Low End Theories

Bass Culture, Sound Systems, and Popular Music

Welcome to the Low End Theories conference website.

Dates: 19–20 May 2023

This free, fully online conference responds to the emerging interdisciplinary field of bass culture studies, by bringing together researchers from across the arts and humanities for talks and discussion.

To learn more, use the above links and read the call for papers below.


Low End Theories was initially planned for an in-person event at the University of Bristol, UK in 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic. The conference now takes a new form as an online event, designed to be open to as wide a range of voices as possible as well as cutting-edge research. Participants who applied to the cancelled 2020 event are welcome to resubmit their proposal as-is. All proposals will undergo a standard review process.

Call for papers

Update: Deadline extended to 12:00 GMT Friday 24 February 2023

View online | Download a PDF

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’.[1]

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;[2] sonic materialism and sonic epistemologies;[3] the development of local sound system cultures & music scenes globally;[4] ‘the drop’ as a musical and cultural phenomenon;[5] the development of bass culture alongside ‘treble culture’;[6] a call to develop a ‘musicology of bass culture’;[7] 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:

Guidance for proposals

Visit the online form to submit a proposal, including a presentation title and abstract of up to 250 words.

Update: The deadline for submitting a proposal has been extended to 12:00 noon GMT on Friday 24 February 2023.

Successful participants will be notified in March.

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).


[1] ‘Bass Culture’, principal investigator Mykaell Riley, University of Westminster (2016–19), https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=AH%2FN001826%2F1; ‘Sonic Street Technologies’, principal investigator Julian Henriques, Goldsmiths University of London (2021–2025), https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/866239.

[2] Lloyd Bradley, Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King (London: Penguin, 2000); Michael Veal, Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007); William ‘Lez’ Henry & Matthew Worley, Narratives from Beyond the UK Reggae Bassline: The System is Sound (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). 

[3] Julian Henriques, Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (London: Continuum, 2011); Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010); Paul Jasen, Low End Theory: Bass, Bodies and the Materiality of Sonic Experience (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014); Malcolm James, Sonic Intimacy: Reggae Sound Systems, Jungle Pirate Radio and Grime Youtube Music Videos (London: Bloomsbury, 2020). 

[4] Paul Sullivan, Remixology: Tracing the Dub Diaspora (London: Reaktion Books, 2014); Joe Muggs & Brian David Stevens, Bass, Mids, Tops: An Oral History of Sound System Culture (London: Strange Attractor Press, 2019); Caspar Melville, It's a London thing: How rare groove, acid house and jungle remapped the city (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020); Dhanveer Singh Brar, Teklife/Ghettoville/Eski: The Sonic Ecologies of Black Music in the Early Twenty-First Century (London: Goldsmiths Press, 2021). 

[5] Edward Spencer, ‘The Drop and The Fall: An Investigation of Bass Music’, Doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2021. 

[6] Wayne Marshall, ‘Treble Culture’, in The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Volume 2, ed. Sumanth Gopinath & Jason Stanyek, 43–76 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 

[7] Robert Fink, 'Below 100 Hz: Toward a Musicology of Bass Culture’, in The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre in Popular Music, ed. Melinda Latour & Zachary Wallmark, 88–116 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).