Reggae Innovation and Sound System Culture

Sound System Exhibition Launch, March 21st 2018
International Conference and Music Events, April 4 & 5th 2018
Birmingham City University, Birmingham UK

Birmingham City University and The University of West Indies are delighted to announce a forthcoming international conference on reggae culture and sound system innovation, and give notice of a forthcoming call for conference papers. Information on submission processes will be published in December.

The conference will be hosted in The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at BCU, with its world-leading concert venues and conference facilities. The conference will also allow you entry to a number of planned reggae events and performances.

Running alongside the Arts Council-funded Let’s Play Vinyl sound system touring exhibition, hosted by Birmingham City University, the conference will engage academics with the wider sound system culture. The exhibition features specially commissioned photographs of a new generation of sound system operators. It features a sound system and associated toasting and ‘build your own’ system workshops, and the opportunity for all ages to play records on a traditional reggae sound system designed and built for the exhibition.

The Reggae Innovation and Sound System Culture International Conference builds upon recent meetings of the Reggae Research Network held throughout the UK in 2017, the Bass Culture Research Project and associated events, and the forthcoming Strictly Vinyl Sound System Outernational #4 in January at Goldsmiths, University of London, all establishing new approaches to reggae culture research.

This conference promises to be a landmark event in reggae culture and sound system research, highlighting the music’s subgenres, crossovers, mashups, intersections and innovations, featuring international academic guests and musicians. The conference will discuss and engage with reggae innovation, particularly the theoretical and practical expressions of how innovation plays out through music and popular culture.

Collectively, these BCU events mark the first stage of a series of co-produced research and external engagement activities which will investigate music diversity, cultural innovation and visualisation. Like this conference, forthcoming events will place the spotlight on music heritage and innovation through a series of workshops and plenary sessions on visual culture, technology and new collaborations.

We would particularly welcome proposed papers that address the following conference sub-themes:

· Innovation through heritage, from mento to dancehall.
· Innovation for heritage beyond dancehall.
· Reggae musicians and innovation case studies.
· Reggae, music and gender.
· Reggae and the music industry; new forms, new marketing, new audiences.
· Jamaican and diasporic sonicities.
· Reggae’s new music, new media, and new technologies.
· Exploring reggae’s inner and outer spaces and locations.
· Reggae in and out of popular music studies.
· Creativity: from theory to practice; methods and processes.
· Reggae in transition: reinventing reggae – reconfigurations, collaborations and crossovers.
· Reggae futures.

We would also welcome presentations made through innovative uses of media, music and technology alongside traditional formats. Presentation proposals from musicians, artistes and students are welcome.

Abstracts for individual or panel presentations of no more than 300 words per presentation supported by a short biography no longer than 75 words, should be submitted to the conference organisers for international peer review. Deadline for submissions Feb 23, 2018

Please send submissions or any enquiries to

Bass Culture Research Conference Saturday May 26th 2018

From Bass Culture Research:

Our first conference, organised by Mykaell Riley of the Black Music Research Unit, University of Westminster and Les Back of Goldsmith’s, University of London will take place at Goldsmith’s, Saturday May 26th 2018.

The University of Westminster’s Bass Culture Research is a 3 year AHRC funded exploration of the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican influenced music on Britain, from the post war period to today, from The Clash to Skepta. We are calling for abstracts of no longer than 300 words that explore this impact in light of but not limited to our research questions below.

Our aim is to produce a clear understanding of the impact and legacy of Jamaican music on the political, social, musical and cultural landscape of Britain. To achieve this we have three core research questions, each framing a set of subsidiary questions:

RQ1: What role did Jamaican migrants and their descendants play in the emergence of a vibrant cultural and creative ecosystem based around Black British music? How did reggae impact on the sound of British pop? What was the ecosystem supporting sound system culture, and how has the legacy of this culture impacted on the British music scene?

