SOUND SYSTEMS OF MELBOURNE
In early 2020 we worked with Geelong-based illustrator Rick Chesshire to create our FIELD GUIDE TO THE SOUND SYSTEMS OF MELBOURNE, a limited edition print sold via our website. Based on the UK SOUND GUIDE and other similar sound system pictorials, this was the first ever attempt at cataloguing sound system culture in Australia.
Melbourne is a city synonymous with the arts and below are some of the sound systems which contribute to the rich vibrancy of this culture.
Adrians Wall Sound System
“Melbourne’s Rootikal Warrior bringing you the best in roots, dub and steppers on a full roots sound system.”
“A Solar powered sound system [with uniquely] designed speakers providing an efficient, clear sound with maximum efficiency.”
Phil B: Our name originally came from a discussion amongst ourselves about developing an off-grid, large, scalable PA. We are heavily into the “DIY” culture and the mindset of build it yourself, use recycled parts as much as possible and make it enviro friendly.
The system was originally built over the winter 2011 and 2012. First gig was July 2012, with Richie A doing most of the engineering and wood construction in that period. The system and trailer have been modified over the years but is still the original trailer, wood and drivers.
We drew inspiration from Tom Danley’s unity horn designs. We wanted speakers with the highest efficiency and power / weight ratio as we had a small trailer to fit it into and it would be running off Solar / battery power. The barn doors were an idea that has been floating around for years and again they were used to add efficiency and volume to the system.
Currently we are at :
4 x Unity Hi-Mid boxes
1 x 1.4” RCF Compression driver
4 x 4” Celestion Mid drivers
2 x 10” Ande low mid drivers
4 x SS15 Tapped horn subs
These are loaded with 4 x RCF L15P200AK drivers
2 x Keystone Tapped horn Subs
These are loaded with 2 x B&C SW115 18”
2 x C-Audio Pulse 2 x 650
1 x FFa 4 x 1.5
1 x FFa 6K
1 x Behringer iNuke 6000
Behringer Xair XR18 digital mixer
XTA DP6i – system crossover
We still are the original trio who developed DiY HiFi – Phil B, Monkey Marc and Richie A.
“Dub / Steppas / Jungle [sound system and] vinyl label.”
El Gran Mono
“The first picó sound system built outside Colombia. Prestamos nuestro respeto a los picó y picotero originales.”
Tom Noonan: El Gran Mono is inspired by the original picó and picótero of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. In creating a picó here in Australia we wanted to pay tribute to these great sound systems, and also do what we could to move the culture further into the international spotlight.
Having a gorilla or monkey as part of the El Gran Mono name was a direct influence of the Lee Scratch Perry LP Super Ape - as we knew we wanted the painting on our main speaker grille to be of a large animal towering over buildings in Melbourne. It was important that there was this connection between Colombia and Australia. Very early on we also knew that the name of our picó needed to mean something to non-Spanish speakers, and while ‘mono’ means ‘one’ in English it also means ‘monkey’ in Spanish. The phrase ‘El Gran’ is one which is synonymous with the picó sound system culture, and many of the classic picó in Colombia have this as part of their name.
We owe a huge debt to Fabian Altahona Romera, our good friend in Barranquilla who first opened the door to picó culture and guided us during the development process to ensure that El Gran Mono remained as authentic as possible. Fabian is THE guy on the ground in Colombia when it comes to picó culture, and his continued generosity in offering up information and providing support has been a big part of El Gran Mono. In Melbourne, the proprietors are myself, Tom Noonan and Johnny el Pajaro, both of us also just two record collectors and DJs.
Planning for El Gran Mono started in 2017, though the building really didn’t start until late in the summer at the start of 2018 in a workshop in Northcote. The early work on the speakers using un-ported boxes and the Jim-Mogule super-scoop design, plus some of the original framing was completed by Paul Glover. In the winter of 2018 we moved the picó to a new workshop in Greensborough, where Wes Old redesigned, reengineered and rebuilt the system. The artwork for our main speaker box was completed by the famous picó artist Master William Guiterrez of Barranquilla, and the lettering in the top boxes was designed by Wayne Smith and painted by Karl Stein. We’re hugely indebted in particular to Wes Old, as we were working off pictures and videos from our trips to Colombia, and also a series of sketches. That Wes was able to transform these ideas in a living, breathing, sound system true to the picó tradition is an extraordinary feat.
