Wednesday night the Roundhouse Rising … British Underground’s Bass Culture Forum …. this sold out session featuring a panel of players rooted in the contemporary reggae scene was the perfect place for Swifty and myself to premiere the first stage of our “installation” illuminating the evolution of the UK Reggae Nation. It has to be said, the response to the “boxes” was universally good with everyone ready to add to the mix of info.
The discussion was loosely chaired by Mykaell Riley, an original member of Steel Pulse and the Director of Black Music Research UK and it gave us a taste of what they plan to present to at SXSW in Texas in March. Bass Culture, as an all embracing term that covers all UK music that derives Jamaica, was the topic.
A cross generational and enthusiastic gathering it was most pleasant to see Jerry Dammers sat alongside Ras Kwame and visual artists like Ian Wright and David Corio.
There was a portion of to-ing and fro-ing between the audience and panel that included the excellent Mikey Dread (Channel One Sound System), Lea Anna (singer/dancehall), Robbo Ranx (BBC Radio 1Xtra) and Curtis Lynch (Necessary Mayhem) but little consensus.
For myself, Bass Culture could work as an umbrella in an academic sense and help leverage more courses that deal with the Black roots of the music in Universities. As for the music industry… Bass Culture – The brand… I can’t see it!
While we were putting together the “boxes” for this event we began to get a real picture of how an infrastructure – shops, van-men, importers/distributors, live promoters, record producers, musicians & singers, clubs, sound systems – evolved during the 60s/70s/80s to promote the music to the Jamaican/Caribbean community and beyond.
For most Afro Caribbean youth in the 70s and 80s… Yard was where it was at but time has run and passed and subsequent generations are definitely more attuned to their own immediate inner city runnings. They respect their roots but over the past three decades they’ve created their own dynamic forms of reggae rooted music – lovers, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, grime, dubstep….
Combine that creativity with the internet/digital revolution and we have to ask: Is there an infrastructure s that will allow these underground movements continued development; that gives props to the artists and ensures they get paid; that allows them to nail their colours to the mast and declare, ‘These are our roots and they deserve recognition.””
In the final analysis, it all seems to come back to politics and money. If you have an infrastructure then you can make money and that creates the basis for power so I’m not sure that defining the continuum as Bass Culture will help Necessary Mayhem sell more music or guarantee Lea Anna a future as the UK No.1 dancehall queen.
I’m sure that the debate will continue to bubble but, right now, it’s back to our installation: we loved the fact the speaker boxes had a genuine physical resonance with people and they were consistently referred to during the discussion as reflection of the foundation of the music and where we’ve all come from.
Unfortunately, the lighting was subdued so people might have missed out on the information that graced the sides of the boxes… sound system flyers, shop and club ads, a list of top 20 UK chart reggae hits, Penny Reel‘s 1981 list of UK sound systems, a few influential UK 7″ singles, rare fanzine covers etc.
Still, it’s a beginning… and as it grows the combination of words sound & power will shake the walls of Babylon 2012.