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A Brief History of Dub Music

The word 'dub' today is used to describe a genre of music that consists predominantly of instrumental re-mixes of existing recordings. These re-mixes radically manipulate and reshape the recording through the use of sound effects. The production and mixing process is not used just to replicate the live performance of the recording artist, but audio effects and studio 'trickery' are seen as an integral part of the music. The roots of dub can be traced back to Jamaica in the late 1960s, where it is widely accepted that Osbourne Ruddock pioneered the style[1] Ruddock turned the mixing desk into an instrument, with the deejay or mixer playing the role of the artist or performer. These early dub examples can be looked upon as the prelude to many dance and pop music genres[2] .

Jamaican music has always borrowed heavily from US popular music, adapting this music to give Jamaica its own unique variations[2] During the 1940s 'Big Band' music was very popular in Jamaica, with swing bands touring all over the country playing at local dance halls. By the 1950s these big bands were starting to be superseded by smaller, 'more dynamic, optimistic' [3] bop and rhythm and blues groups. Jamaicans traveling to America in search of work were exposed to this new kind of music, which fitted in perfectly with America's postwar optimism. It was not only being played live but also through large sound systems, and this trend was soon followed in Jamaica. Sound system operators started appearing in the ghetto areas of Jamaica's capital Kingston, with dances held in large open spaces called 'lawns'. The lawn operators would also tour the country districts of Jamaica in direct competition with the big bands. Sound systems soon took over in the dance halls because, for many people who didn't own a radio, it was the only way to hear the new R&B music. 'Sound systems were also cheaper to employ than a dozen musicians and a 'sound' took no break' [4] By the middle of the 1950s, Duke Reid and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd had become two of the most prominent sound system operators in Jamaica.

In 1954 Ken Khouri started Jamaica's first record company (Federal Records) pressing licensed copies of American recordings, as well as recording of few local artists. Following his lead Duke Reid and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd both held their own recording sessions, recording Jamaican artists for exclusive play on their own sound systems - in the hope of gaining the upper hand in the highly competitive business. Duke Reid recorded Derrick Morgan and Eric Morris for sound system play. Reid, whose set[5] played at 'S-Corner' on Spanish Town Road, even titled Derrick Morgan's first tune 'Lover Boy' as 'S-Corner Rock' when it was played on the sound system as an exclusive acetate recording. Clement Dodd also had his first recording session in this year, recording over a dozen tracks with artists like Alton Ellis and Eddie Perkins, Theophilius Beckford, Beresford Ricketts and Lascelles Perkins[6].

During the early 1960s young Jamaicans had been drawn to the major cities in search of work. They had not found it, and the mood of the ghetto areas had started to deteriorate. These youths or 'rude boys' as they were called, began forming into gangs from different ghettos throughout Kingston. 'Rude boys connected with the so-called underworld, a layer of people who lived outside the law, and who had always patronised Jamaican dance music'[7] Their connection with the dance halls, as well as their style of dancing (which was slower and more menacing) changed the style of music being played from the more up tempo 'ska'[8] to the slower 'rock steady' beat[9] While many producers[10] claim to have pioneered the rock steady groove it was Duke Reid who capitalised on it, recording and releasing several tunes by a variety of performers in this new style.

The rock steady phase lasted little more than a year, and although Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodds had dominated Jamaican music for well over a decade, three other producers, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Bunny Lee and Osbourne Ruddock (all of whom had worked for either Reid or Dodds at sometime) dictated the pace of Jamaican music in the 1970s and beyond.

