Bass Culture Research

Mapping the impact of Jamaican music on the UK with the Black Music Research Unit

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Bass Culture is a three-year AHRC-funded exploration of the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture. Covering the period from the early 1950s to the present day, with a particular interest in the years 1976 – 1981, Bass Culture research explores the profound ways in which this island’s music remade popular music in Britain and was fundamental in the emergence of multiculture in the British city and the redefinition of the post-colonial nation.

The term ‘Bass Culture’ acknowledges both the Caribbean cultural origins of sound system practices and their ongoing role in framing British urban experience across ethnic, local and regional contexts.

This multi-strand research project unites a multi-disciplinary group of scholars, practitioners, researchers and cultural producers who will produce a series of exciting, accessible and innovative outputs including a comprehensive oral history, bespoke website, exhibitions, events and academic publications.

Much of this work will be produced in collaboration with community partners and young people. Bass Culture is the first fully-funded academic investigation of the impact of Jamaican music and culture on Britain.

Central to the Bass Culture project will be the voices of several generations of African/Caribbean and black British cultural producers - musicians and producers, DJs and dancers, sound system crews, writers, thinkers, music industry professionals and visual artists.

We will explore the impact of Bass Culture on popular culture, from the explosion of Jamaican genres like ska, reggae and dub in the UK to the development of distinct British variants like dub poetry, Two-Tone and Lovers Rock; examine the influence of Bass music on British pop from Louisa Mark and The Clash to Soul II Soul and Skepta; and map the evolution of subcultural dance genres with Bass at their root, from punk-dub to Jungle, trip-hop to Broken Beat, dubstep to Grime.

Moving beyond popular music we will also explore how bass culture as a creative practice, an independent economy and a source of alternative philosophical and political ideas has dramatically re- versioned the British city and sound-tracked the emergence of a post-colonial urban multiculture.

We take our title from the 1980 album Bass Culture by the Jamaican-British dub-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, produced by the Battersea dub maestro Dennis Bovell. We seek to explore, illuminate and revalue what has up until now been an undervalued cultural resource, the relentlessly bubbling bass, driving contemporary music and culture forward, described by LKJ as 'di beat of di heart/ this pulsing of blood/that is a bubblin bass/a bad bad beat.'

Principal Investigator: Mykaell Riley

Black Music Research Unit