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[PMH 2.3 (2007) 309-331] doi:10.1558/pomh.v2i3.309

Popular Music History (print) ISSN 1740-7133 Popular Music History (online) ISSN 1743-1646

Christopher Partridge

King Tubby meets the Upsetter at the grass roots of dub:
Some thoughts on the early history and influence of dub reggae
Christopher Partridge is Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster University, UK, and Codirector ofthe Centre for Religion and Popular Culture at the University of Chester. Department of Religious Studies Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YN United Kingdom c.partridge@lancaster.ac.uk

There can be few aficionados of electronic dance music who have not come across the term ‘dub’. Its ubiquity within contemporary dance cultures is conspicuous. However, its roots lie not incontemporary dance music per se, nor within Anglo-American, white, middle-class cultures, but within the ska and reggae sound system culture that emerged in Jamaica in the 1960s. ‘Dub’ refers to a process of deconstruction, by which the engineer strips music down to its basic rhythm components, introduces novel elements, and thereby provides a new interpretation of the material. While such processes arevery common within contemporary electronic music, their origins are not well known and often misunderstood. Focusing on the work of King Tubby and Lee Perry, this article maps the emergence of dub and, in so doing, both indicates its wider significance and posits a particular understanding of its genesis. Whilst it is recognized that the early history of dub is complex, being the result of aconfluence of various streams of Jamaican musical creativity, and whilst key figures such as Joe Gibbs, Errol Thompson, Sylvan Morris, and Augustus Pablo need to be discussed in any comprehensive account, the article argues that its genesis can be traced to one engineer in particular, King Tubby. Keywords: dub; Jamaica; King Tubby; Lee Perry; reggae

The term ‘dub’ is now used widely andindiscriminately by producers of dance and ambient music. More particularly, as the British post-punk producer Adrian Sherwood has commented, ‘everything from hiphop to techno and every other form of music right now has stolen ideas off dub, or incorporated those ideas’
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2008, Unit 6, The Village, 101 Amies Street, London SW11 2JW.


PoPular Music History(quoted in Hawkins 1996; see Veal 2007: 2). While there is obvious hyperbole here, the point is nevertheless an important one. The influence of dub permeates much contemporary electronica, dance, and urban music. Indeed, there is an increasingly wide range of contemporary music that is explicitly and conspicuously indebted to dub, from the dance-oriented rock of a band like Death in Vegas to theindigenous Moroccan music of Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects, and from the relatively recent work of Primal Scream back to the punk and post-punk music of bands such as The Clash, PIL, Terrorists, Killing Joke, Bad Brains, and even the Welsh-speaking Anhrefn, some of whose album BWRW CWRW (1989) was mixed by the British dub pioneer the Mad Professor. The term ‘dub’ evolved out of earlier terminologyused in the recording industry in the United States.1 This is significant because we will see that the genre has remained fundamentally related to recording technology. Traditionally known as ‘black wax’, ‘soft wax’, ‘slate’ or ‘reference disc’—and in the manufacturing sector as an ‘acetate’—the dub plate was a metal plate with a fine coating of vinyl. Recorded music would be pressed on to the dubplate, following which a ‘stamper’2 or metal master disc would be created in order to produce quantities of vinyl records. The process of transferring the music on to the vinyl-coated metal plate was known as ‘dubbing’—just as adding sound to a film is also known as dubbing. Hence, the terms ‘dub’ and ‘dub plate’ are not solely allied to the genre of ‘dub’. However, the point is that, with the...
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