RQ2: How did reggae music impact youth culture in Britain: vocabulary, behaviour, dress and dance? What contribution did it make to cultures of political resistance, solidarity, and ethnic identity? What role did Jamaican and British Jamaican music play in the transition from monoculture to multiculture in Britain, particularly during the period 1976–1981?

RQ3: How can primary memories and artefacts of Jamaican music in London be traced, preserved, and handed down to future generations? Who are the key contributors to the legacy of Jamaican music in Britain?

Submissions guidance and deadlines:
Submissions to be emailed to with Bass Culture Research Conference in the title by no later than 5th February 2018 and as a single pdf file.

• Informal queries to either or
• Abstracts will go through an internal peer review process and will be selected for 15 minutes oral presentations – a February date for these tbc.
• Notification of acceptance will be emailed to authors by 23rd February. Successful submissions will be presented during the Conference and the abstracts will be published as part of the publicity for the event.

Bookings: To ensure you receive notification when booking opens please join our mailing list here if you are not already on it.

Twitter: @BmruUK


Writing the Noise: the politics and history of subcultural music

We have been asked to draw the network’s attention to the 2nd International Conference of the Interdisciplinary Network for the Study of Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change being held at The University of Reading on the 6-7 September 2018, organised by one of the delegates to our first meeting in Norwich. Prof Matt Worley hopes it will be of interest to some reggae researchers & writers.

Please see the call for papers for more information, the deadline for submissions is 15 November 2017.

Volunteer research opportunity with the Bass Culture project

The Bass Culture research project are seeking 2 individuals to support the project by conducting their own research into relevant material held at Black Cultural Archives. Primarily this will be through a review of music periodicals in the archive: Echoes (formerly Black Echoes) magazine, Straight No Chaser, and Black Music and Jazz Review. The research will also look at related material in the ephemera collection, Len Garrison’ papers and his research in to reggae music and UK youth identity, as well as relevant material within the new Carl Kirton archive. This research would include but not be limited to identifying musical, cultural, political and or artistic trends during the period covered by the magazines and archive material.


Placements are for an 8 week period staring 1st Aug 2017, ending 22nd Sept.   You will need to commit to a minimum of 4 hours volunteering each week and be able to access the archive at some point during these hours:

  • Tuesdays: 10am-1pm and 1pm-3pm. Kennington (Carl Kirton) archive
  • Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: 10am-4pm. BCA, Brixton for other archive collections

Required outputs:

  1. Produce a written piece responding to our core research questions – essay, article, personal response
  2. Take part in a public sharing / discussion event
  3. Be interviewed on film about your research and the experience
  4. Produce a personal response of your choice – for example, conduct and record your own oral history interview, writing a poem, mapping a music history walk etc.

Project background

Bass Culture is a three-year AHRC-funded exploration of the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture. Covering the period from the mid-1960s to the present day, with a focus on London and a particular interest in the years 1976 – 1981, Bass Culture explores the profound ways in which this island’s music remade popular music in Britain.  We look at how fundamental music was in the emergence of multicultural in the British city and the redefinition of the post-colonial nation. The term ‘Bass Culture’ acknowledges both the Caribbean cultural origins of sound system practices and their ongoing role in framing British urban experience across ethnic, local and regional contexts. This multi-strand research project unites a multi-disciplinary group of scholars, practitioners, researchers and cultural producers who will produce a series of exciting, accessible and innovative outputs including a comprehensive oral history, bespoke website, exhibitions, events and academic publications. Much of this work will be produced in collaboration with community partners and young people. Bass Culture is the first fully-funded academic investigation of the impact of Jamaican music and culture on Britain.   The work is led by PI Mykaell Riley of University of Westminster, alongside academic partners at SOAS, Leicester and Goldsmith’s.


These placements are open to people of all ages and backgrounds and do not require an academic or archiving background. Experience of research will be helpful but is not essential. We are looking for a genuine enthusiasm for the subject area and an eye for detail – for ‘knowledgeable amateurs’ excited by the prospect of exploring an under-researched area, able to produce an articulate response to the work and willing to share their findings in written and other ways. You will be supported by the BCA Collections manager and by the academic research team, but will need to be self-motivated and able to work independently.

