Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Sound system culture booming in Japan

Published:Friday | October 25, 2019 | 9:42 AMKimberley Small/Staff Reporter
Selector Majunior at the controls of Club Stereo house sound system Touch the Sky as the audience builds on a Sunday night in 2012 in Osaka, Japan.
Sound boxes
Freddie McGregor at the Entertainment Forum.
DJ Delano Thomas of Renaissance Disco.
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Sound system culture finds itself quieted in the Corporate Area, but the boxes are booming loud and proud on the other side of the world. Local players, like The Gleaner Entertainment Forum panellists Big Ship captain Freddie McGregor, Delano Thomas (Renaissance Disco) and David Harper (Killamanjaro), recognise the culture’s international pervasiveness. Their observation comes with worry that while the culture’s significant contributions to their music industry at large is taken for granted at home, ownership will be up for grabs by those who respect it, and try with all their might to perfect it – like Japan.

“I tour in Japan the other day, and the promoter who picked me up in Osaka tell me which dubplate him waan me fi play. And we have to be searching for them! They study us, and not just artistes. They study sound systems,” Delano said. According to the prolific disc jockey and producer, most of the songs he plays while abroad, he can’t play at home. “I will be cutting dubplates to travel and people wonder … but me know when me guh up deh, me aguh buck up some sound weh aguh play some tune pon me. And it’s not old selector me a buck up pon, is young yutes who love play sound. You haffi can dig. They respect our culture more. Dem wake me up all the time. From the first time me travel, it wake me up,” he said.

The Big Ship captain has had his own experiences that inform of serious and skilful cultural mimicry by the Japanese. “Sound systems rise up fast, especially in Japan. Japan saturated with sound systems. If you was passing and hear the dance, you’d think is a dance at House of Leo. You wouldn’t think is Japanese ah do it. Dem Japan dance deh pop, man,” he said. Delano recalled his own experience in Japan, when he attended a party supported by 10 different sounds. “It was in an open lot, and them set up everything. I go there early guh see them set up. It was a dance and it gwaan till 5 a.m.”

In addition to popping off in the dance, their reverence for our indigenous genres show in their musicality. McGregor relayed a story.

One of the last festivals he attended was promoted by a member of clash-winning Japanese sound system, Mighty Crown. The festival was in Yokohama with an audience of 40,000 people. His son, Chino, had an album out and they decided to do some promotion in Japan. After some convincing, McGregor agreed to use a local Japanese band called Home Grown. “The only problem there was we wanted them to not play it just like the record. Dem man deh have the ting down to the beats per minute. And dem ah play the same sound weh it record wid. I had to just laugh.”

‘Little Jamaica’

Even the manner in which new aquaintances quickly became familiar with casual greetings with patois inflections, Japan has begun to feel like a little Jamaica. “The only difference is the colour, and the hair. It’s just the same, exact vibe. It’s amazing,” McGregor said.

Though it is amazing, the panellists expressed concern that the reason for Japanese fans adopting the culture is because Jamaicans blocked their own access to the Pacific space. Freddie observed: “If you look at a 10-year history, I don’t think you have four Jamaican bands that have gone to Japan for a concert event. Because Japan has their own bands. Dem have Bounty, dem have Beenie, Capleton, everybody over there, so they don’t need a Jamaican when them ah keep them festival. When we performed in Japan, before the thing really get to this level, we play ah place called Blue Note, which is their premier jazz club. They play two shows a night, and people pay US$100 to go in there. It holds about 500-600 people, but [it is a] proper venue. You do a performance, people eat, enjoy the music, leave. Then there’s a long line wrapped around the venue ah wait to come into the second show.”

Then Delano asserted: “It’s our behaviour cause that. It’s a compliment, but part of it is that we have some artistes that actually make it bad for us.” He was around for the shift from inviting Jamaican acts to perform, to learning reggae, dancehall and sound system culture for their own entertainment. “Them always have sound, but the sound dem start get like Jamaica – thousands of sounds. And we have to be careful, because right now, soca is building in Japan. I’ve played at a place where a soca party is beside me, and it was a little bit of a struggle for us. What’s happening now is the artistes and selectors of the soca fraternity are working with these promoters, not charging them no big money. So they’re helping to build the culture,” the disc jockey continued.

kimberley.small@gleanerjm.com