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History of Dub

Related: music - riddims - versioning - reggae - remix - soundscape

Notable dub producers: Adrian Sherwood - Lee Perry - King Tubby

Key texts: The A to Z of Dub (1994)

King Tubby

King Tubby

Start: 1970s

The mixing desk as an instrument and the DJ/remixer as an artist John McCready

Around 1969 Kingston-based reggae producers started to issue singles with instrumental "versions" on the flipside of vocal releases, which were actually the basic riddim tracks. To these "versions" one could add further instrumentation or deejay accompaniment. Within a year the inclusion of instrumental versions on the flipside was common practice among the majority of Jamaica's producers. In 1971 the first real dub recordings began to appear, with The Hippy Boys' "Voo Doo" - the version to Little Roy's "Hard Fighter", which was mixed by Lynford Anderson a.k.a. Andy Capp - now widely acknowledged to be the first recording in the genre. But it was pioneering sound engineer and sound system operator Osbourne Ruddock who did more than any other to popularize and develop the sound. He explored the possibilities of sound from his small studio, located at the back of his home, at 18 Drumilly Avenue, Kingston 11. -- Teacher & Mr. T.

In Jamaica, during the seventies, the sound of reggae was being reinvented by studio producers such as Lee Perry and King Tubby who used echo and delay effects to create a sound known as dub. With vocals removed from tracks of dance songs, DJs began talking over the music, a technique that was known as toasting. Dub and toasting were later transplanted to New York City, where they formed the basis for rap music in the eighties. [Jul 2006]


Dub is a form of Jamaican music, which developed in the early 1970s.

Dub is characterized as a "version" of an existing song, typically emphasizing the drums and bass for a sound popular in local Sound Systems. The instrumental tracks are typically drenched in sound processing effects, with most of the lead instruments and vocals dropping in and out of the mix. The music sometimes features processed sound effects and other noises, such as animal sounds, babies crying, and producers shouting instructions at the musicians.

These versions are mostly instrumental, sometimes including snippets of the original vocal version. Often these tracks are used for "Toasters" rapping heavily-rhymed and alliterative lyrics. These are called "DeeJay Versions". As opposed to hip hop terminology, in reggae music the person with the microphone is called the "DJ", while the person choosing the music and operating the turntables is the "Selector" (elsewhere called the DJ).

A major reason for producing multiple versions was economic: A record producer could use a recording he owned to produce numerous versions from a single studio session. Version was also an opportunity for a producer or remix engineer to experiment and vent their more creative side. The version was typically the B-side of a single, with the A-side dedicated to making a popular hit, and B-side for experimenting and providing something for DJ's to talk over.

See in particular the works of Lee Perry, King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock), Errol Thompson, Prince Jammy, Keith Hudson and Augustus Pablo for the very best in dub music in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, Britain became a new center for dub production with Mad Professor and Jah Shaka being the most famous, while Scientist became the heavyweight champion of Jamaican dub. It was also the time when dub made its influence known in the work of harder edged, experimental electronic musicians such as Adrian Sherwood and the roster of artists on his On-U Sound label.

In the 1990s and beyond dub has been influenced by and in turn influenced techno, dance music, ambient music, and hip hop, with many dub tracks produced by non traditional musicians from these other genres. Musicians such as Massive Attack, Bauhaus, The Clash, PiL, The Orb, Pole, Underworld and others demonstrate clear dub influences in their respective genres, and their innovations have in turn influenced the mainstream of the dub genre. Traditional dub has, however, survived (see Aba Shanti-I, for example) and some of the originators like Lee Perry and Mad Professor continue to produce new material. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dub_music [Feb 2005]

Roots of modern remixing

Modern remixing had its roots in the dance hall culture of late-1960s/early-1970s Jamaica. The fluid evolution of music that encompassed ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub was embraced by local mixing wizards who deconstructed and rebuilt tracks to suit the tastes of their audience. In particular, producers and DJs like Ruddy Redwood, King Tubby and Scientist, and Lee "Scratch" Perry popularized stripped-down instrumental mixes (which they called "versions") of ska tunes using simple four-track mixing machines. At first they simply dropped the vocal tracks, but soon more sophisticated effects were created, dropping separate instrumental tracks into and out of the mix, isolating and repeating hooks, and adding echo effects. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remix#Roots_of_the_remix [Apr 2005]

Play dub


The genesis of remix culture [...]

