Systema Solar invigorate the Colombian tradition of picó sound systems

By 05 July, 2010

System Solar are one of the heaviest groups coming out of Colombia at the moment. They call themselves a ‘collective’ and this couldn’t fit them better. Each member is involved in all kind of enterprises but bring their expertise to the table for Systema Solar. What results is an modern audio-visual treat with it’s feet firmly stuck in the tradition of Colombia’s sound systems. These systems, which began to appear on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in the 50s, are known as picó’s, a word derived from pick-up though no-one really knows exactly why it was chosen. Some say it was because of the pick-up truck that people would arrive to parties in, others said it was due to the action of picking-up the needle before playing the next song, and others still say it was a name of a particular portable record player.

The idea of a picó, as with any sound system, is to make the music loud and the bass heavy. This is something they’ve always done extremely well in Colombia. Early sound systems may have simply been a record player hung from a tree but the people soon learnt how to increase the amplification. Vacuum tubes would be used to increase the volume with some picós using over 100 vacuum tubes. To put that into perspective an average guitar amp would use only six tubes. In other words, very, very loud.

Systema Solar continue this tradition of excessive volume and ridiculous low-end. They mix the traditional music from Colombia’s coast (cumbia, porro, bullerengue, champeta) with modern, global styles such as hip-hop, house, techno and breakbeat. On top of all that they add the dimension of video. The use of visuals here could be seen as a very traditional facet of Colombian culture. One major difference that picós have always had with Jamaican sound system has been their use of aesthetics. Picós are generally given a name (such as The Diamond or The Black Party Lover) and this would act as inspiration for local artists to decorate the system’s cabinets. Normally they would paint the two main bass cabinets with an elaborate vision using the sound system’s nature and then after the rest of the cabinets would be painted using similar motifs and colours. By using a visual approach Systema Solar look to continue this tradition.

The collective is made up of seven people: John Primera – MC, Indigo – MC, Pellegrino – producer, Daniboom – DJ, Patadeperro – VJ, Andrés – drums, percussion, DJ Corpas – DJ. They began performing together in November 2006 as part of the biennial MDE07. They followed this by playing a show at the Botero Square in Medellin for 400,000 people but geographical locations was causing a problem. Most of the group lived in different areas of the country. Eventually two of the band moved to the coast, making meeting regularly a real possibility, but when two of the band became parents priorities changed somewhat. This meant that it would be mid-2008 before the group got the chance to actually practice and work on material, which is exactly what they did. This results in a number of concerts all over Colombia as well as the Systema Solar CD, all of which were a success, and has led the way for the group to perform outside of their home country.

In March 2010 they played at SXSW in Austin, Texas. They are now on tour in Europe, a tour which started in June and will continue throughout July. To witness the wonder of the picó as well as Systema Solar, a heavy prospect indeed, you could do far worse than attend some of these upcoming shows:

07/16/10 – Cabaret Sauvage – Paris, France
07/17/10 – Folkest – Capodistria, Slovenia
07/18/10 – Stuttgart Sommerfestival der Kulturen Germany
07/21/10 – Italia Wave Love Festival – Livorno, Italy
07/22/10 – Cabaret Frappé Festival – Grenoble, France
07/23/10 – Terres de Couleur Festival – Sainte-Croix, France

You can buy the Systema Solar album at Amazon
Buy the album at iTunes.

More info:
Official Systema Solar site

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