JC Lionbeat thought that I might be interested in what the Unit 137 guys are up to and introduced me to them. Their sound system which has been featured in a lot of music videos really stands out because of its bright orange colour. Since I was curious about what gets the younger generation into building a sound, I had a chat with Hylu.
What made you decide to get a sound system?
I’ve been seeing sound systems for years. I remember going to University of Dub when it was still in Brixton Recreation Centre. Seeing all those sounds set up – I had never seen anything like it! When we went to Outlook Festival in Croatia in 2012, me and Jimbo, a Scottish friend of mine who set up the sound system, got really inspired by seeing how all the different sound systems set up. It brought all of that back to me. Especially the Mungo’s Hi Fi system – seeing that and playing on it as well just inspired us and made us think how much getting a sound system would bring everything we did together. We’ve been doing music for so long in terms of events and production and djing. So it clicked for us that it was something we needed to do.
What was the next step? Did you build the boxes on your own?
We did quite a lot of research by looking at speakerplans.com and we also spoke to quite a few different people. One of our friends runs Black Cat Sound System and so we had quite a few chats with him; We spoke to Lionpulse as well. You know Lionpulse sound system?
That’s JC’s brother, right? I haven’t met him yet.
Yes, he’s JC’s little brother. We spoke to him and Henry who’s the other part of that, who built the whole system. We were trying to get our heads around what kind of speakers we should get… The reasoning behind why certain kind of wood is used, stuff like that. We did research on pre-amps as well. We went up to Edinburgh and spent a weekend with a guy who makes pre-amps.
Jimbo had done some research and got in touch with a guy called Tom Curry who runs a company called Stable Audio in Wales (http://www.stableaudio.co.uk/). We basically got together the specs for what we wanted which was quite different from what we actually got. After speaking to Tom we came to it that we wanted him to build the system. So we gave him everything we had and the he came back with some modifications. We stuck with using the 18” super scoops. At one point we were thinking “Should we go bigger?” But Tom suggested not to go bigger and stick with the 18s. We agreed that we should go for the HD215s and two 15” drivers for the kick bins. Instead of the tops we wanted to go for, he recommended going for DMT210, they are actually a custom built what Tom had designed. Only six of them have ever been built. They sound amazing! Our involvement with the built – we weren’t really involved with building the speakers, because the whole time they were getting built, we were building our studio. So he took care of building the system but we got quite involved with choosing the design. The colour choice obviously came from us as well. It got put together in about six month and then Tom came down from Wales, we did a little sound check and we were really happy! I really recommend Tom Curry to anyone. He’s a really sound guy and he has dedicated his life to speaker builds.
Having the system is one thing. However, I’d imagine that a lot of club owners wouldn’t be too keen on you bringing your own boxes along and then there’s the costs of hiring vans and all that as well…
Oh, man, you hear that so many times! Not enough people appreciate the sound. A lot of clubs don’t really realize the potential of the sound. At the same time, a lot of these clubs don’t even realize the potential of their own sound system. They don’t even treat the room. I don’t think enough people think about sound when they run a club. They just think “bar”, they just think “money!” I don’t think they think much further than that. On the flipside to that, I’ve worked with some very, very good clubs who do think about the sound and do appreciate the sound system coming in. I’ll give you a couple of examples: Bar A Bar in North London – the guy who runs it, he’s called Chris, really takes pride in having the sound system down. He understands and appreciates how much work goes into it. He’s trying to make the sound sound better in terms of the acoustics of the space. The sad thing is that he’s got loads of flats around him and he’s got a shop above the club. So he gets so much bother. The shop operator is sound though! He took me up there once. All the stuff in the shop was shaking and the guy was like “It’s cool, man, the only thing we can’t have is when the stuff starts falling off the shelves.” Fair enough!
Another example is Plan B in Brixton. They appreciate us bringing in the sound. The only problem is that they’ve got flats near there as well. We’ve brought half the sound system and we’ve been told that we’re not allowed to bring down as many bass bins as they were getting complaints. So we’ve been capped.
How many bass bins are we talking about?
We’ve got four 18” super scoops. But we brought down three. Now we’re only allowed to bring in two. Then there’s another place, Bussey Building in Peckham. I’ve spoken to them and told them what we are bringing down. They are really excited about it and we’re allowed to turn it up as loud as we want. They actually provide 32 amp outlets! To be honest, no clubs provide that! They just provide 13 amp standard power outlets which, in my opinion, is a bit of a joke. 32 amp means we can run the system as loud as we want because you’re not worried about where to spread the power.
