Custom subs are music to the ears of local sound system crew
Music festival season is still around the corner for most Montrealers, but for one local sound system crew it has already begun. Last month, MTL Bassix unleashed the full force of its revamped ‘wall of sound’ at Freegloofest, drawing over 200 underground music fans to a remote industrial park for a full night of revelry. Despite chilly temperatures and some lingering patches of snow, the annual outdoor party lasted nearly 10 hours, priming the crew and their custom speakers for an impressive array of upcoming events.
A few nights later, the crew lugged their gear to Coop Katacombes for a bass-heavy night with U.K. drum ‘n’ bass innovator Sam Binga. Halving the number of subwoofers and moving the system indoors didn’t stifle the output of the Bassix speakers stacked on-stage. A lively crowd kept the dance floor in motion just steps from the pumping bass bins. Every now and then, someone would reposition themselves in front of a sub, presumably to better feel the bass.
“It’s good vibrations that bring people out,” said Gunnar “Phaedrus” Heiberg, a long-time Bassix member and DJ, who studies electro-acoustic engineering at Concordia. “Bassix sound is built around audio quality [and provides] an immersive, multi-sensory experience. Deep sub-bass you can feel throughout your body isn’t an everyday experience and I think a lot of people respond quite positively to those lower frequencies.”
For the past six years, MTL Bassix has garnered a strong reputation within the electronic music scene for throwing genre-diverse shows that feature everything from dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and breaks, to reggae, old school hip hop and house. However, it wasn’t until the crew of bass music enthusiasts started making their own equipment four years ago that they fully distinguished themselves from competing event organizers.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of promoters who don’t care about sound quality and use whatever system a venue provides, which is often poorly tuned or bad for people’s ears. We strive not to hurt anyone’s ears at our shows,” said Andrei “Snowphish” Panait, a Bassix co-founder, veteran DJ, and Concordia alumnus.
The crew’s effort to make sound system components that don’t damage hearing or distort sound means that Bassix creations favour vibrations over volume output. After all, deep bass emissions under 50 hertz are almost inaudible to the human ear and simply resonate within listeners. In order to elicit the right physical sensations in event attendees, Bassix members construct their subwoofers from scratch and fit them with sloping interior corridors that direct sound waves outward in a curved shape. In contrast with mass-produced alternatives, the snail shell-like structure of Bassix speakers naturally amplifies sound and ensures bass fidelity.
“If you take one industry standard, dual 18-inch, 5000-watt subwoofer, it’s a bit bigger in size [than ours], it takes way more power, it’s louder, but it’s not as clear at low frequencies,” said Panait.
“It’s very physical what we do … there’s something in sound vibrations that impacts how people feel, and how they dance,” said fellow Bassix co-founder and DJ Francis “Lockout” Lussier. “As much as we’ve become technicians and woodworkers … we’re still artists, music producers, and DJs at heart. We’ll always care more about the clarity of the sound than the volume.”
Each of the six current Bassix members is predominantly self-taught and contributes to the construction, maintenance and repair of equipment. The crew allocates tasks on a rotating basis, allowing everyone to participate in equal part. Since the production of their first “Tuba 60” subwoofer (named for the shape of its interior design), the collective continues to improve workflow. While members originally outsourced the woodworking aspect of their first subwoofer, they soon acquired the necessary tools and skills to complete tasks on their own. By keeping production and assembly in-house, the group saw an immediate increase in supply-use efficiency and a consequent decrease in costs.
Reminiscent of Jamaican sound system culture from the early ‘50s, which saw DJs load trucks with a generator, turntables and mismatched speakers to set up mobile street parties across the country, Bassix members have used the money they’ve saved to re-invest in speaker parts and fund trips that take their gear across Canada.
“We drove to B.C. last summer with two subwoofers, six tops [smaller speakers] and a generator. We did an official renegade stage at Motion Notion and a few other parties in the forest and by the river,” said Lussier. “I always say we’ve cursed ourselves, because we’ve built really good speakers and now, unless we bring them with us, everywhere we go, the speakers suck!”
Eventually, the crew hopes to host a large-scale event, using only custom equipment. While daunting, the project becomes increasingly likely every year as no Montreal venue within budget can currently handle the full sonic output of Bassix gear.
“Our ultimate goal is to put together a festival out here, like Shambhala or Bass Coast, but in our own vision. That’s what keeps us building,” said Panait.
With their ever-growing collection of now eight bass-booming subs and six tops, MTL Bassix will no doubt continue making ‘sonic’ waves in the electronic music community for years to come.
Their next show, on April 29, will feature U.K. dubstep producer Thelem. For more information, visit bsxsound.com or the Facebook Event .