Since the late 1960s…The answer was to simply use the instrumental cut of the tune as the B Side and call it the ‘version’, and by and large to this day remains the way with Jamaican 45s, saving the worry of the added expense in paying the band for a new recording and engineering costs for the flip side. As time went by, these simple ‘versions’, slowly but surely, became almost separate works in their own right, becoming dub versions. A whole new Jamaican originated art-form made by manipulating the original tracks used on the A Side mix, adding massive panned echos on a phrase or two from the original vocal track, dropping the bass line, echoing the drum track, heavy reverbs, filtering and all sorts of clever inventiveness with sometimes the version side simply being the drum & bass track riding solo; basically inventing the ‘riddim’, a word still used today with regards vocalists searching out their next backing track, also by adding new elements to the original recording, such as a saxophone part or organ shuffle over the existing version, dub certainly opened up possibilities with the mixing desk becoming an instrument in itself. The B Side became as revered as the A Side, especially for the ‘toasters’ or as they were originally called the ‘dee jays’.
Dub is all around today, not just in reggae or its inspired sub genres, its influence can be heard within the multi genre music world, and for those of us musicians who grew up musically in an era where dub albums from Jamaica and the UK (the mid 70s until the digital revolution in reggae music late 80s) were available in all record shops and were lovingly bought and studied, it remains a passion that one simply cannot shake off and its influence keeps on shining through almost 50 years after its emergence.
Over use of style?.. The plethora of DIY underground dub releases this past ten years or so has seen a few dozen absolute gems in innovation and content, idea’s and idiosyncrasies that firmly put such releases in the classic dub underground box, but there has also been over the past years a lot more releases, that in all honesty, are boring – ‘dub by numbers’, robotic loop dub releases with no originality of their own, copying by the book and not doing a very interesting job by doing so, seriously there are a lot of those out there.
‘Just A Dub’ introduces the album ‘In Dub’ by London resident reggae and dub producer Wrongtom, an album of dub versions to The Ragga twins album ‘In Time’, a long-standing association between the two outfits with a healthy back catalogue of releases behind them. I freely admit to having never listened to the Ragga Twins album ‘In Time’, so I am purely listening to this as a stand alone dub experience. Entry track ‘Just A Dub’ has a traditional sounding vibe, very much like that of Manchester’s Breadwinners, indeed for a moment I thought I had clicked on the wrong album to listen to, after this first piece however the similarity between the two big producers end and the Wrongtom dub sound enters the ear canal with the next piece, ‘The Same Dub Twice’, a high-grade JA foundation riddim re working with tape echo passion, that early 80s dub sparseness in sound, straight forward riddim track with playful voice echo mixing, he certainly knows his era’s.
It’s the third track that suddenly jolts me into serious headphone listening mode with ‘And Dub The Body’, a robotic sounding digital groove dubbed like old and it works. On first listen perhaps by an untrained ear one will just hear a robotic riddim track resembling a classic foundation beat, the “My Conversation” riddim to be exact, one of the two dozen or so JA Riddims that have been be reused, and perhaps argumentatively overused, for decades. The trick is of course to add something new to this formula, a touch of innovation, technique or era illusion, because albeit digital in delivery this piece firmly sits very happily inside 1984 pre digital sound, it is a masterful ‘two era’s sound blend’ with clever use of reverb deep down in the mix and a surreal off key sounding piano hook-line illusion to that of the original JA foundation hook. This piece also using that (now) old chestnut of the double tracked ghost bass effect in the mix.
Next up will please fans of the UK early 80s dancehall scene with the vocalised dub ‘Dubble Trouble’ begging to be “pulled up and come back again my selector” Saxon Sound System circa ’83 style, and very pleasing to the ears, good fun. We are pretty much trodding over well and truly tested ground, I guess this album needs to be heard in tandem with its vocal original to be appreciated fully, it is very entertaining and has a real nostalgic ambience to it for a certain genre in time most especially the piece entitled ‘Dub Capacitor’, which has a pure Scientist mixing vibe, a master of emulation.
Is it an underground classic? Well it’s certainly not boring, and of course the album will be supported by a handful of dub luminaries and commentators of today’s reggae music from both the underground and uptown scenes, overall an album rooted in the 1980s minimalist reverb heavy UK dancehall dub into Ragga scene. Possibly relying a tad too much on foundation riddims?.. Does it matter? It depends on what you want from your dub music today.