HISTORY OF DUB MUSIC
The History of Dub Music: A Comprehensive Timeline
1960s – The Genesis of Dub: Its Early Influence and Emergence
The seeds of Dub music were planted in the tumultuous socio-cultural landscape of Jamaica in the late 1960s. Kingston, the capital city, was the epicenter of this unique sound revolution. This period saw a gradual shift from the popular ska and rocksteady genres, with the latter’s slower rhythms eventually forming the bedrock of reggae and subsequently Dub.
In the Jamaican music scene, sound systems – groups or individuals that owned large PA systems and played music at local community events – were a significant cultural phenomenon. Rivalry among these sound systems was fierce, and one of the ways to attract a bigger crowd was by having exclusive music that no one else had. This competitive environment paved the way for Dub.
Amidst this background, Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock, a former sound system operator and a budding electronics engineer, was busy crafting a novel approach to music production that would change the course of Jamaican music. King Tubby’s technical expertise, coupled with his keen musical sense, allowed him to manipulate tracks in ways no one had before and using the mixing desk as an instrument.
His innovative approach to remixing involved focusing on the rhythm section, i.e., the bass and drums, sometimes referred to as the ‘riddim.’ He started taking out the vocals and the horns, thus stripping the songs down to their essential elements. Then he added a new dimension by manipulating the remaining sounds with various effects, most notably with heavy reverb and echo.
Another key figure in the early Dub scene was producer Bunny Lee. Lee had observed the crowd’s reaction to the instrumental sections of songs at the dances and began to work with King Tubby to create extended rhythm-heavy versions of popular hits, with the vocal sections dropping in and out of the mix. This was not only a new form of remixing, but it was also essentially creating an entirely new track out of the existing song – a radical concept at that time and the beginning of dub.
An essential tool in this creative process was the four-track mixing desk that Tubby used in his studio. This technology allowed him to manipulate different parts of the music separately and then recombine them to create an entirely new soundscape. This process, combined with his inventive use of effects like echo, delay, and reverb, gave birth to the echoing, bass-heavy sound that defines Dub music.
During this time, other notable figures were also experimenting with the new style. Producer Lee “Scratch” Perry was another important pioneer who, working with his studio band The Upsetters, was creating his unique brand of Dub music. Perry’s collaboration with King Tubby resulted in “Blackboard Jungle Dub,” one of the earliest full-length Dub albums, released in 1973.
This creative explosion at the end of the 1960s laid the groundwork for the future development of Dub. The genre was still not fully recognized as a separate style of music; it was more of an innovative technique used primarily on B-sides of singles and as part of the sound system culture. However, the experimental groundwork of this era set the stage for Dub to flourish and evolve into a genre in its own right in the following decade.
1970s – Expansion and Innovation: Dub’s Golden Era
The 1970s was the decade when Dub truly came into its own as a distinct genre. This period, often referred to as the “Golden Era” of Dub, witnessed an explosion of creative energy in the Jamaican music scene.
King Tubby’s innovative techniques had started a revolution, and others were quick to adopt and further develop his methods. Among them, two figures stand out for their significant contributions to the genre during this period – Lee “Scratch” Perry and Augustus Pablo.
Lee “Scratch” Perry, already known for his work in the late 1960s, truly flourished in the 1970s. His Black Ark Studio, established in 1973, became a mecca for innovation in Dub music. Perry’s genius lay in his ability to combine advanced studio techniques with a unique sense of creativity. His productions, marked by swirling echoes, creative reverb, and an almost tangible sense of atmosphere, became some of the most distinctive in the genre. Albums like “Super Ape” (1976) remain landmarks of Dub, showcasing Perry’s innovative production techniques and eccentric musical vision.
Augustus Pablo, a musician and producer, brought a new dimension to Dub through his masterful playing of the melodica, an instrument previously considered somewhat of a novelty. His 1974 album “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” is a landmark Dub record. The album, featuring King Tubby’s mixing and Pablo’s melodica leads, was a masterpiece that showcased the synergistic potential of Dub music.
Another significant figure during this era was producer and sound engineer Scientist. A protégé of King Tubby, Scientist (born Overton Brown) was known for his dynamic and adventurous mixing style. Albums like “Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires” (1981) display the playful, experimental spirit that characterized much of his work.
The 1970s also marked Dub’s expansion beyond Jamaica’s borders. As Jamaican diaspora communities grew in countries like the UK, they brought their music with them. British musicians began to incorporate Dub techniques into their music, leading to new hybrid genres like punk-dub and the nascent sounds of post-punk and new wave. The Ruts, The Slits, Public Image Ltd., The Clash, The Members, Generation X are just a few examples of UK-based groups that were heavily influenced by Dub.
Also, instrumental to the genre’s expansion were Jamaican sound systems, mobile discotheques that would set up for street parties, often called “yard parties.” These sound systems, operated by selectors (DJs), would play Dubplates – exclusive or unreleased versions of tracks often featuring special lyrics. These dubplates became an integral part of the sound system culture and played a critical role in popularizing Dub music.
