The Scene: An old, red brick warehouse on W. 65th St. that wouldn’t look like anything if not for the Cycle Werks shop sign on its front. This is the home of Steelyard Soundsystem, a collective of Cleveland artists bringing the Caribbean vibes to the North Coast.
The Setting: A Bratenahl Kitchen food truck and seating area in the building’s courtyard. Take the stairs where strangers say hello as you pass to the open rooftop of the Cycle Werks building, laid out in hardwood flooring and sectional-style bench seating that wraps around two sides of the rooftop deck. A young chap in a short-sleeve button-down shirt and fedora smiles at new arrivals. Two women with their bodies covered more by tattoos than their sundresses talk over drinks as two little girls with hula hoops take over the dance floor.
The Sun: It’s setting from behind the enormous rooftop speaker system placed in the northwest corner of the rooftop deck. The sun leaves a soft, orange glow from behind the speaker set that gradually gets eerie as night rolls in and I wonder—well, hope—that this was intentional.
The System: Steelyard Soundsystem founder Tim Smith explains, “We are using subwoofer cabinets known as scoops. They are a traditional style of speaker design that uses an internal wave path inside the box that extends lower frequencies and gives a nice low bass that is perfect for dub music.”
The Sound: Reggae and its offshoots, dub and dancehall. As Steelyard Soundsystem co-founder Tim Smith spins “Calling For Roots” by London reggae artist Danny Red, you can feel each sound by its frequency of vibration into your feet through the wood floor.
The Story: “Soundsystem” culture was developed in the 1950s, when poor people collected turntables and stacked speakers to create sound systems, playing American R&B music for street parties in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica. Local music would later take precedence in soundsystem culture. Jamaican migration to the U.K. brought reggae and soundsystem to Europe, where it is now among the most popular musical genres. Even decades after its creation, the style is still the music of peaceful revolution, having promoted social and political changes in late 1970’s Jamaica.
The basis for a soundsystem collective remains the same today: DJs, audiophiles, emcees, and a massive stacked speaker system. Steelyard Soundsystem celebrates the culture through regular events include the rooftop parties, dub sessions, Caribbean food and drinks, and artists from across the world.
The Experience: Whether you’re a soundsystem junkie or new to the scene, Steelyard Soundsystem offers the community a chance to soak in Caribbean vibes in Cleveland. A sense of community and the strength of a people united has always been a major theme of reggae music but is specifically prominent in soundsystem culture, which arose from areas of such high poverty and struggle where, for some, the street parties were the only release they had. The music is both the catalyst and the reflection of the energy Steelyard Soundsystem wants to bring to Cleveland.
For more info on Steelyard Soundsystem including upcoming events moving into fall, visit steelyardsound.com.