Before SST takes the month of August off, we wanted to share the creative brilliance of some of our friends and collaborators. In this week’s blog, we at SST want to share with you some creative works produced by some of our collaborators and associates. We hope you enjoy the diverse musical experiences that our larger community brings to our project, and the ways it has opened up new avenues for understanding sound system cultures and the world for us.
Many of our SST collaborators and associates are involved in musical practice, whether that is through sound systems or otherwise. While sound system cultures are rooted in Jamaican reggae, there have been many applications of the philosophy and technology behind them in other ways/through other avenues. Our project is enriched by diverse musical traditions and practices, and here, we invite you to journey with us to learn more about the creative works of friends of the SST project.
Brian D’Aquino and Bababoom Hi Fi
Our own Senior Research Assistant and founding member of Sound System Outernational, Dr. Brian D’Aquino runs Bababoom Hi Fi since 2004., Bababoom Hi Fi is a reggae sound system and record label based in Naples, Southern Italy. The sound has played all over Italy while the crew has DJed across Europe, Tunisia and Jamaica. While deeply influenced by the ethos and know-how of the first-generation Italian sound system (namely DIY culture, community based dances, grassroots political activism), musically, they have been inspired by the UK Dub scene of the early 2000s. Bababoom began to release music on their own label in 2011, mainly working with the band The Roots Defenders and producer duo Dub Defender, featuring artists such as Johnny Clarke, Earl 16, Willi Williams, Ramon Judah, the late UK Principal and many more.
In Brian’s words: “Bababoom Hi Fi has been very lucky to work with the late great Douglas Sparks aka UK Principal. He was a great lyricist with a unique flair for freestyle. We met him at the first ever Sound System Outernational conference, held at Goldsmiths in January 2016. The vocals for this song were recorded few months later, and they show UKP’s talent and versatility. We had many more projects planned together. He is and will be sorely missed.”
“Earl Sixteen is true reggae legend of Lee Perry’s Black Ark fame. His career spans over five decades, and his unmistakable falsetto resonates from Jamaica to the world – still he’s an absolutely cool, down to earth character. We were working a lot with the Roots Defender Band in the mid 2010s including backing Earl several times both in Italy and in the UK. I sketched the lyrics while sitting in a bar in Brixton waiting for the rehearsal to finish – Earl liked them and added his own magic, and we voiced the tune shortly after that”, explains Brian.
Pietro Zambrin and Blue Shepherd Sound System/Tuff Wash Records
As we have discussed in a previous blog post, Astarbene is a key part of how we navigate the space between online and offline worlds of sound system cultures through our own social media and beyond. Pietro Zambrin of Astarbene is part of Blue Shepherd Sound System. Blue Shepherd is a Verona (Italy)-based sound system established in 2017, focused on the many facets of reggae, bass music and sound system culture. Their musical work is inspired by the foundations of reggae music and sound system culture: they aim at interpreting them in the contemporary world and contaminating/infusing them with modern vibes in order to shape their future ways and keep them alive.
To broaden this scope, they founded Tuff Wash Records in 2021. The vision of the label is to work differently with reggae music, to place it at the very core of today’s world, to take it to everyone; and to do so bringing up young talent.
“Reggae has always been about reality, and that still is its mission. That’s why Tuff Wash Records makes popular music, for today, for everyone,” explains Pietro.
Gopal Dutta and Bibliographic services unit
One of the key collaborators in our work on the Huddersfield sound system scene has been Gopal Dutta. Gopal conducted many interviews with people involved in the development of the sound system scene at Huddersfield and has talked about his experience as a researcher for SST in a previous blog post. Gopal started a band, Bibliographic services unit, with a friend he used to work with, in 2014. He had previously made a little electronic music, back in the early 2000s, but had no experience playing instruments or singing. His friend is a very competent guitar player and had his own equipment. They started with a borrowed microphone and a Tascam recorder from the AV department of the university where they both worked at the time.
