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V.I.V.E.K: “Gimme a low ceiling room with 400 people any day”

The dubstep stalwart talks all things System ahead of their event around Notting Hill Carnival.

Since founding highly regarded dubstep night System, and shortly afterwards its equivalent label System Music in 2012, V.I.V.E.K has remained one of the most important members in London’s ever-durable dubstep scene. As a producer, tastemaker, and promoter, his undying love for all things dub has contributed to keeping the genre alive through the fluctuating fortunes of recent years.

Originating in the darkened days of 2012’s dubstep slump, System’s ethos is not one of LFO-based purism, rather a celebration of London’s vibrant sound system heritage, paying heed to everything from reggae and dub to grime. Having debuted at north London venue The Dome, then briefly migrating to the nearby KOKO, System has now comfortably settled at Camden’s Dingwalls.

V.I.V.E.K and the rest of the System crew are going to be incredibly busy over the next month, with a brand new vinyl only release, System Sound, coming at the end of the month, as well as bringing pounding sub bass to Dingwalls on the 27th of August as part of this year’s Notting Hill Carnival festivities. We caught up with V.I.V.E.K to discuss everything that’s gone into System’s four year heritage.

midnight system

What was the motivation behind setting up System music?

Initially the idea was to put out my own music, but I was getting sent a lot of stuff, and with the event happening it made sense to open the door. Now the label is more focused on finding new talent, as that’s what keeps a scene moving forward. Music-wise, if I’m feeling it, I’ll put it out.

Dubstep was in a weird place in 2012, what was your motivation behind starting the System nights?

DMZ had stopped, Plastic People had some weird limit on the sound. There was definitely a gap, but they weren’t the reason. The sound system was nearing completion. Before any dubstep, before I was known, the idea of our own sound was coming to fruition. When I say “our” I mean myself and my partner in crime, Googs. It just happened to have been completed around that time.

It’s well known that you built the sound system for the System nights yourself, how and where did this come about?

The sound [system] was built in the sense of putting everything together. When you build a house you don’t build the bricks. However, we did build some bits. Building the sound came about by listening and taking notes on other people’s sounds. That’s the truth. That’s really the only way of hearing things together. I remember playing on Iration Steppas system and questioning Mark about his amps and speakers as I liked the sound of them. There’s general things you can find out on Speakerplans, which is a website where you can get specs on boxes and what speakers to use. Ultimately anyone can buy speakers and own a sound system but running one is a different ball game. I have nothing but admiration for the old sounds who have been running for many years. True soundmen!

There’s always a wide range of music being played at System events, anything from grime, garage – and you never always just book a lineup of straight up dubstep DJs, what’s your reasoning behind this?

We have never played straight dubstep at any event. Why? Because System focuses on sound system culture and that is a broad umbrella which holds many genres. The home of dubstep is FWD and DMZ.

The Dome

The nights at The Dome at Tuffnell Park are legendary. Was it some of the stuff that happened at the venue, that meant you had to stop doing the nights there, or was it that you just felt for a change?

It’s the normal story of complaints from residents leading to council involvement. Yes those events were special, no denying it, hopefully we will be making a return for the next birthday. It’s a sad time in London. Clubs are failing all the time, and some of the ones that are open have stupid sound limits where it’s not even worth doing the event. Sort it out, Sadiq.

You’ve put System on over Notting Hill Carnival weekend the last couple of years, what is it about the carnival that’s so suited to System?

Carnival is the biggest event of sound system culture so we wanted to be part of that. Also, there’s a different vibe in London on that weekend. It’s always my favourite System. Everyone has that extra day off which changes the weekend to a short break.

There were a few locations before you settled on Dingwalls, how come it took you so long to settle down again? What is it about Dingwalls that encouraged you to settle there?

Finding a venue in London is a minefield. You’re promised this and that, and when it comes to the show things change. “Can you lower the bass?” is a normal one half way through the session, that really frustrates me. They just see you as a cash cow, and once you’re in there’s not much you can do, you can’t pull the show. Dingwalls have been brilliant, it’s a historic club with pride in pushing underground music all the way back to the ’80s. I think the biggest difference there is the staff get what’s going on, they understand the importance of the sound.

System NYE 2013

System’s always been a very low key, ground roots thing. Why do you think it always sells out so fast? Everything from merch to tickets is always very exclusive, what’s stopped you from bringing it into more commercial territory, or turning it into a much bigger event?

Simply put, we have a strong fan base who support us come rain or shine. I’m so grateful to the people who support us. They have made this a success, not me or anyone else. I have no interest in bigger events. The photos look good but that’s about it, gimme a low ceiling room with 400 people any day. I don’t want to be part of the commercial rat race. We’re happy to continue our nights as we’ve started; small room, big sound.

You said your latest release on System Music is more a reflection of the night and the label than a straight up album, it’s also the most extensive release on the label. What can we expect?

The release has been a long time coming. And yes, it’s a reflection of the event. It’s not an album. The EP starts with dub and moves to step. I’ve worked with System Roots, co-founders of the event, Singing Cologne from Jamaica, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X from India and our own Dego Ranking from the UK. I hope people enjoy the music and I’m looking forward to pushing out more in the near future.

System Sound will be available 30th August here.

System Sound will be gracing Dingwalls on the 27th of August, featuring V.I.V.E.K, System Roots, Commodo, Egoless, Versa, Dego Ranking and Crazy D. Buy your tickets here.

Images: Ben Donoghue