Dub was just coming into its own as a reggae subgenre in 1976, but by this point producer Lee “Scratch” Perry was already using it as the foundation for his own utterly unique (not to say certifiably insane) musical vision. Operating from his tiny Black Ark studio and using rudimentary equipment, he created sounds that no other producer had before – or has since. On Super Ape, you hear what may be the high point of his sound-mixing creativity: wet, swampy reverb; bottomless echo; weird sound effects – the elements are all here, and against all odds it succeeds magnificently.
Dub is a subgenre of reggae music that developed in the early 1970s, and involved taking the normal mix of a song and drastically altering it by adding effects like echo and reverb while dropping instruments and vocals in and out the mix at unpredictable moments. Often the drum and bass tracks would be left more or less untouched, with the result that dub recordings were sometimes referred to as “drum and bass” music – a term that would later be applied to a different, though not unrelated, reggae-derived dance music genre. A dub mix is also sometimes referred to simply as a “version.”
For many reggae producers, dub mixes were an outlet for their own creativity; particularly skilled producers and engineers like Derrick Harriott, King Tubby, Errol Thompson, and – especially – the wildly creative Lee “Scratch” Perry quickly turned it into an art form all their own. Conveniently, dub was also cost-effective: as dub versions became more popular with the buying and dancing public, producers quickly realized that the dub mix of a song could be used to fill the B-side of the single, eliminating the need for a second recording session.
Dub reggae is the precursor and the conceptual wellspring of the remix culture that emerged during the disco era and has since been widely adopted across dance and rock genres. Dub itself has mutated into a variety of sub-subgenres, some of which take the original concept off into previously uncharted musical territory. Jungle, drum & bass, and dubstep all have their roots in dub reggae, but there are dub offshoots that go much further afield into more abstract and experimental realms. New York’s 1990s illbient scene could not have developed in the absence of dubwise predecessors; Legendary Pink Dots bassist Ryan Moore developed a sideline in instrumental dub that produced, among other interesting experiments, a two-volume series of exceptionally dark and programmatic dub compositions; the postpunk band Public Image Ltd (under the influence of its bass player Jah Wobble as well as its reggae-besotted lead singer, John Lydon) used dub techniques to create a forbiddingly weird sound on its early albums; and of course the work of Lee “Scratch” Perry was already destroying the boundaries of musical sanity even while his more conventionally creative colleagues were pushing those boundaries more gently.
Dub seems to be a virtually bottomless well of musical inspiration; in the 21st century, dub-derived electronic music continues to branch and blossom out into an ever-proliferating complex of new and experimental sounds thanks to the efforts of a third and fourth generation of artists and producers.
Under the name The Bug, British producer and beatmaker Kevin Richard Martin creates some of the darkest, grimmest, and frankly harshest post-dub and avant-dancehall music out there. On London Zoo he brings in such A-list chatters as Flowdan, Tippa irie, and Warrior Queen, providing all of them with powerful and sometimes claustrophobic rhythms. Where classical dub tends to define huge and motly open sonic spaces, The Bug’s music is complex and crowded almost to the point of being overwhelming.
Like many British punk bands of the first generation, the Ruts were heavily influenced by reggae. In 1982 they got together with producer Mad Professor (an acolyte of Lee “Scratch” Perry who had adopted and extended some of Perry’s wildest production tendencies) to create this edgy, punky program of mostly instrumental dub. Although very much a product of its time, the album still sounds wonderfully avant-garde today.
Percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah is the mad genius behind African Head Charge, which over the course of four decades has produced a sporadic string of utterly otherworldly recordings in collaboration with producer Adrian Sherwood and the various musicians connected with Sherwood’s On-U Sound studio. Drawing on African field recordings, raw one-drop reggae rhythms, gospel songs, and a nearly infinite variety of other source material and subjecting everything to the wildest possible sonic manipulations, Noah creates some of the oddest and most compelling dub-derived music available. Off the Beaten Track is a relatively early effort but a fully-realized example of his unique craft.
The WordSound label served as a hotbed of experimentation for the illbient scene, a loose New York-based conglomeration of likeminded musicians that included artists like DJ Spooky, Raz Mesinai, Spectre, and DJ Olive. Illbient music drew equally on dub and hip hop, and was characterized by dark, sonically spare, and often haunting-bordering-on-creepy tracks that tended also to be quite long. Live from Planet Crooklyn is credited to Wordsound I-Powa (a.k.a. Skiz Fernando, a.k.a. Spectre) but guest vocalists and instrumentalists make it effectively a compilation album that provides a good overview of the illbient scene.
When not playing bass with The Legendary Pink Dots and Tear Garden, Ryan Moore had a prolific sideline as the one-man dub reggae band known as Twilight Circus (a.k.a. Twilight Circus Sound System, a.k.a. Twilight Circus Dub Sound System). When you’re self-produced you can do just about anything you want, and over the course of almost 20 years Moore pushed the boundaries of dub about as far as you can – always with fun and exciting results. This 1998 release finds him at the peak of his powers.
Sub Dub was the duo of producers and instrumentalists John Ward and Raz Mesinai (the latter a pioneer of the illbient movement), who created an all-too-small catalog of experimental recordings that blended elements of reggae, hip hop, and Middle Eastern music and applied adventurous dub production treatments to all of it. On this collection of early EPs you can hear them both defining and starting to explore their unique sound.
Creation Rebel was the original house band for English producer Adrian Sherwood’s notorious On-U Sound studio; they supplied backing tracks for a constant stream of roots reggae artists who came to benefit from Sherwood’s uniquely wild musical vision. But when producing tracks by Creation Rebel itself as a standalone band, Sherwood was particularly unrestrained, and Psychotic Jonkanoo is a perfect example of pioneering avant-garde dub experimentation.
The Welsh band Llwybr Llaethog took dub music into uncharted realms in the 1980s when it started making dub and reggae recordings sung in the Welsh language. They came to the music via punk and hip hop, and you can tell – beyond the linguistic innovation, the music itself is filled with unusual source materials and effects.
Bassist/producer Bill Laswell’s work has always owed a deep debt to reggae, and at certain moments in his career he has stopped to take a moment and repay that debt. Here he does so by teaming up with legendary reggae drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott (Roots Radics, Dub Syndicate) to create a dark, claustrophobic, and deeply dread collection of organic dub tunes. The structural skeleton here is traditional reggae, but Laswell and Scott take the mixes off into outer space – or, at times, into a haunted house.