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Dub Revolution

The Story of Jamaican Dub Reggae and Its Legacy

John Bush



This is dub revolution . . . music to rock the nation.

-Lee ìScratchî Perry

In the modern age of electronic music, the word ìdubî 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 ìsoundî 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 ìversions,î as well as radically remixed ìdubsî 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.

The story of how all of this happened in Jamaica is a fascinating tale of the unique cultural and socioeconomic setting in which the Jamaican music industry produced some of the most influential music ever recorded. This essay explores the evolution of dub reggae in Jamaica and the contributions of some of its most innovative pioneers, as well as the influence that dub reggae has had in the development of other styles of music. Finally it will analyze the sound of the music itself and how it is created, which will be supplemented by a sampling of some dub recordings.


To truly understand the origins of dub reggae, one must first understand the nature of the Jamaican music scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the role of the dancehall in Jamaican music. Financial constraints have always played a role in determining what directions the recording industry in Jamaica would take, both on the end of those buying records as well as those producing them. Very few people in Jamaica can afford to buy records, and since it is expensive to produce them, there is always a considerable amount of risk for the producer in releasing new records. Much of the time, new tracks are previewed in the dancehalls before they are actually released on vinyl to see how the crowds respond to them. More than anything else, what determined what sounds are being produced in Jamaica is their strength in the dancehall. By the late 1960s, during the rocksteady era, competition among those who operated sound systems had become fierce. A number of new systems began coming to town to challenge the established systems that then dominated the dancehall scene, such as Duke Reid and Clement ìCoxsoneî Dodd. Who had the advantage over the competition was largely determined by the exclusivity of the music that they had available to them, so sound system operators were always looking for ways to play music that nobody else could. Often they would go and buy the latest recorded music from the producers, then cut the tracks on acetate discs such that it could be played exclusively on their system (Barrow 1994).

One of the biggest sound systems of this time period was owned by Rudolph ìRuddyî Redwood in Spanish Town. Known as Ruddyís Supreme Ruler of Sound, he had one of the most impressive selections of music, as he had a long relationship with Duke Reid, one of Jamaicaís leading producers of the time. Ruddy had access to a number of exclusive recordings from Dukeís Treasure Isle Studio, giving him an edge over other sound system operators (Barrow and Dalton 1997, p. 200).

Ruddy played a key role in the initial development of dub, as he was the first to make a public performance of what would become known as ìversionî - the instrumental mix of a song without the vocals. In the early days of Jamaican recording, the music was recorded on two tracks. In general, the vocals were recorded on one track with the rest of the band being recorded on the other. In the studio, the two tracks would then be mixed to create the full sound. Ruddy would routinely come into the Treasure Isle Studio and cut new tracks with engineer Byron Smith for play on his sound system. One time however, Ruddy decided to have a dub cut with just the rhythm track to play at a dance. Record producer Bunny Lee recounts the story:

ìYeah . . . it was really VERSION those days - it wasnít dub yet, becaí it was jusí the riddim. One day a incident: Ruddyís was cutting a dub, aní when it start, Smithy look like ëim start bring on the voice and Ruddyís say: no, mek it run and ëim take the whole backing track off it. ëIm say, alright, run it again, and put in the voice. ëIm didnít do no more like that yet. ëIm carry it, go Spanish Town and ëim play it an gií ëim deejay - ëim have a deejay name Wax I tink - and when Wax put it on, ëim put on the singing then say ëim gonna play part two. And ëim put on - everybody know the rhythm now, and everybody a listen to the voice, an ëdem doní hear no voice and then everybody start sing along. So they say BRANí NEW! and then dem play it about twenty times.î (Barrow 1994)

The popularity of the instrumental ìversionî in the dancehall quickly inspired Duke Reid and other producers to begin releasing them commercially, and a new tradition was born. By 1970 the practice of issuing 45î singles with the vocal mix on the A-side and the ìversionî on the B-side had become common (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 202). Back in the dancehalls, ìversionî opened up new opportunities for sound system operators and their deejays. Without vocals in the mix, the deejays could add their own lyrics, chants, or other words over the music. This opportunity led deejays to create a whole new style called ìtoasting,î in which they would chant over the music or improvise lyrics. This was one of the first examples of a style of singing that would later develop into rap and dancehall reggae.

