but next, we will try to do two, one at the start, one towards the end of the year. We can always make improvements to what we do. Every time we learn something new. 

But this venue, for example, you see how big it is, it is far away from the houses, so it is a decent distance between the neighborhood and the venue. This kind of distance gives us a bit of benefit because then we do not disturb the neighborhood too much. And in this venue, you are allowed to play until 5 o'clock and only if you play in the front room you have to play quieter. There are fewer restrictions here than is in London. 


The sound systems are part of the buzz too because a sound system itself attracts a lot of people, but I don't think I would organize events if I didn't have a sound system. I am not into that business of doing events, that's not interesting for me. We do it now just for our fun because we want to do it. We don’t care if we do a loss or make money. If we make money, we invest it in the next one. For us is just to do it, like it is an achievement afterward if all goes well to plan the next one. 

Photo Credit: Codin Oraseanu

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Let's imagine a situation. If tonight 20 people show up, would you play the same as if the place would be packed? But remember, you are not just an invited artist, you are also so promoter with all the pressure of money invested.

For me is more like doing it. This is why I do it only once a year, it is an achievement. I don't care so much about the business. It is an honor and a dream to play with a sound I grew up (editor: Channel One Sound System).
Regarding the pressure of being a promoter, I don't know, because so far, we have always had good lineups and if it is not guaranteed, I am sure is going to sell out. If you bring Channel One with their sound you kind of know it will be sold out. Last time we had Abba Shanti and Kebra Ethiopia. That was also sold out.

|You have a strong music relation with Danman, a lot of dances, and releases together. When did your collaboration begin?

It's been six years now. I made an instrumental, the one that is called Righteous Man, it was instrumental first and I was playing as my last song, and I just thought to myself that it needs to get a voice by someone, but I didn't know who to get a voice by. I wanted to be a hit basically, so I thought of Danman, cause I heard some stuff he has done with other people before and I wanted that style on the tune. I just called and told him I have a song and if he wants to voice it. He went to the studio and sent me the vocals. And that was the tune. From that one, we did lots more. Righteous Man took off, and it even boosted my name along. People knew who I was even before, but that tune I think it was the first one that lifted the things as well. Even today people ask me if they can buy that record, but are sold out years ago.

Me and Danman, we keep doing songs, and every song we did people kept loving it. We made quite a lot of dubplates as well which people are asking me about, tunes like Satta Massagana and When Shaka Come. These tunes are made just as dubplates I give to people, like the one I gave to Skaha only. Only he has it. I don't even play that one because it has his name on it, so I let him play. I have my version for me, he has his and I have mine.

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Having a sound system had any influence on the music you produce? Do you pay more attention at certain frequencies than before?

I realize what kind of frequencies come out better now, like what sort of keys project better on the bass. But the style stayed the same. Whenever I make a song, in my head I am imagining it on Shaka sound. Do you know how his sound rumbles? That's the sort of image I am having in my mind when I make the tune, how I want to growl like that sort of bass. In my head, I am in Shaka’s session hearing how it will sound.

 

|What are your plans for future releases? Are you planning an album?

Singles at the moment. I have been thinking about an album for a while now cause it’s been some years since I have done one. I like doing singles because that's mainly what people play at the sessions. They play 10 inch, or 7 inch, or 12 inches. If I make an album nobody will play it. Nobody plays LP in sessions, not on a turntable anyway. I just prefer singles.

 

|Where do you stand in the never-ending discussion about playing CDs vs vinyl on the sound system?

For me, it is more fun playing records, cause you pick up the record, put the needle on, and look at how it spins and stuff like that. I used to play CDs before. There was no problem, it was fine, but when I started playing vinyl only, then I decided I wanna stay this way. Nevertheless, I am not one of those people like to think no, it has to be vinyl only. If it sounds good, it sounds good.

You do get a different sound from playing records. CDs would give you the best quality anyway, but with records, you will have the surface noise, the crackles, and pops. You have some warmth. Since I have my sound, I have never played CDs. It is a personal decision. I decided to do it like after a session when I was promoting a forthcoming track of mine on vinyl and I was saying ya, this one is coming soon on 10 inch, and I was playing a CD. It just felt strange to me and I said I need to change this. No one said to me, I just felt I had to do it.

 

|Coming from a sound system culture where most of the people are facing the selector, how do you feel at these sessions where a lot of people from France are coming, and most of them are facing the speaker boxes?

I find it weird to face the sound system cause all my life I have been to sessions in London so all I know is to look at the selector. When I see people looking at the speaker box I think what are they looking at? All night they gonna look at something just standing there. I think they feel more connected to the music, but I also see it as disconnection because if we are having a conversion now and I turn my back to you, we will disconnect, isn't it? If we are face to face, we have more of a connection. 

 You will always get those people that are facing the sound, like the first three, four, five rows. But then, most of the crowd will look towards the selector. A lot of people tonight are coming from France, so it will be interesting to see how will they face the sound. 

 

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