Styles & Forms | Dub Reggae

In Jamaica, nothing gets thrown away. Oil drums, floorboards … more or less everything has to be used again at least once, including music. Why throw a tune away just because it’s been a hit, when the same rhythm can be redressed with new lyrics or radically altered instrumentation to liven up the dancehalls again? And again. And again.

To many outside reggae, this constant recycling smacks of musical laziness or creative bankruptcy. However, in the 1970s, as remixing became a greater and greater part of the Kingston studio culture, it evolved into dub, which was an art form in itself. In Jamaica, to ‘dub’ a tune meant more than merely to remix it. Using echo and reverb, sound effects, frequency control and, most importantly, dexterous and inventive use of faders, dub masters such as King Tubby, Errol T, Mikey Dread, Scientist, King Jammy’s, Jack Ruby and Niney could totally turn a tune round by remixing it. Dub is a world where every rhythm track has endless possibilities and what may have begun life as a smoochy love song could end up as a militant roots reggae stepper. It is a world where the studio itself becomes the most important instrument; where whole albums are devoted to different takes of the same track; and a world that inspired the likes of Arthur Baker and Fatboy Slim, but for years was unique to reggae. Dub albums like Garvey’s Ghost (dubs of Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey), Augustus Pablo’s King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, the Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson-mixed African Dub Chapter Three and Sly & Robbie’s Raiders Of The Lost Dub are among the best examples of what dub is all about.

A Happy Accident

It all began by accident. In 1967, a disc cutter accidentally left the vocal track off a disc, and the sound system operator he was cutting for followed the correct cut of the tune (The Paragons’ ‘On The Beach’) with an instrumental version; the crowd went wild because they had a unique cut of a song they could sing along to. Suddenly every sound man wanted instrumentals, and because so many of the bigger operators were also record producers, they began to record various takes featuring different lead instruments. As an abbreviation of ‘instrumental versions’, these takes without the vocal became known simply as ‘versions’, which in time became a verb, and to ‘version’ a tune meant to remix it. The instrumental sides were perfect for a sound system’s deejay to toast over, and became even more exciting when the original vocals were mixed in and out, allowing the deejay to interact with important snatches of the song. From there, as technology allowed instruments to be faded out and brought back into the mix, the creation of Dub As We Know It was only a matter of time.

Dubby Brilliant

At the forefront of the 1970s dub developments, and still revered as the genius founding father of...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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