How to apply

Please send 300 words to outlining:

  • why you would like to volunteer for this project
  • which parts of the Bass Culture research area most interest you
  • the skills that you bring
  • how you think taking part would benefit you

We will be holding informal interviews on Tuesday 27th of June in the Learning centre at Black Cultural Archives, 1 Windrush Square, Brixton, London, SW2 1EF and you will need to be available on that day to be considered. Travel and subsistence expenses will be covered.

Applications must be received by end Tuesday 20th June



Positive Vibration: Festival of Reggae 2017

Legendary 2-Tone band, The Selecter and King of the Sound System, Jah Shaka to headline Liverpool’s award-winning reggae festival

Winner of Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards 2016

  • Multi-Venue: Baltic Triangle, Liverpool (Constellations, Hangar 34 and District)
  • Date: Friday 9th June – Saturday 10th June 2017
  • Tickets: Friday, Saturday and Weekend tickets available from Skiddle.
  • Children under 12 go FREE (Applies to Saturday only. Max of 2 x child tickets per parent/guardian ticket).

Liverpool’s award-winning celebration of reggae music and Jamaican heritage, Positive Vibration, returns in June for a jam-packed weekend of cultural appreciation and positivity.

Headlining this year’s festival will be legendary 2-Tone band, The Selecter and King of the sound system, Jah Shaka.

The Selecter

Fronted by the iconic, Pauline Black, The Selecter were one of the key bands of the U.K ska revival of the late ’70s and early ‘80s (along with Madness and The Specials), often tackling sexism along with racism and other social ills.

Jah Shaka

The legendary operator & producer, who has been at the forefront of the UK reggae/dub scene since the mid-1970’s, will be bringing his full sound system for a 5 hour session.

Full Line Up

Friday: Jah Shaka (full sound system, 5 hour session)Aba Shanti-IReggae RoastEarl GatesheadMC Brother CultureSaxon Sound SystemVibronicsI-mitri CounterAction, Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound SystemDJ Andy Smith, plus more.

Saturday: The SelecterThe ScientistChannel One Sound SystemDon LettsPrince FattyHorseman, Soul Jazz Records Sound System, Trojan Records Official Club Night w/ Pama InternationalDubmatixCharlie PRas Kwame, New Town KingsThe Hempolics, Backbeat Soundsystem, Western Promise, Mount Nakara, Golty Farabeau, plus more.

The Art of Reggae Exhibition

This year sees the return of The Art of Reggae Exhibition – a successful collaboration between Positive Vibration and the International Reggae Poster Contest. The exhibition, which supports the Alpha Boys School in Jamaica, will showcase 100 reggae-inspired posters, designed by illustrators & artists from all over the world. You’ll also be able to bid on the posters.

The exhibition will take place at Constellations from 7th June – 9th July 2017, with the launch taking place on the 7th June. Entry to the launch is free, but please confirm your attendance by emailing:

The Reggae Q&A

There will be a panel discussion taking place on the Saturday of the festival which explores the impact of reggae on British music, culture & society.

This year’s panel includes:

  • Pauline Black – iconic frontwoman of 2 Tone band, The Selecter. Actress, broadcaster and author of music bestseller, ‘Black by Design’
  • Mykaell Riley – former member of Steel Pulse and founder of the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. Head of Music Production at the University of Westminster and Director for the Black Music Research Unit.
  • Dennis Bovell – legendary reggae guitarist, bass player and producer. Founding member of Matumbi and pioneer of Lovers Rock.
  • John Robb – award-winning music journalist and punk musician, John will be asking the questions.


On the Saturday of the festival, there will be a number of creative, educational and dance workshops for the children, including:

  • Dub Poetry with Levi Tafari.
  • Arts & Crafts with Square Pegs.
  • The Rastaquarium.
  • Capoeira with Capoeira For All.

Apply to Trade

If you’d like to trade at Liverpool’s award-winning reggae festival, please email

All suitable goods & services will be considered.

