Huddersfield, nestled within the Pennine hills, may seem an unlikely place for a vibrant sound system culture and black music scene, but it has played an important role in the history of UK sound system culture. In fact, in relation to its size, Huddersfield’s contribution to the UK’s sound system heritage is quite phenomenal. At one time, the town had over thirty sound systems.

Oral historian and artist Mandeep Samra, who works with Let’s Go (Yorkshire), developed Sound System Culture, an arts and heritage project which revisited an era when Jamaicans played their music at dances in Venn Street nightclub that helped put Huddersfield on the British reggae map. The town played host to many of the biggest names in reggae music, including singing artists, sound systems and bands, throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Many artists would insist on playing at Venn Street when arranging a UK tour, due to the size of the crowd in attendance and the legendary northern hospitality.

To chart the untold history of reggae music and sound systems in this northern town a book and documentary film were produced, with collaboration from historians at the University of Huddersfield. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council, Kirklees Council and the University of Huddersfield. The project includes a photographic exhibition and an interactive sound installation. The installation consists of a traditional sound system, Heritage HiFi, a turntable and a stack of 10-inch dubplate vinyl which include sound bites from the people interviewed for the project. Voices have been carefully selected and under layered with different reggae and dub beats to evoke feelings of nostalgia… bringing memories from the past back to life. The installation allows the public to interact with the sound; engaging with the sound system by putting on a record or handling the mic, among other things.

Paul Ward, professor of Modern British History, Liz Pente and Jo Dyrlaga, PhD students, at the University of Huddersfield, were involved in research, events organisation, writing, copy-editing, and photographic research for the book and other parts of the project. The University hosted the exhibition and book and film launch in March-April 2014 as part of the University’s Research Festival. The project links closely to Paul Ward’s research on Britishness and ethnic diversity in the twentieth century and his interests in the co-production of research with community groups. Liz Pente’s PhD is on Public History and regeneration in Britain since the 1960s: A Co-production approach. Jo Dyrlaga’s PhD explores cross-gender performances since the late 19th century.

Find out more

Sound System Culture: Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems (2014) is available from One Love Books

More details about the project can be found on the Sound System Culture Tumblr

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