WRECK THIS MESS > ARTICLES > DUB story
DUB : a short story
Level - 3 : "Do
you remember the days before slavery ?"
Let's set the scene - outdoors, daylight, on an island. The sky is blue, the sea is calm and the weather hot. There's lush vegetation, and rivers running down the Blue Mountains. This little paradise is called "the land of the springs" or Xamaica in the Arawaks' language. This Indian people here were massacred when the Spanish colonizers landed. The English arrived later around the middle of the 17th century... Lets go to another scene, indoors this time, and it's night: coke in stock. Thousands of people crammed into the holds of English ships, destined to perish in the plantations. There were rebellions, but to no avail. Slavery was to be abolished centuries later but nothing would erase the memory of it... Jamaica became independent the same year Algeria did, in 1962...
Level - 2 : Nyabinghi
The slaves' daughters opted for the "cult of the motherland"... Throughout the Caribbean islands, Africa became a myth. New religions appeared. In Jamaica, this opium of the Black people is named Rastafarianism. It is, in short, a mix of pan-Africanism and biblical tradition. The first adepts were counted by the early 60ies. The hardcore ones created their own communities and hid out in the hills. These fundamentalists had practices such as chanting ancestral rhythms and smoking themselves out to clear their ideas... the code name for such revels: nyabinghi. Grounation. Percussion and chants only. This was the very first style of music ever associated with the Rasta movement. Today, only a few veterans keep the tradition of such rituals alive, among them Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus, The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari.
Level - 1 : Blue Beat,
Ska, Rudie and Rock Steady
In the 50's, the Jamaican people were dancing to jazz and swaying calypso rhythms. Music is also subject to the law of evolution: there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. Its history is made of breaks, mixes and evolutions. The combined influence of both musical trends will later generate blue beat, ska and rudie- the rude boyz music- and then, rock steady, which was more focused on songs. Their one common point is a skanky, hiccuped tempo (skank). Somehow, it's a Caribbean interpretation of rock. These trends were to rock the Jamaican island up until the late 60's. Prince Buster, Desmond Decker, The Ethiopians, Don Drummond and the Skatalites were the ambassadors of this music, like Toots & The Maytals and Jimmy Cliff in their beginnings. Strangely enough, only ska was to go through a revival in the following years.
Level 0 : "Roots, Rock,
The emergence of a new style of music can be born out of rhythmic acceleration. Reggae was born from the opposite phenomenon. Compared to ska and blue beat, the rhythmic section is a lot slower and laid back... it's the bass is in the forefront. The "lead guitar" and/or keyboards set the tone. There's a strong presence of vocals: a setting which harks back to soul and rhythm-n-blues. This change in tone was to reach a balance by the late 70's. Therefore reggae could also be considered as a form of "protest song". The lyrics were always defending a cause and expressed a sociopolitical vision of the world, as well as a religious one. Rastafarianism had finally found its platform. It was sometimes melancholy and wailing (Burning Spear), sometimes mystical and supposedly prophetic (Bob Marley) and sometimes even syrupy sweet when addressed to lovers (Gregory Isaac). Reggae transfigured the Rasta chants.
Level 1: Sound-System
Long before the major distribution companies got a hold of them, most reggae productions were released on 45 records by Studio One, Tuff Gong, etc. The B sides usually had the instrumental version of the track, which was played by the sound-systems. Originally, using the basic but efficient means of mobile sound setups diffused the rasta message in the ghettos, and the efficiency seemed to be able to be measured by the size of their speakers. The whole mission was actually led by an MC (Master of Ceremony) who coordinated the selector and the operator. As a DJ, he had the choice of either re-singing along with the lyrics (dubbing) and/ or improvising social chronicles when singing on the instrumental version (toast). Today, the pioneers of the genre have become legendary: see Duke Reid 's sound system, Clement Dodd's (Downbeat) and toasters Count Machuki, King Stitt (The Ugly One) and U Roy for instance.
