Have you attended the London, Notting Hill Carnival and experienced the fantastic vibe created by the Static Sound-Systems? Then later wondered ‘ how this concept came about and when did it all start up? If so, then please do read on and be enlightened….......
What Is A Sound System?
What is a ‘Sound System’? How does it differ from a normal mobile DJ or a Club PA System?
I would define a ‘Sound’ is a super-amplified mobile system, invariably called by a name, manned by a team of individuals, each having real skills, who together create a unique party vibe wherever they set up and play recorded music of their choice.
Origin & Background
The concept of a Sound System originated in Jamaica during the 1950’s. The idea arguably came from Jamaicans going back and forth to the USA during the 40’s & 50’s and being bowled over hearing American R&B bands playing through PA Systems. This was then taken back to Jamaica, but as bands were expensive to hire, poor Jamaicans played recordings through these early ‘Sound Systems’ which were very rough compared to the ‘Sound Systems’ they saw in America. They consisted of a turntable, a home built valve amplifier & pre-amp (from a kit) and the biggest speakers they could lay their hands on, mounted in home made ‘wardrobe’ sized speaker cabinets, some even nailed and glued together with ‘chicken wire’ as speaker grilles!
By the late 50’s early 60’s these sounds had become more sophisticated and high powered. The early ‘Sound System’ operators were already legendary figures and played at very well attended dances, some on the open air ‘lawns’, the real home of Sound Systemology! Men such as ‘Tom’ The Great Sabastian, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster & Duke Vin who later started the first Sound System in the UK, developed the idea by not just playing records but opening studio’s and producing local artists and releasing tunes on their own label - the early Ska (a Jamaican interpretation of popular American R&B music) then later Rocksteady & Reggae music.
With the migration of Jamaicans to the UK in the late 50’s & 60’s the tradition of ‘Sound Systems’ was also exported. Early UK ‘Sound System’ operators like the aforementioned Duke Vin, Count Shelly, Count Suckle, Lloyd Coxsone, & East London’s ‘Chicken’, each had a huge following and from these early sounds developed many new ones encompassing new ideas and directions. The concept of a ‘Soul Sound’ or ‘Roadshow’ was developed in the 70’s, by the likes of Mastermind (originally a ‘Reggae Sound’ called the Mighty Conquerer who changed policy to play Soul/Funk/Disco & later Electro & Hip-Hop music) TWJ, Roxy, Soul Incorporated, Good Times, Freshbeat & Rapattack. Interestingly, ‘Rampage ‘Sound’ who popularised ‘Swingbeat’ in the early 90’s, added a profitable dimension to this concept and made it a business venture by playing on club systems and ‘hiring in’ a ‘Sound System’ when needed. All these and many more ‘Sounds’ brought their own style & ideas to the discipline including using professional purpose built PA gear (Electrovoice, Turbosound, ASS, JBL speakers and amplifiers such as Crest & Crown & not forgetting Technics 1200/1210 turntables) as opposed to home made equipment, which was championed particularly by ‘Mastermind’ & ‘Rapattack’ Sounds.
Ironically this returns to the origin of Sound Systems being initially a ‘homemade’ version of a PA System.
During the 70’s & 80’s every area of London & every City with a West Indian population had their own crop of ‘Sounds’. Historically it was important to ‘build a ‘Sound’, one man (it was mainly men in those days) would mainly buy music, another has an interest in electronics and one liked to MC – ‘talk on the mike’. While a young member or apprentice was learning about the equipment and how to ‘play a sound’ (which means; although you are using recorded music, the effect is of it being ‘live’) he would have the status of a ‘box boy’ his particular job was to lift the heavy speaker boxes at the end of the night!‘ Sound men’ took pride in this achievement, to the point of Sound Systems challenging each other to a competition or ‘clash’ where each ‘Sound’ sought to win over the crowd at a dance by any means such as playing an exclusive record or one off pressing of a tune by a well known artist (a dub plate – UK Garage DJ’s, does this sound familiar?), or the verve of the ‘mike men’ (Saxon had some of the best which in conjunction with their vast knowledge of reggae music helped them win the ‘World Sound Clash’) or sometimes, turning up the bass and ‘drowning out’ the other Sound! The Sound System world has it’s wealth of stories of rivalry and within this it’s ‘villains & heroes’ to rival any from the corporate world.
There are many and varied ‘Sound Systems’ in existence, run by many different people both men and woman from different backgrounds and cultures. All playing a selection as broad and diverse as US/UK Garage, House, Hardcore, Techno, Trance, Drum & Bass, Miami-Bass, Hip-Hop, Swingbeat, Dub Reggae, Roots Rock Reggae, Ragga, Revival, Lovers Rock, Soca, Calypso, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Fusion, R&B, Disco, Soul/Funk from & 70s/80’s/90’s, Rare groove, Latin, Pop, Ska, Rocksteady.
