“I think that’s the essence of sound systems. DJing is a totally different affair, it's a lone man's affair. Sounds are a collective, you know?”
During the lead up to Notting Hill Carnival, I got the chance to speak to Seduction City Sound System, one of the guest Sounds systems for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival All Access line up and the only all-female sound system in the UK. I spoke to Seduction City’s founder, Marylin Dennis all about her origins, what being a part of a sound system means to her and her plans for the future. I also spoke to those who have known and worked with Marylin for a number of years about their favourite musicians, and what to expect from the virtual Notting Hill Carnival.
How did you start DJing?
I've been DJing for nearly 30 years, I started in 1985. I was in a youth club, as I was transitioning from a young person to a worker, which was a very common thing in those days. So we were transitioning, and we used to be part of a Girls and Women's group on a Wednesday evening, because women needed it. It was quite a male dominated space, and they wanted to give the girls within the youth work setting a space where they could do stuff. So we'd go downstairs into what was a dance studio, and then we'd fiddle about. I'd been taking records into school and having dances in the history department. We started to play around with the youth centre’s equipment and the senior youth worker decided that he was going to spend some money on us. And that was the start of the first sound we formed which was known as 80s Ladies.
So you were DJing, you were learning the ropes, tricks of the trade. But what was it actually like being a Black woman during that time - DJing with 80s Ladies. How did you find that at the very start?
It was very difficult for the guys to take you seriously. You always have this tension, people don't actually realise that you are actually the DJ and that you know what you're doing. But that's not to say that there haven't been a lot of men behind us. One of our influences was my little brother, we had the sound system in the house and he realised that I'd always had an interest in the technical side of the side of it. So, a lot of the time was spent in our back bedroom; that's where I learned how to emcee, how to record music, which was a lot easier then.
How did you first find your way into Notting Hill Carnival?
It was the vision of Mellotone. The first time we entered Carnival it had female chief executive, Claire Holder. I was working in central Brixton at the time as a youth coordinator, and I had a spare moment. I thought “God, I wouldn't mind playing at Carnival actually.” You know, it was a proper random thought. I'm gonna ring them up and find out whether we can play Carnival because the previous year there was a female set of DJs called Three Women and a Baby. And I thought, “I'm not having that. I can't have that.” You know, because there weren't many sound systems or I wasn't aware of the fact that there were other female sound systems about so I wanted to get us out there. So I rang them up, they welcomed us immediately. And we looked at two sites. Thank God, I didn't take the other side because it no longer exists. We took Telford Road, it was a nice road. My DJ partner then was a person called Night Nurse. She had young kids at the time, and we've thought this will be the ideal place to have a family environment, and the vision of Telford Road is about family. It's about diversity, so everybody can consume the music that we have. We had this love for reggae, reggae is about enjoyment. And we liked dancehall. The essence of the whole road was to actually play good, clean, non-homophobic, non-slack, dancehall so that everybody could feel comfortable.
So in 2004, you were still a part of Mellotone, you joined dancehall artist Queen Omega on the UK part of her tour. Is there anyone else you would want to support on tour again if given a chance?
Marylin: I was just talking about a collective of girls that are coming out of Jamaica now.
I've always liked new music and I know there's so many good artists coming up out of Jamaica. The most notable one is Koffee because she is the award winning girl of the moment because of her writing. But then there's another lot of girls behind her like Lila Iké, Naomi Cowan and Sevana. They have these voices, these really young voices and they've got some fantastic melodies behind them. And that's who I would want to join if they were doing a world tour.
Andrea: I love the range of British artists we have at the moment, maybe Stormzy or Donae’O.
Brian: For me it has to be Chronixx or Sizzla. For me, that foundation of reggae music is still constant. And don't get me wrong, I understand music evolves in the styles and the lyrical content but I just love them for the culture and the positivity that they preach whereas you have some of the newer artists and some of their lyrics aren’t as nice.
Catch Seduction City Sound System performing at the virtual Notting Hill Carnival this August Bank Holiday (Saturday 29, Sunday 30 & Monday 31 August) at www.NHCarnival.org