Lee Perry (or Rainford Hugh Perry) was born in 1936 in Kendal, a small town in the rural parish of Hanover, in the northwest of Jamaica. Perry arrived in Kingston in the late 1950s, and immediately tried to enter the music business. He started working for Coxsone Dodd as a 'gopher, bouncer, spy, talent scout, uncredited songwriter and eventually performer'[11] Perry left Coxsone after a disagreement over payment, and moved to a new label (Amalgamated) set up by Joel Gibson, where he recorded an early reggae hit called 'People Funny Boy' (which was a verbal attack aimed at his previous employer 'Coxsone'). Perry became well known as a producer and was instrumental in the early success of Bob Marley and the Wailers. He began to work with Marley and the Wailers in 1969, beginning a collaboration that resulted in 'definitive versions of some of the Wailers' strongest work'[12] Perry, through his work as an artist, producer and engineer, has been one of the main people responsible for shaping the sound of Jamaican music over the last forty years[13]

Osbourne Ruddock (better known as 'King Tubby') was born in 1941 in Kingston, and worked as an electronics engineer (repairing radios and televisions) throughout the 1960s. He owned a sound system (called 'Home Town Hi-fi') by 1968, and used unique echo and reverb effects which set him aside from the competition. During this time, he also worked for Duke Reid at Treasure Isle Studio as the master cutter, cutting acetates[14] These 'one- off' discs were designed to gain a competitive edge over rival sound system operators through their exclusivity. Ruddock was mixing one of these dub versions when he accidentally left out portions of the vocal track from the recording. On listening back, he decided he liked the effect of just having the bed track by itself and played it on his sound system.

He took it to a dance and played the vocal, which everybody knew, then played the dub plate of this rhythm track and people couldn't believe it[15].

These new 'versions' of popular songs (combined with the unique effects of his sound system) soon saw Tubby's 'Hometown Hi-fi' become extremely popular[16] In addition Tubby had started working alongside deejay Edward Beckford, known in the dance hall as U Roy, who had begun answering the vocal sentiments of the singers with his own brand of outrageous jive talk. This vocal style known as 'toasting' is widely regarded as a precursor to 'rapping' [17]

In 1972 Ruddock set up a tiny studio at 18 Bromilly Avenue in Waterhouse (a district in Kingston) and began to experiment with these instrumental recordings using various home-built electronic effect devices such as reverb, delay and equalisers, and started to further manipulate the sound of these instrumental songs. He acquired a disc-cutter and a two-track tape machine, and using his home made mixer, started working closely with producers like Bunny Lee and Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Together with Perry he made the stereo dub album Blackboard Jungle in 1973.

Joe Gibbs of Amalgamated soon saw the potential of these instrumentals, and instructed Errol Thompson (Gibbs' engineer at Randy's Studio 17) to start putting instrumental/rhythm versions on B-sides of singles, which he called dub. Tubby bought a four-track mixing board from Dynamic Studio and, with his background in electronics, he was able to specially-customise it to include faders. This enabled him to slide tracks in or out of the mix smoothly, giving Tubby the edge over his rival, Errol Thompson who had to punch tracks in more abruptly, using buttons. In 1974, Tubby started working closely with Bunny Lee, who supplied hundreds of rhythms, and recorded all his hit artists at Ruddock's studio (including Johnnie Clarke and Cornell Campbell). The studio now contained many effect devices, such as an echo delay which Tubby had made by passing a loop of tape over the heads of an old two-track machine[18]

There is general agreement that King Tubby's most prodigious period was during the mid 1970s when working with Bunny Lee[19] who relied on Tubby's experimentation and expertise:

Improvisation was the order of the day; most of Tubby's dubs were-mixed live, with the engineer playing his board like a great jazzman blowing solos on his horn, deconstructing and reinventing the music[20].

While Tubby was not an instrumentalist, when recording Lee's studio band the Aggrovators[21], he was able to use his mixing desk and primitive effect devices as though they were an instrument - on occasion even physically hitting the spring reverb unit to create a thunderclap sound or putting a brief frequency test tone on deep echo into the mix (later he would use sound effects like sirens and gunshots).

It wasn't simply the fact that Tubby and his cohorts used reverb and delay effects in their mixes; the difference with Tubby, was that these effects were used to enliven radically re-mixed versions of songs. Tubby a skilled and resourceful electronics expert, improvised endlessly with his studio equipment[22].