There’s people who do care but generally people just care about their bar. People don’t really care about the sound, they don’t really think about it. That’s more based on the promoters.
One thing we’re really focusing on is getting the sound on the street. We’ve got about four or five gigs where we’re just on the street. We’ve got a bar, we’ve got the food… There’s one which we are doing in the skate park in New Cross on Telegraph Hill. That should be great: outside, in a basketball court – bar, food, an all day family event. Potentially we’re gonna have some workshops for kids going on. For me, personally, that’s what it’s more about, it’s more about bringing the sound to the street, it’s about community, it’s about bringing people together through music. Clubs don’t get that. They just think it’s all about selling beer!
That’s where the money is at…
Yeah, but if you look at the history of sound system, it’s not about that.
I don’t think most people who run bars got into it for the love of music.
fair enough, that’s business. At the same time, you’ve got to understand where this comes from, the original reason of music being played in a social area. It is about realizing that. But we live in inner city London so everything is about money. It’s a tough one!
Let’s get back into the technical side of things for a minute. How did you decide which amps to use and what made you decide against using a pre-amp?
We researched into the amps and pre-amps by talking to a lot of people and reading a lot on websites. In terms of the amps and the crossovers, we had a long chat with Tom. He recommend us to go Void Infinite 8 on the bass and then Matrix for the low mids and tops. He recommended not to go through a pre-amp. A lot of people have said the opposite. I’ve played a sound with pre amp and I’ve also played a sound with a crossover. I don’t want a pre-amp! That’s just the way how I see it. The way I run it is that I have a mixer, a graphic eq and a speaker management system. We just recently bought a new XTA crossover which is great! Pre-amps are cool, but we play so many different kinds of genres on our sound, anything from jungle to dub and everything in between; it could be hip hop, it could be steppers… It’s all sound system music, it’s all bass music, you know. I find that a pre-amp just shapes the sound a little bit too much. Someone might say I’m talking rubbish but that’s just the way I hear it.
We are planning to have double of what we have over the next three to five years. It costs money, man…
… which leads me to my next question. Would you say that owning a system is a financially sound idea?
No, it’s not… With the hire outs you can make you money back and it does work but you don’t make a lot of money, really, as a lot of it goes back into the sound. It’s more for the love it! I see the Unit 137 as the place for creation and I see the label and the sound system as transmission. You’re able to transmit the sound from the studio. It’s a thing of how we are voicing our message to the people. That’s the way I see it and that’s my mission. My mission has always been in music. It’s just become more apparent over the years and years of working in music that this is what needs to be done and I don’t see myself stopping. I teach young people with Boomah, with London Urban Arts Academy. Other than that, I’m in the studio, I’m doing gigs, I’m doing the label, the sound. I’m just working, trying to make stuff work. That what’s I’m doing and that’s what I wanna do. It’s a love for it! It’s work but there’s reasoning behind the work. Everything I do, I try to have reasoning behind it! I’ve worked office jobs before but there’s no reasoning behind it. I teach young people to spread music and to help others. In some way I see it as a healing process – especially with the sound system. When it’s that loud and the right kind of frequencies are getting to your ears and you are feeling it, I think that’s very therapeutic. You feel the music and you understand it!
That’s definitely one of the reasons why I keep coming back to London: listening to amazing music on great sound systems.
I’ve been music for over ten years. I’ve been doing music professionally since 2009. It’s always been djing and production so I always had a little set up that I had been building. We were based in one of the rooms of the house that we were all sharing. I ended up getting a little space in this building where we are now. It was probably a three meters by two meters room. Then I had the opportunity to spend a bit of money and so we just went about with the build – me, Harry (Sleepy Time Ghost), who I share the studio with, and Jimbo. It took us four months. We live here so we kind of made our own little place to live and to work.
I saw that you had Rebel MC and Tippa and all the over recently, right?
That was an interesting day! It was pretty full on but it was great! It started out being a video shoot and then turned into a session. It was nice to link with them all. The video should be out soon, it’s for that UK All-stars track.
That was an experience! Literally, they were doing the video in my bedroom. I had all of my favourite mcs going mental in my bedroom! It was good vibes!