Throughout June Seani B will be saluting sound systems, one of the pillars of reggae and dancehall. Kicking us off are Luton’s Sovereign Sound
Luton UK: Skully, of Luton’s Sovereign Sound, cut his way into the music industry long before the rise of social media – and says the likes of YouTube have made it more dif cult for the rising British talent of today to really get noticed
IF YOU were to take a look at my current biography it would probably state that I’m an international radio and club DJ (among other things), but my humble beginnings started out as a part of a party sound system with my elder brother and friends.
I’m proud to say I’ve cut a speaker hole with a jigsaw and cut speaker wire with my teeth or a quick DIY patch-up job.
There was something about lifting up an 18-inch scoop bin (a very large speaker cabinet) on a council estate. That was my rite of passage.
It seems of late that the culture of sound systems is returning. I’ve been hearing and seeing owners with a renewed pride in their systems, and dubplates for DJs seem to be a requirement, rather than the exclusive private boys club it once was.
Even though I’m so far removed from riding in the back of vans or lifting boxes into a hall, there still is something about when a sound system turns on and the engineer fine-tunes the bass while ring off a few sound effects.
Traces of this practice can be found all over modern electronic dance music today.
This was a costly hobby for some, and a life-changing experience for others. I can hold my hands up and say for me it was both! Would I have changed any of it? Hell no! Being part of a sound system collective was a brotherhood.
We often kicked off, cussed, even fought – but the love of music and the undisputed heavy bassline always kept it moving.
One of the characters I met in this sound systems circuit was Skully from Luton’s Sovereign Sound. In true sound man fashion he had a large appetite for exclusive material. As I was the hot kid on the block known for remixing and bringing new life to dubplates, we built up a special supply and demand friendship.
He told me: “Sovereign started in 1983 and I joined in 1984. Back in the day it was all about supporting your area’s sound. No matter who they were, you supported the local system.
“In Luton, there were two big sounds – us and Gemini – and it depended on what side of town you lived in that determined who you followed. People would come and help us carry our sound into venues, and that was also a way of them getting into the dance for free!”
Fast forward to 2018, and his view of the culture today is clear. “I think the whole thing has been watered down – obviously times moves everything on and that’s fair enough, but I think people have forgotten where this whole thing has come from,” he said.
CULTURE: Skully says people would carry his sound systems for free to get into dances
“There are a lot of people who play who don’t know the foundation of what came before and how hard it was. It’s quite disturbing when you look at it.”
Quite the damning condemnation of today’s music industry. I wondered how Skully saw the role of sound systems in today’s changing music market.
He said: “The role is about bringing people together and spreading a musical message – particularly with big people.
Sometimes you only see these people at weddings and funerals, and it is another opportunity for them to come out.
“From an artist point of view, it has changed, too. If you look at someone like Buju [Banton], he made his breakthrough sound systems, but someone like Alkaline made his breakthrough social media.”
He continued: “Back in the day you used to go to dances to hear the latest tunes – now you can just jump on YouTube to hear them. I think it is to the detriment of the artists – I don’t think the music and artists now are at a standard that we have had previously – not saying everything is poor, but previously when you had eight cuts on a riddim you knew there were a handful of good tracks, now you are lucky if you get a couple.”
It’s easy to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, but hearing the opinions of those who are at the coal face on a daily basis is important so are the issues that affect the industry that we love so dearly. Speaking of times gone by, Skully left me with a poignant story.
“It’s funny I was thinking earlier today about a time when we were playing with Gemini sound and the van didn’t turn up,” he told me.
“We had about 15 guys who were with us, so we took it in turns to carry the speakers across the park to the venue.
“It was about two miles! It was the thing that united us all together – we loved it.”
Reckon that would happen now? I doubt it – someone call my Uber!