The Wire


Gallery: Sound system culture in Huddersfield

July 2014

Heritage HiFi speaker boxes, custom-built by Paul Axis (Huddersfield) for the touring exhibition that accompanies the One Love book, photographed at Huddersfield Carnival, Greenhead Park, 13 July 2013. The Heritage HiFi sound system is made up entirely of locally manufactured equipment: Vintage Fane 18” bass speakers, 15” mids, compression driver and bullet tweeters, as well as Matamp amplifiers and mixer, all made in West Yorkshire. Photo by Elliot Baxter.

Huddersfield town centre, 1960. Photo courtesy Huddersfield Local Studies Library.

Flyer for a Frankie Paul show, with support from London-based sound system Sir Coxsone Outernational, at Silver Sands, Venn Street, Huddersfield, 5 April 1986. Courtesy Howard Belafonte.

Ian Smith & The Inner Mind’s “Venn Street Rub” (B-side to “Devil Woman”), released on the Pama subsiduary, Bullet, in 1971. Like “Arawack Version” it was a tribute to one of Huddersfield’s best-loved nightspots among the West Indian community: Venn Street. Photo by Elliot Baxter.

Earth Rocker sound system. Clockwise from left: Papa Burky (Stephen Burke, operator/selector), Ducky Ranks (Donald Senior, MC), Yellowman (Robert Daley, crew member), Hunter (Brian Chester, crew member), Pumpkin (Errol Allison, crew member) and Greaves (Andy Greaves, MC) inside Cleopatra’s, Venn Street, Huddersfield, late 1970s. One of the biggest and most respected sound systems in the north of England, Earth Rocker was formed in 1975 by Stephen Burke, born in Huddersfield to Jamaican parents, and the main selector and operator for the sound. According to writer Noel Hawks, who used to work at Dub Vendor record shop in South London: “One of our top mail-order customers ran a sound in Huddersfield. We used to send him up a box of pre-release singles COD nearly every week. He was so regular I can still recall his address, including the postcode, over thirty years later.” That customer was Stephen Burke. Photo courtesy Stephen Burke.

Armagideon sound system, Huddersfield, 1982. Clockwise from left: MC Robbie Rue (Richard Robinson), MC Admaral (Stephen McMahon), MC T Dread (Terry Cole), Dbo General (Danny Brown, operator) and Daddy Lee (Howard Belafonte, selector). Founded in 1978 under the name Youthman, Armagideon sound system was a well known Huddersfield sound that played all over the UK during the 1980s and ’90s. In a profoundly racist era, crew member Howard Belafonte AKA Daddy Lee recalls: “The sound system and Rasta gave us a sense of pride and kept us focused.” Photo courtesy Howard Belafonte.

Stephen Burke, founder of Huddersfield’s Earth Rocker sound system, at the Silver Sands nightclub (Venn Street), Huddersfield, late 1970s. A cabinet maker by trade, Burke applied his carpentry skills to his sound system, helping Earth Rocker to become one of the biggest and most respected sound systems in Huddersfield. The rest of Earth Rocker’s equipment was made by Huddersfield’s Wood Electronics, AKA Pete Wood, better known as Woody. Photo courtesy Stephen Burke.

Detail of a mid-70s 500-watt valve (tube) amplifier, manufacturer unknown, powered by ten KT88 valves. Photo by Elliot Baxter.

Axis Valv-a-tron Tradition 500 valve amplifier (600 watt) and matching Quad 18 speaker box. Currently in production in Huddersfield by Axis sound system. Photo by Elliot Baxter.

Orvelle “Bigga Puss” Pusey, to the right of Ricky Trooper, at that time frontman of Jamaica’s Killamanjaro sound system, performing with King Broadway sound system at the Deighton Centre, Huddersfield, 2001. Photo courtesy Paul Huxtable.

View pictures from a new book about the sound systems of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

At its peak, the town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, had over 30 sound systems. It may seem an unlikely place for a vibrant sound system culture and black music scene, but from Armagideon to Zion InnaVision, the Arawak club to Venn Street, Matamp to Valv-a-tron, Huddersfield has been a stronghold of the British scene, yet has remained largely overlooked.

Sound System Culture traces sound system origins in Jamaica to their establishment in Huddersfield, and details the people who helped establish Huddersfield as the reggae and sound system capital of northern England. It is published by One Love books, and began life as a Tumblr (which is regularly updated here).

It also exists as a documentary and installation, which includes a traditional sound system, Heritage HiFi, a turntable and a stack of 10-inch dubplate vinyl which include sound bites from the people interviewed for the project.

Sound System Culture is featured in an article by Steve Barker in The Wire 366.


Great bit of U.K. Sound System Culture for the Huddersfield area. I have always found the U.K. Reggae scene interesting. This era of late 1960's to Mid 1980's seems like the Reggae, Ska, Dub was the main focus sound systems. The music fans seemed to follow the music for songs, artiste, bands a little more. The sounds listed would have played lots of the real roots style reggae. If members from these Sound Systems, music fans from some shows can be found their thoughts for the vibes of the times it would be good to hear from them. Thanks for part in keeping those Reggae times from Northern U.K. around.

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