reggae and soundsystem culture event

Some notes off the top of my head about last night. It was a very interesting evening, I thought. The fact that I didn’t agree with everything which was said in no way detracts from what was a well organised and fascinating event.

The main difference between the panellists seemed to be one of traditionalism (Rodigan and Jazzie B) and progression (Stuart Baker from Soul Jazz). I was quite surprised to find myself agreeing with Stuart more than the other two on many points.

Some of the topics which were discussed were: (I can’t remember them all…)

“how did you get into reggae?”

“is there a soundsystem culture in the UK?”

“does the UK industry need a Sean Paul?”

“should gun man and other offensive lyrics be banned?”

“how is reggae perceived in the media?”

Jazzie B and Rodigan laid down a lot of history and wisdom which was great to hear. I think perhaps they fell down a bit by constantly referencing the best music of yesteryear in comparison with stuff that is coming out now. Obviously I agree that most modern bashment isn’t up to much, but I think it’s easy to view the past with rose-tinted specs and it’s maybe hard to stay in tune with the times when you’ve been into something for several decades.

However I do have some sympathy with the ideas of ‘graft and craft’ that Jazzie B and Rodigan put forward – the effort people put into lyrics seems to me to have declined sharply. “Soundsystems” now being a box of records rather than an actual system with all the crew and boxes and aggro that goes along with that has meant a loss of commitment. Pirate radio DJs can fling down x-amount of versions and talk nonsense over them instead of actually selecting and educating and entertaining their audience. (Yes, I think everyone in the room was conscious of turning into their parents…)

Stuart (Soul Jazz records head honcho) was surprisingly optimistic about current music, whether it be bashment or dubstep or whatever. He freely admitted that he didn’t have a huge background in the music, and my guess is that this has allowed him to look at everything fresh. He ummed and ahhhed a lot, but what he said was basically spot on in my view.

On the upside, everyone seemed to agree that reggae is now part of the DNA of UK music scene, and that in one sense a battle had been won there. There was general agreement that the future lay not in imitating JA, but in producing our own UK urban rebel music (for want of a better term).

There was also a lot of discussion of radio and other media.

There were no simple conclusions or solutions at the end, which is probably because there aren’t any.The homophobia issue was touched on, but certainly wasn’t done to death.

The Q+A’s were great, which is hardly surprising when you looked at the audience. I would say there were about 50 or 60 people in there. About 50-50 black and white. Probably 75% blokes. There was a lot of passion in the room and I think many people were surprised at the turnout and the level of interest shown in the event.

Roll call of the audience (in no particular order):

Dougie Wardrop (Conscious Sounds)
Barry (Reggae on Top)
Marky (RDK Hi-Fi)
Mykaell Riley (One of the original members of Steel Pulse)
Dr William Henry (aka Leslie Lyrics! Respect due!)
Bigfoot (Station FM)
Some of the Channel One Soundsystem crew
Some of the Heatwave crew
Various people off Dissensus and the Blood&Fire boards
and a rag bag of assorted promoters, writers, artists and fans who all seemed equally interesting and engaged with the discussions

The organisers will be doing another event shortly as part of Black History Month. There is talk of it being at City Hall, with the blessing of the mayor’s office.

A number of audience members seemed to have projectS on the go which sounded well worth supporting. I’ll keep people updated if I hear anything. Photos also to follow.


  1. Interesting. We all big people now and I see the same here in Tokyo on the generation viewpoint clash.

    Interesting you use the new spelling of Mykael Riley’s name

    Observation: UK reggae has been a different animal from JA for a very long time, like longer than most current fans been alive.


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