“The history of music is the history of mankind”. Thus spoke François-Joseph Fétis, noted Belgian musicologist and one of the most important music critics of the 19th century. A grandiose quote to begin a feature in the Clubs section of a student newspaper, perhaps, but to suggest a repurposing for the contemporary context: “the history of electronic music is the history of sound systems”. From its roots in 1950s Kingston, Jamaica, the sound system has come to represent more than just the loudspeakers. It represents the malleable team of engineers, DJs and MCs who have come to hold such a pivotal role in musical culture. The histories of the nightclub and of our most beloved genres would be meaningless without reference to the sound system: from reggae to hip-hop, dub to dubstep, and jungle to garage, the replete and multifarious stories nevertheless share this common thread.
It is from these giants’ shoulders that the latest sound system has stepped onto the scene in Leeds. Built over summer by a group of students from Leeds University, RPG Sound System saw its official christening in Freshers’ Week at an intimate house party within the subterranean network of Hyde Park basements. It performed above and beyond your name-brand Leeds party rig hire. Chestplate-rattling yet clear, the RPG System is a serious newcomer in the sound system rental market. That, and its owners won’t force you to let them play a 45-minute ragga jungle retrospective set at the end of the night. We caught up with the RPG head engineer, Nicholas Too.
What inspired you to build the rig?
RPG Sound System was created by a team of three: myself, Robin Genton and Kirsty Williams. We all love music, we all love dub, we all love the bass that a good rig can deliver. We talked about the idea of making our own sound system throughout first year. Part way through the year, we sat down in Terrace with a few pints and a notebook and started to scribble down our plan of action. By the start of second year we had our first box.
How did your degree help you with the build?
My degree (Mechatronics & Robotics) is, as you can imagine, very hands-on and highly electronics based. Amplifiers and crossovers were covered so yes, my degree provided me with in-depth knowledge into the workings of the system. I also used similar design techniques to what’s taught on my course. It all starts as a sketch and then turns into CAD (Computer-Aided Design) drawings and renderings, and then individual engineering drawings for each part.
Do you have any idols in the history of sound system culture, or any really great rigs you’ve heard around town?
Leeds’ very own Iration Steppas Sound System played a large part in the inspiration for our system. Their rig is by quite a way one of the heaviest rigs I’ve heard. You really get a kick to the chest. If you haven’t checked out SubDub at the West Indian Centre, I’d highly recommend going to the next one. Other great sound systems: OBF (France), Sinai (Sheffield), Legal Shot (France), Channel One (London). I could list many more. Whenever I see sound systems, I’m taking mental notes on which elements we could add to ours.
What’s the weightiest tune you’ve heard on yours?
It’s hard to say. I go through periods of loving playing certain tunes through it. You just have to pump up the amps for the subs and it adds a new dimension to pretty much any song. At the moment, my favourite would probably be OBF Dubplate.
What can a handbuilt system offer that just buying stacks can’t?
Hand building a system allows you to tailor the system to exactly how you want it. Our system was built mainly with dub in mind. The bass notes in dub music are half of the music and so we’ve built our system with large amounts of low frequency capabilities. Doing all the building yourself also saves on cost, which is obviously an important factor as a student. Buying stacks, you pay a lot for the labour that went into putting it together whereas we could channel all our funds into high quality components.
I’ve always found something magical about the institution of the Leeds house party. I imagine it’s also where your system will be getting most of its use. What do you enjoy about them?
One of my favourite things about house parties is that often it will be mainly attended by one circle of friends, meaning you tend to know most of the people there. It’s a different kind of social event to going out. It’s also a cheaper night because you can just turn up with your Sainsbury’s bag of cans. Of course, having seven and a half foot of sound system next to the decks adds that extra bit of magic.
It wouldn’t be a party without a Sainsbury’s bag. One final question: Rocket-Propelled Grenade or Role-Playing game?
The RPG in RPG Sound System doesn’t actually stand for either of those. RPG stands for Royal Park Grove. This was the road we lived on in Hyde Park for second year, and the house we lived in during the creation of the sound system. By happy coincidence, it is also the initials of one of our founders, Robin.