A piece of the Earth was subject to a seismic shift in vibrations last weekend. In the west of Ireland, county Galway, on the coast of Salthill, extreme bass frequencies caused the ground beneath a leisure complex to break away from the surrounding area and drift into the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most significant electronic music events to emerge from our nation, Ireland’s very first Irish SoundSystem Gathering took place on the weekend of October 20 and 21, 2017, at Leisureland Salthill. The renegade terrain on which the event took place has since returned to its original location, leading local journalists and geographers to investigate what exactly took place at this gathering, as well as the relationship between local soundsystem culture and the power for social and geographical change in Ireland. Local dance floor lounger Yvonne Kiely reports.
Momentum for the Irish SoundSystem Gathering 2017 had been building for several months by the time Friday morning, the 20 October rolled around. Flyers had been distributed to shops around the city. Posters were looking out at passers-by from glass doors. Local publications reported its approach, and social media had been spreading the message far and wide. For the electronic music community in Galway, this event was an important sub-cultural landmark for the local music scene, and it was also an invitation to the extended music community for this landmark to be shared between each and every collective, every soundsystem family, and all friends of electronic music around the country. There was a lot of discussion within our music networks in the lead up to the event, and we kept our weekend clear from all other distractions. When the weekend arrived, so did the tribes.
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I’m almost certain that the whole point of a preamble is to gently ease the reader into what follows. That preamble was your gentle rub on the back and a fresh cup of tea being placed on your lap, to ease you into the irregular rhythms that are going to take over your body’s eco-system from here on out. An important note to add is that this account of the weekend only covers Friday. Although Saturday went ahead as planned at the Gathering, I was unable to attend. I will certainly point you in the direction of any article I find that does cover the second half of what was a unique, and physically demanding but all the more soothing for it, face melter of a weekend.
I arrived at Leisureland at about four o’clock, though the event wasn’t really opening for another hour. Still, I could hear the music from inside the hall, and when I arrived back at the venue at 5pm the outer walls of the venue were shaking – always a good sign.
Into the venue, and it begins. You walk through the doors, and on your left is World Bass Culture‘s rig, stacked in black and white camo. Further up beside them is Revelation Soundsystem, standing in all black with red, green and yellow bands. Last on this side of the hall is Rub a Dub Hi-Fi, looking chill with a smooth brown wooden finish. It’s pretty wicked seeing these soundsystems stand side by side, and the different characters within them stand out because of this. Down by Word Bass Culture, and in between Revelation and Rub a Dub are the posters which were specially made for this event, presenting the history of bass culture and the rave scene in Ireland, the soundsystems, their inner workings, UK rave culture, and the origins of soundsystem culture going right back to its roots in Jamaica. So when you’re not bopping around the rigs in front of you, there’s an opportunity to absorb some musical knowledge. It’s a shame that this history isn’t included in the music curricula at school, or at third level. The evolution of soundsystem culture, and rave culture in Ireland is an important part of our cultural history. What is clear this weekend is that you can’t mute the voices of the people – if it won’t be printed in the approved reading materials, then the community will make their own mark on history.
Turn 180 degrees and you’ve got four more soundsystems, as if you thought that there could be a limit to how much bass you can fit into a room (you’ve possibly reached that limit when there is no longer a room to stand in). On the left side is Mindscape, which in terms of artwork and sculpture is in a league of its own. Move further down and you stand in front of the dual coloured Subversion Soundsystem, representing the Galway tribe. Next up you’ve got Rootical Soundsystem’s chunky stacks branded with their roaring lion, and finally Rise Up Soundsystem completes the circle with its sleek wood grain.
I stand in the centre of the hall, wondering when I will ever get the chance to stand in the firing line of this much power again. There’s a guy dancing in his socks, skanking his heart out to the steady dub rhythms sweeping around the hall. I wonder if I could ask for all of the rigs to be switched on, right up to the max, to realign my retinas and endow me with 20/20 vision. It would be a new form of bass music optometry, or lit as fuck laser eye surgery. But I don’t ask – maybe next time.
