Interview with OBF Sound System
Influenced by different music, they developped their own style. O.B.F. had to be unique in the soundman business to go forward. They love roots reggae and world music but they also like the new digital stuff comin from everywhere. O.B.F. creates music with all kind of drum machine and synth, mixing roots rock reggae with new digital sounds. Their style brought a fresh breeze in the dub world, and finally they get the French Dub touch. Now a regular on the european reggae scene, O.B.F play to rock the nation and make people dance on conscious bass music. Have a look on their new label O.B.F record and Dubquake.
By Simon Pernin – 05 juillet 2019
Do you remember the first time you heard reggae?
The first songs I heard in reggae must have been, like everyone here in Europe, on the radio while listening to Bob Marley. Then when I listened as a reggae lover, I was 17-18 years old after listening to rap. I was more and more interested in reggae at that time going to see sounds, concerts or going to the shop of Asher Selector in Geneva where I bought reggae vinyls.
What is the first sound you saw?
So at the Factory, you could see Gregory Isaac or the Gladiators for example, concerts organized by Asher Selector. Then we went to see sound systems in squats organized by Cultural Warriors. So, during the first evenings we had, there was RDK Hi-Fi from London. And a little later, I left for England after I turned 18. I was more interested in sounds like Aba Shanti. At the Subdub also in Leeds where there, it really made our education, especially thanks to the links that we established with Mark Iration of Iration Steppas. It’s a little anecdote: he was a friend of his who was listening to our sound and Mark went home, he asked who his friend was. And the same evening I received an email from him in which he wrote: “I Love your Dub! “. He was really the first to link with us, and who promoted OBF music from its earliest days. It was he who took us under his wing.
How did you come up with the idea or the desire to create your sound system?
When we were young, we listened to Irations, Gussie P’s and we liked these songs. But we couldn’t play that all night. We were missing vinyls, songs. So instead of looking for these vinyls, I told myself that I was going to create them quite simply. I was inspired by what came out and I added my paw at the time.
How has your sound system evolved over the years?
The sound system started with two basses which were built by one of Guillaume’s (the operator’s) uncles. Then we bought mid-treble on the right corner, then we built the next four boxes with a Polish friend. So of course, we were struggling to create them, it was really complicated. We reconstructed four bass, which gives us 6 bass. We built our own treble and we built our own midrange. We added two more bass again. Then we worked with Shortman to build another sound system. He notably worked for Iration Steppas or King Earthquake. He came home for a month, and we built the second generation of the OBF sound system with 12 bass and 12 tops. We wanted to be there for all stages, because for me if you have a sound system, and you really want to know how it works, if you want to realize the price, the sweat, and everything you need put it in, you have to create it with your own hands. It is not an easy thing. For after having rage in session and to play as a sound-system must play, you must be there at the construction to be able to master all the stages. Then there was the third generation where when we were on tour in Japan we met a sound designer. They designated our own OBF boxes for the midrange and bass. So we had three generations of the OBF sound system.
What relationship do you have with your sound system?
It costs us very very dear (laughs)! It hurts our back very much! But on the other hand, when you are in the evening, playing your songs on your own sound system and you have managed to do what you want, it is as if it was an extension of ourselves. It’s the best instrument to transcribe what we do in the studio. It transcribes exactly what we want to share with people.
Why were you more attracted to the sound system than to the live?
We started in DIY, we really started our evenings in squat cellars, we lived in crew in squats in Geneva. So in the cellars, there was no sound system, no internship. So we played on the ground, at the same level as people, we brought back our gear otherwise we couldn’t have an evening. It was really self-management and DIY that we liked. Live, I did not have that moment when I arrived in trans at one point, when I found that in smoky, gloomy, poorly lit rooms, with the big bass sound.
Is the audience vibe the extra soul of the sound system?
The public opinion is based on the selection. For example, sometimes I feel it live when I’m tired or in a bad mood, public opinion changes. So it’s really the artists behind the control tower and the microphone who will broadcast their good vibes to the public. And it’s this exchange that will create a good vibe. Sometimes, in sound-system, you have more spiritual, catchy vibes, the vibe, it really depends on the sound-system that plays.
Has the dub scene changed since you started?
Frankly, at first it was a hassle. We traveled thousands of kilometers to come back with 50 or 100 € in our pockets but we were happy. Little by little, we started shooting in France, then in Europe. Then we saw the explosion of sound systems in Spain. And in the end it exploded a bit in all European cities. We were lucky to arrive a little before this wave of sound-system. So we were able to create a style, a leg.OBF is tackling a new style of reggae with a 100% Dub Poetry project in collaboration with the Jamaican Nazamba. A powerful and deep album that depicts and analyzes the daily life of Jamaicans. The opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the beginnings of OBF.