Level 2 : Dub
Sound systems multiplied quickly. What distinguished them from one another was the sound quality. Bass in your face! Even duels, "sound clash", were organized. But for DJs to be able to fight, weapons were needed. Sound engineers thus began to work on reggae. The bass and drum were put to the forefront. Vocals were slowed down and put at the back of the mix. These were no longer mere instrumental versions. This was something else, something much stronger - it was dub! In pushing the technical capacities of studio work and recording, to their limits, the genius handymen had invented a totally new, independent genre of music. Dub first spread via test-pressings, i.e. the dub-plates engraved to be played particularly by sound systems. In techno terms, these are "white labels"... From then on, "club culture " was on its way.
Level 3 : Dub Masters
The first "strictly dub" albums of the period reflected the wild creativity of the leaders of this musical revolution: "Dub gone crazy"! King Tubby, the man considered to be the founding father, camped in his Home Town Hi-Fi studio, with two other dub masters: Lee "Scratch" Perry and Bunny Lee. In 1973/74 they played for the first time with stereo sound effects and distortion: "Blackboard Jungle Dub". Just to name them, here are a few other pioneers: Errol T, Keith Hudson ("Pick A Dub"), Joe Gibbs ("African Dub") and so on... Some years later, Lee Perry would, the first one, use the reverb effect in his Black Art Studio. All the possibilities provided by mixing techniques were methodically explored: cuts, re-equalization of low and high pitch… It was like a treasure hunt. As innovations came about, records were produced, offering the variations in chapters and sections. From one record to another, the musical themes and riddims were taken up and altered: the era of re-mix had started...
Level 4 : Dubwise
Then came the time of emancipation. Prince Jammy and Scientist stood for the second generation of dubmasters along with Peter Chemist, Dr. Alimantado, The Revolutionnaries, The Twinkle Brothers, Augustus Pablo, Niney The Observer, Yabby U, etc... Their rule lasted from the 70's to the 80's. It was still roots dub, but the culture was different. Computers and video games were now part of everyday life: "Scientist encounters Pacman" and "Prince Jammy destroys The Invaders". Technology too had evolved. Sounds had become deeper. Each album could be listened to as a catalog of special effects: echo, fader, delay, etc... The mixes became more elaborate too. The construction of each track was new and in evolution: breaks and counter-breaks pumped up the tempo, loops with voice samples to colour each composition (dubwise). Dub had become profoundly hypnotic and had reached a point of no return.
Level 5 : "War Inna Babylon"
1st, 2nd, third generation: due to the colonization process, the Jamaican community was largely present in England. On meeting with Western Europe, Reggae music took on an urban character. The rhythm became faster and the sounds more "rock". Steel Pulse, Aswad and Black Uhuru symbolized this amazing period. Sly & Robbie and Roots Radics should be mentioned here. They were constantly in the studio and participated in many productions. The Roots Radics duo made many dub albums too: they were extremely, with no blank time: "The summit", "Taxi gang". Out of the necessary drum & bass duo, many bands started functioning as a tandum: Steelie & Cleevie, Mafia & Fluxy. But there were ghettos in the urban jungle. Rastas were confronted with Babylon! Riots were spreading throughout England. They didn't have much to envy to the struggle of the German autonomists, for instance. Handsworth revolution!
Level 6 : Punky-Reggae
Then the punks became jealous! The Clash called them to come inna di dance ("White Riot"). Anarchy in the UK! Anyway, it was them who brought pale faces to reggae. The Ruts, The Slits, Stiff Little Finger and then P.I.L., even the Police and UB 40, all these bands gave us a white and energetic version of reggae. Some Blacks followed the same path, but in the opposite direction: they mixed reggae with hardcore punk: Bad Brains. Others make dub inna murderer style: Basement 5. These two tribes ended up meeting in "punky reggae party", where Mickey Dread would be touring with The Clash. The radio anchor, named Michael Campbell, conceived a cult album: "African Anthem: dubwise". The whole album was built like a radio program with tracks following and bumping back onto each other. A jingle repeated like a mantra: "Dread at the control". The mix, so complex, was already proclaiming a new generation of dub masters.
