For many of us, an enjoyable past time is to spend hours two stepping, gyrating or what is sometimes found to be the case, wobbling in front of a Sound-system. Brought to the UK by the Jamaican community in the 1950s, Sound-system culture has since been an integral part of the UK music scene. Through the creation of immersive gallery experience: Rewind, Brighton bred and Bristol based Joy Isernia sought to explore both the contemporary and historical features of UK Sound-system Culture.
Stepping into Rewind was unlike other galleries I have visited, due to the fact that most exhibitions don’t feature a huge stack of speakers (respectfully) blasting Reggae – and after much pleading, the occasional dancehall track – throughout the day. Many of its visitors were drawn through the gallery door by the hypnotic rhythm of a jubilant reggae beat coming from the black and green monolith featured within. Either that or they were enticed by the exhibition’s adorable ‘guard’ dog Flossie, who gained notoriety after her photo was featured in Mixmag. Not only did the presence of the Rewind Sound-system immerse the gallery in the audio sensual roots of the culture, Joy Isernia encouraged audience members to bring their own vinyl collection, adding to the interactive and all-encompassing nature of the experience.
The intimate space was filled with original photographs of reggae culture’s enthusiasts and it’s creators; documenting the current and previous character’s unique style choices and impressive equipment. Rosie Matheson’s eye-catching portraits, capture the vibrant, unique outfits of Britain’s Notting Hill Carnival festival-goers, which were featured on i-D’s website last summer. These prints were positioned across from Mark Simmon’s iconic photograph, taking center stage, of a dapper gentleman sporting a fluffy Kangol in front of a hefty rig at St Paul’s Carnival in the nineties. Both photographers showcasing the timeless nature of sound-system style and highlighting that the bucket hat is definitely going nowhere.
Not only did Rewind feature impressive photographic works, Joy also presented us with the works of graphic designers inspired by UK Sound-system Culture. Matt Ryan, founder of Forward Up, displayed his t-shirt designs, which in his own words he describes as “a physical expression of a passion for design and love affair (read addiction) with a reggae soundsystem culture”. These bold print designs, featuring graphic illustrations of speakers, racks and one t-shirt emblazoned with the motto ‘SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SOUND SYSTEM’, were an instant hit with Rewind’s visitors and no doubt will be spotted countless times at a future reggae nights held in Bristol. Also featured were graphic prints from Reggae Reimagined. Giles Bursnell uses pop culture imagery reinvented into poster designs reflecting his love for “the music, culture and sound systems of reggae”. With a comical South Park-esque caricature of Lee Scratch Perry and by far my favourite of his works is a graphic print of famous stacks, including Mungo’s HiFi and King Earthquake’s soundsystem sadly destroyed in a fire in 2008, captioned with the phrase: BEAUTY COMES IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES. These fun graphic artists captured the enjoyment they themselves get from their involvement of UK Sound-System culture whilst encapsulating the loving and inclusive community ethos surrounding it.
Curator, Joy Isernia insured that both artistic representations and historical elements were explored in Rewind. Giving it a personal feel he involved King Tafari Love Muzic who gave Joy his first DJ sets at the young age of sixteen – besides those sets played off portable speakers at teenage house parties that is – who he has continued to collaborate with ever since. They were large contributors to the exhibition, supplying Jah Tubby’s handmade pre-amps along with posters and photographs of King Tafari Love Muzic’s events in Brighton in the eighties. Including a very unique poster that was even detailed with a hand drawn map to the venue and list of the bus times, giving it a nostalgic touch belonging to a pre-smartphone era.
Rewind started off for Joy Isernia as a part of his final year piece for university. However, due to the high level interest it gained from its one week run in Bristol and the enjoyment Joy experienced from Rewind he now plans to turn it into a touring exhibition. To promote the upcoming Rewind London exhibition (date TBA) on the 22nd July is hosting a night at The Stretch in New Cross.
Rewind: An Exploration of UK Sound-system Culture is in itself a very unique exhibition as it has an extremely different dynamic to the usual gallery trip. Having been so enjoyable an experience for many of its visitors, groups regularly stayed for a few hours hanging out on Bristol’s Christmas Steps just to soak in the joyful reggae rhythms. It is perfectly representative of the UK Sound-system culture Joy Isernia aimed to explore due to its diverse range of contributions, welcoming ethos and friendly atmosphere. I am certain that whatever city Rewind finds itself landing in next it will continue to be an exuberant occasion for all involved.
*Article orginally appeared in Smashed Vinyl Issue 2*