Towards the late 1970s, Dub started to impact other musical genres and began to be noticed by mainstream artists. For instance, bands like The Police and artists such as Fisher Z began to infuse their music with elements of Dub.
Thus, the 1970s was a pivotal decade in the history of Dub music. The genre moved from the innovative techniques of a few pioneering individuals to a recognized and influential musical style, its echoes heard in a multitude of genres around the world. The inventive methods and creative output of this period continue to reverberate through Dub music to this day.
1980s – The Digital Revolution: Dub’s Technological Transformation
As the 1980s dawned, Dub music was well established, but a seismic shift was on the horizon. Technological advancements in music production and the advent of the digital age began to significantly impact the genre.
The decade started with the continuation of the traditional Dub sound, with figures like Scientist, King Jammy, and Sly & Robbie maintaining the genre’s popularity. However, this was soon to be disrupted by the introduction of new technologies like drum machines and synthesizers.
Prince Jammy, a protege of King Tubby, was instrumental in this shift towards digital production. His 1985 album “Sleng Teng” is widely recognized as the turning point for digital reggae and Dub. The album’s title track, “Under Mi Sleng Teng,” is often credited as the first fully computerized riddim in reggae music. This was a revolutionary moment, marking the transition from traditional analogue sound to digital production.
Sly & Robbie, the prolific Jamaican rhythm section and production duo, also embraced this digital shift. Known for their innovation, they were at the forefront of digital Dub music, using drum machines and electronic instruments to create a fresh version of the genre. Their work throughout the 1980s exemplifies the period’s spirit of experimentation and adaptation.
However, this transition was not universally embraced. The advent of digital Dub created a divide within the genre, with purists preferring the organic, analogue sound of traditional Dub, and innovators looking to the future and adopting new technology. This shift to digital production significantly changed the texture of the music. The heavy, warm basslines and live drums were replaced by synthesized, sharper sounds.
Despite this division, the digital revolution had undeniable advantages. The adoption of technology in Dub music production increased accessibility, enabling a wider group of people to create music. This trend democratized the genre, as producing Dub no longer required a professional studio setup. Instead, artists could create tracks from their homes using relatively inexpensive digital equipment.
Furthermore, this technological shift gave rise to a new generation of Dub producers, both in Jamaica and globally. In the UK, Mad Professor (Neil Fraser) emerged as a significant figure, embracing digital technology while still retaining the spiritual and rebellious essence of Dub. His Ariwa Sounds label, established in 1979, released several influential Dub albums throughout the 1980s and beyond.
Adrian Sherwood was and is just as dazzling a personality as Mad Professor. Founder of the label “On U Sound Records” in London, known for releasing its own unique flavour of dub music since the 1980s. It is home to acts such as Tackhead, Dub Syndicate, African Head Charge, Akabu, The London Underground, Little Annie, Creation Rebel, Mark Stewart, Gary Clail (who would have a number of Top 40 hits, like “Human Nature“, credited to Gary Clail On-U Sound System) and the dub collective Singers & Players and Creation Rebel.
Additionally, the 1980s saw the further internationalization of Dub. The genre began to permeate other music scenes around the globe, especially in places like the UK, US, and Japan. This global spread led to further hybridization of the genre, as international artists melded Dub with their local music styles.
In conclusion, the 1980s was a transformative period for Dub, with the genre experiencing a paradigm shift due to the digital revolution. This era set the stage for future developments and ensured that Dub would continue to evolve and adapt to the rapidly changing musical landscape.
1990s – Dub Meets Electronica: Fusion and Global Influence
The 1990s was a pivotal decade for Dub music, characterized by experimentation and crossover into various genres. Technological advancements continued to play a crucial role in shaping the genre, particularly through the burgeoning electronica scene.
The influence of Dub music was becoming more apparent in electronic music, including ambient, drum and bass, trip-hop, and later dubstep. These genres borrowed heavily from Dub’s emphasis on bass and rhythm, its use of space and atmospherics, and its remix culture.
Dub’s impact on the world of electronic music was particularly evident in the UK. Here, the influence of Jamaican sound system culture had already paved the way for genres like jungle and drum and bass. The Bristol-based trip-hop scene, with acts like Massive Attack…, also drew heavily on Dub, creating a slow, atmospheric sound characterized by heavy basslines and complex production techniques.
The 90s also saw the advent of the ‘dub techno’ genre, a fusion of Dub and techno music. Dub techno incorporated the bass and reverb-heavy aesthetic of Dub with the steady, repetitive rhythms of techno. Basic Channel, a duo from Berlin, were pioneers of this sub-genre, creating minimalistic, atmospheric tracks that were highly influential.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica, Dub remained an integral part of the music scene, with the genre continuously evolving. Artists like Sly & Robbie continued to innovate, incorporating more electronic elements into their sound. A new generation of Jamaican artists was also on the rise, carrying on the Dub tradition while putting their spin on it.
