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Where is sound system culture heading, and what is its current purpose?

Updated: May 2, 2023

Sound System culture was formed with a purpose. The direction was simple in the beginning. Provide entertainment to make a penny in the ghettos. The culture provided a means of making a living with many roles available, whether you were the sound system operator, promoter, or food and drink tender. For the customers and enthusiasts, it was about coming together to enjoy music, dance and socialise. Some even got passionate and followed their sound system supporting them again other sounds.

Eventually, sound system culture began serving a strong social and political dimension, with many sound system operators using their platforms to promote social justice, peace, and unity. This coincided with the formation of roots reggae music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, emerging as a response to the social and political upheaval of the time.

There was no confusion on what direction sound system culture was heading in and a code of conduct amongst sound systems in sessions had been near enough agreed upon. West Indian and African traditions probably influenced the way of sound systems' unwritten rules.

Along the timeline of sound system culture, there was a fork, where some sounds focused on the message whilst others saw their sounds as 'sporting' sound systems, interested in clashing.

Equally, some might have had a more orthodox sound, whilst others had contemporary styles. The idea that there are these two spectrums in which sound systems sit is somewhat similar to the political compass. If you think of sound systems historically, it seems quite easy to plot them on this compass. Each sound had an identity, a defined purpose.

The issue we now have is that so many sound systems lack identity, so plotting them on the compass would not be easy. There are more sound systems than ever before from different cultural and social backgrounds, and this probably lies the problem. Where sound systems were previously a vehicle used by people with mutual cultural and social differences and thus had a shared goal, the practitioners now do not partake with the same necessary desire. So if there even is an aim at all for current sound systems, they do not always align with other sound systems' goals, and so across the sound system culture, we are divided, and this means we are weaker.

For sound system culture to sustain itself so that this important history can be preserved, it needs to be determined collectively as a culture what the objectives are. A strategy needs to be put together so that all sound systems are working in the same direction. Establishing a shared vision, and identifying core values would be hugely beneficial. Standards and best practices could help promote the quality of the culture's output. It would be easier to provide education and training to help the community, and obtaining funding and resources would become easier to secure for the growth and development of this culture.

But who decides the direction? Would sound system culture benefit from a council?

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