Sponsors and Partners


Twitter: @posvibefest


Instagram: positivevibrationfestival


Scoping the Field: Weaving a Research Narrative in Ten Minutes by Yewande Okuleye

Sometimes, the way academic research is presented might suggest research is something complete, tidy, and resolved. In my experience, research is messy, incomplete, and always far from resolved.

Research can be circular, rhizomic and often full of dead ends, silences, and deafening echoes. I love the challenge of sorting out this mess and I always revel in working on research riddled with contradictions and anomalies. This can be exciting and challenging on a good day, however, on a not so good day, I question my sanity.

I presented my sane side, when I applied to do my PhD research which investigates the contemporary history of the re-emergence of cannabis as a medicine. My methodology adopts an interdisciplinary approach which explores the social, cultural, and political factors which have shaped this discourse. My ten-minute presentation, at the Research Reggae Network symposium, Rastafari, Nyabinghi and ‘the herb’ was drawn from the activist strand of enquiry which seeks to historicise the medical marijuana social movement between 1992- 2016. Although Rastafari have been criminalised and incarcerated for their religious use of marijuana, Rastafari have been absent from marijuana reform advocacy in Britain. My initial research question sought to understand this absence, however before I could do that, I needed to gain a better understanding about the cultural and religious meanings which Rastafari ascribe to the sacramental use of marijuana.

These meanings have their roots in Jamaica, where Rastafari emerged in the 1930’s. Marijuana, popularly known as ganja, was introduced to Jamaica by indentured labourers from East India in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Marijuana cultivation and consumption became embedded within Jamaican society and ganja consumption has historically encompassed the recreational, folklore medicine and the spiritual. Rastafari venerate the qualities of ganja and refer to it as ‘the herb’. The sacramental use of ‘the herb’ is acknowledged and understood within Rastafari as an aid to mystical experience.


The popular perception about the recreational use of marijuana has been constructed mainly through unproblematised stereotypes, media representations and moral panics. For example, the ubiquitous image of Bob Marley smoking marijuana does very little to elucidate the difference between the secular and religious use of marijuana. We are none the wiser about Rastafari religious and spiritual ideologies, which inform the significance of ‘the herb’ as a sacrament within Rastafari religious practise. The sacramental use of ‘the herb’, has come under the scholarly gaze and the topic is not entirely obscured from view. For example, cultural anthropologist Leonard Barrett Snr, conducted interviews with Jamaican Rastafari about the sacramental use of ‘the herb’ as far back as 1963.[1]

Contrary to popular belief, not all Rastafari consume ‘the herb’ as part of a spiritual practice and focusing on just this aspect imposed a prohibitionist lens on my research. What would happen if I (re)framed my focus and looked at other important aspects of Rastafari religious practice. Say, for instance, the collective practice of prayer, chanting, dancing and nyabinghi drumming. This insight added a different turn to my research and my research split into two pathways. The history pathway investigates the absence of Rastafari from the marijuana reform debate. Here, oral history interviews were conducted to explore the lived experiences of Rastafari with a view to reconstruct a narrative about Rastafari silence and invisibility in drug reform discourse.

A closer examination of nyabinghi drumming opened an ethnographic research pathway. My research included watching You Tube videos, which highlighted the international dimension of nyabinghi drumming. I found Rastafari scholar, Michael Barnett’s field research description of Rastafari religious services in America particularly useful to think about the importance of religious setting.[2]  Further insights shared by Ras gold during an interview about the healing power of music, expanded the framework to think about the holistic effect of music and dance within Rastafari spirituality, as he explained that:

‘you can sit and you can meditate and wait to have a connection with the universe or you can dance and you can drum, you can sing and you can chant and you can bring that connection to you, by just releasing them endorphins and all of the natural energies that we have inside us.’[3]

Notwithstanding this research, I was unprepared for my reaction to a nyabinghi drumming session performance at an exhibition opening in London in June 2016. Listen here. The concept of African retention is new to me and I intend to write an autoethnographic account which traces the links between nyabinghi, reggae and African traditional music. I am also rather intrigued to find out if there are other explanations for my acoustic experience.

