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Bass Cultures: How Low Can You Go!

03/11/2023 , Falkenberg's teater, Smedjan

Welcome to Bass Cultures, How Low Can You Go!

Through the making of sound systems, bass cultures have been important in the development of underground musical genres from Reggae, Dub and Roots to Hip-Hop, Techno, Jungle and many more. For this event we are supported by musicians, DJs, and makers that in their own way have contributed and played an important role in the development of bass culture, through the making of sound systems, the organising of underground music and club culture in Sweden and beyond. Over two days the event will host film screenings, workshops, talks and DJ sets to showcase bass and sound system cultures, their creativity, history, and relevance today.

Programme, day 1

After a short introduction, the event begins with the screening of the seminal reggae film Babylon. Directed by Franco Rosso and sound tracked by the legendary producer Dennis Bovell, the film follows members of the Ital Lion sound system as they prepare for a reggae dance and sound clash. Ital Lion acts as the beating pulse of the film to not only foreground sound system cultures but vividly portray young black lives pushing back against racism and xenophobia of late 1970’s Great Britain.

ot many would associate sound systems with design, craft, and architecture. But sounds systems at their heart have always been about the designing of equipment, the honing of skills and the making of space for listening and dancing. Sound systems are a DIY culture where knowledge gained through trial and error is readily shared with others. Since 2005, Deng Deng HiFi have been sharing sounds system culture from the south of Sweden. During this hands-on and sonic workshop, they will introduce participants to sound systems, by showing how they are made, how they are set-up and how they make bass.

As well as having a DIY ethos, the history of bass culture and sound systems is one of mobility. Sound systems are composed of musical equipment that can be easily stored, transported, and assembled in varying locations. As sound systems have developed both musically and materially, we have seen the rise of parallel bass cultures that share making and mobility. From EPA Traktors to Raggare, Lowriders to Gearheads, automobile enthusiasts have not only modified cars but built impressive sound systems that test the limits of low frequency bass. Outside of resourced cities these moving sound systems have become important public spaces for displaying, listening, and socialising whilst driving and stationary – usually in public carparks. For this event we have invited EPA Traktor enthusiasts to park in the Smedjen carpark to show their cars and play their sound systems.

Cars are moving sound systems; they allow for sound to be played and they produce environmental sound when they drive. At the same time, cars become a vehicle for not only transportation but for reading and making sense of spaces and places. Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records in Detriot, famously claimed that Motown recordings were mixed to sound good on car radios and inspired by the cities car industry. The subsequent demise of the automobile industry also providing the backdrop to the birth and sound of Detroit Techno and its assembly lines. Influenced by Techno, the electronic music artist Burial developed what he described the ‘Car-Test’ to loop bass and electronic sounds back into urban environments. Following the idea of the car test, the artist and bass music enthusiast Eric Magassa has been invited to play a sonic essay inspired by driving through Falkenberg and its surrounding area.

Sound systems are built to play bass heavy music, they are designed, engineered and spatialised to allow audiences to not only hear but to feel music by immersing the body in low-frequency bass. Sound systems also consist of crews, who not only design and build equipment but develop skilled techniques through playing records and MC’ing. Not only will Deng Deng HiFi specially install their sound system at Smedjan, they will also carefully select tracks from late 60’s ska and rocksteady up until todays dub and steppers. As they outline, their bass heavy selection will be ‘conscious music with a clear message. No slackness or glorification of violence or degrading of women. Only good vibes.’

Programme, day 2

As seen in the re-use of industrial spaces in Techno and Rave scenes, bass cultures have a long history of being creative with finding and making space. From the 1950’s, people of colour in the UK were excluded from bars and clubs where they might listen and dance to music. This led to the creation of the blues party, a tradition that began in the West Indies, where black people could meet, eat, and dance together. To run a blues party in the UK, organisers would clear out furniture from a domestic house, set up a sound system dance and offer Caribbean food to guests paying a small entrance fee. Directed by the artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen and located in early 80’s West London, Lovers Rock visually and sonically captures the importance of community in this space making activity

From Reggae to Jungle, Dubstep to Grime, central to the transmission of live bass music has been that of the MC also known as Deejay. MCing is an artform that goes beyond the simple introduction of records. The MC acts as the main bridge between the sound system and its audience and through improvisation a translator of the ethos and values of the sound system and its crew. The crew from Deng Deng HiFi will introduce the role of MCing in sound systems, showing different styles and how to convey messages through this oral tradition. This will also be a hands-on (or voice-on) workshop where participants will get to test out different ways to MC to communicate and to create a vibe.

Bass cultures in all forms have traditionally been male dominated spaces, and even though women have been central to the development and support of sound systems and bass music their roles have often been trivialised and in many cases erased. Due to the important work of female DJ’s, scholars and organisers in recent years there has been a prominent rise in female DJ’s, producers and sound system leaders albeit with much work to continue to do. Over the last years, DJ and organiser, Paula Maxa has run female only DJ works, to not only demystify the artform but to show that bass cultures should be accessible to all.

In many ways bass cultures have always been creative cultures. Whether through fashion, making of equipment, designing of graphic communications and through the music itself. Crucially, they have also been about the creative organising and making of space for musical expression. From Reggae to Rave, Sweden has it very own rich history of making space for bass cultures that has relied on people of all backgrounds to create environments for dancing communities to be formed. In this multimedia panel session, we invite DJ’s and organisers that have been active in the Swedish bass scene to show, play and discuss the importance of underground music culture in Sweden in the past and today. For this session we will be joined by the DJ and writer Anna Gavanas, DJ and organiser Papa Dee and DJ’s Struckand Paula Maxa.

Musically, bass cultures are diverse, making them important to celebrate and support. They are also nuanced and contextual, with variations of musical subgenres developing within very specific national and regional geographies. The event will close with a showcasing of this musical diversity with DJ sets from guests that have participated over the two days. DJ sets will include Gavanas, Aimbreak, Papa Dee, Eric Magassa, Struck, Paula Maxa and more.

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