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Bristol’s Reggae Sound System Culture

26 Jun 2015
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WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE SOUND SYSTEM CULTURE NATIONAL TOUR IN THE WEST COUNTRY, WE OPEN THE DOOR ON BRISTOL’S RICH HISTORY OF REGGAE SOUND SYSTEMS.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Picture a DJ, an engineer and an MC, armed with a generator, turntables and huge custom-built speakers playing to a street party audience.

What you see is a Jamaican sound system, a key part of Jamaican culture since the 1950s, often playing a mixture of reggae, ska and rocksteady flavours.

Sound system culture flourished to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s during the first influx of immigration from the West Indies.

What originated as a booming concept formed in the ghettos of Kingston soon became an abiding feature on the modern British music landscape.

 

THE LOW-DOWN

Sound systems flourished in Huddersfield, where for many years a thriving sound system landscape existed.

In 2013, Huddersfield based historian, Mandeep Samra – part of creative organisation Let’s Go Yorkshire – developed Sound System Culture, an arts and heritage project designed to document Huddersfield’s vibrant history of sound systems through an exhibition and sound installation.

The project was a huge success and has since expanded into a national tour, curated by Mandeep and author of Clarks in Jamaica, Al ‘Fingers’ Newman.

Starting at Colston Hall in Bristol and continuing to Birmingham and London, Sound System Culture celebrates the lively history of reggae music in the UK.

Through old photographs, audio recordings, archive film footage and a custom built vintage-style sound system which visitors can interact with, the exhibition sheds light on the untold and often overlooked history of Bristol’s sound system scene.

 

Sound System Culture: Bristol is open until 17th July 2015 in The Glass Room at Colston Hall.

Opening times are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 2pm–4pm and admission is free.

For those of you who can’t make it during the week, the exhibition will be open on Saturday 27th June and Saturday 11th July 11am-4pm.

 

BRISTOL’S REGGAE SOUND SYSTEMS

Bristol’s sound systems were able to flourish due to the huge number of venues that catered specifically to them, one of which was the Bamboo Club, formed in 1966 on St Paul’s Street and one of the earliest clubs to serve Britain’s West Indian community.

Bristol’s reggae sound system culture played a defining part in the ‘Bristol Sound’, way before the emergence of trip-hop music, made popular by artists such as Massive Attack and Portishead.

 

THE 5 MOST PROMINENT SOUND SYSTEMS IN BRISTOL

 

1. Jah Lokko

Jah Lokko became one of Bristol’s top sound systems after it formed in 1978 when Meritone and Apollo sound systems joined together.

 

2. Sir Bastian

This is one of the earliest sound systems to form in Bristol, founded in the early 1970s by Karl ‘Sebastian’ Smith, one of Bristol’s biggest soundmen of the 1980s.

Smith arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1962 and, before starting Sir Bastian, was the selector for sound systems Tarzan the High Priest and Count Ajax.

 

3. Sir Jay

Roy Bailey, aka Big Roy, was the mic man, selector and operator for Sir Jay sound system.

 

4. Enterprise Imperial Hi Fi

Founded in 1975, Enterprise became one of the most high profile of Bristol’s early sound systems between the 1970s and ’80s.

 

5. Excalibur

Founded by Bristol soundman ‘Froggy’, Excalibur are somewhat legends on the Bristol sound system scene.

In the mid-1980s, they played their sound out of the back of a van at Glastonbury festival (pictured below).

 

SEE THEM IN ACTION

If you fancy seeing some of the sound systems in action, head to the Roots Revival Showcase event at the Malcom X Centre from 10pm-3am tomorrow! (click for more info)