Version also allowed different songs to be created with the same rhythm. In general, the musicians who performed on a recorded track were paid by the song. Once they had been paid their session fee, the song was essentially owned by the producer, regardless of how many mixes of that song were released. So a song could be recorded and released using the original vocals, and then the same song could be released again either as an instrumental, with a toast, or with different lyrics without having to pay the musicians any more dues (Ehrlich 1982 p. 105). As a result, it became much more economical for producers to reuse rhythms than to hire musicians to play new ones. The producer also had the confidence in knowing that the rhythm had already been proven successful in the dancehall. This practice helped establish the Jamaican tradition of reusing rhythms many times. In doing this, the rhythms themselves become independent of the songs that they are a part of, and take on individual characters of their own. Many frequently used rhythms - mostly characterized by a drum beat and bass line - in Jamaica have their own names and are collectively known as ìriddims.î In Jamaica, popular riddims - examples include ìChiang Kai Shekî, ìCharlie Chanî, ìRub-a-Dubî, ìSatta Amassaganaî, etc - are so well known they have become folk knowledge, and are used over and over such that there could be dozens of songs all played on the same riddim. Version provided the opportunity for people to focus on the music behind the singers and develop the ìriddimî as a prominent force in the music. This was further enhanced by the development of true dub music, in which the mixing engineers take the instrumental version to the next level, using the power of the remix to change the whole sound and texture of the riddim. This was the turning point in which dub emerged as a unique and characteristic branch of music itself, and can be credited almost entirely to the contributions of a mixing engineer known as King Tubby.

Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby, operated a small sound system in the Waterhouse district of Kingston known as Tubbyís Hometown Hi-Fi. Tubby was friends with record producer Bunny ìStrikerî Lee, who introduced him to the version stylings of Ruddy Redwood in 1968. Tubby was quite inspired by what Ruddy had done with version, and decided to improve his own system to challenge some of the bigger sound systems in town (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 203). With the help of his impressive sound system and the deejay skills of Ewart Beckford, better known as U-Roy, by 1972 Tubbyís Hometown Hi-Fi had become one of the leading sound systems in Kingston. As Tubby said in December 1975:

ìWe introduce a different thing to the sound system world. This amplifier here have a chrome front and reverb. Thatís the first time a reverb was introduced in Jamaica is when my sound come out. And it get de people so excited that everywhere we go we have a following. And then U-Roy come on with a style . . . ì (Davis 1982 p. 114)

Indeed, it was U-Roy and Tubby who were one of the first to really establish the deejay toasting style as a legitimate form of music in Jamaica. Tubby began to try more things with his mixer and the two-track tape machine. Tubby would mix up the vocal tracks and rhythm tracks, sometimes leaving the vocals acapella and then dropping them out just as he would bring the music back into the mix. He also began to work more with producers like Bunny Lee and Lee Perry. Bunny Lee got a deal for Tubby that enabled him to buy a four track mixing board from Byron Leeís Dynamic Studios (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 204). The equipment was so old that it was impossible to find replacement parts, but Tubbyís background in electronics enabled him to customize the mixer. He was able to add sliding faders to his mixer, which allowed him to add in or take out the various tracks smoothly. This gave him an edge over other engineers who were also experimenting with dub technique at the same time, such as Errol Thompson at Randyís Studio 17, who had to use buttons to add or remove tracks in the mix. Tubby also improvised other effects in addition to the effects offered by his sound system. He created his own echo delay by passing a loop of tape over the heads of an old two track machine, and he would add effects like the frequency test tone from the mixer, or the ìthunderclapî sound created by physically hitting the spring reverb unit (Barrow 1994). Most of Tubbyís dubs were mixed live, and his ingenuity with the electronics and use of the mixer allowed him endless opportunities for experimentation. This gave his dubs a feeling of spontaneity and improvisation, using the mixing board as his instrument. As Bunny Lee recalls about the mixing process:

ìHow we do dat, again? Tings - yu canít catch it back so again! Even if Tubbyís was to come back alive aní mix it , itís a different vibes again . . . becaí, you see, the spur a the moment - sometime me aní ëim talk aní me say ëdrop out now, Tubbyís!í aní ëim get confuse, aní me just draw the whole a the lever thruí me know it, aní just push up, anís you hear ëpluckí, aní jusí start play the filter, aní it gií yu a funny sound. Tubbs say: ëA pure distortioní. Me say, ëYes Tubbs, MADNESS - the people dem like it!í . . . When ëim done me say ëlissen dat Tubbsí . . . ëIm say, ëWe canít do dis againí. Me seh: no; but . . . ëim start play ëpon ëim sound alone. So ëim sound become overnight sensation, aní all the sound men RUN to ëim now, fi get the dub.î (Barrow 1994)

Tubbyís innovations behind the mixing board introduced to Jamaica the idea of the mixing engineer playing a creative role in the music. By taking the different components and tracks that make up a song, Tubby was able to rearrange them and reinvent them into something that sounded completely new. For perhaps the first time in the history of recorded music, the mixing engineer took a lead role in the creative aspects of the music. Working out of his tiny studio at 18 Dromilly Avenue in the Waterhouse district of Kingston, Tubby quickly made a name for himself among producers and became one of the most demanded mixing engineers. The amount of music he received from the many producers he worked with enabled him to experiment even further with his dubbing techniques. Some of Tubbyís most innovative dubs were released from 1972 to 1974, and it was these that also established his name with the public. Single 45s with Tubbyís dubs on the B-side often would sell due to that fact alone, regardless of what was on the A-side (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 199).