Tubby started training other engineers 'Prince' Philip Smart,[23] Lloyd James (better known as 'Prince Jammy'[24]) and Overton 'Scientist' Brown[25] in the intricacies of dub. In the mid 1970s Jammy would become King Tubby's leading dub engineer at the Waterhouse studio. During his time at the studio he had mixed most of Bunny Lee's dub tracks. Then in 1978 Jammy started his own label called 'Imprint' and took his first step in record production. By 1985 Jammy had become the dominant Jamaican producer, responsible himself for bringing a whole new generation of musicians and mixers into this genre of music.

As the 1970s came to a close, Overton 'Scientist' Brown took over as Tubby's leading engineer. Brown had first met Osbourne while working in his television and radio repair shop. He was given the opportunity to experiment in the recording studio during downtime. Brown would eagerly play what he had done to Tubby, to which Tubby would reply that he thought the work was weak and his apprentice still had much to learn. Years later Tubby admitted he was merely pushing Brown to stretch himself and these early dubs had been excellent[26].

Every man who mixed at Tubby's got his own sound, yet no matter which mix master was at the board, the resultant music always bore the authentic stamp of King Tubby's[27].

During the early 1980s, King Tubby devoted himself to building his new studio. Completed in 1985, it soon produced its first hit, Anthony Red Rose's 'Temper'. It looked as if Tubby was to become a leading producer in Jamaican music, until he was mysteriously gunned down outside his studio in 1986.

The Jamaican music scene has had very strong links to the United Kingdom since (at least) the early 1960s. When Jamaican ska artists were signed by English record companies, their music was readily accepted by England's 'Mod' culture of the 1960s[28] To some degree it has been these links and support that has made the export of Jamaican music much easier to the rest of the world. The combination of this with the growing popularity of modern dance styles such as 'Trip hop', 'Drum and Bass' and 'Jungle' (which are direct decedents of the original Jamaican dub music of King Tubby[29]) has brought many new artists and producers from outside Jamaica to continue in the experimentation and the use of dub in their music. Steve Barrow of Blood and Fire argues:

Tubby was, by any standards, a genius.he invented dub - which, as we know, is the pulse that beats through much of today's dance music from trip-hop to techno. If Lee Perry was the first surrealist of dub, Tubby was definitely the first modernist[30].

England now has a large percentage of the total number of artists involved in this genre of music, with many of the leading producers being based there. Adrian Sherwood and The Mad Professor are two of these leading dub exponents.

Adrian Sherwood (the producer behind the British On-U sound record label) has, since the 1970s, recorded many artists from within the dub genre, such as Creation Rebel, African Headcharge, Singers & Players and Dub Syndicate. Often wildly experimental with studio techniques, sometimes running whole tracks in reverse, he has also attracted artists from outside the realm of dub such as Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Living Color, Garbage and The Cure, all of whom have used Sherwood's radical approach to mixing to manipulate their material[31].

The 'Mad Professor' (alias Neil Fraser) started producing and recording dub music in 1980. Over the past sixteen years he has become one of the leading artists within this genre. One of the most prolific creators in this medium, he has released more than one hundred albums, and performed re-mixes for artists such as Massive Attack, Sade and Pato Baton. He uses 'characteristic' electronic sounds, such as bleeps, whirs and other individual sounds[32].



[1] for example see Larkin, 1995, pp.1252-1254, 2307-2308; Barrow, 1993, p.16

[2] Islandlife, 'The Story of Jamaican Music', [Online] http://www.islandlife.com/tough/1.html [1999, August 15]

[3]Barrow, 1993, p.6

[4]Islandlife, 'The Story of Jamaican Music', [Online] http://www.islandlife.com/tough/2.html [1999, August 15]

[5]'Set' is another name for a sound system performance in Jamaica

[6]Barrow, 1993, p.10

[7]Barrow, 1993, p.14

[8]'Ska' is a generic term for Jamaican music recorded between 1961-1967. It tends to involve a moderate to fast tempo, and emphasises off beats. It is commonly assumed to be derived from the Miami and New Orleans 'jump' beat of the late 1950s - known in England originally as 'blue beat' by the 'mod' culture who adopted the music (Larkin 1995, p.3810).