Interview OBF & Shanti D
Interview with OBF and Shanti D before their session in Aix en Provence for the World Music Day 2013.
What pushed you towards reggae and what made you decide to build your own system ?
Rico: well, we started around the year 2000 to seriously buy records. And what influenced us was the alternative scene in Geneva. It’s really thanks to that that we began to know that world, the world of reggae, of sound systems, of ambient dub – thanks to certain people. Asher selector and Cultural Warriors who used to organize nights in squats, that were at the time a very active space in Geneva. So they were nights with a really attractive price, cheap drinks, lots of people, sound systems, a good atmosphere. So we were always in those kinds of places, and always when there were reggae sound system nights. So the immersion really began in the cellars of squats in Geneva.
Guillaume: That don’t exist anymore…
Squats, from an organizational point of view, are quite similar to raves and free parties. Are there similarities between the free parties and the reggae sound systems? And are there any big differences?
Rico: what the free party movement and the reggae sound systems have in common, are that the people are united, together for a purpose: the joy of being able to dance to music, have an appropriate volume for the type of music we listen to, and to have the freedom to express yourself however you want on the dance floor.
In the end it’s being able to do what you want, to be autonomous?
Rico: In Geneva, 10 years ago, the nights were really self-managed, yeah. Autonomy was predominant in Geneva.
And in terms of differences?
Rico: Well you don’t have hard drugs in reggae nights. And otherwise, well the Bpm
Guillaume: there is also the identity linked to the sound system we use. So the sound system makes our identity, and so people come to see the people that play but also to listen to a particular sound system. And that’s what creates a sound system’s identity.
So the identity of a sound or a crew is the system?
Guillaume: yeah, it’s the system, because that’s his instrument.
Rico: but there is also the crew behind it, the selections.
Guillaume: that’s what links the two scenes, the “home made” aspect, the self-managed.
For a while now you have been playing a bit everywhere, but quite a lot in England. As it’s the second birth place of reggae sound systems, have you noticed any differences between the UK scene and the French one?
Rico: Well the English have had more of an education since the 70s, with all the Jamaican exiles that came to England. So the Jamaican brought their culture. And so the English, for the last 40 years, more even with lovers rock and all, they have been swimming in that culture for more than 40 years.
Whereas in France, it came later – at the beginning of the 90s with the crews from Bordeaux. With Manutention for example who got Jah Shaka over. And in Geneva it was the same, it was a lot of live bands that would come during the 80, end of the 80s. And the sound system began in the 90s.
But at the same time, in France today there are a lot of sound systems that are growing. To an extent that we could say France is nearly overtaking England.
Guillaume: The English are starting to say that the dub scene today is in France, more than in England. Because over there too it’s becoming harder and harder to play with a system, few venues accept sound system because of the volume… In France there is the novelty aspect too
Rico: yeah that’s it – there is more euphoria in France. In France I fell that dub is a lot more open, the public is a lot wider.
Guillaume: we often get to meet punk, electro fans… a bit of everything. In England when you go to a roots dance, you will probably only have ‘roots’ fans.
It’s interesting you should say that. Jerome (from Mungo’s HiFI) was telling me that in France they can’t play the same things they play in Glasgow. At their nights they play everything, from dub to dancehall to dubstep… And that, that doesn’t really work in France.
Rico: Well it depends in what nights. But it’s true that in some nights in France you have that people don’t really know anything about reggae, it’s the sound system’s job to give them a small education with some tunes they might know. Draw them in like that, and after you can experiment.
Relating to music again, you have a tendency to play more ‘steppa’, dub that is a bit more electronic. Is there a difference in the vibes or message between what you play, and say the more roots productions, like Aba Shanti for example?
Guillaume: the basis is the same. After, we have a different message than Aba Shanti. Aba Shanti is a rasta, he advocates Rastafarianism, something that we don’t necessarily do.
So if there is a message you try to pass on at your session, what would that be?
Rico: well ours is really a militant message. With the pressure we experience at the moment from the system, we absorb all this throughout the year, and we transcribe that in our nights precisely with ‘harder’ tunes, steppas, very militant lyrics, anti-establishment, or lyrics that simply express everyday life.
So it’s quite political
Guillaume: it’s political, social – everything
For you, how does a successful session go?
Rico: it’s to start with big revival tunes from the 70s, roots radics. Mic-men that kill it on the mic, the crowds who liven up on the dancefloor, who ‘whine’; and then we go one with some more modern tunes.
