Dub music has had a profound and wide reaching influence on the music that has come out of Britain over the last 40 years. From hit ska singles in the 1960s to the punk and new wave movement’s adoption of ska, reggae and eventually dub itself, the genre has gone onto beget subgenres and pave the way for house, drum’n’bass, trip hop, jungle, ragga, dubstep, and more.
Thanks in part to a wave of immigration from the Caribbean region after World War II, Jamaican musical influence could already be seen in Britain by the start of the 1960s. Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label, which was founded in 1959, found success with bringing Jamaican artists to tour the UK, with early hit singles including Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in 1964, ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker and the Aces, which went to number one in 1969, and Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Catch A Fire album in 1973.
Along with the growing popularity of traveling sound systems and sound clash competitions across the UK, Jamaican music began to influence the mainstream when white pop acts such as Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones began to dabble in reggae. Towards the end of the ‘70s the British punk and new wave acts such as The Clash, The Specials and Ian Dury & The Blockheads repurposed the heavy bass lines and off-beat guitar rhythms for a young audience.
Meanwhile, a new style of reggae emerged from London by way of the Jamaican immigrants. Lovers rock fused the rhythms of rocksteady and early reggae with the smooth soulful arrangements and melodies of Chicago and Philadelphia soul, with Carroll Thompson’s ‘I’m So Sorry’ and Bobby Parker’s ‘Caught You In a Lie’ being early hits for the genre.
In 1979 a London based producer named Neil Fraser, AKA Mad Professor, opened a four-track recording studio in his living room to record lovers rock artists, but also began to offer his groups dub versions of their tracks. Having first built his own mixing desk, Fraser then needed some outboard gear to add two of the major components of dub music to his mixes – reverb and echo.
“By the time I came into it with my studio at the end of the ’70s, dub had already had its first peak in Jamaica, with King Tubby as the primary dub engineer,” said Fraser in a 2007 interview with Sound On Sound. “I built my reverb from a spring from Practical Electronics. Then I built my echo using an Akai STS4000. I basically took the output from the replay head, going back through the auxiliary to the channel. It was a fixed delay time. It was either three and three quarter inches per second or seven and a half.”
Dub as a genre gained greater popularity in Britain thanks in part to the touring sound systems like Jah Shaka and releases such as Joe Gibbs’ African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3 in 1978 and Sandinista! by The Clash in 1980. Fraser released his first album, Dub Me Crazy, in 1982, which has since spawned 12 sequels and, along with producer Adrian Sherwood, has led to his standing as one of the main innovators of UK dub.
Although many producers such as Fraser remained loyal to the analogue equipment that characterised the sound of dub up until that point, the rise of digital recording equipment began to affect developments within the genre in the late 1980s. Sampling and time stretching in particular made it easier for producers to marry disparate parts of recordings, for example a reggae/dub bass line and a much faster drum loop.
Such experiments led to a pronounced dub influence on the burgeoning UK electronic music scene during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, including hip hop, which incorporated toasting techniques and a raga style of rapping from artists such as Roots Manuva. This later gave birth to the grime movement of the early 2000s, which blended UK hip hop, dancehall and drum’n’bass, with artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Skepta finding mainstream appeal.
It also directly influenced the creation of jungle, drum’n’bass and trip hop, which all utilised dub’s slow but heavy bass lines and sense of ambient space created by echo and delay, and married them with up tempo break beats.
Throughout the '90s dub's influence was multifarious, with artists as diverse as Leftfield, Gorillaz, Rudimental and Roni Size all having major hits and Fraser himself becoming in demand as a dub remixer, most famously producing an entire version of Massive Attack’s second album, No Protection, in 1995.
Missed Part 1? Read it here and stay tuned for Part 3: When Dub Music Came To Chicago.