[9] 'Rock steady' is a slow, groove-based music, and can be seen as a Jamaican version of the American soul music of the mid to late 1960s. Bass lines have distinct breaks in the rhythm (a characteristic feature of Jamaican music since that time) and use short patterns of notes. The up beat is emphasised by guitar and drums (Larkin, 1995, p.3538).

[10]Roy Shirley created 'Hold Them' in 1966 for producer Joel Gibson. Derrick Morgan produced 'Tougher Than Tough' for Leslie Kong the same year, and Alton Ellis sang 'Girl I've Got A Date' for producer Duke Reid' (Islandlife, 'The Story of Jamaican Music', [Online] http://www.islandlife.com/tough/6.html [1999, August 15] )

[11] Islandlife,1997, ‘The Story of Jamaican Music', [Online] http://homepage.oanet.com/sleeper/bio01.htm [10th April 1999]

[12]Islandlife, ‘Early Years Lee Perry The Mighty Upsetter', [Online] http://www.leeperry.com/life/page5.html [12th April 1999]

[13]Larkin, 1995, pp.3227-3228

[14]The US term for these acetate (one-off soft wax discs) singles was 'dub'. The term dub can be traced back to the 1950s (Hawkins, 1996, p.56).

[15]Barrow, cited in Hawkins, 1996, p.56

[16] http://v‑music.com/niceup/writers/steve_barrow/blood_and_fire_liner_notes

[17]Barrow, 1993, p.15; Larkin, 1995, p.2307

[18]Barrow, 1995

[19]Larkin, 1995, p.2307; McCreedy, cited in Toop,D. ‘Dub by John McCreedy', [Online] http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/1392/Johnmccreedy.html [15th June 1999];

Jah, S. ‘King Tubby', [Online] http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/1392/kingtubby.html [9th June 1999]

[20]Barrow, cited in The interrupter, ‘The Dub me Crazy page', [Online] http://niceup.com/articles/dub_gone_crazy [1999, June 15]

[21]Bunny Lee's Aggrovators were Robbie Shakespeare(bass), Carlton 'Santa' Davis (drums), Earl'Chinna' Smith (lead guitar), Ansel Collins (piano), Bernard Ellis (trumpet), Vin Gordon (trombone), Tommy McCook (tenor saxophone) and Lennox Brown (alto saxophone).

[22] Wordup, ‘King Tubby, Scientist & Prince Jammy', [Online] http://www.merseyworld.com/wordup/wordup.4/tubby.html [1999, July 22]

[23]Philip Smart went to the US, and today he runs the leading reggae studio HCF on Long Island.

[24] Prince Jammy was 'the undisputed king of computerised, digital reggae music' (Larkin 1995, p.2302-2303), From the mid 1980s King Jammy dominated the sound of reggae -introducing new computerised drum beats and rhythm.

[25]Overton 'Scientist' Brown was a second generation Jamaican dub mixer and a rival to Prince Jammy, and notable for his theme albums (with lurid cover art) on which he would meet and vanquish protagonists from off-world regions:(e.g. 'Scientist Meets The Space Invaders', 'Scientist Encounters Pac Man'). Such meetings, derived from the rivalry of the sound clash, are central to the mythology of dub. See King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of dub (Smithies, G. ‘Hopeton ‘Overton' Brown (Scientist)', [Online] http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/1392/Scientist.html [18th March 1999])

[26] Smithies, G. ‘Hopeton ‘Overton' Brown (Scientist)', [Online] http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/1392/Scientist.html [18th March 1999]

[27] [Online] http://v‑music.com/niceup/writers/steve_barrow/blood_and_fire_liner_notes[18th March 1999]

[28]Barrow, 1993, p.11

[29] See Larkin, 1995, pp.1252-1254, 2307-2308; Barrow 1993, p.16

[30]Barrow, cited O'Hagan, 1997

[31]On-U Sound, ‘Adrian Sherwood', [Online] http://www.obsolete.com/on-u/sherwood.html [2nd May 1999]

[32] Spence, D. Jetpack, ‘Back to the Lab with the Mad Professor', [Online] http://www.jetpack.com/lounge02/mad_prof/ [1999, July 22]

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