King Tubby was not the only mixing engineer to develop the dub technique, but his influence on the genre is far reaching. He was certainly the most significant pioneer of the sound, and one of the most prolific. He also worked together with some of the other important pioneers in the dub sound, including Lee Perry and Augustus Pablo. Later, his work with apprentices such as Prince Jammy and Scientist would help carry on the King Tubby sound into the next generation of dub engineers.

Lee ìScratchî Perry made a significant contribution himself to the evolution of the dub technique. Though not quite the dub specialist as Tubby was, he has been a significant innovator in the development of Jamaican music from almost every transition it has made. Initially working for Clement ìCoxsoneî Dodd from back in the ska days, Scratch did odd jobs for Coxsone - running errands, helping find new artists, co-writing songs and such. Scratch eventually became frustrated working for Coxsone, feeling that he could do better elsewhere. Perry worked with other producers for awhile but eventually began working as a producer himself, forming Upsetter Records in 1968 (Katz and Barrow 1996).

Perryís creative and adventurous spirit led to the development of his distinctive sound as a producer, and he was involved with version and instrumentals from very early on. He always would take risks with the sound, using previously unheard of mixing techniques and sound effects. His collaboration with King Tubby produced one of the earliest landmark dub albums, Blackboard Jungle in 1973. As he recalls of Tubby:

ìTubby come to meet me, cause he was looking for adventure. I am the only adventurer. Because Tubby was there in the beginning, he was looking for that adventure . . . He was brilliant. I thought he was my student, maybe he thought I was his student, but it makes no matter. Iím not jealous.î (Katz and Barrow 1996)

Scratch later built his own studio, the legendary Black Ark, in 1974 in the Kingston suburb of Washington Gardens. Under Perryís guidance, the Black Ark became known for its signature sound that was quite different from the other studios. From 1974 to 1979, the Black Ark was a center of creativity in reggae music, with Scratch continuing to experiment in version and dub styles. The Black Ark sound was characteristically heavy yet uplifting at the same time. The dubs he mixed during this time were often wild and unpredictable, with fragments of the music being mixed in strange ways. Perry would frequently dub out the vocals in mid-syllable and then throw them into echo to accentuate the rhythm (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 210). He also would use sound effects and samples extensively, and frequently added his own vocals or speech over some of his more adventurous dubs. Though he did not produce a great number of dub albums at Black Ark, one of his greatest achievements as a producer was the album Super Ape with his group the Upsetters. In Super Ape, Scratch achieved a full and dynamic sound unlike most other dub albums, as he made extensive use of effects and extra vocals to create a mesmerizing and occasionally haunting sound.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the 1970s the vibe at Black Ark had changed greatly, and Perry had begun to feel a variety of pressures. Record sales werenít quite able to compete with some of the other producers in town, local hoodlums and rude boys were causing problems for the studio, and Perry was drinking and smoking excessively. As Max Romeo, a singer who had worked extensively with Perry at Black Ark, says:

ìThen I donít know what happened. Kapow! Everything went bust. Lee Perry went one way, the studio went another, and all hell let loose.î (Katz and Barrow 1996)

The Black Ark studio burned to the ground in 1979. Perry was detained for 3 days for suspected arson but never charged. Perry claims to have destroyed the studio himself, but it is unclear as to whether or not he did it on purpose. Nevertheless, although the Black Ark days were one of Perryís most creative and inventive periods, particularly for dub, he has continued to have a significant influence on music even today. He has worked extensively with reggae musicians in Europe, and has had quite an influence on modern dub engineers such as Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood.

Augustus Pablo was another dub pioneer who worked extensively both as a musician and a producer. A brilliant musician, Pablo taught himself to play the piano at a young age and emerged on the Jamaican music scene as a versatile instrumentalist. His specialty was the melodica - a toy-like wind instrument that sounds somewhat like a harmonica but has a keyboard. The characteristic sound of Pabloís melodica can be heard on a number of various reggae recordings, and he worked with his own band as well, known as the Rockers. Pabloís immediately recognizable music has been called the ìFar Eastî sound, making extensive use of minor chords and the meandering sound of his melodica. Pabloís work as a producer reflects this style as well.

