From rigs and clashes to MCs and outdoor parties, much of contemporary UK electronic music culture is indebted to the Caribbean sound systems that arrived with the Windrush in the 50s. In this edition of our Zine Scene series, Rob Smith chats to Sound Mag about their zine documenting contemporary, and heritage, sound system culture.
When did Sound Mag come into effect?
Sound Mag began as an idea in 2018 between myself and Dave, the founder of Tracks magazine. We were both keen on sound systems. I was a boxman at the time for Iration Steppas and had just built my own sound system, Rebel Spirit. I had seen Dave’s photography work on Instagram, and then one day we met at a house party in Liverpool through a mutual friend. From there we had the idea of documenting the culture through magazines.
Have you always wanted to do a print copy of Sound Mag? Or did it seem like the next step after another project?
It was always the intention from the start to do a physical print copy. I suppose it’s similar to the ‘vinyl is final’ passion many musicians have. Having something you can hold onto makes a whole heap of difference to a product. I strongly believe that, as it’s such a niche magazine, Sound Mag wouldn’t be anywhere near the size it is if we hadn’t done physical copies from the beginning: It just appeals to more people that way. What I never expected was having a huge interest in the thickness and quality of paper, or whether it was matte, silk or gloss. Those finer details can really change the feel of a mag.
Sound Mag sits apart from other grassroots publications in that it has an online forum, has this always been a key part of Sound Mag?
It is actually a recent addition to Sound Mag. Back when I was getting involved in sound systems, forums like Blood and Fire and Speakerplans were the places to find out new information. To some people, from areas where they are among the first people pushing sound system culture, online forums have been absolutely key to learning and it played a big part in spreading the word. Most of those forums are not very active anymore so I wanted to bring that nostalgic feeling back. To be honest it hasn’t been very successful which is probably why those other forums aren’t very active anymore.
Any books/zines, music-related or otherwise, that you’ve got stuck into recently?
Even though I write a magazine and am currently writing a book, I’ve never liked reading. Or at least I’ve convinced myself that I don’t like reading because I could never get past the first level of Biff & Chip books in school. That being said, I did finish Sapiens which I liked. I am slowly working my way through Ikigai, and a book called Bass Culture, which is all about reggae from the very start. Dave’s Tracks magazines I like as they are mainly pictures, and the same goes for Harry H and Mursfilm’s Photography From Planet Earth zine. Mursfilm is currently riding his bike around the world and following his photographic journey on Instagram is my favourite thing at the moment.
Do you think dub gets enough attention/coverage from the mainline music press and music writers in general? Does it need it? Was Sound Mag a response to that?
I certainly don’t think it gets enough attention from the mainline press. However, I understand why it might not. By nature it’s underground, but also a by-product of reggae. It either relies on reggae to be great to have some attention, or it relies on being innovative in itself to be a cut above the rest of music. Currently, the reggae that is being released is not the strongest. The style of reggae that is popular currently doesn’t lend itself well to being dubbed, and strict dub is not as fresh or experimental as other underground genres. Other underground genres like Amapiano are taking that mainline coverage right now. Sound Mag was a response to the lack of coverage, I created it as a platform to promote sound systems and the music played on them.
What’s your favourite dub to drop at the moment?
There’s a lovely spiritual tune by Lion Roering called Grateful To Be Here. It’s simple, melodic and just lovely. It reminds me of some of the early Alpha & Omega songs from their first albums. I think the producer is Dutch. One of them repetitive riddims that you can just play and lose yourself into.