Huddersfield is a large town in Yorkshire in the north of England, nestled within the Pennine hills. It may seem an unlikely place for a vibrant sound system culture and black music scene, but it has played an important role in the history of UK sound system culture. In fact, in relation to its size, Huddersfield’s contribution to the UK’s sound system heritage is quite phenomenal. At one time, the town had over thirty sound systems.
Sound system culture first became popular in the 1950s, in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. It began simply as a way of playing amplified music to outside gatherings. The first sound systems initially consisted of a small gramophone and speakers on a street corner or private land to entertain friends or attract business to commercial establishments such as liquor stores.
The mass immigration of Jamaicans in the 1960s and ‘70s brought the culture of the sound system to the UK. At the time reggae was increasingly popular with the UK's black working-class youth, its message of Rastafari and overcoming injustice struck a chord with those on the receiving end of racism, prejudice and poverty. It was also very popular with white working class youth, as the two groups often lived, went to school or worked together.
Coxsone was the most popular sound system in the UK throughout the ‘70s. Other popular sounds systems included Jah Shaka, Fatman, Quaker City and Lord President, among others. Jah Shaka is probably better known because he never changed his ethos and presentation over the years and still continues to be true to the tradition of a 'roots sound'.
Sound System Culture is an arts and heritage project exploring Huddersfield’s vibrant sound system culture and black music scene, which have played an important role in the history of UK reggae culture.
To celebrate the town’s rich history a book and documentary film have been produced. The book documents and traces the origin of reggae sound systems in Jamaica to their establishment in Huddersfield and beyond. The film revisits an era when Jamaicans played their music at dances in Venn Street club, which helped put Huddersfield on the British reggae map.
The project also includes a photographic exhibition and sound installation. The installation consists of a traditional sound system, Heritage HiFi, a turntable and a stack of 10-inch dubplate vinyl which include sound bites from the people interviewed for the project. Voices have been carefully selected and under layered with different reggae and dub beats to evoke feelings of nostalgia… bringing memories from the past back to life. The installation allows the public to interact with the sound; engaging with the sound system by putting on a record or handling the mic, among other things.
Sound System Culture explores the creativity and appeal of the traditional Jamaican sound system here in the UK.