The Spark of a Music Renaissance
As recalled by legendary Selector, King Danny Dread… Written by: Christine M. Coley
Sound clash is the most electrifying competition in music today. A by-product of Jamaican sound system culture, sound clash organically surfaced in Kingston, Jamaica in the 50’s when sound systems in neighboring communities set up their respective sound equipment for 2 different parties on the same night, within earshot of one another. Although there were patrons who were interested in whose sound system had the greatest sound clarity, projected better sound, deeper bass, and looked nicer, the party with the biggest attendance by the end of the night essentially won the battle for crowd approval of who had better music and who was more entertaining.
During the 50s and into the 60s, Jamaican radio DJ’s were spinning only American R&B hits, a bit of
Junkanoo and Mento that were both phasing out due to the growing popularity of Ska, and also Rock Steady. However, when Reggae first emerged during the 60s they wouldn’t play it on the airwaves. The response to this creative suppression ultimately became the spark of a music renaissance, as arguably the most significant relationship in music history was born, between sound systems and artists/musicians.
The sound system became the only mass distribution platform for Reggae music, and it was grassroots—live and direct in parties across Kingston, and later across the world. Selectors (DJs) played the popular genres in parties as well, however, when the night was ripe they’d spin a dub-version (instrumental) on which various artists “toasted” (Jamaican term for rapping) live—essentially a fascinating freestyle cipher. Artists that rolled with a particular sound would take turns on the mic, flexing their lyrical prowess for crowd forwards (any excited signal of approval). This was beginning of a cultural phenomenon, and also the origin of genres that dominate popular music in current times—Dancehall, Dub, Rap, Hip Hop, Reggaeton, Dance, EDM, Dubstep, Jungle, Drum & Bass, Garage, and more.
The Evolving Battle for Music Supremacy
Sound systems owners and their crews were mostly self-taught sound engineers, speaker designers/
builders, and the majority had no formal sound engineering, music production or marketing education. However, their originality and passion for music created an unending ripple effect still playing out today. With less technical resources, and also none of the platforms available to them that were accessible in America or Europe, some of the most iconic producers and artists emerged from this fraternity, alongside perhaps the most influential music era.
In this midst of ongoing innovation, during the 60s and into the 70s many began seeking life opportunities outside of Jamaica, and took the industry/culture with them. Records, sound clash cassettes, sound systems, and native Jamaican DJ’s like Kool Herc began to surface in other parts of the world where they introduced an already established and magnetic culture to North America, the UK, all over Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
Meanwhile, the desire to musically demolish other sound systems intensified among the fraternity of sounds worldwide, along with the culture shifting music. A major revolution occurred in the 70s, when competing sounds moved a street side clash to one lawn—a new location for clashing that the partying public called a Dancehall. Inside those dancehalls, the live artist battle for lyrical and musical domination exploded with extraordinary innovation. In the later part of the decade, legendary selector King Danny Dread was the first to mix down artists live on the original King Attarney Sound, in Kingston. This magical time in history birthed the ever-potent, popular music genre now referred to as Dancehall.
Simultaneously in the late 70s, as Jamaican records gained international acclaim, sounds began to phase out clashing with live artists as their creative weaponry, and instead competed with exclusive pre-released music garnered from producers, or direct from artists. This gave elite selectors a huge advantage in a clash, many of which ultimately went down in history as the first to ever introduce some of the most epic songs to the public. Selectors like the late Emperor Faith, King Illawi, and Danny Dread are three icons who simultaneously received, and were the first to drop, epic pre-released songs like “War”, and “Want More” from the legendary Bob Marley—and music from many other greats.
Moving into the 80s, while Rap blew up in NYC, sounds were pivoting to exclusively commissioned artist recordings, pressed on soft wax—specials (now called dubplates). These were re-writes of popular songs, sometimes put on a completely different riddim (beat), which included the commissioning sound’s name, sometimes their selector’s name(s), and/or lyrics crafted to diss a competitor. With sound’s wanting to stay a step ahead of their peers, dubplates quickly evolved into a viable revenue driver and distribution tool for artists and still is in current times.
Sound system and sound clash culture are the unsung heroes, and origin, of multiple generations of popular music. Today, various clash formats are being produced at adrenaline-driven festivals, cruises, as well as indoor and outdoor venues all over the world. These events attract various sized crowds ranging from small underground bouts, to more recently over 20K exhilarated patrons at one event—the annual Red Bull Culture Clash.
World Fight Club: A New Sound Clash Era
World Fight Club (WFC) is a cutting edge NYC brand, offering a fresh approach to a long-existing, and growing industry. Produced by international sound clash experts, King Addies (North America’s #1 sound system), they bring over 30 years of legendary clash experience to the all-new league.
An arena for champions with a worldwide buzz, WFC is a never-ending battle for the heart of a crowd,
a highly coveted belt and major bragging rights. And, only real thoroughbreds can face the ultimate test of top tier musical savvy, and wit, in WFCs classic format of less sounds competing in longer timed rounds.
Additionally, similar to boxing, the champ must continuously defend the belt versus any challenger selected by the producers, in order to keep the title.
The inaugural event occurred in Brooklyn in March 2019, at which New Jersey’s King Shine earned the NY Tri-State WFC Champion title. One of the industry’s most frequently clashing sounds, their selector Jimmy Spliff said, “Sound clash has enabled me to travel and gain fans all over the world—places I would have never gone to on my own.”
The second installment of the exciting series goes down on Friday, October 18th in North America’s sound clash mecca—NYC. This unique one-on-one, musical square off features the crowned “King of Europe”, Germany’s Supersonic Sound as the first-ever WFC belt challenger, versus the defending WFC Champion. When asked what still drives him to clash after 21 years in the business, Supersonic’s Panza said, “It’s my passion for new ideas in creating specials (dubplates). Also, it’s like in any sports competition—everybody would like to win the gold medal.”
This riveting musical war will be covered by “The Release” television program, targeting over 19 million viewers across USA, Canada, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations on 5 cable television networks
including: CIN, CEEN, CVM, HYPE TV, and READY TV.