BEHIND THE SYSTEM: KRIS DEE & THE BOOMBOX COMMITTEE
Behind a mighty stack, waves of multiple DJs and reality-distorting sounds, is a crew that exemplifies how hard work and dedication can result in a legacy that will remain in dingy clubs, open fields and almost anywhere in-between
Curated by DJ, producer and all-round musical technician, Kris Dee, and his unique and aspiring committee members, the Boombox Committee’s atmosphere is a modest and humble experience, much seen in its originator.
Making movements from Essex, through to Brighton and now residing in Bristol, Kris has made a name for himself through running Gypsy Disco nights, rinsing party style sets in squats and clubs and generally being involved in underground and party music.
“There were a couple of mates I went to school with, people I grew up with from childhood. We were into running club nights from maybe like the age of 17, and we’d all kind of, for one reason or another, ended up living in Brighton as well. So we found ourselves working on a lot of events together: all of us were into music, decor, or being in events in some way as well. So it all kinda formed quite naturally along with a few people I’d met when I was
at university and that I got to know through the clubbing scene down in Brighton and that.
“Eventually I did a course, it was run by the Prince’s Trust, which was basically giving funding to young people who have an idea and want to be self employed. So they gave me a bit of funding and I invested it in the sound system and a van and what not, we started doing our own club nights and because of the shape of the speakers I got, they look like ghetto blasters, and got nicknamed the Boomboxes. We were the committee, they were the boomboxes.”
Despite rarely having all of the members in the same space, each person plays a huge role in the setup and success of the sound system: “Originally it was me running things and had the sound system and what not, my mate Jez who was down in Essex, he was a carpenter, he built some of the speakers and was generally involved with our events. Our mate Harry, who was well into his decor and his design and that, he was decor-ing our venues, sick lighting and mad draping and various bits that have been built. There was a sick human sized bird cage that got used at a few things, just loads of mad stuff. Then Damo and Al, alongside myself, were like the music people and doing the DJing, involved in booking local acts and what not.
WE WERE THE COMMITTEE, THEY WERE THE BOOMBOXES
“I mean, Al, he went onto write a play, it blew up quite nicely, they ended up performing it on Broadway over in New York. Al’s one of these people where everything he touches turns to gold, he's just inexplicably good at everything, he's just one of them people. He did music for a bit and took a break from it, was writing loads and ended up writing this play, which he put on in a pretty small little playhouse in Eastbourne just outside Brighton, and just by chance, there was some guy there who was part of the New York Fringe Festival. Went over there and ended up being like, one of the top five plays for the Fringe Festival, for must see plays, you know what I mean? Everyone’s just on some next things, Damo (aka DJ Hi-Def) went into marketing, and was working in the top floor of the Shard in London, working on the fucking Top Gear mobile app and a load of other mad things. Everyone’s on their own thing, Jez is an experienced carpenter, working on a lot back in Essex. Harry has recently bought his own bit of land down in Brighton, doing a lot of welding work and sculpting, and renting stuff out for events and what not. He’s actually just took a London black cab and he's sort of turned it into a mini pick up truck - so we can put the rig on it and drive it around festivals.
“It was all going quite nicely. Plus myself, Damo and Jez were running squat parties and things like that with various sound systems, Lionheart Sound System in Essex, Rum n Bass, Fractal in Brighton, Interrobang up here, a few other people who were into doing raves. It kinda just grew from there you know, and that was about seven years ago. Today we’re all working on different things still, I’ve recently just launched the record label, we’re just trying to get as many new artists in as possible, Bristol is a really great place to meet people like that.”
HE WAS THE JUNGLE DJ FOR THE HEADS
Staying in Brighton during his university studies was a key time for Kris, in terms of gaining exposure and getting a foot in the door. From festival sets to club bookings, running nights across the city was an exciting period in the rise of Kris and the Boombox Committee: “I was working on an event called Gypsy Disco and a lot of the main festival bookings came from that. That was myself and a guy called Jared, and loads of other people who were like a core team that spawned. It was like a Balkan beats electro swing type night, with a lot of bands and burlesque performers. It was a proper party, and it led to us having venues at Boomtown, abroad at Meadows in the Mountains, Secret Garden Party, Jared managed to get some DJ sets at Glastonbury, unfortunately I was working elsewhere in the festival during them, also Eden Festival up in Scotland. Then I started the Bohemian Ballroom which was kinda a spin off but more electronic music vibes, a bit more sound system orientated. There was a lot more bassline, a lot more jungle, it had a bit more of a ravey element but still with a lot of performers, a lot of decor and visually pleasing stuff.
“I moved up to Bristol, and was doing bits and bobs with Interrobang Sound System, both in legal spaces and illegal ones as well. There was the Ignition drum and bass night that was running up until like last year or the year before, played with quite a few other nights, the rig and full crew were out at Kiss my Kick Drums with Mandidextrous and the Amen4Tekno guys earlier last year.”