I had only ten-minutes to convey the twists and turns intrinsic to my research and map out the future research pathways to develop my thinking. Irrespective of whatever anxieties I might have had on the day about communicating a coherent narrative, I found the symposium provided a safe space to feel my way through my material and be part of an academic community for a day. Getting away from the academy also enhances opportunities to introduce my research to a different audience with unexpected outcomes. This included being invited to Fairfield House, Bath, the former resident of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I.[4] This kind invitation offered by Dr Shawn Sobers creates an opportunity for me to expand my London-centric research. My discussion with another academic resulted in an offer to read my draft chapter on drug reform. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Professor Paul Gilroy at the train station. We had a brief chat about my research and he recommended that I should read the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

I look forward to weaving a narrative about ‘the herb’, the invisibility of Rastafari and African retention with a sprinkling of the spectral for good measure. Research can be fun.

Yewande Okuleye

Twitter @cannabinoid2

Instagram @ yewandeslondon


[1]   Barrett Leonard Snr, The Rastafarian: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance, Revised. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), 128-136.

[2] Michael Barnett, “The Globalization of Rastafari Movement from a Jamaican Diasporic Perspective,” in The Globalization of Rastafari, ed. Ian Boxhill (Kingston: Arawak Publications, 2008), 110–114.

[3] Interview with Ras gold, by Yewande Okuleye March 7th 2016.

[4] Rastafari believe in the divinity of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I. See Clinton Chisholm, “The Rasta-Selassie-Ethiopian Connections,” in Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, ed. Murrell Samuel Nathaniel, Spencer David Wiliam, and Mcfarlane Anthony Adrian (Philaldephia: Temple University Press, 1998), 166–177.

Dub Plate Stories by Mandeep Samra

The presentation given by Mandeep Samra at the Reggae Research Network Symposium in Norwich focused on the Sound System Culture project which celebrates reggae sound system culture as an innovative artform. Developed by Let’s Go Yorkshire, the project started in 2013 in Huddersfield and captured the stories of the Caribbean community’s past and brought them to life through a collection of oral histories, exhibition, book, film, interactive sound installation and the production of specially commissioned dubplates that visitors could play on the installation, facilitating an immersive experience which forms an intrinsic part of the reggae sound system tradition.
The exhibition was immensely popular and the project was highly praised, encouraging the organisation to expand the project into a national tour in 2014-16 to document Bristol, Birmingham and London’s vibrant reggae sound system heritage. Venues supporting the tour included Colston Hall in Bristol, The Drum in Birmingham and The Tabernacle in London. These large, well established venues allowed us to engage diverse audiences with this important and largely undocumented social history.
The national project included 3 new culturally valuable exhibitions and the production of a children’s book, The Sonar System, introducing children to the world of sound system culture. The book was described by i-D magazine as “arguably the world’s best kid’s book” and supports the national #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign aimed at promoting greater cultural diversity amongst children’s literature.


Rock Music Studies Special Issue: Bob Marley, edited by Mike Alleyne

Submissions are invited for a special issue of Rock Music Studies that examines the art and legacies of reggae’s best-known figure in the particular context of the fortieth anniversaries of of his Rastaman Vibration and Exodus albums.

In the first instance, potential contributors are asked to submit abstracts (approximately 250 words in English) and brief CVs by April 30, 2017.

Those selected for inclusion will then be invited to submit articles (6,000 to 8,000 words) by January 31, 2018.

The issue of Rock Music Studies will be published in 2019.

Please address all communications to: Mike Alleyne (Middle Tennessee State University)

Please click here for more information.

Image credit: Bob Marley performing at Dalymount Park, on 6 July 1980 by Eddie Mallin CC BY 2.0.

Growing up under the influence: A sonic genealogy of grime by Dr Joy White

Presented by Dr Joy White at the Reggae Research Network Symposium: Scoping the Field in Norwich on the 25th January 2017.