Currently the main speaker box for El Gran Mono holds three 18” super-scoop subs, and four 12” low mid-range woofers set in unported boxes. The two top boxes hold eight 5” midrange woofers, six tweeters set in 4” horns, and four super-bullet tweeters in set in unported boxes. The maximise the quality of the sound of El Gran Mono we’ve set all components within acoustically rated boxes.
The focus musically for the El Gran Mono sound is typically on an upbeat tropical tip - and heavy on African and Afro-Colombian records. Styles such as champeta, cumbia, zouk, soukous, rhumba, benga, afrobeat. The music of Capo Verde and West Africa, The Congo, Trinidad, Haiti, and of course the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
“Sound system owner & maker inna old fashion way.”
Jack Walters: The inspiration for our sound system name came from Graham ''Goody" Goodall, a radio technician from Melbourne living in Jamaica who actually helped start the first ever non-government owned Jamaican radio station. We wanted a name that would resonate with us all being Melbourners playing Jamaican originated music and when I learnt of Graham it was perfect.
The system was built by myself and my Dad in his garage down in my hometown of Rosebud in 2016-17. The initial 2 scoop build took about a year to complete as we built everything from the ground up and were learning as we went along with a buttload of advice from other sounds who had been building for years, most notably Adrians Wall Soundystem. The inspiration behind the scoop designs was from a soundsystem in Leicester called Sinai Sound whom I saw play at United Nations Of Dub festival in 2015 in the north of Wales. As soon as they dropped their bass I knew I had to have those scoops!
We were both initially introduced to soundystem culture in Melbourne, seeing Heartical HiFi at the then named "Night Owl"with his regular dub club sessions as well as the Forward Ever sessions by Adrians Wall. Harrison actually took me to my first ever soundsytem session at The Night Owl. The inspiration for our sound comes mainly from the UK soundystem scene which we have both travelled over there for. I think highlights for me was seeing Channel One at Notting Hill carnival and for Harry seeing Iration Steppas for the first time in north london. When I got back from my second visit to the UK I couldn't think of doing anything except building my own soundsystem and here we are.
We currently run four polar bear scoops with 18 inch drivers for sub bass frequencies, a G-sub double kickbin sided by two single kicks all of which loaded with 15 inch drivers for upper bass frequencies, a double midbox sided by two single midboxes all loaded with 12 inch drivers for mid range frequencies, as well as a top box containing three compression drivers for the high frequencies.
Our music is primarily dub and reggae however we'll always keep people on their toes and throw in some other styles throughout our sessions. We also try to maintain an all inclusive vibe to our dances, always welcoming anyone from any race or creed to come join the Goodys party.
Goodys HiFi are myself, Jack Walters as Selector/Operator, Harrison Kewley as Selector/Operator and Sarah Mahoney on bookings and management.
“Melbourne's original heavyweight champion playing strictly reggae and dubwise with no compromise.“
Higher Region Sound System
“Reggae sound system built to raise your consciousness love vibration.“
“Melburn’s Original Fire Lady Sound. Formiddable female duo Miss Fee & Bellyas are known for juggling up to the time riddims alongside foundation tunes and exclusive dubplates.”
“Sound system established in Melbourne [in] 2006.”
Solidarity Sound System
“A roots and culture sound system committed to spreading the music and message of reggae!”
Small World Sound System
“Melbourne’s half size sound system. Light on power heavy on party vibes.”
Mark Lee: Well, we’re a half size sound system, so we’re small. But I also like the idea that we all have a lot in common with each other. The world isn’t as big or as ‘different’ as some would have us believe. A perspective that encompasses a ‘small world’ ethos. Where we work together for the good of the community. A sound system in some way reflects the personalities and values of the people involved. I also wanted to create something that could go into spaces that aren’t normally associated with sound system, small bars, even cafes (albeit quite large cafes). Perhaps a farmers market, as mad as that might sound I reckon it would be a blast. And not out of place amongst Melbourne folk. Sound systems like Heartical have done a massive amount of work to grow the scene here. But I wondered if I could contribute in my own ‘small’ way.
