Somnambule - Writing About Music

Meat Beat Manifesto... In Dub

Dub has such an unassuming name for something so profoundly destabilising. Just three letters: ‘dee’ – ‘you’ – ‘bee’ put together to create one short syllable. The very sound of the word triggers associations with rubber bumpers or lips, objects which create contact, absorb impact. The movement of one’s mouth when pronouncing the word seems to replicate the fluid bounce of dub’s essential bass. It’s a little word that conjures a very particular image: a person approaches a doorway carrying music, dub is the door lintel which trips that person up and causes the music to fly into the air - it floats to the ground reconfigured.

Dub is to music as Picasso’s guitar (1912) is to sculpture. Both approaches shared a desire to radically rethink and consequently to deconstruct form. Dub has acted as a revolutionary, viral element since its beginnings in early 70s Jamaica. The masters of the art, King Tubby, Lee Perry, U-Roy and their peers dismantled reggae into its constituent parts. Upon reassembly these sonic scientists deliberately ommitted some pieces and altered the shape and interaction of others. What was once solid – and what could be more solid than reggae’s bass-heavy template? – was transformed into echoes and absences. Recognisable elements from the original version of a track might suddenly appear and just as suddently fade away again: vocals became spirits, basslines shadows, guitars apparitions. There’s transmogrification at work in dub, give it another name and it’s voodoo (or any other religion); the implication is clear: that which is, passes into other forms. As well as the potential for metaphysical contemplation, dub raises questions about the purpose of music – should its primal energy be spent in the achievement of forward motion and the delivery of catchy melodies? Or can music be used as a force to destabilise reality and thereby make the listener question surroundings, relationships, anything in fact that might otherwise be taken for granted. Don’t be complacent, dub seems to say.

Dub’s influence has registered in a wide range of musics including Arthur Russell’s longform disco, PIL’s Metal Box album and most of Jah Wobble’s subsequent output, Berlin techno, Jungle, most of ~Scape’s output, ambient dub and so on and on (and on). In the mid 90s it seemed de rigeur to make reference to its influence, but in recent years dub’s profile has reduced, though its techniques are still key tools for many producers. Dub is all too easy a name to conjure, but to subject one’s music to such deconstruction convincingly is another matter entirely.

And so to ‘Meat Beat Manifesto... In Dub’ in which Jack Dangers subjects the techno template to viral infiltration, though in a manner which diverges significantly from dub’s original methodologies. Where dub originated in instrumental ‘b’ sides, In Dub features DJ Collage at the mic on a number of tracks. He brings a running, urgent tone to proceedings, but his presence is flesh and sweat real, rather than ethereal and almost absent. The rhythmic chassis of most of the twelve tracks is similarly solid, with pleasingly heavy bass and driving beats. The result is something more solid and more aggressive, busier and less spacious than archetypal dub. It’s in the rest of the sonic architecture that MBM stay truer to dub’s spirit. They mix and match a wide range of disparate foreign elements to create a melting pot of human and mechanical voices, jingles, sounds and samples. These float in and away gently or suddenly, repeat again and again or disappear almost before they arrive.

Think of In Dub as the sonic equivalent of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory – able to pick up a huge range of signals from across the firmament. The myriad stars, galaxies and quasars beyond the earth’s atmosphere are however drowned out by mankind’s signals bouncing off the ionosphere – radio waves, voices, stray snatches of music, political broadcasts, military communications and so on. It's an even noisier, more intrusive world than the one reflected by Jamaica's dub pioneers. Perhaps that's why the dub loving rastafarians live on a space station in William Gibson's Neuromancer...
Colin Buttimer
May 2004
Published by Milkfactory