Grime is a specifically English musical genre. What started out as a niche practice that articulated the lived experiences of young black men from a particular place, is now an endeavour that attracts a national and international audience. A diaspora cultural form, Grime has been nourished by its black Atlantic connections to the Caribbean, Africa and North America. In this presentation, I reflect on the influence of Reggae on Grime musical production.

I’ve been writing about Grime for almost a decade. A 21st century genre, it came of age in the YouTube era, but its primary ground was the pirate radio network. Along with Déjà Vu and Freeze, Rinse had a central role in showcasing Grime. At the age of sixteen, DJ Geeneus, with DJ Slimzee set up the station in Tower Hamlets. According to Geeneus, it was on Rinse in 2002, where UK Garage began to evolve into Grime. He said:

‘it was more like a darker side of Garage. We kind of converted the scene, into a darker sound…Grime started in east London…’

Grime sounds like where it is from; the street corners and council estates of inner city east London. It’s sonic origins flow through the musical practice of the black diaspora, namely Hip Hop, Reggae, UK Garage and Jungle. Jamaican and UK sound system culture and practice also had a significant influence.

Over a five-year period, between 2007 and 2012, I interviewed 40 people who were involved in some way in the urban music economy. Many of them were Grime MCs.

My starting point is a quote from one of those interviews. In 2009, I spoke to Kevin just as he was about to play his set on a beach in Ayia Napa in Cyprus. Kevin was a 30-year-old DJ, who had been a member of a north London crew for 15 years. He spoke about playing music of various styles over the years, Jungle, Garage and Grime. He said:

‘Of course, the roots of all this is Reggae’

So long before Chuck D called Rap the CNN for the ghetto, Reggae music articulated the struggles of the poor in a newly independent Jamaica. In Jamaica, Reggae could be heard via the sound systems – a portable endeavour comprised of equipment and crew, particularly the selector who assesses the vibe and chooses the records to suit, and the DJ who ‘toasts’ or chats over the selected tunes. The sonic genealogy of Grime can be traced back to these Jamaican sound systems and this heritage is manifest in three key ways; firstly the role of the crew and contemporary examples such as Roll Deep, Pay as U Go, Heartless Crew and N.A.S.T.Y crew, secondly, the ‘sound clash’ or adversarial performance battle, and finally Grime MCs ‘spitting’ lyrics over a beat.

I’m going to show clips from two videos to illustrate this, the first is from Jamaica – Sting 1993 – with Beenie Man and Bounty Killer and the second is from a Sidewinder event in Swindon – 2005, Wiley and Skepta are also on the bill but we’ll watch Trim and JME do their thing.

Grime has its origins in the hybridity genre of Reggae which itself grew out of a mix between American and Caribbean musical forms. As a black Atlantic creative expression its provenance is firmly rooted in urban east London, specifically the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham. Grime is traceable to a specific and particular location, namely urban east London, it comes out of an inner city environment where the offspring of Caribbean migrants intermingle with a white working class population and its linguistic canon reflects this. This genre has been created out of what Paul Gilroy calls the  ‘[…] displacement, relocation and dissemination of black creative expression’. The practitioners in this field are predominantly, but not exclusively, young, black males.  The consumers of it however, are from all over the UK, Europe and increasingly Africa and North America.

We have now had more than a decade of Grime. Dizzee Rascal, a Grime MC – won the Mercury Music Prize in 2003 (Boy in Da Corner) and Skepta (Junior Adenuga) won it last year for his album Konnichiwa.

Dizzee Rascal learned his craft via a sporadic apprenticeship with the Roll Deep crew, where he was championed by Wiley – the ‘Godfather of Grime’ until artistic differences led to a parting of the ways. Roll Deep was a Grime crew of approximately a dozen young men from Tower Hamlets, it included Scratchy, Riko Dan, Trim, Tinchy Stryder, Danny Weed and Target. In a recent interview Danny Weed and Target reflected on their early Grime days and discussed how they – along with Scratchy and Breeze another Roll Deep member – grew up together. All of them at one point worked in Wiley’s dad’s patty shop in east London, where, according to Danny Weed: ‘We got free patties and shit money’.

