A Sound clash is a musical competition where crew members from opposing sound systems pit their skills against each other. Sound clashes take place in a variety of venues, both indoors and outdoors. Primarily featuring reggae, dancehall or jungle music. The object is to beat or "kill" their competitors.
In Jamaica, sound clashes with their "violently martial ethos" date back at least to the 1950s, when systems like Tom the Great Sebastian and Duke Reid's the Trojan clashed in the old Back-O-Wall neighborhood of Kingston (now Tivoli Gardens, Kingston). Sometimes these clashes were violent, with one system destroying the other system's equipment. The first reported clash was between Tom the Great Sebastian and Count Nick in 1952.
Sound clashes are an integral part of black culture in London as portrayed in the cult movie Babylon, at the same time that real-life sound systems such as Jah Shaka and Ital Lion were competing for supremacy in Deptford which is in The London Borough of Lewisham a traditional West-Indian area of South London.
In the early days of sound clashes, in Jamaican dancehall culture, sound systems would bring their own sound equipment—heavy bass sounds (that can be heard miles away) are especially important. A strong selection of contemporary, popular dubplates are necessary also; sometimes sound systems paid artists for the exclusive use of dubplates. Appreciation for dubplates and riddims are shown in the form of 'forwards', a surge of the crowd towards the front of the dance/towards the DJ booth. In particular, a 'deep forward' originates from the back of a dance, where the aficionados (or 'heads') typically stand.
Usually the Sound systems in the sound clash will play for a set time 5pm through to 6am the following day. Each sound play 90mins each before switching. This would include the loading procedure of the lawn, supporting the sales at the kitchen and bar. Playing Jamaican music from 1950 to present recorded singles and also exclusive dubplates.
The first round is no elimination, each sound plays a set time. Second round each sound system plays but one sound system being eliminated by poor performance, poor quality or by playing back a song. Elimination continues until two sounds are left, for example Bredda Hype sound vs Sound Trooper. The time interval gets shorter and shorter, with the introduction of television clashes, so when playing returns to one sound again, they may only play a shorter time, 15 minutes. Near the end of the clash they go song on song or "Dub fi dub." Traditionally, all dubplates must feature the DJ's name, marking it as exclusive for that particular DJ, otherwise the DJ faces instant disqualification. Also, if a DJ were to play a dubplate based on a "riddim" already played during the clash he/she could face disqualification.
Where only two sound system are playing, winning is based on 10 dub plates in tune for tune, regardless of who leads all night.
- Veal, Michael E. (2007). Dub: soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican reggae. Wesleyan UP. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8195-6572-3.
- Katz, David (2003). Solid foundation: an oral history of reggae. Bloomsbury. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-58234-143-9.
- Katz, David (2003). Solid foundation: an oral history of reggae. Bloomsbury. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-58234-143-9.
- "30 years on: Franco Rosso on why Babylon's burning". The Independent. 11 November 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
- Stolzoff, Norman C. (2000). Wake the town & tell the people: dancehall culture in Jamaica. Duke UP. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-8223-2514-7.