cfp: Low End Theories: Bass Culture, Sound Systems, and Popular Music

Call for papers

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Bass and Afro-diasporic sound system culture are defining elements of many popular musics today. Dub-reggae practices are embedded in the pop industry as well as mainstay genres such as hip-hop, dancehall, and jungle/drum ‘n’ bass, while sound system-powered subcultures proliferate in scenes such as footwork, Miami bass, and beyond. ‘Bass music’ is an established, and contested, category of electronic dance music culture. Sound system events have persisted through and adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite its impact on night life industries worldwide.

Researchers in music and the wider arts and humanities are today increasingly paying attention to various manifestations of bass culture and low-frequency vibration through theoretical and cultural lenses. Landmark projects include ‘Bass Culture’ (2016–19), a ‘response to the disengagement and lack of education surrounding the heritage of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music in Britain’, and ‘Sonic Street Technologies’ (2021–25), which examines diasporic sound system cultures in the Global South and ‘what they tell us about technology and scientific knowledge’.

Key publications from the last two decades explore a range of other topics an interdisciplinary fashion, including: the foundational artists, principles, and sounds of Jamaican dub; sonic materialism and sonic epistemologies; the development of local sound system cultures & music scenes globally; ‘the drop’ as a musical and cultural phenomenon; the development of bass culture alongside ‘treble culture’; a call to develop a ‘musicology of bass culture’; and more.

This free online conference responds to this developing field by bringing together researchers from across music studies and the wider arts & humanities for talks and discussion. With its name inspired by the sonics and multiple meanings of A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 album The Low End Theory, the conference aims to generate thoughtful debate about low-end sonic cultures, ideas, and practices with sensitivity to their social and political histories.

We hope to go beyond the mere mystification of specific frequencies to critically explore what bass culture is, where it comes from, how it works, and how/why it is (or should be) studied. The conference aims to identify important research questions and issues and develop a diverse network of researchers that can foster future events and activities.

We invite proposals for presentations of 15 to 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of questions, on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Dub, reggae, and sound system culture in Jamaica and elsewhere – its history, sounds, culture, politics, people, practices, traditions, and impact
  • The ‘hardcore continuum’ and bass culture as Black British club music
  • Bass and sound systems in hip-hop & electronic dance music
  • Sonic materialism, epistemology, and bass culture – theoretical perspectives on low-frequency vibration and knowing-through-sound
  • Bass, sound systems, and the body – connections to the senses, movement, dance, pleasure, pain, violence, spirituality, wellbeing, and the tactile
  • Bass and listening – connections to hearing impairment, aural diversity, Deaf culture, and noise control
  • Bass and vibes – connections to emotion, mood, energy, and affect
  • Bass, power, and identity – connections to race, gender, class, disability, ethnicity, sexuality, and age, as well as capitalism, protest, activism, and resistance
  • Bass, space, and place – connections to the dance hall, club, street, festival, carnival, city, and other (real or virtual) environments
  • Vinyl, dubplates, and analogue media technologies in bass culture
  • Bass culture and mass media – on radio, the internet, and mobile devices
  • Strategies, techniques, and tools for creating bass music, including composition, production, and DJ/MC/sound system performance

Guidance for proposals

Visit the online form to submit a proposal, including a presentation title and abstract of up to 250 words. The deadline for submitting a proposal is at 12:00 noon GMT on Friday 10 February 2023. Successful participants will be notified by the end of February.

Registration and programme

The conference will take place entirely online on Zoom and registration will be free. Please keep an eye on the conference website for further information.


This conference is organised by Ivan Mouraviev (PhD candidate, University of Bristol). The programme committee includes Ivan Mouraviev, Dr Nabeel Zuberi (University of Auckland), and Dr Steven Gamble (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Bristol).