Due to the apparent circumstances and restrictions prevalent in the music industry right now, the number of rig outings has been dramatically reduced. Kris spoke about the last few times the stack saw action: “It was for a night last October for my mate Jess, she runs a night called Erektronica, which is like a breakcore night with a big focus of it being a safe space, very LGBT friendly, you know what I mean? Nice inclusive vibes, that was at the Loco Club underneath Temple Meads. It’s super nice industrial vibes in there, it’s all brickwork and it feels well gnarly, really good for a dark and dingy rave, but with the conveniences of a nice venue as well. Before then was I think Boomtown, and before that the Kiss my Kick Drums at the Black Swan with Erektronica in the upstairs room that I mentioned earlier. That’s where we took Harrys giant bird cage and put a mannequin in it, the mannequin was dressed up in bondage gear and had a strap-on on it and all that mad shit. Then we had these cage dancers who were all like neon, cybergoth rave-esque, just doing all this mad dancing.
“That night was Erektronica vs Boombox Committee, like DJ for DJ setwise. I’ve never done a proper clashy one where it’s been like against each other. With Interrobang for example, we both brought our rigs out and each DJ played on their crews sound, there was no element of like getting the crowd to decide or anything like that, it was just all love. Both crews were bringing in DJs who had their own things going on in their own lives, so there a real mishmash of music. There was a lot of sick stuff and definitely not defined by one genre. It was everything from dubstep, bassline to like 200bpm fucking breakcore, whatever came on you know.”
Through personal relations, surrounding himself with other individuals involved with sound systems, and with his own experiences, the technical skills and abilities were learned and honed: “It was all pretty much trial and error, and then my mate Jez, he was the one who pretty much got me into it, you know, back in Southend-on-Sea. He was quite linked up with local sound crews there, and his Uncle was well into his reggae sound systems and that, he taught Jez quite a lot, and had a huge sound system himself and it all got passed through. Also Lee Rason from Lionheart Sound System, who are Essex-based, was another person that’s been a bit of a guru in terms of sound systems.”
“I think most people who are really into their sound systems - the rig is never going to big enough - you’re always going to be looking for that extra speaker section or the better amp, better cross over, there’s always going to be something else.”
WE WERE RATTLING IN THAT CLUB
Bristol is renowned for its prevalent sound system culture and community, in both club spaces and off-grid free party settings. Kris mentioned the diversities that come with an abundance of sound system crews: “It’s got such a sick music culture here, and St Paul’s is a testament to that. It’s crazy, it is just mental, there’s so many people with systems here, loads of people to learn shit from and all sorts of madness.” His thoughts on one of the ways reggae and dub sound systems vary from rave-based systems speaks of inclusivity, “I think it’s a lot more prevalent in the reggae and dub scene, they have a sound system and they proper tend to it, care for it, and they also hold a lot more community events than, say, your average rave sound system. The free party heads enjoy doing what they do for free, but then not necessarily putting much back into a community outside of their own. Whereas the reggae and dub crews, hold a lot more events that are fundraising focused, with lots of those funds going into local communities here and overseas. It’s always good to have a balance. Both are equally fun, I’ve done some sick raves but I’ve also done some sick fundraisers.
“One year the sound system got booked to play a party for International Women’s day, that was a lot of fun. We did a night for Cancer Research back in Brighton, that was quite a rave orientated night to be fair, as far as Cancer Research events go. But even so the money went to a good cause, had a well good night, a lot of really cool music alongside the sound system being brought out, positive vibes. But then on the other end of the spectrum, we got booked to play by this guy, he was kinda like, billionaire aristocracy kinda thing, and he booked me and Jared to play at his daughter’s birthday parties. Which was obviously very exclusive and not really a relatable community vibe [laughs]."
ONE TUNE JUST INEXPLICABLY BLOWS UP, THEN EVERYONE'S IN THE LA MANSION
With the initial investment from the Prince’s Trust, repairs and replacements haven’t been frequently necessary: “To be honest with you, there’s been one occasion where I’ve got something new for it. Because of the funding from the Prince’s Trust, everything they were prepared to give me was put into getting what was like, the top level equipment I could afford at the time with the funding. The thing is with speakers and amps and that, if you look after them they will last, so you rarely need to repair them, let alone replace them.
“There’s been a couple times where one of my bass bins have broken, once from some DJ pulling a redline at some event and he blew one of them, and another time when I dropped it off the back of my vans tail lift. That was at the end of Boomtown one year as well, so energy was low to say the least.”
One of the beauties of the collective lies behind the diversity and range in musical styles that everyone brings to the table: “To be honest with you, the way we kinda came together was because we all were doing different things and it worked. My mate Al, was much more on hiphop, dubstep, occasionally funk and disco type of vibes. I was very much on garage, bassline, a bit of light jungle, and you know, maybe a few bits and bobs thrown in for good measure. Then Hi Def was liquid and hard jungle, do you know what I mean? He was the jungle DJ for the heads. So that’s why it worked originally, cos we all bonded. Well, we’re obviously good mates, and the nights were being run and they were appealing to people because there was a bit of everything, the sound system was just another appealing factor, cos we were rattling it in that club at the time.