Before we move on, it’s important to remember that these sound structures didn’t just pop up out of the woodwork the night before, ready for battle. You won’t pick one of these up at Currys or Argos, or at Harvey Norman’s eternal electrical sale. These soundsystems were build by the hands of the people who made the choice to dedicate their time and energy to the craft, to the music, and to the culture that these creations represent. It takes some skill and know how to create a platform that will do justice to the music you play through it. Behind the bass bins is a history in itself, unique to Subversion SoundSystem, Rise Up SoundSystem, Word Bass Culture, Mindscape, Rootical SoundSystem, Revelation SoundSystem, Rub a Dub Hi-Fi, and Firehouse Skank. In the lead up to the event there were individual profiles on these soundsystem families shared on the Gathering’s Facebook page – you know what to do. Big ups to the crews!
Pulling myself away from the soundsystems, I venture behind the curtain to a darkened room with chairs and a projector. The first documentary is Jungle Fever, which chronicles the birth of jungle music in the UK and its evolution into the 1990s. It was originally aired on Channel4 in 2014, and it has interviews with prominent DJs in the scene during its heyday – like DJ Hype and Grooverider, plus several more. Next up is Bass Weight, a dubstep documentary released in 2008, which was just after dubstep had exploded onto people’s faces. I have much respect for this genre, which never bothered with pleasant introductions. At around 8 o’ clock we’re told that Notes on a Rave is going to start soon. This is a special occasion, as it’s the first showing of this documentary in Galway, and the room fills up as I perch myself on the table beside the projector. For the next hour and 45 minutes or so we watch the rave history of our very own Big Shmoke (Dublin) unfold in interviews and photographs. It reminds you of the fact that there is a lot that goes on within all of the music scenes dotted around the country, that can often go undocumented or under reported. Fortunately, director James Redmond and the good people at Rabble have captured these moments and shared them with everyone, in what I can say is a well put together, dope as hell documentary.
I take a few snaps during the screenings, which due to some wonky settings on my camera come out a bit trippy and unclear. It turns out, they’re much better this way and I can pat myself on the back for not understanding basic photography. In no particular order, take a trip through some blurry rave history, and brace yourself for the BASS.
It’s about half past nine right now, and with the end of the credits from Notes on a Rave comes the beginning of our hedonistic embrace with the massive sounds these soundsystems and their crews are certainly eager to blast into our consciousness. The hall has filled up quite a bit more, and there’s a solid crew of people dancing in front of Mindscape. There are people I recognise from the regular sessions here in Galway, and people who I’m sure have come from all over the country. Bopping around with a paper plate of cheesy garlic flat bread – which is tashte, thanks to Pacman Pizza – I’m taking it all in and also dying for the sound clash to begin. I’d say there’s about 70 or 80 people here now, and it’s still early in the night so we can expect this place to get a lot more intimate as the night goes on. Soon we’ll become citizens of a super sized sweat box, floating out into the ocean as an independent society of vagabond sound solicitors, with the only the highest quality flat bread as the symbol of our wantonness. That is how the legend goes, as foretold in the Book of Kells, page nine.
YUP! It’s time. With the hall steadily filling up, Executive Steve takes the mic, as the MC and soundsystem narrator for the night. With his voice carrying far over the crowd, he introduces the night and tells us what’s going down with this sound clash. Tonight, it’s Mindscape, Subversion Soundsystem, Rise Up Soundsystem, and World Bass Culture facing off in a battle of the bass – the victor will be chosen by us, and the strength of our cheers and roars. Each of these crews will have thirty minutes each to blow us away, and then they get a reduced time to do it all over again, and again. Then we shout for our champion.