Level 7 : Dub-Poetry
At the same time, intellectuals discovered dub's potentials. Their texts, and more specifically the poems found an audience that amplified their impact. Literally, and metaphorically, their phrasing stuck to the bass line in order to pass the message on more effectively. Prince Far I opened the way. R.I.P. He was followed by Michael Smith, Sister Breeze, Oku Onuara, etc...With them, dub turned into a sound track: Linton Kwesi Johnson's title, "It Dread inna Inglan'", had a demonstration flava about it, Mutabaruka's "Everytime a ear de soun 'it" had war noises raging in the background. Close enough to the American spoken-word, dub-poetry is realistic and militant. Since economy rules the world, the battle had to be fought on that terrain. Better red than dead! L.K.J spits on Rastas who get stuck into mysticism ("Reality poem"). Neither Jah nor master !
Level 8 : Studio Line
In the early 80ies, dub put on techno-realism. The sound engineer became a real "studio man", assuming the position of an interface between all the machines. Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor marked a new stage with their labels On-U Sound and Ariwa (communication, in the Yoruba language). While keeping in touch with the punk-rock scene, they were practically the only ones to innovate in this period, carrying on what Mickey Dread had started but accumulating mixes and effects. Their albums were baroque, filled with sound gimmicks and references. What they favoured was the listening. A true iconoclast, Adrian Sherwood boldly juggled in a vertiginous diversity with sounds issued from both tradition and modernity (African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate, Barmy Army and the first Gary Clail). Mad Prof, who is a perfectionist, revealed his sense of humour in his saga " Dub Me Crazy". Hence, nothing was the same any more: England was ahead of the rest, even ahead of Jamaica.
Level 9 : Rub-A-Dub
However, by the mid 80's, dub seemed to have become rarer, not counting the two great manipulators and Jah Shaka who kept the flame of the sound-systems burning. The public prefered to be drowned in a flows of fast words spoken by the "fast talkers". A derivative from Dance Hall and a preview of Ragga, the Rub-a-Dub style exploded. In such a context, there weren't a lot of purely instrumental albums around. Only Gussie P and his A Class Crew stood out from the crowd: "Raw Rub A Dub Inna Fashion". The sound changed. It was a synthetic texture, gummy almost. The times of totally acoustic sound had passed. Machines had won over. The transition from acoustic to digital was made. A visionary, Prince Jammy had conceived a minimalist, linear album: "Computerized Dub". Titles from this album now belong to the prehistory of micro-computers ("32 bit chip", "Peek & poke", "256k ram"). Sleng teng...
Level 10 : Breakbeats,
Scratch & Dub
In the late 80's: nothing was going right any more. There was a fall in the amount of dub being produced. Only a handful of resistants carried on in keeping with what On-U sound was doing, composing chaotic dub, with layers of unexpected sounds. Renegade Sound Waves and Depth Charge explored a digital-based music universe. Sampling had taken the place of the work on tapes. But rap music was around. Therefore, some bands started making dub that was cut in strips, in keeping with the "breakbeat & scratch" approach. Consolidated, "Stoned: live bass mix!" Bass was still prevalent but its hegemony was getting more and more threatened by the strong rhythmics (Meat Beat Manifesto). Such an off the center approach was a prefiguration of the general mix in genre that you still see in dub today.
Level 11 : Ambient-Dub
At the start of the 90's, technoids re-discovered the sound-system principle through rave parties. In between waves of Bpms they would be listening to ambient. Former hippies had a good laugh. Rastas too: people were once again listening to dub, at chill- outs. The Orb brought old themes inherited from the dub masters back to the forefront. Those who didn't know anything about reggae culture were unaware that such looting was taking place. Never mind! The meeting between ambient and dub had to happen. These are two fields of action that are favorable to all kinds of sound manipulation. In 1992, the label Beyond confirmed the fusion with the release of a compilation entitled Ambient Dub: subtle atmospheres, a lot of samples, trance-tribal coloration etc... All aspects of such a mix were brought to the light by The Insanity Sect, H.I.A., as well as Subsurfing, 23, Horizon 222 and Banco De Gaia ("Last Train To Lhassa"). Dub finally found a second breath.
