It might come as a surprise to many to learn that sound system culture thrives in Japan. Generally speaking, those places which host a large population of expats from the West Indies (like England for example) have the largest sound system communities.

Growing from Caribbean islands like Jamaica, where dancehall culture reigns supreme, sound system culture gained popularity because of music’s integral role in the communities’ social fabric. Music played outside of supermarkets formed small pockets of music appreciators, which later turned into larger scale musical gatherings.

It’s a fairly well accepted fact that there is not a large population of West Indian expats settled throughout Japan, so the sound system stronghold that exists is a bit of an anomaly. Originally in the West Indies, these sound systems were often hand made out of used building materials such as wooden planks made into boxes. As the music evolved and the communities wanted more volume (to feel the bass,) sound systems evolved right alongside these genres and communities. Japan has latched on to these values, and is credited with having over 300 operational sound system crews reppin’ reggae, dub, dancehall and the other numerous genres of bass music that have trickled down from the creation of these bass heavy speakers.

Japan has become a hub for many types of electronic music due to sound system culture. Footwork, grime, dubstep and drum and bass have all risen in popularity throughout Japan in the past few years. In fact, American and English tastemakers of these genres have hailed Japan as a mecca of music, insisting that no matter what “your scene” is, you will find a fully functioning version under the bright lights in the nightlife of Japan.

Enter Part2Style, a Tokyo duo at the forefront of Japan’s growing bass music scene. The group is made up of Mal and Nisi-p, who have done it all over the years. From being in a sound system crew burrowed in the trenches of dub in the ’90s, to being featured in Skepta’s 2016 Boiler Room (which focused on grime), Part2Style has proven that for them, no sound is off limits in their musical evolution.

“We were in a sound system crew in the ’90s. This was where we learned everything, naturally,” says Mal. “Japan is one of the biggest countries in terms of the number of crews that own sound systems,” he goes on to explain.

I find myself still wondering how these two were possibly exposed to dub music so deeply when countries like Jamaica are another world away. Mal tells me about the cassette tapes. “Various [dub] tapes were sold in the early ’90s,” Mal says. “It was our only source of information, so we listened to them until the tapes wore out. We recognized everything in those tapes, like where the needle would skip,” he says, painting an image of a younger version of themselves scouring crowded flea markets for the next treasure by way of Kingston.

Despite being hugely popular, sound system culture has definitely peaked in Japan and given way to something else. Clear genres have emerged rather than a generalized celebration of music culture. Mal clarifies, “today each genre has become more segmented, and each is growing. Because of this, it is difficult to say which is most popular.” As in North America, music aficionados in Japan will split hairs over typifying genres. Part2Style’s sound has evolved from their days of building and DJing on sound systems into producing something they call future dancehall. Hindered by the translation between our two languages, Mal attempts to describe this sound, eventually settling for a simple explanation. “[future dancehall] is a new genre and movement based on new format dancehall reggae,” he sums up.

The sound has been picked up and championed throughout Europe. Part- 2Style was a coveted act last year, touring and getting tracks snapped up by foreign labels. This has interfered with the progress of their own label, Future Ragga, but this is ok with Mal and Nisi-p. “Recently, we’ve had chances to release from various labels, so we’re kind of slow running our label,” Mal jokes. Future Ragga doesn’t seem to be the plan for 2017 anyway.

Wrapping up our chat, I ask Mal if there will be a collaboration with Boy Better Know after Part2Style’s Boiler Room with Skepta. He is not hesitant to answer. “BBK? Yeah, we definitely want to have a show with them,” Mal schemes out loud. “We would also like to make music with some artists from [the] USA and Jamaica. We haven’t done any Canada or US tours yet, so that is our goal.”

For all things Future Dancehall, follow Part2Style on Soundcloud, soundcloud.com/part2style

BY KAYLA GRAHAM

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