The Ever-Extending Roots of Dub

Dub is the electronic product of reggae that emerged in the late 60s and 70s. It is an eclectic collection of remixes of pre-existing songs and recordings which are heavily manipulated and reshaped. Typically, the vocal tracks of the pre-existing songs are partially or fully removed, whilst a strong emphasis is placed on the rhythm section, which is better known as riddim in Dub culture. Further alteration is done through adding sound effects, such as echo and instrumentals dropping in and out of the mix, as well as integrating various noises like birds singing and water flowing into the music.

         The usually instrumental nature of dub allows for DJs to toast over it, which is a form of Jamaican rapping. King Tubby was one of the first to create vocal-less rhythm backing tracks which DJs could use for mixing and toasting during live performances. Here is an example of such a track:

         Quickly after this development, Augustus Pablo brought the melodica to dub music, an instrument which is a mix between a pump organ, harmonica, and electrical keyboard. It is played by blowing air through the mouthpiece and pressing the keys. To give you an idea of how this would sound, I provided you with the song ‘Java’ by Augustus Pablo:

         Due to the many sound effects and manipulations, dub creates a many-layered sound, which represents a soundscape. Such a soundscape draws attention to the shape and depth of the space between sounds as well as to the sounds themselves.

         Now that the basics of dub are covered, it is time to delve into the absolute central part to dub culture: the sound system. A sound system is a group of DJs, engineers, and MCs. Besides being crucial to dub, sound systems also play an important part in Jamaican culture. Sound clashes, an organised battle wherein two sound systems challenge each other, are important to sound system culture.

         Until this day, sound systems and dub continue to exist and evolve in yet novel ways. To find sound systems and dub-related festivals, you don’t have to look far. You can actually find both in Rotterdam! An example of a sound system from Rotterdam is Out of Many Sound Systems; here you can find one of their songs and live performances:

The creator of this sound system is also closely related to the festival called Inna Yard, which is a family-friendly dub festival that takes place once a year in Rotterdam.

         Finally, dub knows many influences and is influenced in many ways. In other words, it has many roots and is rooted everywhere. The 21st century dub has a strong roots tradition. New artists try to preserve the traditional dub sound with the primary focus on reproducing the original characteristics of the sound in a live atmosphere. One example of such an artist is Easy Star All-Stars, with their dub of ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ which they called ‘Dub Side of the Moon.’ One of the songs on this album is ‘Great Dig In The Sky:’