Guillaume: the crowd is a big part – it has a big part to play.
It’s true that reggae nights are different from a traditional DJ set where the DJ does play his set and the leaves. You have to chat with the crowd.
Rico: Yeah, reggae is a story. Sound system is a story you have to tell.
Guillaume: It’s also that very often people don’t know this. They come and see this physical element, the strong sound, we are at ground level – so often people in France don’t look at us, they are more focused on the speakers. That’s also a habit that comes from the techno movement: people come to be in front of the sound system. In England you don’t really find that, people face those who are playing. It’s different, a different education.
In a previous interview with a sound that came out of the free party scene, he mentioned that the reggae movement is beginning to be a bit like the techno movement: victim of its success.
Rico: yeah, well it depends what nights. There are some nights that are more focused on roots reggae, and that attract a crowd of connoisseurs; and others are let’s say a bit more open. But it’s true that people increasingly enjoy getting together at reggae nights, but why? Because there is a good atmosphere, good vibes. There aren’t any troubles, people aren’t high off their heads. They are here for the music, that’s what prevails. People come for the vibes.
Guillaume: It’s the sound as well. With the sound system there’s the heavier side of reggae, the one you won’t necessarily know by listening to it at home. That’s how it’s supposed to be played, you should feel the bass within you, that’s what makes you dance.
You tend to play a lot on digital formats (laptop, CDs..). But do you still use vinyl?
Guillaume: as we said, we often start our session with some 70s revival, so we can very well play records for two hours. Then after we will play our own productions, or tunes produced by friends of ours, so then that will be more on CD or digital.
Is keeping vinyl going some form of resistance? Do you think one day it will be completely digital?
Guillaume: well no, it’s the basis. We buy records all the time. For a start, you’ll never get the same sound. And hearing the crackling sound of the record, lowering the diamond… it’s a whole thing. There is a warmth to the vinyl.
Rico: and now we are starting to digitalize our records because travelling with your records is very hard. So we’ve started to digitalize everything. But sometimes you still have to show the people you do have that plate.
And your nights, in what kind of places do you organize them?
Guillaume: well we live next to the border with Geneva, on the French side, so we had a squat, an autonomous place we opened. We began having nights in the basement there. Our first guests were Uzinadub from Bordeaux. That was in 2002 I think. And that’s how we started. We managed to organize several nights thanks to that place, we got know that way.
And are the places you use now in the same vein as that?
Guillaume: a lot less. In Geneva it’s a lot harder harder… it’s even impossible to open a space like that now. So now we play a lot more at the ‘usine’.
Rico: It’s still a similar space, but with a much larger capacity. But it’s true that now the reggae scene has opened up itself to the ‘club’ environment. It’s a mix: underground, alternative spaces, and clubs.
What seems to come back a lot in reggae is the DIY philosophy: you build your own sound system, you organize you own night, and often in independent, self-managed spaces…
Guillaume: we can’t play everywhere with the sound system, that’s for sure.
Shanti D: they don’t want you, it’s too loud. If you say you have a sound system you’re banned from three quarters of the venues.
Rico: Even the promoters of ‘official’ venues, the SMACs, they don’t know this scene. Reggae for them is limited to the Gladiators and the Congos, and even then. But otherwise the promoters from SMACs don’t want to open their mind. Now we’ve managed to join the SMACs with High Tone when we tour with them, because they have connections. That’s how we manage to enter the SMAC venues, with groups like them.
But does playing in places like that or in clubs mean losing some of the basic elements of reggae?
Guillaume: No I don’t think so. I think it opens it up to other people who wouldn’t have normally come, to another crowd. I think that’s quite good.
Rico: it’s hard to find places to play – and then it depends on the message you try to spread. You can be hype club, but still manage to bring your own vibe.
Shanti D: as long as you can set up your own system, you’re good. It’s amazing when we play at the 104. The 104 it’s amazing we can put a sound system in there – it’s more of an artsy, contemporary, thingy place… Dub changes the space.
Guillaume: It’s also when we bring our sound system into places like that, that they understand the difference, because they may sometimes see us in a DJ set, they won’t necessarily understand it. When they see us with our system and everything, they go “oh s**t, okay”.
It’s a bit as if you can create your own space:
Guillaume: exactly, it creates an energy, our own energy. And the people too.
Rico: we create our bubble within the bubble
Shanti D: the thing that often in the SMACs, they aren’t interested because they don’t want to work, they’re paid the same you see. Whether there’s a lot of people, no one, whether it’s good, whether it’s not good: they don’t care. There are some people who are invested, but from what I’ve seen, most of the guys don’t care. What I saw once – the night we did in Lyon for example, the guy told us “no it was too much of a success, we’re not doing it again”. Because didn’t want to work when there are too many people.