[..] There is a good case to be made for dub as the genesis of remix culture. The early hip hop block parties in New York manned by those such as Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash are obviously derived from the sound system scene in Kingston. Early disco heroes like Walter Gibbons and Arthur Russell; Francois Kevorkian, Larry Levan and Shep Pettibone's owe the madness of their dub crazy angel dust soundscapes to the experimental genius of the Jamaican pioneers. The idea of the mixing desk as an instrument and the DJ/remixer as an artist in his own right derives directly from dub.-- John McCready

The A to Z of Dub, by David Toop

David Toop is your guide on our whistlestop tour through the echo chamber [...]

Remixing [...]

In the modern age of electronic music, the word dub has become a buzzword for virtually any style of music that utilizes the remixing of prerecorded sound as a mode of artistic expression. The idea of taking apart the various instruments and components that make up a recording and remixing them into something that sounds completely different is a common practice today, being used in various styles of music such as jungle, house, hip-hop, and even metal. It is often overlooked, however, that the dub technique and style originated in Jamaican rocksteady and reggae. The great sound system engineers of Jamaica in the late 1960s and early 1970s pioneered the instrumental remix and were the first to make the style popular. Using only primitive recording and mixing equipment, the mixing engineer took a lead role in defining the sound of the recording, using the mixing board as his instrument. The resulting dub craze that occurred in Jamaica in the mid 1970s further established the mixing engineer as an artist. For the first time in recorded music, the "sound&" of a recording become connected not only with the musicians and the producer, but with the mixing engineer as well. Dub became a tradition and a part of the musical culture in Jamaica. The proliferation of instrumental mixes, known as "versions" as well as radically remixed "dubs" that resulted opened the doors to a vast new field of musical expression that would eventually be embraced not only by Jamaican music but by popular music all over the world. -- John Bush [...]

Dub and Larry Levan

Larry Levan came into contact with dub when he worked with Sly and Robbie for the Peech Boys album on Island records.

David Toop on Perry

Also known as Scratch, the great Lee Perry, whose daring at the mix controls was beyond compare during the period (mid-to late 70s) when he was making dub albums such as Blackboard Jungle and Super Ape. Unlike many other dub mixers, Scratch disrupted his more commercial songs with dub effects - "Cow Thief Skank", "Bathroom Skank", "Police And Thieves" - and made whole albums with singers that throbbed and groaned in a bizarre counterpoint to their efforts. Always an eccentric (he once torched his legendary Kingston Black Ark studios to the ground), his recent music has seen him descend into self-parody and (possibly) actual (as opposed to sonic) madness [...]

Dub and Disco

Sinnamon's 'Thanks To You', D-Train's 'You're The One For Me' and The Peech Boys' 'Don't Make Me Wait', a record that's been continually sampled over the last decade, took things in a different direction with their sparse, synthesized sounds that introduced dub effects and drop-outs that had never been heard before. -- Phil Cheeseman

First Dub Recording

In 1971 the first real Dub recordings began to appear, with The Hippy Boys' "Voo Doo" - the version to Little Roy's "Hard Fighter", which was mixed by Lynford Anderson a.k.a. Andy Capp - now widely acknowledged to be the first recording in the genre.

King Tubby

The Roots of Dub

Dub music had to come from somewhere, and the consensus is that it came from the mind and four-track mixing board of Osbourne Ruddock, known far and wide as King Tubby [...]

Collaborations with Lee Perry (Blackboard Jungle Dub) and Augustus Pablo (King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown are neccesary staples in any musical resume of the last 40 years.

Adrian Sherwood

When British producer Adrian Sherwood started his On-U-Sound label in 1980 as an outlet for scruffy punks and righteous rastas infatuated with reggae and its experimental spectrum of dub, he just wanted to make good records. In the process, he influenced a legion of producers, decimated the boundaries of funk, noise, and reggae, and as a member of Tackhead, made the position of the live mixing engineer a viable band member in terms of creative input. -- [...]

A Bluffers Guide to Dub

Bluffers guide to dub: This piece originally featured in Jockey Slut magazine and was written to serve as an introduction to those who had heard the word Dub bandied about but had little idea of what it really was. It features a track listing for a complimentary tape I made to convince the editors of the strength of the idea. They must have been convinced because they never returned it. http://www.mccready.cwc.net/bgt-dub.html


  • http://www.interruptor.ch/links.html Really nice set of links
  • http://www.geocities.com/EnchantedForest/Meadow/8887/ A Brief history of Dub by mrobis10@scu.edu.au