Working almost exclusively with instrumental music, Pabloís work lends itself very nicely to dub, and has made significant efforts to introduce the world outside of Jamaica to the style. The one album that perhaps accomplished this more than any other was King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, produced by Pablo in 1976. A collection of some his best work with Tubby, the album represents some of Tubbyís most impressive dub mixes, and is probably one of the best and most well known dub albums ever produced.

Dub reggae was at its most creative and prolific through the mid to late 1970s. It was during this time period that most of the dub albums were released. Though they were by no means the only engineers contributing to dub, some of the most creative and successful of the next generation of dubmasters emerged during this time under the guidance of King Tubby at his studio. As Tubby himself began mixing less frequently, apprentices such as Prince Jammy, Scientist, and ìPrinceî Philip Smart began to establish themselves as talented engineers. Working with such impressive rhythm sections such as Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeareís drum and bass team, and later the famous Roots Radics, they would play a premier role in the directions that dub music would take into the 1980s. Many of the dub albums they released would have creative themes behind them, bearing titles such as Scientist vs. Jammy: Big Showdown at King Tubbys or Scientist Rids the World of Vampires. Complete with creative cover art and song titles to match the theme, the dub albums released during this time often were credited solely to the engineer, and some would make little or no mention of what original tracks the rhythms came from. In the dancehalls, dub was the music of the day. It was not uncommon for deejays to play predominantly dub at the dances, and the quality of the dub became a prominent measure as to the success of new recordings.

Two of the most creative and prolific engineers of the late 1970s are Prince Jammy and Scientist, both apprentices of Tubby. Prince Jammy, otherwise named Lloyd James, would eventually go on to become one of the most successful producers during the dancehall era that Jamaica was soon to enter. He was a very successful mixing engineer as well, and mixed an incredible amount of dubs for Tubby in his studio. Using Tubbyís equipment, Jammyís dubs would have the characteristic sound of Tubbyís studio, but in a style of his own. Jammyís dubs were often more stripped down than Tubbyís, emphasizing the groove of the drum and bass, or the ìriddim.î As Jammy says:

ìDub means raw riddim. Dub jusí mean raw music, nuttiní water-down. Version is like your creativeness off the riddim, without voice.î (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 202)

Hopeton Brown, otherwise known as Scientist, would also make a name for himself as a talented dubmaster. As with Tubby, he was skilled in electronics and originally began working for Tubby as an assistant, building amplifiers and doing other electronics work. He would always ask Tubby if he could mix, but Tubby never took him seriously at first. According to Brown, Tubby would tell him ìYouíre a little kid - you know a lot of big men come here and take years and they still canít do itî (Barrow and Dalton 1997 p. 224). Jammy was making many of Tubbyís mixes at the time, but once when Jammy was out of town Tubby finally gave Brown a chance. He quickly proved himself as a skilled engineer and began working with Tubbyís equipment whenever he could, developing a sound all his own that eventually led to his success as one of the most creative and popular mixing engineers since Tubby himself. Acquiring the name Scientist, he soon became one of Jammyís main rivals as a prominent force in dub engineering, working with a number of producers through the years.

As Jamaica entered the 1980s, the dub craze had begun to subside. The abundance of creative dub mixes had given deejays incredible new opportunities to explore the possibilities of deejay and scat style singing. The popularity of these styles led into the next phase of Jamaican music - the dancehall era. However, by this time dub had become a tradition in Jamaica, and even today every 45î single released in Jamaica comes complete with the vocal mix on the A-side and the version or dub mix on the B-side. Though few dub albums have been released in Jamaica since, the style continues to be explored and expanded upon. Perhaps the most interesting developments in modern dub music has been its influence on music outside of Jamaica. Modern dub reggae artists, such as Mad Professor in the U.K., have made very creative developments in the music, and dubís influence on modern dance music such as hip-hop and jungle are immeasurable.


To list all of the forms of music which have been influenced in some way by dub reggae would be quite a task. The role of the mixing engineer as a creative artist in the modern age of electronic music is well established, and almost every form of progressive popular music has experimented with dub techniques. Also, the rise of electronic dance music and rap have led to a number of extremely popular styles of music that can be traced directly back to dub. Like the roots of a tree, dub established the fundamental idea - that of the instrumental remix, using the mixing board to bring out the rhythm - that led to a whole new world of musical possibilities.