At the time, they were both going to a lot of shows in Leeds and Gopal was also starting to promote gigs for bands and artists he liked. Live music was a huge part of their lives. Gopal was particularly inspired by Dean Blunt and his willingness to mix up genres and not worry too much about technical competence. The actual day they decided to form a band happened when a show they had planned to go to was cancelled and they both wanted to hear some music, so they made their own.
“I was also doing a lot of drawing of everyday scenes at the time, quick sketches capturing peoples’ off the cuff remarks. See, for example, this.”, explains Gopal. “And I was reading a lot, particularly some new translations of the Mahabharata, with a view to making a short film. The writing had a very forthright style, lots of proclamations and statements of intent. Somehow that gave me the confidence to wrap up my own thoughts with the snippets I overheard into lyrics.” The band practised in a friend’s attic and then got a few gigs in Manchester, Leeds and Huddersfield, mainly through their friendship and connections with other local bands and promoters.
What Gopal loves about making music is that it gives him an opportunity to work with someone else, making something new in the moment. It can also complement his other hobbies and activities, particularly drawing and going out to see bands.
Bass music saw sporadic setting the stage up for Jamaican influenced music in India when Dakta Dub returned to his hometown Hyderabad from Hungary and planted seeds for the future music & culture movement called Hyderabad Underground Movement. Things went next level with the formation of “Dub’in & Step’in”, reviving Roots/Reggae and Bass music. The roaring success of these events evolved to Bass Sanskriti, upping the ante with better aesthetics, art, and programming. Pparallelly, a crowdfunded event presented true Jamaican style sound system culture to an audience outside the party scene, in a kid’s playground, aggregating children and adults from various socio-economic backgrounds. Following thi, Dakta Dub decided to bring to Hyderabad its first Sound system with its own unique concept – Jamaican style sound system with an Indian-style adaptation. Monkey Sound System is custom hand-built by Mr Taus as per the personal taste of Dakta Dub. Among all the speaker boxes, the sub-bass boxes tend to be the weapon of a sound system. As the Monkey Sound System chooses, Hog scoop as the weapon of choice.
Shakuntala Records is part of a larger ecosystem envisioned by Dakta Dub to bring dub music to Indian and global audiences. One of the core ideas towards this end is to produce and release ‘conscious’ dub music inspired by recording traditional music from the Indian subcontinent. ‘Sanskriti Riddim’ (‘sanskriti’ means ‘culture’ in sanskrit, India’s ancient language) was one of the earliest experiments in this direction.
The tune was originally written as a collaboration between Dakta Dub & Barasingha, an up-and-coming Indian producer whose own work involves fusing Indian classical elements with UK Drum & Bass music. Based on a new roots riddim, the highlight of this tune is the melody performed on a mandolin in the style of Carnatic classical music (the traditional music of South India). Although still an unreleased dubplate, this tune has been played out at local dances and featured on international mixes to a hugely enthusiastic response from audiences.
Several such dubplates have since been written by ‘Monkey Collective’, a group of like minded producers (Barasingha, Shivacult, Nuphlo and Kone Kone) working together to create a new brand of Indian-flavoured globally-relevant sound system music. These tunes are set to be released in the near future on Monkey Sound System’s associated label Shakuntala Records, which aims to be a home for meditative and uplifting dub music rooted in Indian spirituality and musical aesthetic.
Hylu and Unit 137
Hylu has been a long term friend and associate of the Sonic Street Technologies project, and its precursor, Sound System Outernational. Hylu is a DJ, producer, engineer and the founder of Unit 137 sound system. Unit 137 is based in Lewisham (SE London), and has operated successfully as a sound, record label and event production crew since 2012. Hylu creates music with a wide range of influences; reggae, dub, jungle, hip-hop, dubstep, electronic, jazz and much more can be heard in his sound.
The two tracks Hylu has selected to share with us are from his second EP, ‘Latent Variables Vol. 2’. This release follows on from his debut EP, ‘Latent Variables Vol. 1’ in 2021, this second volume boasts two hard hitting tracks characterised by Hylu’s bass led productions – ‘Betty’ & ‘Earl’. The lead single, ‘Betty’, explores experimental dancehall with Krar samples and deep sub bass-lines. There’s a guttural texture to the percussion, giving it a raw punchy sound that make it impossible not to move to. The second track, ‘Earl’, pays homage to Hylu, and Unit 137’s, home of Hither Green, SE London. Field recordings, vocal samples, guitar licks and synth lines permeate this track. There’s a constant sense of movement, rolling forward with a heavy bass-line.
