Steve Hwang, a member of the San Francisco-based music and art collective Space Cowboys, on the group’s “Unimog,” as told to A.J. Baime.
The idea for the Mog first came in 2000, and a lot of the original inspiration was Burning Man (an annual gathering in the Nevada desert). We wanted to create an urban assault vehicle that plays music, a fully self-contained mobile sound and video system.
We started with a 1973 Mercedes Unimog 404 that we got through an importer in Vallejo, Calif. The vehicle was originally created to be a military radio truck, and it’s popular in the four-wheeling community because it has such high ground clearance and bullet-proof engineering. Once we had the truck, we started the build-out.
So many pitched in. Space Cowboys is a collective of people with many different talents—fabricating, sound engineering, mechanical expertise, and music production. When we started bringing the Mog to parties, it was pretty difficult. We had to tow speakers, generators, and other equipment in a second vehicle. My contribution was to make the Mog more plug-and-play. Everything is built-in and, ideally, deploys at the push of a button.
We outfitted the truck with eight 21-inch subwoofers in custom enclosures, and four all-weather stadium speakers mounted inside the cab that raise on a pneumatic lift. Concert-grade amplifiers, two 7,000-watt generators, a DJ booth—all of it is built-in.
I manage the truck, and I’ve driven it to Burning Man, to gigs in Squaw Valley, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, and all over the Bay Area. It’s not your typical home-stereo setup. Our objective was to achieve a very high quality of sound, and to be able to take that quality sound wherever we want. We don’t break any speed limits when we’re on the road, but on flat pavement or moderate inclines, the Mog will cruise at 55 mph.
Needless to say, it’s ground-shaking powerful. But our goal was never to be the biggest or loudest, or to compete with anyone. We just want to create our own sound, our own vibe, and to share it with our friends and our community. And mobility is a huge part of it.