Sound Culture and Sonic Intimacy: Reggae Dancehall, Pirate Radio and YouTube Music Videos

September 24, 2019
Sound Culture and Sonic Intimacy: Reggae Dancehall, Pirate Radio and YouTube Music Videos

7:00 PM
Ted Daigle Auditorium


This presentation by Malcolm James, Associate Professor, University of Sussex, UK, explores the cultural politics of popular music as it transitions from the 1970s and 1980s reggae dancehall, through 1990s pirate radio and 2000s YouTube music videos. To do this it develops the notion of “sonic intimacy,” which refers to the ways in which sound conveys notions of presence, relation and shared understanding at odds with the visual and rational regimes of racial capitalism.


The sonic intimacies of the reggae sound system were important. The presence of people in the dancehall, shared understandings of racial and class oppression, the penetration of bass through the collective body, combined with the wisdom of reggae, produced a demand that exceeded the imagination of the racist state at that moment.


But what happened to those sonic intimacies and cultural politics as musical tastes and sound technologies changed emphasis? Little is said about this. While the intimacies of sound cultures – the atmospheres, feelings, vibes, hypes, and energies – are widely known and indeed discussed, they are less often the focus of analysis, and this is not inconsequential for our understanding of alternative cultural politics today. 


Moving sonic intimacies from the margins to the center of the debate, this presentation will address these questions and explore what happened to the demand of the reggae dancehall as it transformed into the fractured fervor of pirate music radio in the 1990s, and then into the hyperlinked intensities and immediacies of YouTube music videos from 2010 onwards.

Malcolm James is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at University of Sussex, UK. His research interests are in postcolonial and critical race approaches to youth, urban culture, migration, music and sound. He is author of Urban Multiculture: Youth, Politics and Cultural Transformation published by Palgrave.