Celebrating UK Soundsystem Culture with Sir Coxsone, Reggae Roast, CAYA and The Heatwave

In celebration of the past, present and future of soundsystem culture, just in time for Notting Hill Carnival 2019, meet some of our favourite sounds and hear what soundsystem culture means to them. 

Since the 1950s, Jamaican soundsystems have had a huge and wide-reaching influence on global dance music. Originally playing US R&B records, soundsystems were a collective of selectors, engineers and promoters who built and set up huge speaker systems to blast the hottest new music and throw parties. The sonic and social innovations of soundsystem culture, as a grassroots music scene independent of radio and other mainstream forms of musical consumption, had a huge influence on how music developed not just within Jamaica but worldwide. From R&B and ska, to reggae, dub, dancehall– and further afield to hip hop, jungle, grime and more– soundsystem culture profoundly changed the course of modern music. Soundsystems have been a source of community, resistance and joy for generations of musicians and dancers worldwide.

“I don’t think you can have a conversation about sound-systems in the UK without mentioning us” 
– Lloyd Coxsone

Lloyd Coxsone is the founder of the hugely influential Sir Coxsone Outernational Soundsystem, one of the most highly regarded soundsystems in the UK. Operating for over 50 years, it’s been pronounced by I-Roy as “the baddest sound in the world.” This pioneering sound is a perfect example of the influence of soundsystems on audio culture. At soundclashes, where soundsystems would compete against one another for the attention and energy of a dancing crowd, Coxsone would famously cut exclusive dub versions of their records, which would play for one night only, never to be played again. On top of that, Lloyd Coxsone had a hand in encouraging King Tubby to push sonic limits on the mixing board, placing this soundsystem at the centre of the dub innovations which continue to influence dance music and production techniques across the globe.

“Soundsystem is about community. It’s about bringing people together. Running a soundsystem is a team sport. It can’t be done alone and therefore you need different people with different skills to run it, with one communal goal. When you put on a soundsystem event and see the diversity of people who come together it’s a beautiful thing. It’s about focusing on what we have in common rather than our differences and coming together to listen to uplifting music. It’s a shared experience. All the people in the dance listening to, feeling and being a part of the same vibrations at the same time. The uplifting energy that creates is powerful and makes people’s lives happier, and enables people to be a part of a community no matter where they’re from or what they look like. If you want to be a part of soundsystem culture then you are a part of it.”
– Reggae Roast

Reggae Roast is a label, soundsystem and events collective. Active since 2007, they have been champions of UK Dub and Reggae, collaborating with some of the biggest names on the scene – names like Congo Natty, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Iration Steppas and Mad Professor – as well as playing sell out shows all over the UK. 

“Soundsystem culture to me means foundation, compassion and light. It’s taught me about my roots – the foundation – the music allows me to extend love/compassion to other spirits – and light as it gives me hope for time ahead and everything that has already been. Ultimately Soundsystem culture allows me to CAYA – Come As You Are.”⁠⠀

Thali Lotus

Thali Lotus built and launched CAYA Soundsystem in 2016 equipped with a custom-built ‘Spirit’ pre-amp and the guidance of soundsystem elders from Channel One, V-Rocket, Coxsone, People’s Sound and more. Ever since, CAYA has been pushing soundsystem legacy forward, spreading unity, consciousness and inclusivity in the Roots & Culture scene. As one of the few women-owned and operated soundsystems, CAYA has been an inspiration for so many within the scene and beyond, with Thali DJing, curating and collaborating with charities and art institutions to bridge the gap between social project, soundsystem and sound art.⁠⠀

“It’s difficult to capture the significance of soundsystem culture. For such a small country, Jamaica’s global impact on music and the way it’s enjoyed is immense and well documented. I love how soundsystems bring people together, drawn by the music they love: to dance, to move and enjoy their physicality. Especially when so much of our lives are lived online, alone in front of a screen, it’s incredibly life-affirming to go out and rave with actual humans.”

– Gabriel, The Heatwave

The Heatwave are a go-to soundsystem and production outfit for explosive dancehall. Founded in 2003, their live performances are a regular fixture at carnival and whether they’re playing floats, soundsystems, afterparties, radio or their own Hot Wuk parties, they always bring the vibe.

Soundsystem culture is a global movement. What are some of your favourite soundsystems from around the world?

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Photo credits
Sir Coxsone Outernational Soundsystem: SHABBA
Reggae Roast courtesy of label
CAYA Soundsytsem courtesy of CAYA
The Heatwave (L > R): George Finch, Marc Sethi, Fanatic Live, Jae Vision Seven, Cyrille Sokpor