I had an interesting conversation with a friend about dub reggae. Dub, like jazz, world, tropicalia, lounge or classical, can present a total conundrum to the outsider. Curious about the genre but completely at a loss as to where to start, he asked me which dub albums would make a good primer.
Dub originated in Jamaica during the sound system heyday. To get the most out of the records they played, DJs placed reverb, echo and sound effects over them as well as upping the bass and drums. It was two pioneers, Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby, who came to personify and innovate the genre. King Tubby is often called the originator of dub - he played the mixing board like an instrument - while Perry focused on the melodies and riddims (heavy bass and drum interplay). Dub carried a positive political message during times of strife in Jamaica, while the music evoked an afrofuturist feeling. The influence of dub music is enormous and can be heard in punk rock, hip-hop and dance. Below are five albums I always recommend to newcomers to the genre. What are yours?
Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Upsetters - Super Ape
Recorded in 1976 during a commercial and critical high for Perry, this was the last album to come out of his infamous Black Ark studio. Some consider Super Ape a classic dub album; others argue it can't be because of the vocals involved. For me it's a genius meeting of roots music and dub and is Perry's most digestible album, ideal for people who don't want to go into the heavier and weirder spectrum of his music, but still highlighting the might of his talents as producer and songwriter.
Harry Mudie meets King Tubby - In Dub Conference Volume One
As with many dub artists, King Tubby's discography is sprawling; but unlike others, when he's on he's brilliant, and when he's not on, he's still good. If Perry is the mainstream face of dub, King Tubby is the underground equivalent; he was the dub organiser and pioneer of the remix. His work tends to be more delicate and complicated than Perry's, focusing on a ghostly and ominous sound full of echoes and vocal effects. Shot outside of his flat in the early 80s, the world still feels the loss of this particular genius.
Keith Hudson - Playing it Cool, Playing it Right
Hudson's work was a massive influence on Public Image Limited's Metal Box (arguably, the only punk-meets-dub album that worked, with Jah Wobble's bass and the use of sound effects). Joy Division also covered his songs. Having built an extensive credibility in dub, Virgin signed him in 1981, and he released a disastrous album called Too Expensive. It was commercially orientated pop which inadvertently highlighted Hudson's particular weakness - his vocals. After the Virgin experience, he released Playing it Cool, which was a revelation. This was dub so pure, psychedelic and swampy you could practically smell the THC that each riddim was laced with. Hudson died shortly after it was released and subsequently attained saint-like status as the Dark Prince of Dub.
Scientist - Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires
Throughout his career, King Tubby had two protégées; Prince Jammy and Scientist. The latter came of age on the release of this album, one of the last true dub albums of the 80s, carrying on with the ominous and weirder elements of King Tubby's production oeuvre. The whole album carries a cartoon ghoulish theme and exemplifies the darker side of dub. It's inspired by Perry's remark that the founder of Island Records was a vampire for signing numerous reggae and dub artists. Rockstar Games licensed the Vampire album for their Grand Theft Auto game, but Scientist received no compensation from the deal and sued the company. He ultimately lost because he engineered the album but didn't produce it, so isn't considered the owner of his work - setting a dangerous precedent in the world of dub, where engineering is the key to creation. Rockstar Games successfully argued that with the extra profile its game gave the album, Scientist had already been compensated.
Mad Professor v Massive Attack - No Protection
It's often been said by dub artists and dub communities that England carries on the dub tradition, and that without the British interest the genre would have died off. Mad Professor is such a UK dub artist. Conceiving his own record label, Airwa, Mad Professor has released or been involved in over 200 records, the pinnacle being when he remixed Massive Attack's No Protection, an album that brought the notion of dub to a much wider and younger audience.
Reproduced by Kind Permission of Alan McGee