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Photo Essay: A Celebration Of Sound System Culture

Lloyds Amphitheatre

Lloyds Amphitheatre: Packed Crowds At Climax of Outlook Orchestra Set. 

Friday, 21st July 2017, Colston Hall put on a celebratory gig for sound system culture at Lloyds Amphitheatre featuring The Outlook Orchestra and Roots Manuva.  Alexie shares his experience of the event in this photo essay:

On Friday, I went to a Colston Hall event celebrating sound system culture, underground music, and various artists. Before the gig, there was a panel discussion, held at Watershed, that looked into the roots of the ‘Sound System Movement’ and explored its cultural significance and impact on modern day genres.

Many on the panel were heavy weight established underground artists such as; Dub veteran Mad Professor, a disciple of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, The Conquering Lion aka Congo Natty, a figure at the forefront of Jamaican infused dance records in the UK, Johnny Scratchley the frontman of the Gentleman’s Dub Club, Nanci Correia,  Pinch and finally Koast who was hosting the panel. Although, I didn’t know who they were, hearing them introduced as such profound artists made me excited to hear what they had to say during the discussion – even more so hear them perform later on.

A panel discussion featuring: Mad Professor Congo Natty Nanci Correia Pinch Johnny Scratchley Hosted by Koast (SWU FM)

Congo Natty talking on the panel discussion featuring:  Mad Professor,  Nanci Coreia,  Pinch,  Johnny Scratchily,  Hosted by Koast (SWU FM)

The panel began by delving into their own stories and experiences of getting into sound system music. Sharing how sound system culture evolved out of Jamaican inspired D.I.Y sound systems that were custom built cheaply (often using household items, such as old wardrobes to house the sound system), to play the rich and bass heavy, dub, reggae, DnB. People would show off these systems outside their houses creating a gathering where people could experience and share their different music together. The Mad Professor shared a story about how after DJ’s finishing dub sets on pirate radio stations in London, house DJ’s would accidentally play dub records alongside house at the start of their set due to the records getting mixed up. They soon realized that the music really worked together. I found it really awesome hearing how two genres were accidentally mixed into something new – showing how open it is to embrace new ideas and change. I felt that this story reflected my own taste in music, in the sense that I don’t feel restricted to only one genre and I adopt any music into my playlists that I feel resonates with me and complements the other tracks I’m listening to.

 ‘Why can’t sound system music and the underground scene be prominent in popular music today?’

The discussion followed into a Q+A section that brought some really insightful answers from each of the panel members. ‘Why can’t sound system music and the underground scene be prominent in popular music today?’ was just one of many questions brought up during the discussion. Congo Natty responded to this particular one by talking about how ‘Sound System music doesn’t really work on the radio, due to its bass heavy audio, the quality is lost when listening on the radio through smaller speakers. Because of this, sound system music doesn’t have an agenda towards becoming something it’s not, such as the populist chart music you hear on the radio. And instead, it is able to stay true to itself, as well as its culture, therefore has more worth than money – it’s about the music and the experiences it provides.’

I liked his answer, he basically explained why we don’t hear sound system music on the radio and continued on to tell us why this was a good thing. It opened my eyes up to the fact that these artists were really passionate about their music, beyond making it big in the music industry, which I found inspiring.

The panel discussion went by really fast and I wish there could have been more time to hear some more in depth responses. But, the Outlook Orchestra’s concert was beginning shortly, so everyone was equally eager to head over to the amphitheater. After the panel, I still didn’t fully understand what the Sound System Culture encompassed, but I was definitely excited to head over and hopefully find out.

Here are a few photos I took of the evening that I think captured the atmosphere, in hopes that you too can enjoy the concert.

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Part of Roots Manuva’s entourage. Roots Manuva Opened the concert to an anticipating crowd with his British hip hop. In terms of the artist line-up, Manuva was one of the few that I actually knew, so it was cool to hear him perform live.

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Roots Manuva with his two supporting artists kicked off the event with a great set.  Saving ‘Witness‘ till the end leaving me and the crowd buzzing to hear more artists.

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This Drummer was just one part of an impressively large percussion section of the Outlook Orchestra that all sounded super tight.

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Along with the rest of the crowd, these girls watched eagerly and excitedly as the artists performed. As the evening progressed, I began to hear a variety of music that I loved and also frequently listened to but hadn’t realized it was part of sound system culture.

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Everyone seemed to be having such a fun time, dancing to all of the diverse genres and great music we were hearing.

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Rebel MC A.K.A. Congo Natty brought a great energy to the stage. Check out one of his tracks here.

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Releasing his incense sticks around the stage it was like we were being anointed.

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One of the Outlook Orchestra guitarists looked focused on playing throughout most of the night.

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Rasta Revolution Flag Flies as Congo Natty’s supporting artists Nanci & Phoebe sing passionately. Much of the sound system culture is heavily influenced by the Rastafari movement of both resistance and love. 

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The Outlook Orchestra provided an impressive backing set of live instruments for many artists throughout the night, with this talented keyboard player playing on throughout the night.

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Congo Natty Nanci and Phoebe group together at the climax of their song.

Pharoahe Monch had an amazing set with the crowd loving his bass heavy backing along side his complex and aggressive rhyme schemes.

Pharoahe Monch had an amazing set with the crowd loving his bass heavy backing along side his complex and aggressive rhyme schemes.

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The atmosphere was great, the music was amazing and the crowd was really energetic.

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You would find few moments during the evening where you could see people in the crowd not smiling.

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Focused during his solo, this keyboardist killed it and the crowd loved him.

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The Outlook Orchestra was led by BASCA award winning composer Tommy Evans, the creative driving force behind both Submotion Orchestra and Gentleman’s Dub Club.

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In the background, the Outlook Orchestra were also stars throughout the night, with their impressive ensemble of strings, brass, percussion, guitar, and keys that helped provide the evening with great music as well as add to the atmosphere.

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This guitarist who was also part of Outlook Orchestra’s ensemble looked and sounded sick.

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Horace Andy’s set was great, the crowd responded well to his Reggae vocals with everyone loving his cover of “Aint No Sunshine” 

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MC Jila raised the crowd’s energy up three notches with his enthusiasm and playfulness – in addition to his great vocals.

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MC Jila, Gentleman’s Dub Club’s frontman was one of the most charismatic, energetic performances of the night.

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Iconic Dawn Penn performed her Reggae/Rocksteady sound classics in her beautiful voice.

Lloyds Amphitheatre

Lloyds Amphitheatre: The evening concluded with all the artists of the night coming together on stage and enjoying one final song by the Outlook Orchestra, it was a great experience and a really special moment.

I now recognize that sound system culture isn’t one ‘thing’, but instead, a place where everyone’s amazing music that doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream can come together.

Before going to this event, I didn’t really understand what ‘Sound System’ music really was. But, as the evening proceeded, I would discover and hear more and more songs that I would frequently listen to. I had not realized they were part of the Sound system/underground music scene. I feel like I have discovered a culture that I was always supposed to be a part of.  A culture that doesn’t cater for ‘populist’ music you listen to on the radio, but instead encourages people to truly feel the music.  I now recognize that sound system music isn’t one ‘thing’, but instead, a place where everyone’s amazing music that doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream can come together.

Have any thoughts or questions on sound system culture? Let me know in the comments section, as well as @Rifemag on Twitter or Instagram.

The Outlook Orchestra + Roots Manuva (Live Set)