Level 12 : Techno-Dub
Techno was back for a moment, but it all got better after a few unsuccessful attempts were made to combine house and dub. Cosmic Connection ("Zincode") and DP-Sol's acidity ("Spacecakes : live in Oslo") was still deriving from the ambient type of driftings, yet the beats were much more hard-hitting. Talking about this electro-tonic trend, Blue and Braindub were the ones to go over the top! Two thirds of Bpms versus one third of bass: techno-dub (Blue Bommer, "Dub"). Beats were boosting and dub could, in its turn, storm the dancefloors (DreadZone): the bass' roundness was no longer an obstacle. There again, compilations could testify of the trend: "Club Meets Dub" (Zip Dog Rec.), "Serious DropOut" (S/3 Frankfurt), "Dub Backups" (Elektrolux) and "Mashing Up Creation" (DubMission Rec.). However, just like in the punk era, some bands opted for alterning styles. Moody Boyz and Bandulu passed from techno to dub without feeling the need to hide their game.
Level 13 : New-Roots
Capitalizing on this renewed interest in dub, a whole new scene had come about. There were two distinct trends: on the one hand, the revival of a round and chiseled sound, without excessive ornamentation but with a nice round bass. This represented the comeback of the "roots & culture" philosophy, and of the productions signed "vocals & dub". Alpha & Omega incarnated this renaissance. The duo reoriented dub back to its spiritual roots ("Watch And Pray"). The Disciples also turned to this idea, though, at the same time, taking into account today's sonorities ("Resonations"). With his Third Eye label, The Rootsman federated the partisans of what's called new-roots ( "In Dub We Trust"), with bridges made towards the Middle-East and Africa ("52 Days To Timbuktu").
Level 14 : Hardcore Dub
Now, on the other hand, you 'd have bands gravitating around Zion Train via their label Universal Egg. They delivered a type of dub in a high-tech style, though not really techno. Usually it's fast beats, warrior-like, sustained by metallic and harsh sounds. The bass is "massive & large" (see "Lead With The Bass"). Again, in this warrior style, Iration Steppers ("Original Dub D.A.T."), Small Axe, Powersteppers ("Bass Enforcement"), Shotgun Rockers and Hedonastik are the main reprazentents. Wild, and proud to be so (wicked & wild), they claim they come from the hardcore dub. On a larger scale, looking at all styles at once, it's an army of sound-systems, producers, and musicians that stepped up over the recent years. Unanimously, from Mixman to Armagideon including Aba-Shanti, Manasseh, DigiDub, Twilight Circus and The Dub Specialists, King Tubby's grand-children definitely revere Jah Shaka and his "light" amplifiers.
Level 15 : Trip Hop vs
All styles of music have evolved and yet there isn't much change when it comes to vocals. Despite dub-poetry, ragga, rap & Co., dub was still using vocals dating from another era: those of soul and funk. Vocalistic horror! From its very beginning, though, dub had proved that it was possible to use vocals in all different manners. Over-dub Mad Prof made a severe call back on the matter remixing Massive Attack. For the occasion, the album was baptized "No protection". Needless to add anything. Once the vocals got subdued, trip-hop's delicate sounds took on a special character. Just like the rest of England, Bristol was living under the influence of dub. Be it Smith & Mighty or Tricky, nobody could escape this. Their labels and sets were sprinkled with reggae-dub. But, despite a few excellent titles on the Mo Wax compilation, only the second volume of the series "110 Bellow/Journey In Dub" ("Trip to the ship chop") and "Dub-Trip And Hop" on Flex Rec tried to make a summary of this situation.