The impact of ‘ Sound Systems’ on UK culture is immense. For example before ‘sounds’ most clubs had small ‘Rock & Roll’ style systems & poor facilities. Consider that the ‘Sound System’ influence has subsequently caused the demand for both bands on the road and clubs to want to hire/install high powered, multi-amplified PA Systems. UK Sounds (without question) have raised people’s expectations when they go out to rave, as well as being instrumental in the rise and prevalence of ‘urban’ music in the mainstream media today. Many successful UK artists started on ‘Sound Systems’ and the ‘Modern Superstar Club/Radio DJ’s owe a lot to the influence of ‘Sound Systems.’
The Future Of Sound Systems
The formation of a committee representing the British Association of Sound Systems BASS is a major step in the right direction. It has given ‘Sound Systems’ a Trade Association, raising the profile and organisational standards of all that play at ‘Carnival’ and formalising the contribution ‘Sound Systems’ make to our lives and the community we live in.
The Notting Hill Carnival on August Bank Holiday Sunday & Monday every year, has always been the biggest Weekend of the year in all sound men’s diaries. Sound Systems have been an integral part of the atmosphere at Carnival since the early days. Recent official statistics compiled by Intelligent Space & commissioned by The Greater London Authority, surprisingly show that 80% of the people who attend the Notting Hill Carnival, come specifically to hear the ‘Sound Systems’. The Streets of Notting Hill during our summertime is the nearest place we have in the UK that produces the atmosphere present at ‘open air lawns’ of Jamaica.
A massive shout going out to all the ‘Sound Systems’ (see Annex 1) both past & present. The next time you hear someone saying “ have you heard the wicked ‘Sound System’ at the Ministry” you should ask yourself why has this become so very important?
TO ALL THOSE WITH ‘SOUND SYSTEM’ IN THEIR HEART
KEEP THE VIBE ALIVE & THE BASSLINE TURNED UP – RESPECT !
Sound Systems Both Past & Present Who Have Made A Contribution To The UK History
Duke Vin, Count Shelly, Sir Coxsone, Chicken the Thunderstorm, Frontline, Sufferer, Studio 1, Count Suckle, Duke Neville, Java, Shaka, Saxon, Fatman, Mafiatone, Jah Tubby’s, King Tubby’s, Unity, Gemi Magic, Metro Glory, Abashanti, Channel One, Virgo, One Love, Jamdown Rocker, Jah Observer, Quaker City, Wasifia, King Alfa, Trenchtown, Urban Rockers, Sir Christopher Kebra Negus, Jungle Man, Sovereign, Love Injection, Lord Koo’s, Sir Higgins, El Rico, Echotone, Jah Marcus, Tippatone, Small Axe, Sledgehammer, Stereograph, Moembassa, I spy, S’phese, Sir Jesus, Supertone, Lord Gelly’s, Young Lion, Diamonds ‘a girl’s best friend’, Lovers International, Atlantic, Killerwatt, Pressure, BMW, INT Immortal, Heavyweight, Air Jamaica, EMG Studio, Ariwa, Imperial Lovers, Love TKO, Lovers Oasis, Sir George, Danny King, Sir Lloyd, Glady Wax, Heritage, Danny Casanova, Hawkeye International, Graffics, One Way, Sophisticated Gents, Young Lover, Lord David, Sticksman, The System, Redman, Soferno B, Peoples Sound, Unity, JB International, Headlines, JB Crew, Mastermind, TWJ, Roxy, 6X6, Soul Incorporated, Good Times, Freshbeat, Rapattack, Special Edition, TNT, Now Generation, Lads Construction, Casual Affair, FBI, Maze, Stateside, Sugar n’ Spice, Motown, Cherelle, CMC, BT Express, Locomotion, Databass, Mystique, Conversion, Madhatter, Jus’ Good Friends, Street Life, Playboy, Finesse, Streetwave, Beatfreak, Main Attraction, Funkadelic, Showtime, Trouble Funk, Shock, KCC, Company, Manhatten, GQ, Winner, Pioneer, CFFM, Latin Rave, AK, Sancho Panza, Gaz’s Rocking Blues, Lord Sam, Rough but Sweet, Special FX, Fun Bunch, Secret Rendezvous, 4 Play, Special Touch, 5th Avenue, Hyper ESQ, Studio Express 365, Mellow Prime Time, 90%, After Dark, Gal Flex, Ill Kids, Firin’ Squad, Drop Squad, Boogie Bunch, Rampage, BIPA, Tonka, Touch of Class, Pleasure Roadshow, Confunkion, Active Force, Players, Caveman Boogie, Midnight Express, Soul II Soul, Mistri, The Mistri Crew.