Bob Baines Reggae and Dub
As you peruse the pages of this website, checking the details of the many and various singers and players in the South East London scene, two words appear again and again - Reggae and Dub.
It is fused with the current sounds of dance music in the same way that the rock music of the late sixties and early seventies was drenched in the blues. As the original blues sounds were taken up by the rock acts of the late sixties and early seventies, so the current flock of dance musicians have integrated the techniques,sounds and voices of reggae and dub.
This is acting as a launching pad for the many new roots acts, who take advantage of the same technology employed by modern dance creators, producing dub music from scratch from the bedrooms of Europe. The basic techniques of mixing, being utilised by the technocrats of Nineties dance music, sampling classic beats and bass lines, speeding them up and twisting them around with the same enthusiasm of the great King Tubby and the mighty Lee Perry. (Perhaps two of the most influential reggae producers ever, and inspiration for many of today's digital musicians). Anyone who thinks that that the Junglist Posse were the first to discover the power of the filtered drum loop should check out some of Tubby's dub's from the early seventies.
The sounds of reggae have permeated the UK since the sixties, but for many people the first real exposure to the reggae sound of Jamaica was in the seventies, with the arrival of punk. The first punks of that time felt a natural attraction to the rebel vibe of roots reggae, and outlaw culture of the DJ "toasters". At time when there were no punk records to play at gigs the sounds of rebellion form JA was the one to be heard in the halls between the raging thrash of two chord violence. Many people's first taste of the "Sound System" came at a Clash gig.
It was as the records started to be made that the influence of reggae became more obvious. From John Lydon, a committed roots fan, to the Clash reflecting their Ladbrook Grove squatting roots, in tunes like Police and Thieves, and championing the sound of vocal trio Culture and their classic LP Two Sevens Clash.
Many of the bands of the time attempted at least one stab at the reggae genre. The roots sound was established, and pushed forward, to a white audience. Mind you the influence was not always appreciated. Lee Perry was less than enthusiastic about the Clash's take on his tunes!
It was not just the hard core punks who looked to Jamaican influences. The Ska revival movement of the same time, spearheaded by the Two Tone Movement, gained mainstream acceptance and exposure.The best bands adding creating a UK variant rather than just copying the bands and singers of the Sixties, but checking their sourses spreading the word.
This mixture of cultures was very important at the time. The mid seventies being a time when the race hate that had been brewing finally emerged in the Fascist groups like the NF, who saw the opportunity to recruit from the atmosphere of dispossession; fuelled by the ongoing economic downturn,and using the indiginous black community as a handy scapegoat. Unity was strength, Eric Clapton talked racist shit and Rock Against Racism was born.
There was similarly a boom in home grown roots acts, who came to the fore both in their own right and by sharing a stage with the emerging punk bands. Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots,Aswad, Merger, Mutumbi, LKJ and many more were regularly seen on stage with punk bands at demo's and festivals, taking a distinctly British raggae sound to people who's only previous contact with reggae was probably Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley.
At this time there were of course many many sound systems; vans loaded with speakers the size of buildings, working the clubs and dances, dreads in the streets.
White culture was quick to pick up on the perceived rebel chic of the ganja toting rasta. It was time when you could see Misty in Roots playing at any and every free festival and political rally, chanting down babylon while the world danced with it's children, or check the mighty Dread Broadcasting Corp, the pirate dread's of the airways (Many of whom found a legal home at Kiss FM). Moments of colour in an otherwise grey and white world.
For those of us there at the time it was an ocean of discovery, so many fine bands, singers and producers. It was time we all sought out the gems we had missed, in Daddy Cool's and Dub Vendor, and followed the new generation of artists emerging from both Jamaica and the UK.
Those were the times of tours by Culture, Dillinger - Mikey Dread recording and playing with The Clash - Dr Alimantado moving to Notting Hill Gate and releasing "Best Dressed Chicken" - the mighty Burning Spear chanting for Marcus Garvey on his first album for Island, after his glorious Studio One albums and 7"s - Gregory crying for love and justice; Aswad mashing up Carnival.