Level 16 : Jungle-Dub
Then came the swan song. Techno music had reached its peak by the mid 90's. Eversince, it turned into an implosion (hear Plastikman), or kept trying to push its limits further, in a hardcore style. But increasing build-ups of Bpms went out of date. Jungle came as a salvation: with its complexity, it freed techno from the dictatorship of binary rhythm. Drum and bass. Apparently, it was the exact opposite of dub's structure. Yet jungle is very close to ragga, hip-hop and all... Somehow, it's just a little rhythmic variation. In the background of the electroshock created by samples and breakbeats, you still could hear some reggae classics. As far as vocals went, you just needed a slight extra touch , and you'd have a "dub version". As the times showed, all the Club meets Dub compilations were submerged by this trend. Dub & drum? The Rockers HiFi, The Rootsman, Mad Prof. ("Mazurani : The Jungle Dub Experience") and the dub-masters themselves adopted this equation.
Level 17 : Jazz vs Dub
In brackets: years ago, some pioneers had established a link between reggae and jazz: Shake Keen ("Real Keen, Reggae Into Jazz") and Deadly Headly ("35 Years From Alpha"). Years later, this link was taken up by the upholders of acid-jazz who did not fear to explore such lands, in one or two of their tracks: "The Humble Souls", "Raw Stylus". After they published two albums by the Hazardous Dub Company and re-edited the Mannaseh ( "Dub The Millenium"), the Acid Jazz label wanted to create a sub section devoted to roots reggae and Instrumental music (Acid Roots). However the project was never accomplished. But today, as electronic music in general and drum 'n bass in particular tend to put on more and more jazzy colours, we could well see this seasnake show up again... Jazz versus Dub? Keep an eye out for it.
Level 18 : Dub-Hop
Late 90's. Dub's history developed in the USA. The "great" Satan was back. Sulfur was in the air. New York, Brooklyn, Greenpoint. In between two wastelands, there you found Bill Laswell's studio ("Axiom Dub"). The place would often welcome the Wordsound crew led by Skiz Fernando, aka The Roots Controler. The posse was delivering sad, tormented and apocalyptic dub music. Slow and heavy. In order to lighten such heaviness, the cheerful characters injected hip hop elements in the magma of infrabass. It then became a stamped name: dub-hop. The Crooklyn Dub Consortium releases offer a striking view of the ground shaking works of Spectre, Dubadelic, Dr. IsraÎl, etc. Adrian Sherwood is closely following up their gloomy driftings. The future is theirs.
Level 19 : Illbient in
Illbient too was born in New York. As the name tells, it is a sort of sick ambient music. A black hole that drains all kinds of music, without restriction. The head of this general corruption of the sound is undoubtedly DJ Spooky. He is the author of a couple of crazy tracks , with telling titles: "Anansi abstrakt", "Hologrammic dub", "Islands of lost souls (dub mix)". He was present, with Byzar and a few other weirdoes, on the manifesto-compilation released by the end of the century: "Incursions In Illbient"(Asphodel). These cranks were back again on the Home Entertainement label anthologies. Compared to dub-hop, this degeneration of bass-music is characterized by a multiplicity of influences, an evergrowing number of sound warps, (Sub Dub, "Dancehall Malfunction") and a strong liking for scratches and reversed playing. It's a maelstrom of dark urban sonorities (We, "The Chinatown Dub").
Level 20 : Dub vs Indus
However bass-music easily combined with even harder, stranger and nastier atmospheres than those of the illbient style, as proved by the cold and oppressive dub track of Scorn called "Evanescence". Armed with a massively deep-sounding bass, the illustrious producer Bill Laswell was not outdone :"Bass Terror". The red-gold-and-green has disappeared from these dark countries. It is a universe in black and white, a threatening world that could not be walked in. Kevin Martin could also be found there. His compilations called "Macro Dub Infection" revealed the implications/ applications of post-rock and above all industrial music on dub. This encounter with the third type is testified by Skull, Tortoise, Laika, Alec Empire, Automaton and Coil's involvement in it. Still elder indus players could also re-perform "roots" tribalism as proved by Richard H. Kirk, the ex Cabaret Voltaire member, and his Sandoz project called "In Dub, Chant To Jah".
