Known as the English Beat in the Americas, the British Beat in the Australia, The Beat were a big part of the groovy side of the so-called post-punk/new wave era, certainly at home in Britain, with the dub mix of Mirror in the Bathroom a nifty little number that was effective on the dance floor, in the background at parties, in the car whilst negotiating traffic. Which has always been the special appeal of dub to me – music which is mostly absent words, yet moving in a particular direction anyway. Something to do with sound-tracking the ongoing corrosion of the so-called Western World. And it’s fun.
“Speaking of reggae, I’d be lying if I said the Clash weren’t one of my key entry points, still to this day maybe the only white reggae band that ever truly mattered. Because somehow or other, they got the depth of it, not just the easy, stoned sunshine grooves. Like Sean Flynn (concerning Errol Flynn’s son, a photojournalist who was killed in the Cambodian spillover of the Vietnam war) a song which maybe isn’t reggae at all, but it’s definitely dub, Apocalypse Now derived hallucinatory helicopter blades, intense heat, but you’re somehow floating above it all, finding just enough altitude to see some beauty without denying any of the tragedy.” (Philip Random)
“The Show is Coming is a pretty solid blueprint for what much of my 1985 sounded like, all that societal corrosion and apocalyptic immanence in motion. Seriously, who better than the Dub Syndicate, doing as their name suggested, to lay down the required timeless beats and breaks and echoes? Often as not, I never really noticed particular cuts, just threw on mixtapes or tuned in radio shows. But every now and then, something like The Show is Coming did stick out, the smart samples getting my attention, the tough, rock-steady groove doing the rest.” (Philip Random)
Original reggae upsetter Lee Scratch Perry plus the Dub Syndicate plus Adrian Sherwood‘s mix mastery equals Time Boom X De Devil Dead, arguably the greatest (mostly) forgotten album of all time. Mad rants, left field boasts, insights that only make sense once you stop trying to make sense of them — all set to grooves that can’t help but melt in your mind. “Needless to say, we listened to this a lot whilst tripping the old lysergic back in the day. Who ever said reggae wasn’t psychedelic, or the 1980s for that matter?” (Philip Random)
Skull rattling dub poetry c/o Linton Kwesi Johnson makes it clear that reggae music is mostly about the bass, the way it makes a body (and thus a whole culture) move. The drums, they just keep things rock steady. The guitars, keyboards, horns etc – they’re just along for the ride. It’s the bass that’s going places, and sometimes the poetry, “like a righteous harm, giving off wild like madness.”
“I’d heard dub before I heard UB40’s Present Arms in Dub. I just didn’t know it was a thing – this notion that now every song and/or album could have both its official version and its VERSION version. Some were crying rip-off, of course, accusing labels and artists of double-dipping (or whatever). But there are always loud idiots when something cool and new hits. In the case of Present Arms (the dub version), that equaled an album that was better than the original (and probably anything else UB40 would ever do) because like Sun Ra said (and Hawkwind too for that matter), space is the place, and where there’s a version, there’s always more space – for your mind, your imagination, your soul, room to move and groove, perchance to grow.” (Philip Random)
The Specials were one of many so-called Two-Tone outfits to come out of England at the end of the 1970s. But come their second album, it was pretty clear they wanted to do more than just party hard, with Stereotypes (particularly the dubbed out second part) a solid example of people having wigged out fun in a recording studio. Marijuana may have been involved.
“Give the Maffia at least a small part of the credit. Because it was 1984, finally, and the nightmare of George Orwell’s Big Brother hadn’t really materialized. Yes, there was great evil in the world, agents of control trying to shut down all peace-beauty-freedom-love forever. But the outcome was still in doubt, because THEY didn’t yet have music under control. Maybe they had the mainstream (the Whitney Houstons, the Duran Durans, the Huey Lewises and Phil Collinses), but who cared about that crap with wild and inventive indie-DIY stuff erupting all over the margins, in all genres and guises. Case in point. On-U Sound and its mainman, producer, knob-twiddler, DUB adventurer, Adrian Sherwood. He’d been at it since 1980 but I didn’t notice until 1984’s Pay It All Back Vol.1 crash-landed in my brain – a label sampler offering all manner of tortured beats, breaks, samples, meltdowns long before we even had names for such stuff. At least Hallelujah had a familiar melody you could hang onto.” (Philip Random)
African Head Charge were nothing if not truth in advertising. Or as we once heard it put,”It’s like Africa on acid, except you’re at least ten thousand miles from Africa.” What they were was a loose sort of psychedelic dub outfit formed by London based percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah in the early 1980s, with Adrian Sherwood at the mixing board, having fun with frequencies, noise, rhythm and razor blades (which is how they used to edit audio in those days – direct application of sharpened metal to electromagnetic tape).