Sonic Street Technologies: Culture, Diaspora and Knowledge
Sonic Street Technologies (SST) is a European Research Council (ERC) funded research project (2021 – 2025) examining the role and value of bottom up, subaltern and Global South uses of recorded music technologies. Jamaican sound systems, Brazilian aparelhagem, Mexican sonideros and Colombian picos provide good examples. The project aims to map the distribution and history of these SST worldwide; to investigate the social, economic and cultural conditions from which they are born; and to achieve a deeper understanding of the nature of technology itself and its uses for social and economic progress. SST adopts a practice-as-research methodology as a respect for the knowledge embodied in current sound system and similar street cultures and to help build capacities for their autonomous development.
Sonic Street Technologies (SST) spring up around the planet as a web of collectively engineered audio vibrations. They often originate in the Global South and its diaspora, where playing recorded music out of doors is an essential part of many popular cultures. They are more likely to be found at the margins of the cities – usually, on the ghetto streets, not the high streets. The equipment is often “low-tech,” re-purposed, hacked and customized to generate an intensive auditory experience for their audience. For more than fifty years SST have fostered music evolution and technological innovation. They have stimulated identity, building and collective empowerment, and provided a source of income to disenfranchised communities, not to mention inspiring forms of popular music worldwide.
This project is the first project to be in a position to map the global distribution of SST. It will also provide numerous local in-depth investigations of the social, cultural and technological contribution that sonic street technologies make for their communities. The project aims to raise questions about what the relationship between technology and society can and should be. It claims that SST provide a new, productive and urgently required understanding of the social, cultural and political nature of technology.
The SST project is designed to involve not only researchers, but also sound system and other street technology professionals – engineers, selectors, MCs/ DJs, owners and others. It also has to include the support, participation and collaboration from the many regular followers attending the dances and sessions. These music street cultures are a huge well-established and rich cultural resource in which a wide range of people play an important part.
Over the five-year period of the project (including a start-up and write up at the beginning and end) we will cover in
- Year One: summer 2021 to summer 2022 – sound systems: Jamaica, Caribbean, Jamaican diaspora and Jamaica influence across Europe and North America
- Year Two: 2022 to 2023 aparelhagem, radiolas, trio electrico, funkeiros etc – Brazil
- Year Three: 2023 to 2024 – sonideros: Mexico; los picos: Columbia and Spanish speaking Latin America
- Year Four: 2024 to 2025 – sound systems: Africa, Australia, China, Japan
We will work with local researchers, organisations and agencies to create safe spaces (actual and virtual) for knowledge exchange between professionals and between them and researchers for the benefit of each and all. The SST project calls for participation from:
- researchers on sound system and other street cultures and technology more generally
- professional engineers, selectors, MCs/ DJs, owners and others
- supporters, followers and enthusiasts
Research will be done with gatherings, conferences and events in different countries and online, as well as profiling the contribution of particular technologies, sound systems and scenes. This website and our social media channels are designed to curate, archive and provide accessible resources for ongoing activities across sound system and other street cultures and scenes. We aim to gather, share and amplify the vast amount of knowledge held across the scenes and cultures in the form of photographs, videos, technical tips, anecdotes and stories.
As a research project funded by the ERC our research in progress will be reported on in our blog and the results published in journal articles and books as well as performances, documentary videos, installations and exhibitions. Our research process requires that we build local capacity wherever possible. We intend to support and collaborate with those who have been promoting sound systems and other street cultures over many years.
The project builds on the work of the Sound System Outernational research group at Goldsmiths, University of London and their many collaborators including Unit 137 and Young Warrior sound systems in the UK, Lets Go Yorkshire, Bababoom Hi Fi (Italy) and DeskaReggae (Brazil).
The SST project will also build on our relationships with associated universities including, Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica; L’Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale, Italy; Universidad Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil and others.
Take a look at our initial network.