Category Archives: Reggae

“Meaning of Dub”

Dub Club
Meaning of Dub, 2014

Modern-day dub is something of an anachronism. As the earliest form of remix music, many popular dub techniques originated with the live-mixed studio technology of the day (reverb, echo, delay), effects that sound clumsy and dated today. In 2015, when any laptop comes preloaded with more sophisticated recording technology than the Kingston studios of the 1960s, cleanliness and precision — two characteristics not traditionally associated with the genre — are pretty much foundational. This yields modern-day compositions that mimic early dub soundscapes in practice but actually have more in common with hip-hop production. Witness Meaning of Dub — a collection of 10 modern “versions” built around the same instrumental track, spearheaded by DJ/producer Tom Chasteen, who also hosts a weekly Dub Club night at L.A.’s Echoplex. Nothing about the instrumental feels rough or handmade. Rather, this is music made by modern studio heads who’ve clearly internalized the lessons of the genre while updating the technique. The end experience is as absorbing as all the best original dub, just not in the same way.



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“So Much Things to Say”

bob marley
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Exodus, 1977

Bob Marley’s Legend is one of the best-selling albums of all time, a posthumous greatest-hits collection carefully curated not only to ensure maximum airplay but myth-building as well. That Marley truly became a legend in the years following its 1984 release is no coincidence, focusing as the album did on his most melodic, most peace-affirming tendencies. But Marley’s activism was rooted in real anger, and you don’t have to look hard to find examples on the albums released in his lifetime. For my money, “So Much Things to Say” is one of the catchiest, most pleasing songs in his catalogue, but I understand why it was kept off Legend; the first verse name-checks Marcus Garvey and Paul Bogle, the chorus points a finger at forces of oppression at work in physical and spiritual realms. A bit heavier than “Could You Be Loved.”



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“Bongo Man Dub”

king tubby
King Tubby
The Late Great King Tubby, 2011

I once read an interview with House of Pain’s Everlast (of all people) where he used the phrase “music as pure energy” to describe a Pink Floyd record. Though in 2014 I can’t remember a single line from “What It’s Like,” that expression pops into my head every time I hear a King Tubby dub. Arguably the forefather of modern remix culture, Tubby’s real-time reggae inversions also singlehandedly stirred a genre into existence. Dub normally dwells in the low end, but I picked “Bongo Man Dub” because it does the exact opposite – the bassline is watery, submerged, nearly hidden beneath a lyrical sax melody that comes on like captured sunlight. It wasn’t often that Tubby favored brass over bass like this, but when he did he made it count.



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built to spill

Built To Spill
Single, 2006

An underline holdover from the heyday of ‘90s indie-rock, Built to Spill was never gonna be anyone’s first choice to pull off an original reggae jam. “They Got Away” succeeds in large part because the elements that make a up good BTS song also happen to accommodate the genre. The signposts are all here: the easily repeatable vocal melody, a simple but undeniable bassline, that floaty/echo/reverb/overdub thing Doug Martsch was into back in 2006. From previous experience, Martsch knows enough to cut the vocal well before time’s up, leaving room for an extended jam that pays tribute to tradition without wrecking his bona fides. If more reggae sounded like this, I’d listen to more reggae.

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