Earl Gateashead on Sound Systems

We really like this article that Earl Gateshead wrote about the growth of Sound System culture in Europe over the past few years. You can see Earl at Reggae Roast East-Side next Friday at Bar A Bar in Stoke Newington.

More info on Reggae Roast east-side + tickets HERE

Here’s what the Trojan Sound frontman had to say…

At this moment, from one end of Europe to the other, if you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of saws, hammers and power screwdrivers. The people using these tools are usually white, young and often with long hair. They have a light burning in their eyes. They have a dream…………They want to own a Reggae Sound System. A movement has been growing, for these last three years or so. More and more Sound Systems are being unveiled or are under construction. Some of you probably, are not quite sure what a Sound System is, confusing it, as many do, with a mobile disco. A Sound System is an entirely different creature.

They began life in Jamaica in the late 50’s early 60’s, where, due to the weather, open air dances were popular. The thing about Jamaicans then, something which they have exported to much of the world subsequently, is they liked to dance to the bass. The lower end of the sound spectrum spoke to their dancing feet. But bass frequencies dissapate quickly in the open air. In order to get the lower end frequencies of the records over to the audiences, the speakers became bigger and bigger. Competition grew intense as rival operators struggled to get the best sound. Crucially, it was discovered, that splitting the sound signal into bass, middle and top, then sending the bass signal only to an amplifier, was the most effective way to amplify bass. If just the bass frequencies, were sent to the huge 18′ speakers, a sound was produced which could truly carry across the lawns the people danced on. Amplifiers of an output level unheard of anywhere else in the world, were built on the Island, in order to boost the signal. Seperate amplifiers were used for bass, middle and top. Preamplifiers, often locally made, were used to split the signal.A whole culture grew around these sound systems. Operators had been playing R+B and Jazz records from America, but as the sixties commenced Rock and Roll took over and Jamaicans wern’t big fans. They were obliged to make their own records. Jazz bands from the hotels were recruited to make the music.Talent Competions were huge, and the winners, were given the chance to sing, on the music recorded by the Jazz musicians. First the operators attempted to make American R+B, but in response to audience reaction, this gradually mutated into the music now known world wide as Ska. The whole of Reggae music grew from this seed. And indirectly Drum and Bass, Hip Hop and Dubstep can all trace their roots to sound systems.

The world wide growth of bass led music, a movement known as Bass Culture, is a big factor in the resurgence. But it’s more than that.
For today’s European youth the Sound System has become iconic. A physical representation of an alternative way of looking at the world. Music played on a computer or Ipod sounds entirely different when played on a sound system. The system produces a sound with an other worldly quality. A feeling of massive latent power. The aural difference in how you hear music, represents a different way of looking at, and hearing the world. The size difference too. The squat bulk of the sound system speaker stack is a direct reproach to the contemporary obsession with miniturisation.

To those of us who love Reggae Music, it’s a highly satisfactory development. Long may it continue.


Date by james| Categories: Reggae News