    1. Trojan Dub Box Set 1 - Various Artists [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      Disc: 1 1. Marijuana - Sly & The Revolutionaries 2. Storming The Death Star - Roots Radics Band 3. Public Eyes - Gregory Isaacs 4. Love Of Jah Jah Children - The G.G. All Stars 5. A Dancing Version - Tommy McCook 6. Miss Know It All - Scientist 7. Rebel Dance - The Observer All Stars 8. Dubbing Sandra - The Upsetters 9. King Tubby's Conversation - Dub King Tubby 10. A Crabbit Version - The Aggrovators 11. White Rum - Sly & The Revolutionaries 12. Mission Impossible - Roots Radics Band 13. Leggo Beast - Gregory Isaacs 14. Dubbin & Wailin - Velvet Shadows 15. Rema Dub - The Observer All Stars 16. Long Time Dub - The Upsetters 17. A Version I Can Feel With Love - Tommy McCook Disc: 2 1. King Tubby's Explosion Dub - King Tubby 2. Cocaine - Sly & The Revolutionaries 3. The Death Of Mr Spock - Roots Radics Band 4. Nigger - Gregory Isaacs 5. Right Road To Dubland - The Jahlights 6. Jah Jah Dub - The Aggrovators 7. Rasta Locks - The Observers 8. Dub Dat - The Upsetters 9. The Gorgon Of Dubs & Horns - Tommy McCook 10. King Tubby's patient Dub - King Tubby 11. Black Ash - Sly & The Revolutionaries 12. The Son Of Darth Vader - Roots Radics Band 13. Slum - Gregory Isaacs 14. Do You Dub - The Aggrovators 15. Mosquito Dub - G.G. All Stars 16. Dubbing With The Observer - The Observers 17. Rock Me In Dub - Thompsons All Stars Disc: 3 1. Freedom Dub - The Upsetters 2. A Gigantic Dub - Tommy McCook & The Aggrovators 3. Collie - Sly & The Revolutionaries 4. Tam Tam - Gregory Isaacs 5. Turntable Dub - The Observers 6. Scientist Ganja Dub - Scientist 7. Dub On My Pillow - The Aggrovators 8. Herb - Sly & The Revolutionaries 9. The Alien Aborts - The Roots Radics Band 10. Leaving - Gregory Iasaacs 11. Dread Dub - Lloyds All Stars 12. Sir Niney's Rock - The Observers 13. The Big Boss Of Dubs - Tommy McCook & The Aggrovators 14. Dub So - The Upsetters 15. King Tubby's Badness Dub - King Tubby 16. African Dub - The Silvertones

    2. Wild Dub - Dread Meets Punk Rocker - Various Artists [CD, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      1. Jah war - Ruts 2. Bankrobber (dub version) - Clash 3. Wild dub - Generation X 4. Immigrant dub - Basement 5 5. Turn to red - Killing Joke 6. One of the lads (dub version) - 4 Be 2s 7. Typical girls (Brink style dub) - Slits 8. Private armies (dub version) - Goldman, Vivien 9. Red beat - Red Beat 10. Death disco - Public Image Ltd. 11. Where there is a will - Pop Group 12. Bloody dub - Stiff Little Fingers 13. Private life (dub version) - Jones, Grace

      Wild Dub takes you back to the days in 1970s London when Punk and Reggae first merged, when Johnny Rotten hijacked the radio airwaves to spin the toughest Jamaican pre-releases, and DJ Don Letts showed pogoing punks in the Roxy Club how to skank to the hottest dub riddims. The spark that exploded between black and white culture in that glowing moment was one of the first multicultural youth movements and its attitudes and achievements, like the birth of the anti-fascist Rock Against Racism movement, have endured. Their experiments with life and music and the sheer energy of the city at the time, attracted foreign artists who came and stayed as long as possible, like Chrissie Hynde, Bob Marley, Patti Smith, Deborah Harry and Johnny Thunders.
      Pivotal scenes of punk happened all round town, from fashion hangouts like the Acme Attraction store run by Don Letts and Janette Lee, and Vivienne Westwood's Sex shop, to the Rough Trade record store, Louise's, a louche gay club in London's then-sleazy Soho, the Roxy in Neal Street, and all the abandoned houses and after-hours cinemas where after-hours night life flourished. A tight-knit group of people kept the scene buzzing, with many of the artists featured here. The Ruts, the Clash, the Slits, Generation X, Killing Joke, Public Image Limited, the Pop Group and Stiff Little Fingers may not have been of direct Jamaican descent, but Jamaican Dread culture, and the language of dub, became part of their identity anyway. Collaborations between UK punks and reggae dons like Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Mikey Dread and Dennis 'Matumbi' Bovell, resulted in all sorts of new cross-fusions, with dub as the common denominator. And some of the finest are gathered together here for the first time, on this extraordinary tribute to the power of dub.
      Wild Dub's liner notes are by punky reggae scenemaker, writer and musician Vivien Goldman, who as a journalist for the punk weekly, SOUNDS (and later, New Musical Express,) lived at the heart of the action and was joined by very gifted friends like Aswad's George Oban, PiL's Keith Levene and John Lydon, Vicki Aspinall of the Raincoats and Steve Beresford and Robert Wyatt for the recording of her 'Private Armies Dub' (remixed by Adrian Sherwood).

