Sound System Culture is an arts and heritage project documenting the lives of Huddersfield’s pioneers who laid the foundations of the reggae sound system scene in a place where for many years a thriving sound system scene existed, out of all proportion to the size of the town. At one time the town had over thirty sound systems.
The sound system concept 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. Initially just a small gramophone and speakers were used on a street corner or private land to entertain friends or attract business to commercial establishments such as liquor stores. By the late ‘40s/early ‘50s larger dedicated sound systems were emerging to provide popular music at larger outdoor gatherings and parties.
The culture of the sound system was brought to the UK with the mass immigration of Jamaicans in the 1960s and ‘70s. 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 Sound System was the most popular sound system in the UK throughout the ‘70s. Shaka was also popular as were many others like Fatman, Quaker City and Lord President. Shaka is maybe the best 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 revisits an era when Jamaicans played their music at dances in the town of Huddersfield. Many of those dances took place at Venn Street club, which helped put Huddersfield on the British reggae map. Located in Yorkshire, north England, Huddersfield became the go-to spot for Jamaican dances in the 1970s and ‘80s when it played host to many of the biggest names in Reggae music, whether it be singing artist, sound system or band. Many artists would insist on playing at Venn Street when arranging a UK tour, due to the size of the crowd in attendance and the legendary Northern hospitality.
To celebrate the town’s rich history in UK Reggae culture we have created a photographic exhibition and a sound installation. The installation consists of a traditional sound system, 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 is a way of interacting with the sound: putting on a record, touching down the stylus, handling the mic, playing with the bass/mid/treble cut-out switches and sound effects to explore the creativity and appeal of the traditional Jamaican sound system here in the UK.
The project will also include the development of a book and film which will be ready early next year.
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