This Friday 27 June sees the country’s first custom built reggae sound system launched at Bar Bodega – Vital Sounds Hi-Fi – run by long-time reggae selector, DJ Manray.  NiceUp spoke to Manray about the process of building a system, future plans for the sound, and what has inspired him to forward reggae music in Aotearoa. 

When did Vital Sounds form and can you give us a bit of history about yourself and the sound?

Vital Sounds was formed in early 2003 after spending time with the Roots Foundation who I served my deejaying apprenticeship with. Vital Sounds has featured a range of selectors and MCs including Topknot, Ras Stone, Danny Lemon and The Mighty Asterix just to name a few.

We have played alongside and supported such legends as Burning Spear and Toots and The Maytals (JA), dub poet ‘LKJ’ Linton Kwesi Johnson, Soul Jazz Sound System and Dennis Bovell (UK), Dry & Heavy (Japan), plus local Kiwi groups, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds and Trinity Roots as well as having been involved with the Whopper Chopper series, Cuba St Carnival and Raglan’s Sound Spash.

I also work as a photographer and spend too much money on records and sound systems!  I travel as much as I can, including taking a trip to Jamaica in 1999 to photograph vinyl pressing plants, a series that was bought by Te Papa.

How/when did you get into reggae?

The first Jamaican song I ever heard was ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie Small on an old rock’n’roll tape, although at the time I never knew she was Jamaican! I listened to a lot of Bob Marley as a kid, and then got into two-tone ska through the punk scene. But once I learnt they were mainly covering old JA hits from the 60’s I started buying the original songs and never looked back

Vital Sounds Hi FiYou’ve just built New Zealand’s first custom-built reggae/dub sound system.  Can you tell us a bit about it’s sound specifications?

Vital Sounds Hi-Fi follows in the tradition of Jamaican and UK sounds. The new system utilises the classic 18″ scoop bin (or folded horn) for bass.  Ninety-nine percent of all UK sound systems use this design as it is the best sounding sub for bass culture, not just reggae but D’n’B and Dubstep too. They move a hell of a lot of air, and create a very special environment!

The scoops are Roger Mogale (UK) designs, built here in the Hutt, and are loaded with Italian built 18-Sound drivers. Four 15″ EV drivers handle the mids with a couple of 2″ compression horns for the highs.

It’s a 5000 watt system, which is modest by UK standards, but when used properly with a right gear it’s heavyweight. I haven’t heard anything in NZ to compete with the bass pressure of these four subs!

Other gear includes DBX driverack 260 and EQ’s, Crown and Yorkville amps plus the usual two turntables & microphones (I still only play vinyl). Also a bunch of EFX, Roland space echo, digital delays, phaser, Korg sampler.

Special thanks to Andy Craig, Western Audio for all his support.

What motivated you to build the system?

Basically I was sick of small underpowered club PA’s which are usually built for rock music. I felt a need to create a sound system that presented this music in its true form, with all the focus on the quality of the sound and the enjoyment of the night.

I’m not that big on reggae live bands, for me it’s always been about the sound system culture, the true ghetto vibe has always been the downtown dances.

Who/what inspires you musically?

Loads of music, not just Jamaican music. I’ve always collected a lot of black music, blues, disco, jazz, funk, hip-hop etc but JA music makes up about eighty percent of my collection. There’s an honesty about it and I’ve always been drawn to the drum which is at the centre of all black music.

The big hitters for me are Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd (the foundation) and King Tubby’s partnership with Bunny Lee (the golden age of roots music).

Sound system wise I follow the UK scene, especially Jah Shaka, Aba Shanti and Iration Steppas.

But of course I’m a white Kiwi male so I also dig Led Zep and Santana!

Future plans for the sound?

Just play out, see how the system holds and educate people about what a reggae sound system should sound like. Get over my shyness and become more of a front-man.

How do you think the NZ reggae scene is developing?

Very positive and growing. I love what the younger guys are doing with their clashing vibe, getting specials voiced etc. I don’t like the fake JA accents though, hopefully they’ll take a leaf out of the local hip-hop scene and be proud of our Kiwi accent.

Also this website is creating a great community for the music too. It will take the music forward in a positive way.

Ways forward for the scene?

One day I would like to see more proper reggae sound systems with scoops here in Aotearoa. Maybe I’ve shown people that it can be done. Imagine having two big sounds inna one yard, now that would be fun!

Respect and peace every time.

Vital Sounds Hi-Fi @ Bar Bodega, Friday 27 June, with special guests Danny Lemon, Duke Willis, Ras Stone & The Mighty Asterix. 10pm, $10 on the door.

Venus Hi Fi