During this decade, Dub also began to make significant inroads into the world of pop music. The production techniques that originated in Dub – the use of reverb and echo, the emphasis on bass and rhythm, the concept of the remix – were being adopted by mainstream pop producers around the world to become a whole new universe of geometric sound – and it wand was and became the first and irregular instance ofvthe dance remix and production.
In the 1990s, the global spread of Dub music continued, reaching countries like Japan, where the genre was embraced and further developed. Japanese Dub artists like Dry & Heavy and Audio Active added elements of their own musical culture to the mix, creating a unique sound and further expanding the global Dub community.
The 1990s was an exciting period of cross-pollination for Dub, a decade in which the genre was stretched and twisted into many new forms. The era highlighted the versatility and global influence of Dub, showcasing how its principles could be applied to a multitude of genres and inspire a diverse range of artists across the world.
2000s – Present – Global Spread and Modern Experimentation: Dub’s Contemporary Evolution
The dawn of the new millennium ushered in another exciting chapter in the evolution of Dub. The genre’s global impact was increasingly evident, with its influence permeating a myriad of musical styles and scenes around the world.
One of the most significant developments in the 2000s was the rise of dubstep in the UK. Dubstep was heavily influenced by Dub, drawing from its emphasis on bass and rhythm, and the use of space in the music. Artists like Skream, Benga, and later, James Blake, would push this genre into the mainstream, bringing elements of Dub to international audiences in a fresh and exciting way.
The new century also saw Dub continuing to influence electronic music, with artists like Burial and The Bug incorporating the genre’s characteristics into their innovative productions. Even genres like pop and rock continued to be influenced by Dub, with artists such as Radiohead and Gorillaz using Dub techniques in their music.
In addition to its influence on other genres, Dub as a standalone genre also continued to thrive and evolve. Artists and collectives like High Tone in France and Dub Trio in the United States were pushing the boundaries of Dub, blending it with elements of rock, jazz, and other genres to create a unique sound.
In the realm of traditional Dub, veterans like Lee “Scratch” Perry and Mad Professor continued to release new music, while a new generation of artists and producers was also emerging. Musicians like Zion Train and Mungo’s Hi-Fi in the UK, and Dubmatix in Canada, kept the original Dub spirit alive, producing music that paid homage to the genre’s roots while also incorporating contemporary influences.
The global spread of Dub music was increasingly facilitated by the internet. The rise of online music platforms made it easier for artists to share their music with the world, resulting in a more interconnected global Dub community. This digital revolution allowed for increased cross-cultural exchange and collaboration, resulting in a continually evolving sound.
Meanwhile, the European Dub scene was flourishing. The scene had always been strong in the UK, but the 2000s saw it expand to other parts of Europe, with vibrant Dub communities emerging in countries like France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. This European Dub scene produced influential labels like Jahtari, Scotch Bonnet, and Mungo’s Hi-Fi, each contributing to the global Dub landscape in their unique way.
One key figure in the European Dub scene is Nicolai Beverungen, the owner of the influential label Echo Beach. Established in 1997, the Hamburg-based label has released music from a wide array of artists, helping to shape the sound of modern Dub. Echo Beach’s commitment to quality and innovation, coupled with Beverungen’s sharp curatorial instincts, has ensured that the label remains at the forefront of the contemporary Dub scene with acts like Dubblestandart, Seeed, Dub Spencer & Trance Hill, Dubxanne etc. !
The 2000s up to the present day have been marked by a period of global expansion and constant experimentation for Dub music. Its influences can be heard far and wide, from underground electronic scenes to mainstream pop charts, and the genre continues to evolve and inspire new generations of artists. This is a testament to the enduring power and versatility of Dub, demonstrating that even five decades after its inception, the genre is as vibrant and relevant as ever.
European Dub Scene and Its Influential Musicians: A Hub of Innovation and Cross-Cultural Exchange
While Dub originated in Jamaica, its influence has reached far beyond the Caribbean island, especially resonating with audiences and musicians in Europe. The European Dub scene has been a vital part of the genre’s global story, with several influential artists and movements shaping its evolution and contributing to its vibrancy.
From the 1980s onwards, the UK has been a hotbed for Dub music. Thanks to the country’s sizable Jamaican diaspora, Dub culture had a strong foothold in cities like London, Bristol, and Birmingham. Key figures like Mad Professor, Adrian Sherwood, and Jah Shaka became influential proponents of the genre. The UK also fostered innovative movements like dubstep and dub techno, proving the genre’s adaptability and broad appeal.
Other notable contributors to the European Dub scene include Italy’s Almamegretta, Paolo Baldini, Wicked Dub Division, Africa Unite, B.R.Stylers, Mellow Mood. They are powerful and that they are now one of the most authentic ereas in Europe known for their fusion of Dub with a quality seal !
The European Dub scene, in its diversity and dynamism, showcases the genre’s broad appeal and malleability. Its cross-cultural exchange and innovative spirit have fueled Dub’s evolution, ensuring the genre’s ongoing relevance in the global music landscape. These contributions from Europe reflect Dub’s universal language, one that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries.
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