EDM acts are sound systems – DJ Delano
It is a truth, not very easily acknowledged or readily recognised, that some of the world’s top musical acts are not singers, rappers or deejays. There is a popular subset of chart-topping, Grammy-winning entertainers that take control of audiences counting in the tens of thousands – with buttons, knobs, laptops and strobe lights, without saying a single word. That truth was explored in the recent Gleaner Entertainment Forum – featuring Big Ship Captain Freddie McGregor, world-famous disc jockey Delano Thomas and Killamanjaro Sound legacyowner David Harper concluding that electronic dance music (EDM) acts like Calvin Harris, Martin Garrix, Skrillex, Major Lazer, Tiesto or the late Avicii are sound systems – just like Body Guard Sound, Stone Love Movement, Renaissance Disco or Killamanjaro Sound.
“All of these EDM guys – they started out as sound systems. Calvin Harris is actually a sound system, Major Lazer is a sound system; and it’s our culture. Most sound systems back in the day were producers, like Coxsone Dodd, Jack Ruby and Killamanjaro. It’s just that we Jamaicans don’t cherish our culture like that – because it always has a stigma to it,” Delano Thomas of Renaissance Sound observed.
By his estimation, the stigma stuck itself to the culture decades ago, when Jamaicans started emigrating in droves to places like England and the United States. “I think it’s more that the sound system culture was brought up in the 1960s and 1970s, then was carried abroad. A lot of people carried sound system culture over there. To me, the society of Jamaica had it as [operators] being weed smokers, criminals and thieves. I think that’s one of the things that held back sound systems in Jamaica,” he explained.
Despite this stigma, sound system culture is so pervasive that it now serves in countries across the world – and has even catalysed the birth of new genres.
“Our sound system culture actually changed the world, not just Jamaica. It started hip-hop with DJ Kool Herc,” Delano continued, referencing the Jamaican immigrant who took his turntables to the streets of New York (1520 Sedgewick Avenue), then created the ‘break’. DJ Kool Herc used to focus on the heavy, percussive section of a song, called the ‘break’, because dancers liked it the best. He isolated the break, then looped it – which became the blueprint for hip-hop music.
Aside from birthing new sounds, sound systems have changed shape. While Jamaicans understand sound systems as stacks of speaker boxes blasting tunes across a large lawn, technology caused a metamorphosis. “In Jamaica, we talk about the big box and everything. Everywhere else is totally different. It’s really a group,” Delano added, with the guess that Renaissance Sound is likely the last uptown sound system ready with their truckload of string-up equipment.