Hot on the heels of the release of Bedroom Beats and B-sides, author Laurent Fintoni shares an excerpt from the book, exploring the pioneering influence of Jamaica and King Tubby.
“One of the biggest impacts on the evolution of the producer came from the island of Jamaica. Specifically, from the front room of a house at 18 Dromilly Avenue in the Waterhouse neighborhood of Kingston, where Osbourne” King Tubby” Ruddock used his interest in electronics, sound systems, and audio recording to develop and popularize a style of production that would become one of the most important innovations of the 20th century: dub, which moved crowds effortlessly through cavernous echoes, valleys of filters and pools of reverberation.In the early 1970s, the studio became an instrument in its own right and Tubby, above all a quick-witted engineer, concentrates on the beating heart of the modern studio: the mixing desk. In 1971, he bought a used MCI mixing desk and, once installed in his house, began to play it like an instrument with faders and knobs like as many strings and keys that he could use to transform different parts of the recorded material.
A few years before Tubby bought his mixer, in 1968, the concept for the release was accidentally born in Jamaica when a studio engineer forgot to put the vocals on a dubplate for Supreme sound system operator Ruddy Redwood. Ruler of Sound. That night, Redwood played the accidental plate and the crowd in the dance lost their collective minds, hearing a tune they already knew as if for the first time. Up and back, and again, and again, and again, and again. The version was accidental future science. Redwood convinced label owner Duke Reid to put the error on the B-side of the release, and the music would never sound the same again. The releases invoked riddim creators, bands who would work with select Kingston studios to create the backing tracks that could become both the A-side vocal hit and the B-side version hit. riddims became timeless, with the A-side vocals changing to reflect the mores of the times while the B-side continued to move people. Tubby’s innovation, as Bunny Lee called it, was to take the riddim track and use the mixer to strip it down to the bare essentials – drums and bass – then apply effects in subtle ways and intuitive to advance these two elements. while letting the rest – guitars, horns or keys – float in and out of the sonic spectrum. Throughout the 1970s, Tubby’s name appeared on hundreds of B-sides. The text often read simply: drum and bass, King Tubby’s.
The dub beat culture in the Jamaican style. People on the island bought 45s and excitedly flipped them over to hear the dub. From Jamaica, dub spread to the rest of the world and took on new and exciting forms, always rooted in Tubby’s approach of less is more. As David Toop said, “Dub music is like a long echo delay, looping through time. Regenerating itself every few years, sometimes so quiet only a disciple could hear it, sometimes from a shattering voice, dub thwarts the music of the commercial sphere.Spreading a song or a groove over a vast landscape of peaks and deep trenches, extending hooks and rhythms to the vanishing point, dub creates new maps of the time, intangible sound sculptures, sacred sites, balm and shock to mind, body and spirit.”
For Scientist, who worked as one of Tubby’s assistants, “Dub is electronic music that was developed by a sound engineer, where we used the music and added sound effects to it to come up with different remixes .” The producer routed the music to the engineer who became the artist by playing on the mixing desk, whether using pre-existing multitrack recordings or live musicians and singers who played and sang in real time while the work of the engineer was recorded on tape.
Brian Eno, who recognized the studio as an instrument early in his career, referred to Jamaican producers in a 1979 article as sculptors, unlike Western producers who tended to act like painters, using the studio to add. “Five or six musicians are playing; they are well insulated from each other. Then the thing they played, which you can think of as some sort of music cube, gets hacked – things get pulled out, for long periods of time. And like all the best musicians who manage to master their instruments through repeated practice, the best engineers played the mixing board with emotion.
On the surface, Tubby’s technical innovations were no different from those of his American counterparts Bill Putnam and Les Paul of previous decades, combining electronic engineering with sound engineering to devise new ways of doing things no one else could. hadn’t thought of yet. And yet, the resulting music was very different, with Jamaica exerting a deeper influence on what was to follow. This was no doubt due to the social differences between the West and the Caribbean. In Jamaica, music was not only entertainment, it was also, and always, political.
The tumultuous politics of Jamaica were incorporated into the music. Tubby’s home and studio were in a city where murderous political factions were vying for power. It was war in the streets. But inside the house, it was a utopia, where broken boxes from foreign companies could be rebuilt to improve pain-relieving music. The music was ingenious by necessity and powerful by pressure. Jamaican music had to work harder to satisfy those who had so little and carried so much weight. Music from neighborhoods that whites called ghettos transformed the world by subtracting rather than adding. As Mad Professor said, “Every object has a shadow, you have to find your shadow. Every sound can be dub, you have to find the dub, it’s as simple as that.
Bedroom Beats and B-sides is now available on Velocity Press.
Photo by Ted Balafoukos.
“He bought a second hand…” Ableton’s history of the studio as an instrument references King Tubby’s purchase of the desk
“Tubby’s Innovation…” Bunny Lee in Dub Documentary Echoes (2008)
“Dub music is like…” David Toop – ‘Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sounds and Imaginary Worlds’ – snake tail, 1995, p.115
“Dub is electronic music…” Scientist in Dub Echoes documentary (2008)
“Five or six musicians…” Brian Eno, “The studio as a tool of composition” (Downbeat, circa 1979)
“Every object has a shadow…” Mad Professor in Dub Echoes documentary (2008)