One of the most far reaching styles influenced by dub is rap and hip-hop. With the help of King Tubbyís dubs, it can be argued that U-Roy was the first to popularize the ìtoastingî style of singing in Jamaica. A precursor of rap, toasting started out as primarily a dancehall phenomenon when version became widely used. In Jamaica, this became a popular musical style which eventually led to dancehall and ragga, the styles of music which would dominate Jamaican dancehalls throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s. It is extremely likely that the Jamaican presence in cities like New York and Miami had an influential role in the development of rap and hip-hop in the United States. One individual in particular, a Jamaican named Clive Campbell, can be identified with this connection.

Campbell grew up in Jamaica, but moved to the Bronx at age twelve in 1967. By 1973 he had set up a sound system like the ones he had seen in Jamaica as a kid. Although the people werenít really into reggae and the idea of the sound system dancehall party was quite different in America, Campbellís impressive system made him quite popular. Calling himself ìCool DJ Hercî, he would toast in Jamaican style, but to American soul and R and B records. Herc would mix two turntables playing the same record, then alternate back and forth between the fifteen seconds or so of the instrumental break that was a common part of songs of that genre, ignoring the vocals altogether. Eventually focusing on mixing, he left the toasting up to his deejays MC Coke La Rock and Clark Kent. Together they formed Kool Herc and the Herculoids, and were probably the first in America to play music in a way that would eventually become common practice in hip-hop. Though it would be another decade or so before rap stylings really took off in America, this early influence no doubt had an influence on the development of the style. Regardless, Jamaican deejays in general are an integral component of black music history. As Elliot Rashman, co-founder of London-based Blood and Fire Records, says, ìWithout toasting, there certainly would not be rap and hip-hop, certainly not as we know themî (Sexton 1994).

Electronic dance music is another phenomenon that is deeply rooted in dub. The underlying principle behind such forms of music as house, garage, trance, and breakbeat is emphasis on the remix. Since most of the rhythms are in fact created electronically, the creativity of the music stems from how these rhythms are mixed and then remixed live on turntables in dancehalls. As with dub reggae, the emphasis is in the drumbeat and the bass, with vocals usually reduced to short phrases injected here and there. The idea of stripping down the rhythm to its essentials and remixing them to accentuate the rhythm is the driving philosophy behind electronic dance music just as it is with dub.

This is perhaps most apparent in jungle, an extremely popular form of electronic dance music that is very similar to dub. Combining elements from soul, jazz, hip-hop, techno, ambient, breakbeat, and of course dub reggae, jungle is a rather complex and versatile form of electronic dance music. The computer generated rhythms include an underlying drum and bass foundation with lightning fast but lighter drumbeats floating over the beat at double-time speeds (Toop 1994). This creates a multi-textured sound that offers a number of creative opportunities. The sounds created in jungle may be very different from the sound of dub reggae, but the underlying principles behind the music are the same. Jungle emerged from the UK in the early 1990s, and began primarily as a club-oriented style of music - the UKís equivalent to the Jamaican dancehall. Jungle has since expanded into the United States, which experienced its own electronica revolution later in the decade. Jungle, and other forms of electronic dance music as well, have even broken through to the commercial recording industry in the United States and Europe- an impressive feat given their considerable diversion from the vocal-driven songs that are typical of pop music.

It is becoming more and more common today to find modern musicians and record producers of these styles acknowledging the incredible contributions of dub reggae and Jamaican music in general. Styles of rap, hip-hop, dancehall, and ragga have experienced a fair amount of crossover in recent years, both in the music and the lyrics. Though expanding beyond the realm of dub music, all of these genres have roots in the dub tradition, and are similar in other ways as well. Recent collaborations between artists of the U.S. and Jamaica - including Method Man, Wyclef Jean, Capleton, Barrington Levy, and Beenie Man - are an example of this crossover. Also, Record labels such as Blood and Fire have released several albums that showcase the producers and artists like Bunny Lee, King Tubby, U-Roy, Tappa Zukie, Dillinger, and others who helped forge the dub and deejay sound.

As new musical ideas have developed in Jamaica and the world, dub reggae itself no longer enjoys the popularity it had in Jamaica during its heyday. However, it has been an extremely powerful influence on modern music, and will likely continue to be so well into the future. It could be argued that dub was one of the most revolutionary styles of music of the century; it was certainly the first to fully embrace the idea that artistic success could be achieved by rearranging prerecorded music. Tragically, the man ultimately responsible for introducing to the world the idea of the dub remix no longer survives to witness the incredible music that has resulted. King Tubby was murdered outside of his home in 1989. Though his innovation and influence is immeasurable, his untimely death was an incredible loss to the world music community.


