Music History

How the Old School Jamaican Sound System Influenced Today’s Music

Back the 60s, DJs and their crews hauled massive PA systems around the island to spin records at parties. The created a whole new musical subculture, one that is still being felt today. Billboard has the story.

As thousands converged on the original Woodstock grounds in Bethel, N.Y. over Memorial Day weekend for the dance festival Mysteryland USA, another event took place simultaneously in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., celebrating the direct forerunner to the superstar EDM DJ: the Jamaican sound system selector.

The first annual World Sound System Festival, held at the Central Broward Regional Park and Stadium (May 22-23) featured 14 reggae and/or dancehall DJs (‘selectors,’ in Jamaican parlance) representing three generations and several locations throughout North America and the Caribbean. While Mysteryland mostly drew in 20- and 30-year-old Americans, the Sound System Festival pulled a largely Caribbean crowd of all ages, there to hear some of reggae’s greatest sound systems and selectors, including New York’s Downbeat The Ruler, Jamaica’s Silver Hawk, and Miami’s Waggy T. Irrespective of their backgrounds, attendees at both festivals were intently focused on the DJs — or the selectors — who embellished song choices with now-standard lighting choreography, raising their hands in the air and intermittently shouting out phrases to hype up audiences.

“I wanted to present sound systems as the main attraction in a festival, to show where they came from and why they have become so influential; I was quite impressed to see people screaming for our selectors like they would for artists at a stage show,” commented venerable Jamaican singer Freddie McGregor, whose Big Ship Productions presented the World Sound System Festival in association with County Line Chiropractic Center, based in Plantation, Florida.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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