pick a dub

blackboard jungle dub

Dub is a genre of music which grew out of 1960’s reggae. Music in this genre consists predominantly of instrumental remixes of existing recordings which have been manipulated and reshaped, usually by removing the vocals, and emphasizing the drum and bass elements (this stripped down track is sometimes referred to as a ‘riddim’). Other techniques include dynamically adding extensive echo, reverb, panoramic delay, and occasional dubbing of vocal or instrumental snippets from the original version or other works. Dub also sometimes features electronically generated sound effects, or the use of distinctive instruments such as the melodica by artists such as Augustus Pablo.

Dub was pioneered by Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Errol Thompson and others in the late 1960s. Similar experiments with recordings at the mixing desk outside of the dancehall environment were also done by producers Clive Chin and Herman Chin Loy. These producers, especially Ruddock and Perry, looked upon the mixing desk as an instrument, manipulating tracks to come up with something new and different. Dub has influenced many genres of music, including punk, hip hop, disco, house, and trip hop, and has become a basis for jungle/drum’n’bass and dubstep music.

The verb ‘dub’ is defined as making a copy of one recording to another. The process of using previously recorded material, modifying the material, and subsequently recording it to a new master mix, in effect transferring or ‘dubbing’ the material, was utilized by Jamaican producers when making dubs. The term dub had multiple meanings in Jamaica around the time of the music’s origin. The most frequent meanings referred to either a form of erotic dance or sexual intercourse; such usage is frequently present in names of reggae songs, for instance, of The Silvertones’ ‘Dub the Pum Pum’ (‘pum pum’ is Jamaican slang for female genitalia), Big Joe and Fay’s ‘Dub a Dawta’ (‘dawta’ is Jamaican slang for girlfriend).

Some musicians, for instance Bob Marley and The Wailers, had alternative meanings for the term dub. In concert, the order ‘dub this one!’ meant ‘put an emphasis on bass and drums.’ Drummer Sly Dunbar points to a similar interpretation, relating the term ‘dubwise’ to using only drums and bass. Another possible source was the term dub plate (a one-off, disposable record), as suggested by Augustus Pablo. John Corbett has suggested that dub could derive from ‘duppie,’ a Jamaican patois word for ghost, as illustrated by Burning Spear having named the dub version of his Marcus Garvey album ‘Garvey’s Ghost,’ and by Lee Perry stating that dub is ‘the ghost in me coming out.’

Dub music is characterized by a ‘version’ or ‘double’ of an existing song, often instrumental, using B-sides of 45 RPM records and typically emphasizing the drums and bass for a sound popular in local sound systems. The instrumental tracks are typically drenched in sound effects such as echo, reverberation, with instruments and vocals dropping in and out of the mix. Another hallmark of the dub sound is the prominent use of bass guitar.

The music sometimes features other noises, such as birds singing, thunder and lightning, water flowing, and producers shouting instructions at the musicians. It can be further augmented by live DJs. The many-layered sounds with varying echoes and volumes are often said to create soundscapes, or sound sculptures, drawing attention to the shape and depth of the space between sounds as well as to the sounds themselves. There is usually a distinctly organic feel to the music, even though the effects are electronically created.

Often these tracks are used for ‘toasters’ rapping heavily rhymed and alliterative lyrics. These are called ‘DJ Versions.’ In forms of sound system based reggae, the performer using a microphone is referred to as the ‘DJ’ or ‘deejay’ (where in other genres, this performer might be termed the ‘MC,’ meaning ‘Master of Ceremonies,’ or alternately, the later developed slang terms: ‘Microphone Commander’ or ‘Mic Control’), and the person choosing the music and operating the turntables is called the ‘selector’ (sometimes referred to as the DJ in other genres).

A major reason for producing multiple versions was economic; a record producer could use a recording he owned to produce numerous versions from a single studio session. A version was also an opportunity for a producer or remix engineer to experiment and express their more creative side. The version was typically the B-side of a single, and used for experimenting and providing something for DJs to talk over, while the A-side was more often the dedicated to the original vocal-oriented track. In the 1970s, LP albums of dub tracks were produced, often simply the dub version of an existing vocal LP, but sometimes a selection of original instrumental tracks produced in dub style for which no vocals existed.

Dub music and toasting introduced a new era of creativity in reggae music. From their beginning, toasting and dub music developed together and influenced each other. The development of sound system culture influenced the development of studio techniques in Jamaica, and the earliest DJs, including Duke Reid and Prince Buster among others, were toasting over instrumental versions of reggae and developing instrumental reggae music.

In 1968, Kingston, Jamaica sound system operator Ruddy Redwood went to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio to cut a one-off dub plate. Engineer Byron Smith left the vocal track out by accident, but Redwood kept the result and played it at his next dance with his deejay Wassy toasting over the rhythm. The instrumental record excited the people at the sound system and they started singing lyrics of the vocal track over the instrumental.

The next day Byron Lee who was a witness, told King Tubby that they needed to make some more instrumental tracks, and they dubbed out vocals from ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ by Slim Smith. Because of King Tubby’s innovative approach, the resulting instrumental track was more than just a track without a voice – King Tubby interchanged the vocals and the instrumental, playing the vocals first, then playing the riddim, then mixing them together. From this point on, they started to call such tracks ‘”versions.’

At Studio One the initial motivation to experiment with instrumental tracks and studio mixing was correcting the riddim until it had a ‘feel,’ so a singer, for instance, could comfortably sing over it.

Another reason to experiment with mixing was rivalry among sound systems. Sound systems’ sound men wanted the tracks they played at dances to be slightly different each time, so they would order numerous copies of the same record from a studio, each with a different mix.

By 1973, through the efforts of several independent and competitive innovators, engineers, and producers, instrumental reggae ‘versions’ from various studios had evolved into ‘dub’ as a sub-genre of reggae.

Errol Thompson engineered the first strictly instrumental reggae album, entitled ‘The Undertaker’ by Derrick Harriott and the Crystallites, released in 1970. In 1973, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and the Aquarius studio engineer/producer team of Herman Chin Loy and Errol Thompson simultaneously started to release the first albums strictly consisting of dub. Lee Perry released ‘Blackboard Jungle Dub’ in the spring of 1973. It is considered a landmark recording of this genre.

In 1974, Keith Hudson released his classic ‘Pick a Dub,’ widely considered to have been the first deliberately thematic dub album, with tracks specifically mixed in the dub style for the purpose of appearing together on an LP, and King Tubby released his two debut albums ‘At the Grass Roots of Dub’ and ‘Surrounded by the Dreads at the National Arena.’

In the 1980s, Britain became a new center for dub production with Mikey Dread, Mad Professor and Jah Shaka being the most famous. It was also the time when dub made its influence known in the work of harder edged, experimental producers such as Mikey Dread with UB40 and The Clash, Adrian Sherwood and the roster of artists on his On-U Sound label.

Dub played a role in inspiring many genres of electronic music, such as dubstep and jungle. The name ‘dubstep’ originated from the common use of dub elements in the genre, and because both traditional dub and dubstep are often played at a similar tempo. Jungle, a related genre, originated in the late 1980s when DJs started playing dub records at twice their playing speeds.

In early 2000s, DJs and producers began playing highly produced breakbeat, jungle and drum & bass records at around 70 bpm, which resulted in the creation of dubstep. The more experimental releases of UK garage producers contributed to early dubstep, and sought to incorporate elements of dub reggae into the South London-based 2-step subgenre. Dubstep rhythms are usually syncopated, and often incorporate triplets and the One drop rhythm common to traditional Reggae, a reference to the genre’s Dub music influences.

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