"Around 1980/82 we were aware of Mad Professor, King Tubby and Black Uhuru's 'In Dub' album. It was the first time in New York we'd made that reggae connection and so we used it in an uptempo style."
-Francois Kervorkian quoted by Gordon Knott, 'Monsieur Kervorkian' (DJ, No. 111, 1994), p. 26.
"It's probably safe to say that, with the exception of punk rock, every significant development in popular music since the 1960's has in one way of another emerged from the Jamaican dancehall and its tradition of the sound system."
-Peter Shapiro, "Disco: Playing With A Different Sex" in "A History of Electronic Music" (Caipirinha Productions Inc., New York, 2000), p. 50.
XX. DUB AND HERPES
A. A BRIEF HISTORY OF JAMAICAN DUB
Many believe that the art of the remix evolved from the sound system scene in Jamaica in the 60s and 70s. Certainly hip hop geniuses like Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc owe a great deal to the Jamaican dub pioneers, as do disco and house innovators like Walter Gibbons, Francois Kevorkain, Arthur Russell and Larry Levan. And, lord knows, dub has influenced virtually every form of popular music both in the U.S. and Europe.
Basically, dub is what occurs when producers take an existing music track, edit out vocals and most everything else except the rhythm segments, and rebuild a mix by dropping the vocals and instrumentals in and out while adding heavily reverberating, echoed drums, horn segments, etc. Very funky, very primitive, tribal mixes emerge from this process.
I was vacationing in Jamaica in the seventies when I first came into contact with dub music in Kingston dance halls. The vibe created by this music rooted in primeval sounds enhanced by technology led me to an early belief that technology employed as an artistic tool was the future of dance music.
Like any discussion of the origins of a particular musical genre, the history of dub is a mix of legend and fact. Most folks agree, however, that the most influential force in the evolution of Jamaican dub was a creative sound engineer named Osbourne Ruddock, aka King Tubby.
King Tubby was born in Kingston in early forties. By the late sixties Tubby had his own sound system, or studio, Home Town Hi Fi.
King Tubby was not the only sound system producer. Another early pioneer was Rudolph Redwood. Rudy would collect new recordings, cut exclusive acetates and premier his newly mixed versions at local dance halls. If the music was successful he would cut additional copies and release them. Other notable dub producers of the time include Augustus Pablo, Errol Thompson, Seymour "Stereo" Williams, Roy Cousins, Glen Brown and Bunny Lee. Lee worked closely with Tubby on popular albums like "The Roots of Dub" and "Dub From the Roots."
In the early seventies Tubby bought his own disc cutter, a two-track tape machine and a primitive mixer, and began mastering his own recordings. His first dub album was, I believe, the great "Backboard Jungle" in 1973 which he produced with Lee "Scratch" Perry.
King Tubby was an incredible innovator as a sound technician. He is said to have built his first mixer from scratch. He also designed much of his own equipment including faders and an echo delay unit fashioned by running a tape loop over the heads of a two-track tape deck. Most of his dubs were live mixes.
Tubby trained many disciples who were to become major contributors to the dub music culture. Prince Philip Smart came to the United States and founded the HCF reggae studio on Long Island. Lloyd James, aka King Jammy, started his own label, Imprint, and supplanted Tubby as the top Jamaican producer in the mid-eighties. Producer and vocalist "Yabby You" Jackson and Overton "Scientist" Brown were also Tubby pupils.
And U-Roy, who was a DJ for Tubby, influenced Clive Campbell who was to go on to the Bronx, set up his own sound system, and become Kool Herc.
Anthony Red Rose's "Temper" was the last hit to be produced by Tubby's studio. In 1989 he was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman outside his home.
1. Larry Levin and Dub
Larry was dying to produce his own recordings. Although he had always made mix tapes for his fans as gifts or for sale, the next logical career move was to go into the studio and press some vinyl.
Larry met Michael DeBenedictus when the latter offered to work with him on a theme party at the Paradise Garage. Michael was a keyboardist amongst other things, and the two formed a partnership and called themselves the Peech Boys. Singer and guitarist Bernard Fowler also joined the team.
The first venture was "Don't Make Me Wait," a classic which Phil Cheeseman said: "...took things in a different direction with its sparse, synthesized sounds that introduced dub effects and drop-outs that had never been heard before."
Larry co-produced the hit with producer Brodie Williams.
I can remember that an early version of "Don't Make Me Wait" debuted at the PG and everyone grooved mightily to the thing. Then nothing happened for some time. No final version was in release for what seemed like a year because Larry couldn't decide on the best mix. Perfectionist. And, after all, it was his first production. "Don't Make Me Wait" was finally released in '82 on the West End label.
The next Levan/Peech Boys release was "Life Is Something Special" on the Island label (1983). The album had a Keith Haring graphic on the cover and was an interesting hybrid of funk, rock and dance music reflecting Larry's own eclectic tastes. Other Peech Boys releases included "On A Journey," "Dance Sister," and "Come On, Come On."
In the movie "Boogie Nights" there is one scene that stays in my mind. The porn production crew is celebrating the new year -- 1980. Up until that point in the movie the sex play and industry surrounding it was portrayed as kind of innocent. Fun. Then that new year's eve one of the crew members discovers his wife in bed with a porn star and shoots them both dead. Everything sort of goes down hill from there.
Yes, the eighties. The beginnings of the Reagan era. Recession. And AIDS.
The first sex-related scare in NYC that I can remember was herpes. It seemed as though everyone you knew had come down with one herpes infection or another: cold sores on the mouth or, even worse, genital herpes. Newsweek ran a cover story. Certain types of herpes could be spread sexually. Although herpes is a rather trivial viral infection compared to what was to follow lots of sexual athletes began to question their behaviors.
Along with herpes, people I knew in the gay dance scene seemed to be getting more colds, flu-like symptoms, and other infections than usual. As we know now, it can take up to ten years after infection for the AIDS virus to destroy enough T-cells to seriously compromise the immune system. Many of the boys dancing in 1980 would be dead soon. And more would follow over the years. The nightmare was about to begin.
The music we now call house and most of EDM was born in the 80s at a time when economics, the culture, technology and social interactions changed dramatically. House was born smack in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. House arose out of a youthful subculture that was experiencing death and dying as a part of everyday life.
NEXT: THE EIGHTIES: AN INTRODUCTION