The seasonal break brought me time to dig out the old delay pedal, which in turn gave reason to put fresh batteries in to the dub siren which I – aided by those more technically proficient – built about eight months ago.
For those with a desire to play a sound system there’s no doubting the importance of a dub siren. Used properly with a delay pedal the wails and pitch varied oscillation accentuates the records being played, lifting even higher the sound system experience.
Dub sirens don’t have as documented a history as the Casio keyboard presets or the Sleng Teng riddim, though they equally evolved out of the studios and from Jamaican sound systems in the 60’s and 70’s. Producers started to use sirens and analog synths to create effects on their music, which was later emulated to live performances by system DJs. It’s loosely suggested that King Tubby may’ve been the first to start using effects such as gunshots and sirens in the studio while recording with Bunny Lee, but the true origins of what we know as a dub siren is somewhat as murky as it is unimportant.
What is important is that the dub siren is embedded in dub culture and as a result permeated through dubstep and live drum ‘n’ bass to some degree. The use later gained popularity in the UK systems through the likes of Jah Shaka and Saxon International in the 80s, as well as Aba Shanti and Channel One to name a few.
Built from 555-chips the dub siren is traditionally a DIY project, customised with filters, knobs, number of chips, kill switches and casings. The circuit benders have even gotten involved, constantly coming up with new sounds to come out of the traditional sirens. Consequently you will rarely (if ever) find two dub sirens that look and sound the same.
There are plenty of places to pick them up – Dub Mekanix, Circuit Benders, Benidub or even Jah Tubby’s Sound System are among those who will do a build for you – and as close as I came to picking one of these up, I ended up going for a relatively new DIY kit from RDH Hi-Fi in France.
The components shipped out (PCB board, circuits and knobs) and due to a recent move I found myself down at the hardware store picking up a solder and some wire. Although a lot will probably find this an easy build, I managed to balls it up severely several times, and in fact totally destroyed a PCB board and had to pay to have a second one shipped out. I’d say if it is your first build then get a hold of someone experienced to help.
One thing to note – the second PCB board I received was a vast improvement, as the first one – which I’ve hung on to – doesn’t seem to have been tinned properly. This meant many (frustrated) nights were wasted on the I was so overjoyed with the ease of the second one that I soon forgot about this though. A few soldering scars later and
The end result is wicked. Modulation, tone and volume is controlled by the similar knobs with a rotary knob to flick between lickshot, single tone siren, 2 tone siren or a modulated siren. There’s also a push button activation as well as a nifty flick switch to activate with ease. The siren is 9v battery powered with an output jack and all this you build in to whatever casing you choose, drilling the locations of the knobs and switches with whatever you fancy.
To be honest, I’ll probably buy my next dub siren, if only to compare, but I’m well chuffed with the one I’ve got. It’s the basic model for sure, but it’s also got me thinking about the next project, which I’m thinking might be the Dub Step Arcade from scratch.