I built the speaker boxes at home about three years ago. The designs were from the internet and I scaled them down relative to the drivers. I didn’t get too technical as I’m no sound engineer. My mate Kev in Essex is a sound engineer, so I asked him a technical question quite early on in the process, then wished I hadn’t. I had no idea what he was banging on about, so I proceeded without caution. The components (amps, pre amp, siren, delay etc) were built by those with more knowledge and expertise. I’d like to point out that my approach to building a sound is the second-best approach in the world. The first best approach is to volunteer your time to a local sound system. While you lug heavy boxes you slowly learn how to string up, operate and build a sound. It’s like an unpaid apprenticeship.
The inspiration for Small World came mostly from growing up in London. I was surrounded by Jamaican culture. In primary school I had black friends whose older brothers played loud reggae music at home; mostly roots I’d say. At the age of fourteen in 1982 I found myself in Frankies beaten up old escort. A Rasta known only as ‘B’ was in the front passenger seat and I was in the back with a mate called ‘Kieth.’ ‘Keith the thief’ was his more accurate moniker, though we only used that name behind his back. I should of been at school, but truanting was very fashionable back then. Frankie and B were talking about the riots in Toxteth, they were convinced the black community in our part of London were ready to join the rebellion. They’d had enough of the discrimination, the police brutality and lack of equal opportunity. Thatcher had forced black and working class communities into a corner, some had decided to fight back. B pulled a cassette out of his bag and put it on. Out of the small speakers came Sly and Robbies ‘Raiders of the lost dub’ album from 1980. I was transfixed listening to those tunes in the back of that motor. It was a revelation. The riots never eventuated in Belmont Circle, I think everyone went to the pub instead.
Fast forward eight years and I found myself at a free benefit event in a park in South London. I was a goth at the time. There was a sound system in a marquee in the middle of the park. I still don’t know what sound it was, but that was the first time I’d felt the impact of a stack of sound system speakers. It was a wondrous and exciting moment. Being a goth I didn’t have the courage to go into the marquee, I’d have been ridiculed to death. Fast forward again to the noughties and I’m now in Melbourne. At Sydney Road street party I heard the familiar low frequency boom of a line of 18 inch subs. I followed the intoxicating bass and it led me to Heartical. Back then they set up in a great little space just off Dawson Street and it all came flooding back. It was like being ‘home’ again. That was the best sound event I’ve seen in Melbourne, though I’ve not seen many. Many urban Brits from the 70’s and 80’s grew up with sound system and reggae. I’ve always loved it, eventually the desire to build a small sound burst out of me.
Small World is comprised of four 15-inch subs, four 12-inch mid bass, four 8-inch mid tops and four tweeters. A 500 watt amp for the subs, 300 watt amp for the mid bass, 300 watt amp for the mid tops, and a 500 watt amp for the tweeters. I have a sage 6U preamp, which is 5 way. So I can build another set of boxes in the future. Alex Sage is a top notch pre amp builder from Bristol in the UK. I’ve got a boss delay pedal. A Mr Law siren from Italy, which is the closest thing I’ve heard to the old NJD siren. Such a good tone on it. I’ve a reloop turntable that I don’t use because vinyl is too expensive. I do use the turntable at home for the cool ruler though. An Allen & Heath midi controller that hooks up to a Mac laptop, for traktor DJ software.
The Bristolian Edwin is always part of our Small World crew. He usually turns up after the boxes have been carried in, even though they’re small (just kidding). He’s good for playing tunes to sleeping drunks too. The drunks usually leave when I get on the controls. My mate John owes me one from doing his 50th birthday party so he’s in for life. I haven’t told him yet though. And a mention for Marcus from Tallawah Hi - Fi for being very encouraging and lining up the Bar 303 gig for us. To my daughter who’s part of my crew by blood. She plays her musical theatre vinyl on my sound. And my wife who puts up with the obsession and the sound in the kitchen for years.