Rico: it’s rare but it does happen
Shanti D: because you haven’t played in many SMACs, but I can tell you that you often find yourself dealing with a bunch of good for nothings.
Rico: well you have shits everywhere
Guillaume: when they organize stuff at home, they don’t do any promotion – when High Tone comes to play for example, we don’t even know they’re playing at home.
How would you describe a sound system session?
Rico: well like we said before it’s a story, we come to tell the story of reggae. So we can begin by a couple of rocksteady or sky tunes, then some 70s revival – big roots radics. After we really dig digital so we’ll continue into the 80s. We skip a bit of the 90s period, and then we go on with some more modern tunes. With mic-men that murder the versions, it’s really a show.
Guillaume: well, not all the time (laugh)
To come back to a sound system’s identity:
Guillaume: It’s really what links the techno scene and the reggae scene. The completely self-managed sound system aspect. People come to see a sound for their system. One system will sound like this, one crew will play such and such tune… it’s a whole.
And if the identity comes from the system, if for example Jah Shaka plays on your system, would the night still keep your identity, or would it be like a Jah Shaka night?
Guillaume: People come to a Shaka night to see him play. His selection will never be the same as ours. Shaka is Shaka – but if he plays on his system or on another’s system, it won’t be the same. It’s like if we play on someone else’s system, it will be different. Of course you can still mash up a dance if you’re not on your system. But it will be different, it’s not your sound.
Shanti D: When you make a tune, you know you’re going to play it on your system, so it sounds a certain way. After if you try it on someone else’s system, you’re going to be like “oh shit! it’s really bad”. You won’t recognize your song.
Rico: yeah that happens
Another thing that often comes up is the fact that there aren’t that many places to set up a sound system. A lot of places if you turn up with 8 scoops, they go nuts.
Guillaume: we can never play with 3 stack indoors. Well, It might happen twice a year.
Shanti D: Well they already came by with the decibel meter. They came by just before – so you see, they come by for the “fete de la musique”, you can imagine what it’s like indoors.
Guillaume: with 3 stacks, we play in Marseille with 3 stacks. In Lyon as well, at the “hangar” and “double mixte”.
Shanti D: With High Tone last time
Guillaume: no with High Tone we never took out 3 stacks. Indoors never.
Shanti D: oh right indoors. Well the 104.
Guillaume: ah yes, the 104 as well.
And do the tunes you play change according to where you play?
Guillaume: It always changes, we will never do the same set twice. We do know which tunes we want to play though.
Shanti D: it’s according to the crowd.
Guillaume: right, it depends on how the crowds react to such or such tune.
So it’s a constant echo:
Guillaume: that’s right, it’s an exchange
Interview de Rico d’O.B.F. Sound System
Dimanche 13 Décembre 2015 à 10h00, by Charliedub
Can you present O.B.F. Sound System?
O.B.F is a militant reggae and dub sound system, active for almost 15 years, from the French and Geneva underground scene. We are DJs, producers and soundmen, but also evening organizers. We also manage two independent labels, O.B.F Records and Dubquake Records.
How does your composition work go?
Inspired by the different musical influences that surround us, but while remaining very close to reggae construction by adding our personal touch, all mixed as is the ancestral tradition of dubwise, with a console, track by track, and analog external effects, which allow greater spontaneity in the mixes and greater freedom in artistic expression.
Télérama has rewarded you by placing Wild in the 5 best French rock and dub albums of 2014 alongside Zenzile’s Berlin. Télérama has organized its famous festival for a dozen years already. It is also the only mainstream media that promotes dub in France. Is it important for you to have “prestige” support like that? Has Télérama allowed the French dub scene to develop?
The Télérama Dub Festival popularized the dub in its own way, it reaches a wider audience than those of reggae and classic massive dub and this is beneficial for the dub scene in general, but it remains a marginal and underground scene, which remains largely unknown to the general public.
There are as many styles and genres as there are sound systems. Each has its own identity. How would you describe the sound of OBF and, by extension, what are the influences (besides reggae and dub) that led to creating the OBF “paw”?
The sound of OBF is varied but has kept its own identity, reggae influences of course, but also dub techniques developed after years of mixing, the opening onto other musical landscapes has also allowed us to evolve and vary the compositions. But we have a preference for militant music, deep, see ambient spiritual, but also black music, hip hop, innovative and above all we need bassssss!
There has always been a sound system scene in France since the eighties (I am thinking in particular of the King Dragon Sound System with, among others, Lord Zeljko). How do you see the evolution of this scene? Is the audience different?