Robert Nesta Marley became the public face of reggae and Rasta. Many JA artist during this time chose to move to London, including Gregory Issacs, Dennis Brown, and Horace Andy joining forces with those artists and producers already set up here.
In South East London the sound system of Jah Shaka and his band the Disciples, bass loud enough to cause an earthquake, took the lead, joined by so many other, Saxon, Coxone, Observer, all made a healthy living in dance halls, dark basements and community halls. Anyone who saw the rise of the rave and free party who thought that was an invention of the E generation should check out the film of the blues dances of the seventies and early eighties, and the current flood of Conscious Sound Systems currently mashing up the land.
Perhaps the most obvious of the mainstream labels that attempted to exploit the sound of roots reggae was, perhaps not surprisingly, Island records. Run by Jamaican Chris Blackwell.Having signed Bob Marley, the most commercially successful Reggae act ever and also rushing to sign many others including the seminal talents of Mr Lee "Scratch" Perry, set the scene for others. The other most prominent being Virgin's Front Line label which released many roots classics, including work by the Jamaican roots DJ's singers and vocal groups. That said the major labels have never been happy or particularly successful in exploiting the potential of the music they never quite seemed to understand, the treatment of Aswad by CBS being an example.
The road was not always easy. And many of the artists felt they were being exploited by their labels, with much justification. Remember there was no copyright in JA and many of the artists were simply paid a session fee. This of course meant the labels stood to do quite nicely thank you from tunes blasting the oppression and slavery of the white man. Check out the lyrics of the Prince Far-I on his tune for the On-U Sound label - "Virgin", which clearly sets out the feelings of a number of JA artists whose work was released in the UK. The tune relates to an album recorded for Virgin, which never saw the light of day, until it was remastered by Adrian Sherwood from a cassette tape of the original session (Check it out on Blood and Fire - Health and Strength.) Mr Perry also famously wrote a song called "Chris Blackwell is a Vampire!!".
Today the echo's of roots music from the sixties to date can be heard swirling round the dance halls of every city. The new dub warriors, Alpha and Omega, The Disciples, Aba-Shanti, Iration Steppas,Manneseh et al continue the tradition of roots music, music with the message. Their tunes heard in many a room in many a club dedicated to the new dance Explosion.
Many new disciples to dub were attracted by Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound label. Funded by radio adverts and selling old tunes from the back of a van, he built up a house band of members of the former Sugar Hill Gang, and worked extensively with the premier Jamaican session band the Roots Radics.(The tradition in Jamaica that sessions for many a producer were played by an apparently never ending roster of musicians - names appearing in various combinations on so many of the finest tunes) Although not excessively a reggae label it was many peoples first introduction to the likes of Prince Far-I, Bim Sherman and many of the finest session players around. The releases on the label mixed many various musical forms from the avante garde to the sublime.
Today reggae still gets little access to the mainstream, with the exception of the occasional ragga hit. But increasingly artists, raised with the sound of roots, consciously or not, increasingly merge dubwise sounds and beats in tunes played both on the radio and in the clubs nationwide.Ther sounds of Dreadzone, Rocker's HiFi, Monkey Maffia, making the charts and hearts, with tunes that echo with the sounds of dub.
There is a healthy roots scene with seemingly more sound systems operating, not just in London but around the whole UK. New releases by the new Dub merchants are filling the shops and a number of labels are painstakingly re-issuing old classics as the interest rises. You will hear the sounds and influences of roots and dub operators throughout modern dance music and tunes and samples from the long history of reggae in the most unexpected places.
As it becomes clear the influence of reggae and dub on modern sounds more and more info and records hit the street. As with all things now you may have to search some of them out, but they are getting easier to find all the time.
Blood and Fire and Pressure Sounds labels are currently indulging in a spree of classic re-issues containing the back catalogue of the finest producers singers and players. The New Dub crew's are also busy playing dances and releasing their own tunes both in good old fashioned heavy weight plastic and CD
If you want to check out some of the old and new sounds of roots try checking out some systems still operating in a venue near you, or tune into the mighty Mennasseh sound system on their regular radio show on Kiss FM; or other old style DJ sessions on Resonance fm.
Bob Baines can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
updated from original article © fantompowa.net 1999