Small World started off playing reggae, digital stuff mostly. But have drifted recklessly into a genre I’ve loved since my 20’s, jungle. Imagine a phat jungle drop with a double shot latte, a corn, halloumi and zucchini fritter with a poached egg and goats cheese foam at 8 am on a Sunday morning. Perhaps even with a shocking hangover. Either that or with young children in tow. Brilliant idea no? The vibe is fun, but I’m also a rabid socialist, so any tune that has a go at the establishment is good. Myself and Edwin definitely don’t wish to take ourselves too seriously, but we are of course passionate about the music. I’ve become so immersed in jungle I’m making my own jungle tunes now. With varying degrees of success. Some are (bootleg-esque) remixes. Some are my own tunes. It’s a lot of fun though and nice to have some tunes you wouldn’t hear anywhere else but on Small World Sound System, the lightest sound around.
Sub Yard Sound
“SOUNDSYSTEM OUTTA MELBURN... CALLING ALL JUNGLISTS!!”
SubTemple Sound System
“Melbourne based DIY Hi-Fidelity Sound System.”
System Unknown Sound
“System Unknown is the first all Australian reggae heavyweight sound system. Bringing sounds, pressure and vibes to the dance since 2010.”
“Specialising in Reggae & Dubwise. Bass’d in Melburn.”
“Tekno Mulisha [sound system] pioneered by Melbourne's own DVS & Syndrome as a platform for local producers to showcase our very own brand of tekno for punk.”
Virus Sound System
“The Virus Sound System crew originally come from the UK Free Party/Festival/Squat/Protest scene since 1987.“
Virus Sound System, or VSS as they’re known in Melbourne, is made up of a crew of dedicated artists, collaborators and singularly robust characters whose creative stories span both decades and the globe.
“As a teenager in Liverpool (UK) circa late 1970s, I was exposed to the Jamaican sound system culture in Toxteth L8. I watched old Rastas build speakers in their railway arches with determination and absolute love. When they got the stack out every Sunday arvo for a jerk chicken street BBQ, it was the healing of the nation right there. The whole community would be out in the street and be actively reclaiming or blocking the space... the police generally didn’t interfere in the daytime, but at night it was a different story.” Chris Virus
Attending Jamaican ‘blues’ parties as a punk rocker inspired Chris to build his own system. The traveller scene in the UK, which at the time was intrinsically linked to a number of seminal activist and creative movements, also directly influenced the original VSS crew.
“I’ve experienced first-hand the life of what was then termed ‘New Age Travellers’ in the UK from the mid 80s through to 1998 when I left for Australia. ‘Travellers’ is a generalist term for individuals and communities who lived an alternative lifestyle outside of the mainstream. Roaming and gathering in the UK, Ireland and Europe in trucks, campervans and even horse-drawn vehicles, these communities made a living as they went. At that time, they often travelled alongside activist and creative troupes such as Mutoid Waste Company, 2000DS, AutoCrow Show and SCREEEETCH Rock, Bedlam Sound System and Spiral Tribe (the list goes on). We also lived through and felt the takeover of early electronic, acid house and hardcore sounds over rock music – astonishing really!”
Virus has been doing warehouse and bush parties in and round Melbourne since 1998, and of course the infamous weekly club night in Geddes Lane (1998- 2000) still has tales to tell. If you were there - you know what I mean.
“We left Melbourne to travel and live in Europe in 2007 and wasn’t until our return in 2016 we made the decision to rebuild the Virus Sound System, but with our own slant. Let’s just say that if you’re passionate about what you do, you can’t keep an ol’ dog down”.
The Mutoid Waste Company has continued to be a key influence for the art associated with VSS as the Virus crew continue a tradition of constructing controlled kinetic sculptures made from recycled materials. Most recently, VSS has collaborated with industrial sculptor, metal worker and engineer Murray Adams, fabricating a 2.8m bass bazooka speaker named "ROOZOOKA" with a second one on the way to accompany the VSS timber speaker boxes.
“Currently, we have a traditional 4 way frequency split into 8 timber boxes with approx 20kw of sound. Additionally, we have 4Kw of sound in 4 floor subs and of course 2.5Kw of more sub coming from the two ROOZOOKAS!”
VSS has an open and co-collaborative approach to musical programming, which means the sounds they play are across the board: expect a fusion of Jungle, Techno, Ragga, DubStep, old-school rave, Hip Hop, punk and more.
Check out the new VSS webpage for more info.
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© EL GRAN MONO 2020