Of the 3500-plus band pages in the Reader’s online Local Music database, around 135 cite reggae as the main part of their sound. That may seem low for a beach city whose shores are lined with tropical-themed nightclubs, but several San Diego–based reggae acts have made their mark on national stages, from Big Mountain (best known for their 1994 cover of Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way”) to Irieside, Mystic Roots, Pepper, the Amalgamated, Slightly Stoopid, Buck-O-Nine, and turntable traders DJ Skizz, DJ Cool Breeze, and DJ JFX.
“There are now several weekly and monthly all-reggae nights at various venues throughout the city, as well as live performances,” JFX reports via email, adding “followers of the movement from outside the city are attending our events and dances.”
According to JFX, local reggae dances kicked off around 1983 at Fidelity Hall, with headliners like Jamaica Touch Sound System, Destiny Roots, Christafari Hi-Fi, and Ram Jam Sound, aka local irie icon Elliott. “Elliott was also the founder of Trade Roots Records, the premier reggae shop for years in San Diego,” notes JFX. “At the end of the ’80s, Rockers nightclub ushered in a new era of hardcore sound systems.”
Rockers may have been the birthplace of a major aspect of sound-system culture: DJ battles called “sound clashing.” JFX explains: “A sound clash differs from a standard or hip-hop DJ battle, as it is not a technical competition. Instead, the DJs can only play ‘dub plates,’ or personalized reggae songs with their DJ name in them, and they are at the mercy of the crowd who determines which sound or DJ earns their right to advance to the next round.... Obtaining these specials from reggae artists for the competition is quite involving and expensive. ”
Plenty of touring reggae acts are hitting town soon, including Morgan Heritage at WorldBeat Center (August 1); Tristan Palma at South Bay Lounge (August 4); Del Mar Racetrack events such as Steel Pulse (August 16) and Ziggy Marley (August 31); and at the Belly Up, Don Carlos on September 7 and Jimmy Cliff on September 13.
You can catch DJ JFX at the first annual 45-Shoot Out Soundclash at Spin, downtown, on September 23.