The public has changed for sure, I was not there in the 80s because too young for that, but the audience of Dances back in the day was an audience of aficionados and in raggamuffin mode. Zeljko largely contributed to the promotion of reggae in the dances but also on the radio and also with his productions. Today, the audience is more varied. Perhaps also more influenced by electronic music and production techniques have also changed, more accessible, but the use of the sound system is much more present in the current evenings than Back in the days.
Do you think that the emergence of a live dub scene (High Tone, Zenzile, etc …) has contributed to the craze for the sound system in recent years in France?
We think that these groups like High Tone or Improvisators Dub were the beginnings of the dub scene in France. Even if the format or the productions are different, these groups have contributed to the emergence of sound systems in France. OBF has for years officiated as djs warm up for these groups which allowed us to make ourselves known and popularize our music.
What do you think is the difference between the iconic English scene (King Earthquake, Jah Shaka, now Reggae Roast) and the French scene?
The French scene was largely influenced by the English scene, like Jah Shaka, Jah Tubbys, Aba Shanti I, Iration Steppas, the roots and culture scene, uk roots, We are also fans of the 80’s period of Saxon. The way we run a sound system, dubplates, selections, micman, entertainment with an activist or sometimes casual style.
Regarding the difference, perhaps the English scene has kept a more Rastafarian side than the French scene.
You went on a tour of Mexico. I only know one Mexican sound, Mexican Stepper. Is there there, knowing that we are very close to the cradle of Jamaica, an already very dynamic scene or are you going there to develop this scene and preach the good word of the dub?
The local sound system culture here in Mexico has been present for many years, local Mexican music is played on sonos called sonideros and specific to each district, like Jamaican sound systems, but with other selections.
Reggae, the dub sound system as far as we are concerned has been buzzing for the past 5 years but the real boom took place this year with the Dub Experience festival which brought together some of the most representative actors from the local dub scene: Ohm Mane Padme Um, Spiritual Sound, Mr Zebre, La Otra Sezion, Rootical Session, Bungalodub, Unidub Estereo, etc …
This event has nothing to envy to the European scene, with a quality sound system and a hot boiling audience!
Can you present the Factory and why did you make it your “HQ”?
L’Usine, a self-managed cultural center which has a central place in Geneva and European undergound culture, which brings together around fifteen multidisciplinary associations such as music, cinema, theater, hairdresser …We started playing at the Factory in 2004 with the collective Audioactivity for the first parts of the French dub groups, then I worked at the Factory full time for the Zoo hall and started to organize the Dubquake and Top Ranking later. It is a room that corresponds to our ideals, self-managed, horizontal hierarchy, it is a family place for us, where we feel good.
Can you recall the context of the standoff between the Factory and the municipality of Geneva and the canton of Geneva?
It’s a bit complicated but, in short, the city wants to force the Factory to enter a framework that does not suit it, the policy of dividing to better rule.
You said in the video supporting artists dub at the Factory: “they want to close one of the last strongholds of the counter-culture in Geneva”. What were these other places of counter-culture? Were they emblematic of the city of Geneva and how did they contribute to the cultural identity of the city?Geneva was a very culturally rich city, and alternatively speaking with squatted, self-managed places, open to the public which offered a wide range of cultural events. Many of these places have forged our identity and have unfortunately disappeared one after the other after a gentrification policy in Geneva. RIP bottleneck, artamis, rhino, tower, bandito, kalif and many others.
As a Dijonnais, I am marked by the Espace Autogéré des Tanneries, which has similarities with the Factory and which also suffered pressure from the municipality which forced them to relocate.
You have already put your sound there. Are there other places of the same kind in Europe, even in the world which have welcomed you?
Of course we were often welcomed in this kind of places, like Italy with its cultural social centers (in particular the Neapolitan scene with groups with multiple influences like 99 Posse, Bisca, 24 Grana, which I highly recommend the listen !, Editor’s note), Germany, Croatia, etc …
Why is it important for you to put your sound in this kind of place?
Putting down your sound system is something militant and also a self-managed act, well almost because you need electricity … But we love the atmosphere in alternative places.
You have forged links with the High Tones (sound system accompaniment for Dub Invaders tours) from the historic label Jarring Effects, which considers itself activist (your remix of the “Dub Fever” of the split between High tone and Improvisators Dub figure of elsewhere on the label’s 100th album). Do you have the same perception of music? Should it convey a militant, political message?
We have musical tastes in common of course, we are quite open to experimentation, and the activist and underground side of the High Tone family suits us completely, the uncle of French dub are in place![:]