Level 21 : World Dub
It is true that world music (i.e. non western…) brought new blood to the weakened sounds of old Europe. The initiatory songs of the Waorani Indians have been "de-sacralised" by Zion Train, Timeshard and Youth ("Amethyst Dub") on "Ambient Amazon". This dubisation of the folklore of the "sons of the dreadful ages" has been edited by Tumi Rec. Bill Laswell took an interest in rituals of possession ("Off World One"). The Rootsman and Alpha & Omega beautify their compositions with shimmering arabesques. Then the roaring bass continued on a Byzantine-esque path! This spice road winds across the Middle East and vanishes in the remote provinces of India on the heavy multi-coloured wreaths of Suns of Arqa ("Whirling Dub") that were as heady as incense smoke. Following Asian Dub Foundation, the Indian-Pakistani community turned bass-music into a genuine melodic and rhythmical carnival. Dub had become a planetary phenomenon just like its reggae ancestor had ("Global Ancestor").
Level 22 : Electronic-Dub
It was also what the Incoming label wanted to show by gathering artists from several continents and musical backgrounds under the neo-dub banner, a barbarism which, with time, became preferred to növö-dub. The "Serenity Dub" compilations offered high-tech music tuned in (or out) to bass-music, which is almost the dub equivalent of intelligent-techno ! Electronic dub built up through this crack, under the leadership of Jammin Unit ("Discovers Chemical Dub", "Electronic Dub"). It is a constantly evolving style, less expanded but more abstract than ambient-dub. More mental (Five-H-T, "NeuroTransmitter: electronic dub" !). More ecumenical. "The High Priests of Electronic Dub" (Hypnotic Rec.) belong to different chapels of either lo-fi (F.S.O.L., Nature) or electro-indus allegiance (Control Bleeding and Test Dept, "Critical dub").
Level 23 : Filter-Dub
Actually, the whole process was more than a matter of distinction or heritage, it was rather a lack of differentiation: the link between ambient, indus and techno music hidden behind the generic term of electronic music although driven by a transdub spirit. Some surreal patches softened the sharpness of the rhythmical parts (Seefeel, "Quique"). A layer of effects underlined the heaviness of the infra-bass sounds (BlueTrain, "No Lightweight Stuff"). Some interferences and counter-rhythmical clinking reproduced the imperfections of vinyl records; as if to ward off the marks of these baffling adaptations, as if moving in shady circles required technological perfection to be wiped out (Porter Ricks, "Nautical Dub"). Was this ultimate digital device aimed at re-discovering a forgotten analogic truth? The cycle came to an end after many "chain reactions": for the duration of a showcase, Maurizio and the sorcerer's apprentices of the digital era revisit the original rhythm and sound (Rhythm & Sound w/ Tikiman).
Level 24 : Abstract-Dub
Taken to its furthest limits, this game of construction/deconstruction un-performs dub. At best, only scattered bits of it remain. A remote skank rhythm and dim electronic creaks for the rhythmic parts. A substitute. An extension (Pole "2"). Clicks-n-dub. At worst, some will say that since bass-music has fallen into the public and, above all, commercial field, only experimental music can follow the audio investigations initiated by dub-masters. In which case the wanderings on dub are an alternative to isolationism : "Dub Auder" on Law & Auder, a label which is well-known for its wild "Avant-Gardism" and "Minimalism" as far as electronica is concerned. Torsion/distortion/contortion. To make these dubising abstractions more physical, almost physiological, The Mighty Quark take minute doses from rock, funk etc... Fusion/confusion/transfusion.
Level 24+n : Alien-Dub
All these metamorphoses, be they wanted or borne, underline the amazing flexibility of dub, which is a proof of being non-mortal and healthily out of date ! Dub has met with ups and downs and it is most likely that there will be other slowdowns... Still this is what makes bass-music so strong compared to some of today's musical styles, the future of which is highly unpredictable... What will the styles of tomorrow be ? What will music studios be like in the 21st century ? Who knows ? Music has a never ending story anyway, still its future arises from present time. On this matter, it all indicates that dub music is ready to embrace the musical styles of the future, even the alien ones. The new millenium brings worrying dubalistic alienations... Welcome to the brave new world ?
published on www.hypertunez.com in July 2001
contact: Wreck This Mess