Everybody loves sound systems. Besides venue owners.

Daisuke Sawa of Dub Siren HiFi cracks the code of a modern-day hypocrisy.


Dub Sound System

Hometown HiFi. Photo by Miles Lightwood.

Ask around. Everybody loves sound systems, and sound-system culture at large. Instant street cred. So cool! So visual! Really sounds better! And, hey, how about that Hometown HiFi art show, at L.A.’s Sonos Studio, that just closed its doors last week? Everyone.

Besides venue owners, it seems, who never understand why a piece of sound equipment should be considered as a full-on musical instrument.

That’s why, while the Hometown HiFi art show was such a success, it’s still so difficult for properly equipped local sound-system crews (Zion Love, Roots I-Mention, Dub Siren HiFi, and BlackHeart Warriors in San Diego) to find bookings in the L.A. area.

After brilliantly evangelizing the masses at the Hometown HiFi opening by way of his giant purple (some say pink) stack of boxes, we asked Daisuke Sawa—half of Dub Siren HiFi, along Danny Dread—why a custom-built sound system actually matters in today’s musical landscape.

Daisuke Sawa. Photo by Seb Carayol. (Dub Sound Systems)

Daisuke Sawa. Photo by Seb Carayol.

Why did you think it was necessary to build your own sound system?

Daisuke Sawa: There is no commercial PA systems that are producing the sound we would like to achieve, we found out after listening for years to sound systems like Aba Shanti, OBF or Mungo’s HiFi. It completely changes the listening experience. They are made for different reason and put together with a different love…. Not only the PA is build for general sound needs but also build in a factory line, and you can tell.

Where, on the other hand, a sound system you built is a piece of art, unique to your vision and especially made for quality sound seekers.

It involves many crafts and people. For Dub Siren HiFi, we had carpenters (Zion Love, a sound-system crew based in Santa Ana that also builds boxes for other sound systems, and Tim Plentl), Mike from Speaker City (Burbank) as the wiring engineer, while we were doing the research, and matching all the pieces of the equation together. You can find all the principles on sites like Speaker Plans, Free Speaker Plans, or Dance Tech. That’s how you learn the difference between bass bins designs, for instance. There are many different internal designs out there, and they all achieve a totally different purpose.

We went for “hog scoops”—quite a new design that is probably less than seven years old—by the renowned Open Source designer Staipe Ercegovic. We wanted to play not only reggae/dub music but jungle, dub step, and all kind of heavy bass music. Hogs produce a much heavier bass than the classic “scoop” design, you can get a lot of sub-bass out of them, but always tightly controlled.

Zion Love box builder. Photo by Seb Carayol. (Dub Sound Systems)

Zion Love box builder. Photo by Seb Carayol.

Is it difficult to find places to play with such a sound system in L.A.?

It is a little bit difficult due to the loud and clean effect we try to reach. Sometimes, besides, venues don’t want to accommodate the needs and space the system require and don’t see why they’d use our equipment when they have their PA system.

But we just need to continue doing what we are doing. We all have a day job, which makes it hard to do both all at same time. We are not full time like U.K.-based Mungo’s HiFi or Channel One sound system, and dances happen few and far in between—we are currently planning to do another event in June.

You are so obsessed with all the components of sound-system culture that you even developed that Dub Siren app. What is it exactly?

In five years of existence, it has become very popular app among the sound systems and DJs all over the world all over the board—from pure reggae/dub crews to, like, Gorillaz. You can basically choose songs (if needed) from over 150 reggae/dub/dubstep/jungle radio stations, and then add sound effects or delays on the music. It’s very popular because we officially license sample packs from a lot of artists, including Lee Perry, Mad Professor, U-Roy. We’re developing a Scientist pack right now and are so excited about it! It’s like having a little bit of the vibes from the dub master King Tubby, who was Scientist’s teacher, live again on our app!

Zion Love box builder. Photo by Seb Carayol. (Dub Sound Systems)

Zion Love box builder. Photo by Seb Carayol.

What do you think of DJ/crews calling themselves so-or-so sound system, when all they do is carry a suitcase of records from club to club?

For each dance, we have to rent an U-Haul truck, and carry a lot of heavy bins. From there, it takes a minimum of two hours to do our setups through making precise adjustments, because the location impacts on sound qualities.

Laptop/MP3 DJs usually don’t care about the sound quality like we do. But the flipside to going the extra mile is that it’s addictive for anyone, once they experience of the proper sound system. Plus, it’s fun to see every different custom design speakers in the world. I hope and believe that some day U.S. crowds will eventtually appreciate proper sound-system culture the way we do, the way Jamaica or Europe does. Who would want to hear and see the same commercial black box thing set than the next club, after all? Boring.

At the end of the day, what have you learned from this experience, music-wise?

The importance of the quality of the music source. Some productions might sound okay on a proper sound system, but not all. It might look massive, but it’s a very subtle thing, you know? That’s why we try to use vinyl, or at least WAV files, as a music source. With a proper sound, you can tell right away what is a MP3 and what’s not.

When you see the success in other places of crews/venues that built a following upon strictly having custom sound systems play (Dub-Stuy in NYC, Musical Riot in France, et al), why isn’t it happening in L.A.? What’s missing?

Euro countries, especially the U.K.,  have a history of good sound systems operating for long time. Especially with public events like the Notting carnival that regularly showcase sound-system culture to everyday people.

On the other hand, the West Coast never had the culture really rise to the right level and there’s a need for a proper introduction to the movement. There are several sound systems in the L.A. area, but they  have never been exposed publicly, in a sense. We were very excited to play the Hometown HiFi openeing because we were able to play for those people we could never reach before—and they loved it!


More posts by Seb Carayol:

Cultural Roots could have been the biggest reggae vocal trio of all time

The film Babylon looks at London’s early ’80s sound-system scene

Illustrator Wilfred Limonious drew over 150 iconic dancehall LP covers

King Tubby’s salvaged speaker box

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