    3. Dub Gone Crazy: The Evolution of Dub at King Tubby's '75-'77 [Amazon US]
      As with many of the Blood and Fire releases, this is a good look at some of the work of King Tubby and his studio band the Aggrovators. Many of these tracks are clssic dub versions from original songs sung by Johnny Clarke, Livinal Thomson and others. A good starting place if you don't know the amazing work of King Tubby and the Aggrovators.

    4. Foundation of Dub - King Tubby & The Aggrovators [2 CD, Amazon US]
      The twenty eight tracks on this double cd set date from the period 1975-1977 and feature the aforementioned musicians. Most of the dubs found here are instrumental versions of the more familiar mid-seventies riddims. On disc one you will find riddims such as 'Darker Shade Of Black', 'Rough Rebel', 'I Am The Greatest', 'Baby Why', 'I Need A Roof', 'True Believer In Love' and 'Mean Girl'. The second disc includes renderings of 'If You Love Me', 'Long Long Dreadlocks', 'Ten To One', 'Love Uprising', 'A Serious Thing' and 'Man To Man'. The riddims were recorded at Channel One studio and mixed at King Tubby's studio. For a superb showcase of mid-seventies dub, do check out this double cd ! -- Teacher & Mr. T.

    5. Dub Come Save Me - Roots Manuva [1 CD, Amazon US]
      From his idiosyncratic delivery and left-field lyrics to his rootsy basslines and thumping studio tinkerings, Mr. Manuva has always fancied himself something of a dubmeister, paying homage to his Jamaican roots. Here, he gets to explore his "mixing-desk-as-instrument" ethos to the max, reworking tracks from his recent Run Come Save Me into spectral shadows of their former selves, as well as presenting a few assorted rarities that didn't make it onto the LP. Cuts like "Highest Grade Dub" and "Brand New Dub" are direct descendants of the King Tubby-Augustus Pablo school of smoke-filled trickery, while "Tears" and "Revolution" are more '80s and hip-hop influenced, respectively, but come with deep and dirty dub signatures. Like everything Mr. Manuva turns his hand to, Dub Come Save Me is weirdly sophisticated and serves as an essential companion to the original long player. --Paul Sullivan [...] [...]

    6. Dub Selector (2001) - Various Artists [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      1. Tempest Dub - Cottonbelly 2. Police And Thieves (G-Corp Remix) - Luciano 3. Le Dub - I:Cube 4. Rock It Tonight - Seven Dub 5. Babylon Dub - G-Corp 6. Andub Head Yudu - Grant Phabao 7. Dubolition - Grant Phabao 8. The Only Redeemer - Noiseshaper 9. A Dub Experience - St. Germain 10. How To Find Royal Jelly - The Lost Skrolls 11. Rain Showers (Bronx Dogs Dub Mix) - Sizzla 12. Divers - Boozoo Bajou

      Twelve electronic flavored dub tracks - compiled by Bruno Guez to keep you grooving with never-before-on-CD gems from Cottonbelly, Luciano, Sizzla, and St. Germain. Up from the deep bass vibrations of modern sound systems emerges a ruff n' tuff international crew continuing the legacy of dub. Inspired by the original dub scientists of the '70s, these next generation dub lovers pay their respect in a dub stylee with electronic decks and effects.

    7. Super Ape - Lee Perry [Amazon US]
      I can't believe that I am the first person writing a review for this album. Considering dub master Lee Scratch Perry's fame of late, i am surprised, because, and I am a "yardie" "come a "foreign", straight from kingston, and I haf fi tell you, this album. This album. This album is one of the BEST pure dub albums ever recorded. It is pure trouble. Where Augustus pablo is sublime Lee Perry and the Upsetters(!) take roots dub to the core of the earth into the raw essence of all that is. Yes I. You will end up stopping the cd and taking a break because you didn't know drum and bass could be so tough! Jah bless and guide. If you love dub, then my bredren, drop dis on and kick back and you'll forget you were ever here ;) --a reviewer for amazon.com, July 23, 1999.

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