Mention sound system culture to anyone in the UK and they'll probably associate it with Notting Hill Carnival, the annual two-day celebration of Anglo-Caribbean culture on the streets of West London. However, a new book published by One Love Books this month,"Sound System Culture, Celebrating Huddersfield's Sound Systems," tells the story of sound system culture in the UK from its roots in Jamaica to (somewhat surprisingly) the market town of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, which became a stronghold of the British scene during the 1970s and '80s.
The book is the brainchild of Mandeep Samra—a historian and sound system enthusiast based in Huddersfield—and is actually the final element of a bigger project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. As a whole, it includes a touring exhibition of photographs and oral histories (recorded by Samra and her team) of key people involved in the scene from the 1960s onwards.
“The [project] grew out of a fascination and appreciation for sound system culture,” Samra writes. “While never an insider of the scene, I always had an interest in sound systems and around five years ago I first had the idea for this project but did not know where to begin. One day I was talking with my boiler man, Michael Royal, who revealed that he had been a sound operator for Duke Warrior, a Huddersfield-based sound system active in the 1970s. Two people, who on the surface shared little in common, found a connecting thread in their interest for sound systems... As I began meeting more people with first-hand involvement in sound systems, a sense of the importance of the project grew.” With a foreword by Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History at the University of Huddersfield, the book has been lovingly put together by Samra who worked closely with designer and editor Al Fingers of One Love Books, as well as a number of researchers.
The book's main text has been written by Huddersfield-based sound system operator, Paul Huxtable, who does a great job of contextualizing the development of sound system culture in the UK within Caribbean immigrant communities. The text runs alongside impressively researched content that includes a wealth of previously unseen archive material and anecdotes from the people that helped establish Huddersfield as the reggae and sound system capital of the North of England—from builders of top quality and custom amplifiers and PA systems like Mat Mathias of Matamp, through to Sound System owners and operators including Stephen Burke of Earth Rocker Sound System, Danman of Iration Steppas, Yagga Roots of Earthstrong Sound System and dozens more. To perfectly illustrate the lively and creative scene, 47 color and 29 black and white photographs round out the hardback tome.
As well as his writing duties, Huxtable also built a beautiful sound system using locally manufactured parts specially for the project. Named the Heritage HiFi system, it toured with Samra's Sound System Culture exhibition, and is made up entirely of locally manufactured parts; from the Vintage Fane 18” bass speakers, 15" mids, compression driver and bullet tweeters, to the vintage Matamp amplifiers and mixer—all made in West Yorkshire.
Sound System Culture is published by One Love Books and available online for £20.
Images courtesy of One Love Books