Slightly further east in the London Borough of Newham, Marcus Nasty, Jammer and other members of the N.A.S.T.Y crew were also formulating a new sound from the waning UK Garage genre. N.A.S.T.Y; an acronym for Natural Artistic Sounds Touching You was founded at the turn of the 21st century by Marcus Nasty, D Double E and Jammer until an acrimonious split left Marcus Nasty at the helm for a while. Like Roll Deep, this crew was also a fluid collection of approximately a dozen young male artists. Members included: DJ Mak 10, Stormin, Lil Nasty, Ghetts, Sharky Major and Kano. In the early days, Dizzee Rascal worked with DJ Mak 10 and Kano. After the split, D Double E, Jammer and Footsie transformed themselves into the Newham Generals and eventually signed to Dizzee Rascal’s Dirtee Stank label. While N.A.S.T.Y. is no longer a prime force as a crew, their pirate radio sets, such as this one where they go back to back with Roll Deep, are the stuff of legend.

Former members have evolved into different roles and genres; Marcus Nasty is a DJ on Rinse FM, Ghetts is an independent recording artist, Stormin is a Drum and Bass MC and Jammer’s annual MC clash, Lord of the Mics is now in its tenth year.

The crew is a key component of sound systems and the subsequent UK Garage and Grime scene. In this context a crew is a group of like-minded individuals who are friends or have some kind of kinship connection and share a common interest, in this case – music. So, for example So Solid, Heartless Crew, Boy Better Know (BBK), Pay As You Go, Roll Deep and N.A.S.T.Y, contain members who attended the same schools, grew up on the same estates, are brothers or have some kind of familial relationship.

The Grime scene offered a liminal space for young men with limited resources to create music that spoke to and of their surroundings; the street corners and council estates of east London but with a reach back into their Caribbean heritage. Ina de Ghetto a track by Wretch 32, featuring Badness and Ghetts demonstrates this and also speaks to a collision/collapse of space, time and place. The words are spoken and sung by the three artists in a London and Jamaican dialect and some very lyrical wordplay is used to describe those that are focused on criminality as a way out of the hard life.  The lyrics and visuals make connections between east London and Kingston; Jamaica and illustrates how Grime emerged from east London, but draws on a distinctly Caribbean heritage to speak to a global audience.

Grime is predominantly young, male and black. An arrhythmic, unconventional genre it samples an eclectic mix of sounds structured around 140 bpm. It can be hard on the ear, the beats can be disturbing and brutal and sometimes, in the rapid-fire delivery, the words are almost imperceptible.

Like Lovers Rock in the 1970s – a UK specific Reggae genre created by the offspring of Caribbean migrants to the UK, Grime draws on the cultural, political and economic history of having parents and grandparents from elsewhere. It stakes a claim to the lived experience of a specific and particular place, in this case urban east London. It is an opportunity for artists to bring forth a character with which to tell stories from a fictional personal perspective. Asserting black urban identities that are rooted in, for example, Plaistow or Bow rather than Africa or the Caribbean, these personas reflect the gritty nature of the environment.

The foundations of Grime music lie, and are grounded in, the sound systems, shebeens and blues dances of the previous decades. In Jamaica in the 1950s, sound systems had started out playing American RnB imports, but in time this gave way to Ska, followed by Rocksteady and ultimately Reggae. In the 1970s and 1980s each area of London and every big city with a black community of Caribbean heritage, had a sound system. Over time, UK based sound systems emerged and started to play other styles of music: Swingbeat, RnB, Soul and Garage. It is possible to recognise the sonic remnants of Dancehall DJs such as Bounty Killer, Cutty Ranks and Ninjaman in the early Grime clashes. It is this influence that can be heard in the early Grime canon and when Garage was evolving into Grime. Here is a video from a live performance at Alexandra Palace in 2002, where we can, among others,  see Maxwell D, Romeo (from So Solid Crew) and Wiley.