ìDub is a masterpiece of engineering, with the engineers using recording equipment to bring about musical changes . . . the music gave birth to the idea of the remix.î

Hopeton ìScientistî Brown

The defining characteristic of dub music is the use of the mixing board as if it were a musical instrument. The difference, however, is that the power of the mixer lies in its ability to remove and rearrange sound rather than add to it. In the full mix, all of the different components of the rhythm and vocals add together to form a certain sound. In the dub remix, the engineer strips the whole thing down to the essential rhythm foundation, bringing this out as the focus of attention. The rest is then rearranged and remixed to emphasize certain components at certain times. By taking out the vocals and emphasizing the rhythm, the focus of the music shifts from conscious awareness and cerebral stimulation. Instead, it centers around the resonant quality of the rhythm, and the emphasis lies in the emotions that it conjures in the listener and the body movements induced by it. However, by constantly reshuffling the various instruments and vocals of the whole mix, the mind remains occupied as different aspects of the music are constantly being pointed out to the listener. A good dub is one that takes out what is unnecessary but keeps what is necessary such that the emphasis remains on the rhythm, but does not allow it to dominate to the extent that it gets repetitive. In dub, empty space is as important as substance; balancing the two in a creative and interesting way is the key to a good mix. An essay by Luke Ehrlich on dub expresses this idea well:

ìDub is a kaleidoscopic montage which takes sounds originally intended as interlocking parts of another arrangement and using them as raw material, converts them into new and different sounds; then, in its own rhythm and format, it continually reshuffles these new sounds into unusual juxtapositions.î (Ehrlich 1982 p. 106)

To understand how this is accomplished, one must understand how the recording process works. During the initial recording of a song, the different components are recorded onto a multi-track tape. How many tracks that are available - usually two, four, or eight, though recorders with more do exist - determine to what extent the music can be divided. For a four track recording, for instance, the four tracks might be divided up into vocals, drums and bass, rhythm guitar and organ, and lead guitar. Today four tracks are rather limiting, but part of the genius of early dub engineers, like Scratch and Tubby, was in how they were able to use such primitive equipment to achieve more complex sounds than their equipment would otherwise allow. Nevertheless, this division of the different components of the music gives the mixing engineer the raw material to create a dub mix. Normally the engineerís role in the recording process is to remix the music so that all of the components are at a balanced volume and equalized such that they fit together into a full mix. In dub, however, the engineer does quite the opposite. The different components are radically remixed, emphasizing some and ignoring others. Sound effects such as reverb, echo, and phase shifter are used extensively. Equalization levels are tweaked in a variety of ways during the mix, creating sounds as if the music was being cut through with a knife. Numerous other techniques have been tried in the world of dub, including random sounds like beeps, gunshots, telephones ringing, or the characteristic thunderclap sound caused by hitting the spring reverb unit of an amplifier. Engineers can accomplish these tricks by mixing the dub over several times, but the disadvantage to this method is the loss of sound quality by going through several generations of tape. The most impressive and skilled dub engineers are those who are able to mix interesting dubs ìliveî as the tape is rolling. If the dub engineer has fast enough hands or has a creative assistant, then the resulting dub is not only of superior sound quality, but has an improvisational spirit to it as well (Erhlich 1982 p. 107). In this way, the dub engineer truly does play his board as a musical instrument.

Although it would be impossible to explain all of the techniques used it dub music, there are quite a few that are commonly used. The most basic dubs, just a step up from version, will take out most of the vocals and perhaps add reverb on some of the drumbeats. Shifting abruptly between more higher end sounds, such as the vocals, and the lower end sounds of the bass is a frequently used technique in basic dub mixing. This sudden shift in the type of sound in the mix can have a very powerful effect on the listener, as the parts of the body and mind that are stimulated by these sounds are quite different. Cutting out sounds at a certain point, throwing them into echo, and using that to accentuate the rhythm is a common practice as well. These are just a few techniques used by most dub engineers. To illustrate these as well as other aspects of the sound of dub music, a collection of various dub recordings has been assembled on a cassette tape to supplement this essay. Most of them were produced during the mid to late 1970s, when dub was at its creative peak in Jamaica, being mixed primarily by the dub engineers discussed in this essay. The following is a discussion of the dubs found on this tape. The artist credited with each track is typically the dub engineer who mixed it, though in some cases it will be the artist who composed or wrote the track.


1. Lee Perry and the Upsetters, ìDub Revolution Part Oneî

From Lee Perryís Arkology, this provides an example of Perryís humorous and creative attitude towards his mixes. The vocals are dubbed out in unpredictable ways, and Perryís distinctive vocal sound effects are present throughout.

