From the very earliest days of soundsystems there has been intense competition. When two sounds go to war at the same dance, that’s a sound clash. It’s a battle that can last all night. The rival sounds compete for the adulation of the baying crowd – a bit like the gladiator contests in the amphitheatres of ancient Rome.
Clashing has developed its own strict rules. Typically, contestants play their best records in ‘rounds’ of half an hour each that are judged by the audience. Then the rounds are shortened to fifteen minutes before a final duel in which the performers alternately play their rarest and most precious dubplates, ‘one for one’, until a winner is declared. Strategy is crucial and the best sound clash combatants combine the wiles of a good chess player with the ring courage of a boxer.
Throughout the rollercoaster of my time at Kiss FM I was pursuing this other working life of soundclashing. For me to get involved in this world was highly unorthodox. Clashing was for the ‘sound bwoys’ who played on the big systems, not for radio broadcasters such as me. Even less for radio broadcasters who’d grown up in rural Oxfordshire.
One of the most significant [clashes] in my entire career was in Miami with King Waggy T, the number one selector in Florida. Miami is known as Kingston 21 or Little Jamaica, because of the massive Jamaican communities there and in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Waggy T is a Chinese-Jamaican who moved to Florida. He has the most amazing collection of dubplates and is well known for his seamless mixing when playing tunes. He was a selector who famously never spoke – he employed an MC to do all his talking.
This was billed as ‘The Clash of the Century’ and took place at the Mahi Temple, a Miami nightclub, on Bob Marley Day, 6 February, in 1993. There were around three thousand fans inside the place. “Tonight is going to be a night of musical pleasure... I’ve flown 6,000 miles to clash with King Waggy T, Florida’s ruling champion,” I told the audience. ‘Tonight you are going to hear music you have never heard before. Tonight, Miami, you are going to hear the most cantankerous, poisonous dubplates you ever heard!’