The adversarial or sound clash element of the outdoor sound system included versioning – where different lyrics were spoken or sung over the same rhythm tracks. In a ‘sound clash’ – an antagonistic lyrical competition – the act of rhyming over a beat is a crucial aspect with the emphasis on bringing something new or original to the battle. Grime MCs will often throw down a lyrical challenge and ‘send for’ another artist.

The performers themselves talk about the influence of reggae on their own work. When I interviewed, Ian a club and radio DJ, in 2009, he let me know that that his father was a UK Reggae singer, who had had some commercial success in the 1980s. Another informant, Oliver a pioneer in the UK Garage and Grime scene, now operating as an independent recording artist explained his father was a Reggae and Sound system DJ who started out on pirate radio and who also had a long stint on a national radio station. At different times over a two-year period, I interviewed four brothers; Victor, James, Edward and Andrew who were all heavily involved in the urban music economy (as MCs and DJs playing a variety of genres, including Grime). Each of them informed me that their father was a musician, a drummer in a Reggae band of many years standing. Edward said ‘I grew up around music, you could say that music is my backbone’.  David, an independent recording artist who was also a member of a north London crew described being part of a fabric of music, sounds and performance. He told me: ‘I’m not sure when I started, my brother was a DJ, my Dad was a DJ, music took hold of me…’

In an interview with an online magazine last week, Wiley talks about the major influences on him and his musical practice. After pointing out that his Dad was in a reggae band (playing piano, bass, keyboard and drums), Wiley has this to say:

“We gotta remember here that no matter what anyone is doing there’s a lot of influence that’s gonna have come from Jamaica and the West Indies, parts of Africa, America – and England where you watch Top of the Pops […]. What comes out will always be a fusion […]. Without there being dancehall and American music that we’ve all grown up on then none of this would be possible.

To conclude then, the opening decade of the 21st century saw Grime music emerge from the street corners and council estates of urban east London. This is where the offspring of Commonwealth migrants and the young white working class socialised and congregated, drawing on Jamaican sound system culture and practice and Dancehall rhythms to create a uniquely English sound. I want to end with this clip of General Levy performing his track Incredible live on Radio 1.  What is interesting is how veterans of the Grime scene, Dizzee Rascal, Lethal Bizzle, JME , Jammer and Footsie, take such obvious delight in a song that was released when they were probably still at school. General Levy acknowledges the importance of the Grime youth and we see the influence of reggae at work across the generations.

Toots and the Maytals at the UEA

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At the beginning of September the legendary Jamaican reggae group Toots and the Maytals played at the University of East Anglia on their 2016 tour. Since their formation in the 1960s, the band have been instrumental in popularising Reggae music with an international audience, as well as being incredibly popular in Jamaica, holding the record for the most number one hits in their home country. They are even attributed with naming the genre, with their 1968 single “Do the Raggay” being the first song to use the term.

There was a point when it seemed that we would no longer be able to enjoy the band’s high-energy live shows, as it was during their previous tour in 2013 that the band’s front man, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, was struck in the head by a 1.75-liter vodka bottle thrown by a member of the audience while performing onstage in Richmond, Virgina. As well as sustaining serious injuries, Hibbert developed a fear of performing and it was thought that this incident marked a sad end to the musician’s long touring career.

However, his amazing energy and positivity won through, and this tour marks a joyous return to the stage for the 73 year old front man. The show was a cross-generational affair, with Hibbert’s set being opened by an electrifying performance from his daughter Leba Thomas, who then doubled up as a backing vocalist when her father joined her on the stage. This meeting of the generations was reflected in the audience, which ranged from fresh-faced university students to aging skin heads. Beginning the set with their popular song Pressure Drop, the band went on to perform hit after hit, working the audience up into a frenzy of waving arms, with everyone, young and old, singing along.