2. The Heptones, ìSufferers Timeî

3. The Upsetters, ìSufferers Dubî

4. Junior Dread, ìSufferers Heightsî

Also taken from Arkology, this is a good example of how the same riddim is used to make three different tunes, as well as being prime examples of the Black Ark sound. The first is the simple vocal mix, the second being the dub version. The mixing on the dub is fairly basic, playing heavily off the constant sound of the hi hat to accentuate the riddim. The third is a bit slower than the first two, with a slightly different drumbeat, but it is basically the same riddim. It also features toast-style vocals by Junior Dread. Incidentally, the Heptoneís lead singer Leroy Sibbles was also an accomplished bass player, and wrote quite a few of reggaeís most popular riddims.

5. King Tubby, ìSatta Dread Dubî

From Blood and Fireís Dub Gone Crazy Volume One, this is a superb Tubby mix that well demonstrates his ability to create a very psychedelic and dreamlike sound in his dubs. Here, the drums and bass hold up the rhythm, while snippets of vocals and guitar make brief appearances only to be echoed back out again. Notice the heavily echoed frequency test tone that emerges toward the end of the mix.

6. Prince Philip Smart, ìExalted Dubî

Also from Dub Gone Crazy, this dub is notable for its use of bringing in the first line of vocals as acapella, then echoing them out as the drum and bass rhythm is faded back into the mix. This is a common technique used to begin a dub mix. Also apparent here is the blistering sound effect, characteristic of Tubbyís studio, that makes the hi hat sound as if it were being sliced through with a knife.

7. Prince Jammy, ìJah Love Rockers Dubî

This dub focuses around a beautiful flute solo that plays a melody that includes phrases from Dave Brubeckís classic jazz piece ìTake Fiveî, while the rhythm dances around it in dubwise fashion. Also from Dub Gone Crazy.

8. Scientist, ìStep It Up Dubî

From Dub Gone Crazy.

9. Delroy Wilson / King Tubby, ìYou Have My Heart / Dub My Heartî

This is an interesting recording because of how the vocal mix transitions smoothly into the dub. This was a practice that began after the introduction of the 12î single in Jamaica, which allowed both versions to be put on the same side of the record due to the longer running time. At the end of the vocal mix, Tubby throws the last guitar strum into an echo loop as the drums and bass continue to hold together the rhythm, and the song goes right into the dub. This version taken from Motion Recordsí The Sound of Channel One: King Tubby Connection.

10. King Tubby / Augustus Pablo, ìKing Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptownî

Perhaps the most well known dub mix ever, this dub is a fine example of Tubbyís mixing skills, keeping a simple groove going while constantly moving around between the various sounds created by Pabloís melodica and the rhythm section. From the album of the same name.

11. King Tubby / Augustus Pablo, ìFrozen Dubî

Also from King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, this dub is another good example of Tubbyís groovy instrumental mix. Particularly effective in this mix is how he abruptly stops the rhythm during the pause in the groove and then uses his equalizer effect to wind back up to the groove again.

12. The Upsetters, ìDread Lionî

From Super Ape, this is a thick sounding and almost frightening dub that seems to echo almost everything, giving the listener the feeling of being in a huge cavernous space. The thunderclap sound effect from hitting the reverb unit can be heard in this dub as well.


1. King Tubby / Jah Lloyd, ìWalking Dubî

A beautiful and relatively simple dub, this tune features a lovely flute solo accompanied by an uplifting rhythm section. From Jah Lloydís Herbs of Dub.

2. Prince Jammy, ìStorming the Death Starî

From the creative theme album Scientist and Jammy Strike Back, this dub features Jammy bringing out the best in the Roots Radicsí powerful rhythm section.

3. Prince Jammy, ìKamikaziî

Another strong rhythm dub mixed by Prince Jammy, this comes from his album Kamikazi Dub.

4. Scientist, ìC-3PO + R2-D2 = THE FORCEî

Also from Scientist and Jammy Strike Back, this is another example of the Roots Radics fine rhythm stylings, but this time with Scientist providing the mix. Particularly notable here is how he mixes the drum beat, with has the upbeats on every other measure being on the 2nd and 4th beats - a departure from the typical reggae beat, in which the 2nd and 4th beats are the downbeats.

5. King Tubby, ìDub Magnificentî

From King Tubbyís Roots of Dub, this is another example of Tubbyís style in mixing a solid rhythm.

6. King Tubby, ìA Rougher Versionî

A rather far out Tubby mix, especially in the first few seconds. Tubby uses some fairly unorthodox sound effects here. From Trojan recordsí King Tubbyís Special 1973-1976.

