Anouschka Pearlman/NPR Berlin
Ronald Lynch and Michael Thompson explain sound system history at reggae club YAAM in Berlin. Their exhibition, "The Reggae Movement Sound System: From Jamaica to Europe 1950-1995," is now on tour in Europe.
Ronald Lynch and Michael Thompson explain sound system history at reggae club YAAM in Berlin. Their exhibition, "The Reggae Movement Sound System: From Jamaica to Europe 1950-1995," is now on tour in Europe. Anouschka Pearlman/NPR Berlin
Berlin is a city known for its electronic music and club scene. But not everyone knows that many of the tricks used in today's club mixes, such as bass cut switches, echo and delay effects, and frequency filters can be traced back to sound system from Jamaica.
According to Ronald Lynch, an avid reggae historian from Dublin, a crew makes up sound system.
"One guy's making a commentary on the mic, another guy's playing the records, maybe another guy who's the operator doing a siren, and some effects."
Ronald Lynch runs the Berlin-based reggae magazine Irie Up. He and his team have organized the exhibition, "The Reggae Movement Sound System: From Jamaica to Europe 1950-1995" at Berlin's reggae mecca, YAAM.
Lynch says sound system music came out of Jamaica in the 1950s .
"It was the radio of the people, where people would build on the street corner a small set of speaker boxes, a turn table, play music and sell beer. Somebody would talk about what was going on that day in the community- there might have been a killing- and you'll hear a story," Lynch says.
The exhibition traces sound system from these humble beginnings as a poor man's radio to the foundation of reggae music and influencing music styles worldwide.
If you've ever listened to ska, rock steady, roots, dub, dancehall, hip-hop, jungle or drum and bass, you can thank the Jamaican immigrants who brought sound system to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s.
Though sound system comes from the small island of Jamaica, Michael Thompson, Lynch's partner in the exhibition, says it's influenced a lot of current music.
"Whether it's dubstep, or maybe they love ska, but they never realized that it's connected to reggae and sound systems. As an exhibition, it will help you put that puzzle together."
Anoushcka Pearlman/NPR Berlin
This solar powered sound system was presented at the exhibition by the sound system team, Gaggeldubbers. It's run by solar powered golf car batteries and costs around 5000 Euros to build.
This solar powered sound system was presented at the exhibition by the sound system team, Gaggeldubbers. It's run by solar powered golf car batteries and costs around 5000 Euros to build. Anoushcka Pearlman/NPR Berlin
Thompson is also known as the artist Freestyle and grew up with sound system culture in Jamaica. He hopes his artwork will help people understand that reggae has a rich history of struggle and hope, which Lynch says is still ongoing.
"The reggae movement was always about ideas, finding progress, finding solutions to problems, which is really a good, uplifting message.
Chances are you won't hear sound system on commercial radio. It's a culture based on vinyl records and one offs that can only be played a few times. A new generation is contributing to its popularity in countries like Poland, Germany, Japan, France and Russia.
"A lot of the people doing sound system now are young people who see it and think, 'Wow, that is just great. I want to run that myself in my own city,' and then they'll end up dealing with these older Jamaicans who've been around since the 60's who are still working and singing for different people. So it's a person-to-person link," Lynch says.
Huntley Russell, one of those old school veterans, was the first to introduce reggae to Berlin on the airwaves in the 1990s. He feels reggae has a spiritual component.
"Jamaicans- we have this spiritual thing about the reggae. Reggae for me is like one conscious. Reggae is about a truth, and it's about yourself and life because reggae is street music. What we talk on the street we put it on music and we put it out international too. It's so funny that a Jamaican sing about the Berlin wall. Dennis Brown sing about the Berlin wall before the wall went down. He said 'Break the wall down!'"