“We had the Ragga Twins for one of our events, that was a cool night. It was me and Hi Def DJing and then the Ragga Twins performing over it, that was a cool moment. There were the Some People Crew, who were made up of Purple Velvet Curtains, Pavv, and Rez. Two of them, Pavv and PVC (Purple Velvet Curtains), they’re still making some fucking sick music, like garage and bassline. I think they've moved onto a lot of grime and this UK drill, trap vibe now too. We booked them for one of the nights and they completely smashed it, and you know a few other people here and there.”
The satisfaction of watching sounds booming out your own system and seeing the party it’s providing is a special feeling, as Kris recalled, but not quite like when he get’s behind it: “Obviously, I do as good of a job as possible for all the people that play through the sound system. I’ll tech it as well as I can, but… if I’m playing through it, there’s a few certain things I can do on my cross over that’s gonna fucking push the bass off it. Like if I blow my bass bins, then whatever, but if someone else does it…
“It is sick to come on, start playing, have a little fiddle and then - because the people in the front row can feel the change - all of a sudden you can feel it in your chest. That’s part of the music I think, so being able to sort of control that to an extent is like, it is a cool fucking feeling. Not to mention as well, everyone has their tunes that they’re just gonna keep to themselves and drop them in a rave, sometimes like several pull ups.”
Whilst the rig is back in Essex to wait out the storm of COVID-19, Kris has been focusing his drive and energy into Committee Records, a brand for music, events and merchandise. Having launched earlier this year, the label has seen releases by himself and Dubhghaill (pronounced Doyle) with accompanying music videos. Kris is excited for future plans: “There’s this guy out in South Africa, that wants me to send him like sort of slow, trappy, I guess you could call them emo trap beats. He’s interested in three beats from me, so I need to get those out to him. There’s this guy in America who’s wanting some straight trap beats, and a couple other things that’s in the pipelines. There’s a rave that’s coming up quite soon everyone’s sort of prepping for a little bit, and also trying to get a few tunes that I’ve had up my sleeve for a while mastered properly and ready to be released to the public. Not to mention we’ve been doing video editing as well, with a guy called Ben down in Brighton, who’s a good friend of mine, who I met through Gypsy Disco. The first video was a tune, Lemons, by myself and a mate, Dubhghaill, who’s one of the people I’m going to be pinning down for work in the future, it was Ben that edited that but walked me through how he was doing it. From then it meant that I could go on to do the second and third ones, they were my own production.
“We’re not really going for anything too genre specific, I quite like hip hop and trap myself, for at home listening music. So a lot of what I’ve been doing is sorta that way focused, but then working with Dubghaill has been like an alternative rock, maybe indie rock almost, with an electronic element cos that’s how we gel.”
THE RIG IS NEVER GOING TO BE BIG ENOUGH
The difference in music that is played out the rig and what is released through the label is an interesting contrast, something which Kris is fond of: “It’s nice to have a bit of a selection to fall upon. It’s great going to a night that’s dedicated to one genre but I feel like with a lot of things - it’s nice to have a progression - have a bit more of a switch up and a bit of variation and then it appeals to different people, then potentially introduce people to new music they wouldn’t have listened to before. If they’re coming for the sound system, knowing that the people behind it can put on a party, you’re sorted. The sound system was always meant to be a rave rig, the style of the speakers are very in fashion with a dub sound system, but it’s mainly been used for rave music, club nights and squat parties.
“It kinda felt that we needed to do something to prove that we weren’t just a sweaty mass in a club basement, that we are a bit more refined. We’re all getting a bit older now, it’s a bit more of a professional thing. From what started off as a group of mates doing parties, is now hopefully becoming a bit more of a production that features original music, event production, a clothing line that we started last year and studio available for other artists. With the idea being that if you were putting on a festival or you needed a room filling at an event or something, you could just ring myself or one of the other committee members and be like, this is the space, this is what we want, and because there’s loads of us all with different skill sets we can pretty much put anything on. Everyone’s repping the sound system, everyone’s repping the crew.
“I think at certain points you do need to start thinking about it from a more financial aspect, as fun as it is to put on raves and do festivals and what not, there’s not always a lot of money in it. You maybe want to lay a bit more of a foundation that, I think, having those extra streams can provide for, you know? Not to mention the dream would be like, one tune just inexplicably blows up, then everyone’s in the LA mansion.”
Another odd benefit of the surreal lockdown experience is the chance to improve on skills and hobbies that you once couldn’t find time for, as Kris has been able to delve deeper into production and video editing: “Thanks to the Corona, everything’s moved online, I think I’ve just spent the time coming to terms with Ableton 10 and Premiere Pro, trying to hone my editing and production skills, rather than DJing. I did a lot of DJing since my teen years, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had some sick moments, but I also really enjoy production and is something I haven’t spent as much time on, lockdown has kinda allowed me to do that. The video editing, that’s a really new thing, and proving equally enjoyable. It’s good to dabble in a bit of everything, even if you find out you don't like it, at least you know you don't like it. If you do like it then it’s a new skill, and you can graft at it.”
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August 16th 2020