Channel One Soundsystem has been blasting block-rocking dub/reggae tracks from its behemoth of a speaker rig since way back in 1979. We caught up with founder-member and selector Mikey Dread ahead of Channel One’s show at Electric Brixton on 3 November, where they’ll be joined by fellow soundsystem crews Iration Steppahs and King Shiloh.
So what’s with the name?
If you don’t know your reggae history – Channel One was a legendary recording studio on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston, Jamaica. And the ‘sound system’ is because, well, that’s what we do. We play big sounds, big records, only vinyl.
Ace! Is it the same system you’ve had since day one?
Not really, 40 years of gigging isn’t too kind on the equipment. The good thing is though we can be as loud as ever, but new technology means the speakers are lighter. We still hump the gear around ourselves, so that starts to matter over the years.
How often do you go record shopping?
Every week. You can’t just play the same tunes. We’re old but we’re not dinosaurs. Every set we bring some new dubs to the set.
You’ve played the Notting Hill Carnival every year since 1983. How have you seen it change over the years?
It’s changed from being mostly a black thing, to an international thing. It’s biggest festival of its kind in Europe, and it’s free to get in. The council want to move it, but guarantee if they move it you’d have to pay to get in. Anybody can come and party, that’s what makes it special.
This year must have been a strange one…
Yes, Grenfell Tower is literally just around the corner. It was hard for us, because people expect a party when they see us. But in light of what’s going on, during such a sad time, our job is to make people happy. For that weekend reflect, of course, but also get together and heal. There’s plenty of time to think about what happened and what we do going forwards.
People say grime is a direct descendent of your guys’ work
A lot of grime artists do pay their respects. When we play festivals they come by and see us, tell us they’ve listened to us for years. Through all the modern movements – jungle, dubstep, grim whatever – reggae has always been there. It’s the history of the art form, and the guys doing what they’re doing now know that. It makes us proud, to be honest.
What’s the future for soundsystem culture?
It’s gone international. There’s soundsystems popping up all over the world now. I had a call from one in the south of France yesterday, asking for advice. There’s kids in South America, Australia. Two or three big touring systems in Japan. It’s a testament to what we’ve done. The seed we planted 40 years ago that’s now flourishing.
You’re playing Electric Brixton 3 November with two other sound systems. What’s the vibe like between you?
It’s a bit competitive, obviously, but there’s also a unity. We’re all doing the same thing. It’s better than watching, I dunno, ten DJs show up and plug their laptops in, or sticks or whatever people use these days. We work hard for it, and it shows in how the people react.