7. Lee Perry, ìEnter the Dragonî

Scratchís eccentric personality really comes out here, but it is a creative mix nonetheless. Again his characteristic vocal effects and chantings are a significant factor. From Kung Fu Meets the Dragon.

8. Augustus Pablo, ìNature Dubî

A classic example of Pabloís sound, this dub has a very spacey and psychedelic sound to it, making full use of reverb, echo, and in particular, a wah effect on the rhythm guitar. From Pabloís album East of the River Nile.

9. King Tubby, ìPlanet Dubî

From Harry Mudie Meet King Tubby in Conference Volume 2, this dub features a strings and horns section playing the melody, mixed by Tubby in a dub style.

10. Prince Philip Smart, ìTappa Zukie in Dubî

From the album of the same title.

11. Augustus Pablo, ìChapter 2î

Also from East of the River Nile.

12. Augustus Pablo, ìUniversal Love Dubî

A very pleasant dub that is a good example Pabloís musical creativity with the melodica, and features Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on the drums and bass. From Pabloís album Dubbing in a Africa.

13. Ernest Hookim and Ossie, ìRoof Top Dubî

A dub mix of the Mighty Diamonds ìHave Mercyî. The mixing is fairly basic, but is nevertheless a great dub that exemplifies the beautiful rhythms of the Diamondsí rockers style. From the album Vital Dub Strictly Rockers.

14. Scientist, ìMission Impossibleî

Another Scientist mix from Scientist and Jammy Strike Back.

15. Augustus Pablo, ìRockers Meet King Tubby inna Firehouseî

From the album of the same name.



Barrow, Steve and Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide. 1997. Rough Guides Ltd. London

Chang, Kevin OíBrien and Chen, Wayne. Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. 1998. Ian Randle Publishers. Kingston, Jamaica

Ehrlich, Luke. ìX-Ray Musicî and ìThe Reggae Arrangementî. Davis, Stephen and Simon, Peter. Reggae International. R and B. New York. 1982


Jenkins, Mark. ìElectronicaís Live Wiresî. The Washington Post. April 13, 1997. p G10

Sexton, Mark. ìBlood and Fire Label gives reggae pioneers their dueî. Billboard. July 16, 1994. v106 n29 p12(2)

Snowden, Don. ìOn the Offbeat: When Dub Flies - from Jamaica to U.K.î. Los Angeles Times. October 6, 1991. p 71

Snowden, Don. ìOn the Offbeat: Culture or Swing Machine, Dub it Reggaeî. Los Angeles Times. May 7, 1995. p 69

Tarte, Bob. ìThe King of Rub-a-Dubî. Miami New Times. May 13, 1999.

Toop, David. ìJungle Fever spreads in U.K.: genre defies labelsî. Billboard. October 29, 1994 v106 n44 p1A(2)

Album Liner Notes

Barrow, Steve. February 1994. King Tubby and Friends. Dub Gone Crazy: The Evolution of Dub at King Tubbyís 1975-1979. 1994. Blood and Fire Ltd.

Katz, David and Barrow, Steve. August-December 1996. Lee ìScratchî Perry. Arkology. 1997. Island Records, Ltd.

Parker, Geoff. February 1999. The Sound of Channel One: King Tubby Connection. 1999. Motion Records.

Other Albums (artist, title, year produced, producer/label)

Augustus Pablo. Dubbing in a Africa. Augustus Pablo.

Augustus Pablo. East of the River Nile. 1978. Augustus Pablo - Rockers Production.

Augustus Pablo. Rockers meets King Tubbys in a Firehouse. Augustus Pablo

Dub Conference Volume 2: Harry Mudie Meet King Tubby in Conference. 1977. Harry Mudie.

Jah Lloyd. Herbs of Dub. 1974. Pat Francis (Jah Lloyd)

King Tubby, the Observer Allstars and the Aggrovators. King Tubbyís Special 1973-1976. 1989. Trojan Records.

King Tubby. The Roots of Dub. Bunny Lee.

The Mighty Upsetter. Kung Fu Meets the Dragon. 1975. Lee ìScratchî Perry.

Prince Jammy. Kamikazi Dub. 1996. Trojan Records.

Roots Radics Band. Scientist and Jammy Strike Back. 1982. Linval Thompson.

Tappa Zukie. Tappa Zukie in Dub. 1976. Tappa Zukie. 1995. Blood and Fire Ltd.

Vital Dub Strictly Rockers. Channel One Recording.

Internet Sources April 14, 2000

McCready, Grant. Dub. April 17, 2000 ìA Brief history of Dubî. History of Dub Music. wysiwyg://18/ April 9, 2000

Smithies, Grant. Hopeton ìOvertonî Brown (Scientist). April 17, 2000