As with ‘Latent Variables Vol. 1’, this EP was created through a collaborative process, blending audio and visuals. This time the collaboration sees Hylu and the visual artist, Latent Variables, joined by Keifer Nyron Taylor: a London-based filmmaker and photographer from Birmingham. The collaborative process for the EP was loosely inspired by the surrealist method: Exquisite Corpse. The result of this collaboration is the EP of music and two accompanying videos, which are included here.
The ‘Betty’ music video features dancers from Daisy Roots Movement and movement direction from Jazmine JT. The music video direction & cinematography is by Keifer Nyron Taylor, editing & VFX by Latent Variables and lighting by Isaac Whittingham. The ‘Earl’ music video features photography & cinematography from Keifer Nyron Taylor and editing & VFX from Latent Variables.
‘Latent Variables Vol. 2’ is available to buy / play / download here.
Alanna Stuart and Bonjay, and pyne
Alanna Stuart is a music artist, researcher, curator, and documentarian based in Toronto, Canada and Kingston, Jamaica. As one-half of the Polaris Prize-nominated duo Bonjay, Alanna creates and performs a bass heavy, soul-driven sound that the New York Times calls ‘Canadian Dancehall’. She is also a proud member of the Queer Songbook Orchestra.
Alanna’s work has been heralded by the NPR, KCRW, BBC, CBC, The New York Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Globe & Mail, Exclaim Magazine, and others. Stuart’s sonic expansiveness has seen her perform alongside everyone from Etta James, to Little Dragon, to Bahamas, to Chris Hadfield, and collaborated with kindred forward-thinkers Sly & Robbie, Bernice, Equiknoxx, Junior Boys, James Baley, Act! and others.
Outside of the studio, Alanna conducts research that problematizes the concepts ‘diversity’ and ‘innovation’, and explores how creative industries engage with socially marginalized tastemakers around the world. Alanna is a Toronto Arts Council Leaders Lab Fellow and Radio Starmaker Fundboard member.
What is the #queerdancehallorchestra? What new terrain exists at the intersection of the Queer Songbook Orchestra’s lush arrangements and Bonjay’s dancehall-evolved soul?
These are the questions that drove the creation of the Queer Dancehall Orchestra’s “Medicine for Melancholy (Live from Yaad Version)”, a live performance video that reimagines electronic bedroom sounds back out onto human hands, touching wood & brass, generating waves that travel across open air…
It’s an appropriate pairing for a song about the feeling of in-betweenness that arises from living between two worlds. But while the two bands may seem to emerge from different musical places, they share a singular connective tissue. Alanna Stuart is the member they have in common, and for her, bringing them together was a longtime dream. An opportunity to illuminate her connection between two communities often seen as in opposition.
So what does it mean when those three words are placed side-by-side, #queer and #dancehall and #orchestra? What is the #queerdancehallorchestra?
The answer is intensely personal. But we are alive in a moment when it’s part of a conversation people are increasingly having out loud. And in the spirit of all emergent movements, it’s always contested and always evolving.
Alanna’s cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” is a soft launch of her solo project, pyne (pretty young. new energy). Right off the top, Alanna acknowledges with signature Jamaican braggadocio of the emo classic into bouncy punky reggae territory. Alanna put out this quick release as she was in the thick of an exciting solo work centred on what she dubs ‘femmehall’: a movement promoting the presence of women in dancehall production and presentation. Her forthcoming To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before EP features Jamaican music-inspired versions of songs by a mix-up selection of the women who have influenced her, from Liz Fraser, to Solange, to Kate Bush, to St. Vincent, to Casey Mecija. The record features added vibes and ideas from La-Nai Gabriel (Maylee Todd, Madam Gandhi) and Robin Dann (Bernice), and the honoured addition of Jamaican music icons, Sly & Robbie.
That’s all folks! See you back here on September 6.