Kingston was also the progenitor of the remix through a musical style that Sullivan (2014) describes as ‘fairly short-lived in Jamaica, peaking in the mid to late 1970s and already winding down in the early 1980s... but whose creative strategies and associated rituals... have continued far beyond its island of origin’: dub music. Moreover, these strategies and rituals would run through the veins of British electronic club music in what Simon Reynolds (1999) described as the ‘hardcore continuum’ in his influential book, Energy Flash. First however, it is necessary to understand how the UK came to be such a hotbed for a variety of electronic club music which would see its wide-spread dissemination via pirate radio.
In the summer of 1948, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, Essex. This marked a boom in migration from the West Indies, which peaked in the 1960s. This major influx of labour was characteristic of the development of post-war Britain and while work was plentiful (British Rail, London Transport and the National Health Service were some of the first employers to provide sponsored recruitment) migrants immediately faced prejudices on arrival, particularly on issues of housing. The first wave of arrivals was briefly put up in a deep level shelter in Clapham South and they quickly found work through a labour exchange on Coldharbour Lane. For this reason Brixton became one of the first West Indian communities in London. Such was the level of discrimination faced by West Indian immigrant families; many had no choice but to move into tiny squalid rooms in Ladbroke Grove, Paddington and North Kensington, much of which owned by the deeply unpleasant and notorious landlord, Peter Rachmann. Work in munitions factories brought immigrants to Merseyside and Lancaster and by the mid-1970s much of Britain’s ethnic minority population lived in London, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester and Bristol. In spite of the hostilities they faced, these areas became incubators for a new sort of British identity, as Paul Gilroy explains: ‘Britain’s black settler communities... forged a compound culture from disparate sources’. With few organised recreational facilities available to them, those same listening parties and dances, where ‘Jamaicans gathered not only to listen to the trending music of the day, but to discuss community topics, flirt and socialize’, were transplanted wholesale, as Matthew Bennett (2014) puts it, into London’s boroughs.
Essay by Will Dutta originally commissioned by the ICA for their archival exhibition Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s, 26 May – 19 July 2015. Researcher-in-Residence Scheme supported by Creativeworks London, AHRC and European Development Fund.