First up is Mindscape, representing the buzz down in Clare and the artistic bass crew behind this intricate soundsystem sculpture. Lights on, volume up, and nothing held back. That’s how Mindscape takes you out. They’ve got everybody head banging to their specially crafted drum & bass rhythms, with those sharp thumps whacking out any normal sense we might have unfortunately accumulated in our minds before coming here. Time is up, and they’ve been told to switch it off and make way for the next sound sandwich.
Facing us is the Galway born Subversion Soundsystem, and their operators that have a wealth of beautiful twisted jungle lore under their belt. And that’s what they give us – I would expect nothing less. I move closer to the speakers, and having not been clever enough to buy some ear plugs at the front desk, I have to stop myself because the thinkness of the bass coming from this rig is preventing me from closing the gap. I love that. Our date with old school jungle rave tunes comes to an end, and Rise Up takes us away. This Cork crew is bringing us vibes from the south, and the jungle madness continues, with all of the funk that you can throw into the mix without being outright offensive. The lights are down, and the sweat starts to pour out as I look around and see dozens of people absolutely having it. Our final migration to the next soundsystem leads us to World Bass Culture, headed up by a dub and bass loving collective with HQs in Cork and Waterford. Taking us on a trip, with an upright steppas and drum & bass slap across your consciousness, we face a bit of a problem – there is no more space in front of the speakers, and on top of this we’re blessed with a Rick and Morty mix. Good form.
The end of these crew’s sets were every time met with the unregulated yells and whistles from the sick minded attendees (us), and having lost all sense of time, at some point in the night we’re told by MC Executive Steve that we’re at the next stage. The crews will have ten minutes to give it everything. And we’re back at Mindscape again, this time moving at a faster pace between soundsystems – and every time it gets down to the wire and you can hear Steve trying to tell them that their time is up, the DJs’ with their fingers on the beat just keep going and push out more tunes. Eventually, they’ve got just a few minutes each. I’ve thrown off my hoodie and jumper, and now mostly bare backed I can allow the sweat to fall off of me the way it should. If you look around, there are more bare skinned ravers and glistening foreheads as we’ve all come to the same conclusion – fuck the layers, remove what you can. Someone hands me a drink, one of the shirtless fiends is hugging Rise Up, and there’s a woman with an LED hula hoop in front of Rootical.
I didn’t take many photos during the sound clash because I was dancing the whole way through. It did cross my mind to be a good journalist more often and take a few snaps, but I just didn’t want to stop and interrupt my time with the music. I’m sure you understand.
Finally and unfortunately the last set comes to an end, and in front of World Bass Culture, a winner is decided. World Bass Culture is yelled and cheered for. Mindscape receives claps and shouts of support. Subversion seems to have it won – and then Rise Up supporters fill the hall with stomps and whistles. That’s it – Rise Up Soundsystem is declared the victor! The Cork crew have clinched it. But that’s not it for the music, not even close. We move back to Mindscape for more debauchery, then to Subversion, back to Mindscape, over to Rise Up. At some point, it had to come to an end and Executive Steve brings us back to reality.
This is when the spotlight rightly falls on the person that put this event together. Galway producer and one of the minds that put the Subversion Soundsystem together, Welfare receives our remaining energies, and ear ringing support and gratitude for making this happen. A massive thank you is in order; to him, to every soundsystem crew and bass music family that came and gave it everything, to the crowd that brought the strange and the beautiful, and to everyone involved in their own way.
This is what these soundsystems are made for. And we’re part of it, our bodies wrecked, caked with sweat and a bit of pint that I was unable to save from my plastic cup. Truly dismantled, in body but not in spirit, if they didn’t have to kick us all out we could have gone on for longer (but seriously, my body ached and I wanted to lie on the ground), before giving up completely from sheer delighted exhaustion. At about three o’clock, we file out. The session followed, and my ears continued to ring the next afternoon. The strange event that took place at this venue, and the effect it had on the landscape still baffles local humans. Until we meet again, Irish SoundSystem Gathering.