Ghetto Blaster

2010 January 8

The boombox, also known as the jam box, boogie box and ghetto blaster, started appearing in the mid-1970s. Reasonably priced, they were affordable to inner city youth who would carry them everywhere, bringing technology to the heart of urban America’s public soundscape. Listeners could now play their favorite music at a loud volume while on the move, using ever-larger boomboxes powered by batteries. Most models had an AM/FM radio; two cassette players to dub tapes; two or more large speakers; battery and AC capability; and several auxiliary connections to plug in equipment like microphones or turntables. Their portability made it possible for the latest music to resound in places that were previously off-limits because of a lack of a power source. Also, moving through public spaces made it more difficult for police to enforce noise ordinances. Like the Walkman and iPod, the boombox is a portable audio device, but its use is much more public and communal rather than individual and private. A unique subcultural style emerged around the rituals that were associated with the boombox. Lyle Owerko, photographer and boombox collector, who calls them “gargantuan conglomerations of electronics, lights and chrome-plated gadgetry,” thinks of them as “symbols of rebellion.” Designed deliberately to be as large and flashy as possible, they featured imposing speaker grills, large buttons and flashing lights and they broadcast big sounds. Highly conspicuous aurally and visually, they were effective as mechanisms of public display. The DiscoLite featured in this exhibition, for example, is a monolithic object whose flashing colored lights draw almost as much attention to its visual quality as its sound. The sounds of hip-hop and rap, the energy of break dancing, the writing of graffiti, Adidas shoes, cassette tapes, turntables and more all served as the signifying props of a unique aesthetic expression. The popularity of the boombox was reflected in movies, music videos and the content of the songs as well. Manufacturers such as Clairtone, Sony, Panasonic, Lasonic, Marantz and others, in order to feed and capitalize on this culture, produced boxes in a staggering variety of styles, sizes, colors and features. The popularity of the boombox began waning toward the end of the 1980s, partly because of the appeal of the Walkman and also due to new noise ordinances. Today, while we still use boomboxes around the house, they are more present in collections, in books and on websites than in the streets. taken from: rewindremixreplay.org

Back to home