Essay Written January 2011
From Dub to Dubstep (Echo: From Tubby to Tinie Tempah): The Effect of Jamaican Music on British Music (Echo: and Vice Versa)
If you’ve ever wondered why seven white ‘nutty boys’ from Camden Town sounded so much like Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, why today’s youth on the streets of London, Manchester and Birmingham speak with such affected Patois accents or why The Clash decided to cover Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves then hopefully this essay will provide some answers.
The essay will discuss the musical relationship between two countries, namely Great Britain and Jamaica, and the technologies which made all of it possible. It will pry into the political history between the two countries and try to draw up sociological reasons as to why, since the early 1970s, lots of British ‘urban music’ has had a real Jamaican feel to it. This essay will discuss the various techniques employed by certain artists and producers in the genres of Dub, Reggae, Rocksteady, Jungle, U.K. Garage and Dubstep and the technologies used which changed the way the records of these genres sounded. It will discuss the distinct methods of time controlling for a sound, mixing two songs to ‘beat match’ in nightclubs and the way a certain bpm count, vocal timbre or syncopated rhythm denotes a certain genre.
The History Bit: A Brief Look at Some of the Historical Musical Relationship between Britain and Jamaica
In short, this essay will be a brief study and history of British urban music and Jamaican urban music since the early 1970s. From King Tubby right up to Tinie Tempah, there has been direct influence and borrowing back and forth between these two islands…
In the early 1800s the British colony of Jamaica was central to Britain’s slave trade for sugar. Plantations existed all over the island providing Britain with a cost-effective way to produce sugar as the industrial century was starting out. By the 1830s Britain was forced to end the slave trade on sugar plantations amidst morality issues. The British decided to also stop producing sugar on the island altogether around this time and concentrated most of its Jamaican profiteering into the banana trade. Jamaica stayed a British colony until the 1950s. During the first and second world wars Jamaican soldiers stood side by side with the British and Allied Forces against Germany. As soon as Britain granted independence to Jamaica the law lords of Britain also granted asylum to many Jamaican nationals. The influx of Jamaicans into cities across Britain caused racial tension. Many black Jamaicans were looked down upon by white British nationals who had been bred to believe that they were superior to the black Jamaicans. Many Jamaicans moved into the Notting Hill and Brixton areas of London and brought with them their own culture. By the 1970s the streets of Notting Hill and Brixton were awash with the sound of Jamaican music. A young man named Paul Simonon, who would go on to become the bass player for The Clash was growing up in Brixton and Notting Hill intermittently due to his parent’s separation and subsequent residence in Brixton and Notting Hill respectively (mother in Notting Hill, father in Brixton). The sounds of dub, reggae, ska and rocksteady influenced Simonon heavily and his future band mates Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. (a) Around the time of punk’s year zero in 1976, the big sounds on the streets and the charts were a mixture of prog-rock, AOR, pop and much more. The ideology of punk was to tear down this ‘establishment rock’ and give rock music back to the masses. The days of virtuoso guitarists turning their back on audiences to break into a minute and a half of undulated solo picking were numbered…
Around this time Jamaican music had a voice in Britain. Mega-star Bob Marley was regularly hitting the UK top ten singles chart and the underground sounds of dub and rocksteady were proving to be more than just a flash in the pan. Operating under the name of King Tubby, a man born Osbourne Ruddock is credited with creating this genre and is also credited by Greg Milner in his book Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music as creating what he calls the “pro-tooling of the world”, put in layperson’s terms Milner is saying that without King Tubby we may not now have all of the digital audio workstations such as Logic, Ableton or Reason without King Tubby’s work. The following is a short account from Milner’s book on an incident which would shape all future ‘groove-based’ (that is ‘dance’) music forever. [Note: when referring to a ‘deejay’ on the Jamaican scene, Milner is speaking about what we would know to be an ‘emcee’ or a ‘toaster’. When speaking of a ‘sound-system’ he is referring to a dub street party and when speaking of a ‘rhythm’, see ‘song’. The Jamaican music scene has different terminologies for certain roles to Britain’s.]
“One night in Kingston in the late sixties King Tubby’s sound system was in full swing. His deejay, Ewart ‘U-Roy’ Beckford was toasting on a rhythm called Stalag 17. He held the mic in his hand and shouted ‘you are now listening to King Tubby’s Hi-Fi.’
“That’s what he said, but what the crowd heard was ‘Hi Fi-Fi-Fi-Fi-Fi’.Tubby had engineered a slap-back echo by splitting U-Roy’s vocal feed and delaying one of the feeds.
“The crowd erupted. They cheered. They fired shots in the air. Philip Smart, an apprentice engineer at Tubby’s studio who was there that night, remembers people finding Tubby and lifting him up on their shoulders. ‘It was the very first time people in Jamaica had heard delay’, he says. Although nearly everyone had heard it on records ‘nobody knew how to get it in the dance. Tubbs secretly designed that, and nobody knew .After that dance, all the sound systems came by with orders for amplifiers .We couldn’t fill them all. We were building amplifiers for months.’”
The live echo King Tubby created can now be heard through the microphones of emcees at nightclubs across Britain, especially in those holding jungle, UK garage and dubstep nights. Tubby’s influence on British urban dance music has been both undeniable and almost unmatched. His influence on British rock music has been immense also. Tubby’s dub genre, along with music produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and other assorted Jamaican styles was a massive influence on one of the most influential rock bands ever, the aforementioned Clash.
A quick thumb through The Clash’s back catalogue shows a cover version of Armagideon Time by Willie Williams as the B-side to one of the group’s biggest hits London Calling. It also shows a cover of Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin (co-written and produced by Perry) appearing on the band’s eponymous first album and a cover of Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals as the B-side to their 1979 single The English Civil War. A quick listen to The Clash’s back catalogue shows self-penned songs by the band including the reggae-punk rock hybrid of the single White Man in the Hammersmith Palais, the dub heavy, syncopated, ‘bass-as-lead-instrument’ aesthetic of Guns of Brixton from their third LP London Calling and their ode to dub, and subsequently the work of King Tubby, One More Dub from their fourth album Sandinista.
The 1970s musical relationship between Britain and Jamaica was not all one way traffic in terms of borrowing. Jamaican music’s biggest star of the day, ever in fact, Bob Marley released Punky Reggae Party in 1977. This release was a response to The Clash’s cover of Murvin’s Police and Thieves it is rumoured. The song lists punk bands in its lyric (The Damned, The Clash, The Jam) and overall has a timbral feel of a rock-reggae song. The syncopation is still there, however, its essence has a rock feeling, especially in the more rasped, rock tinged timbre of Marley’s voice in the song.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s Jamaican music was influencing British music heavily and, especially in the case of Bob Marley, the inverse can be argued.
The Science Bit: A Brief Look at Some of the Technologies Used in Jamaican Dub and Reggae and Those Used in British Dubstep and UK Garage
It could be argued that in the development and production of Jamaican Reggae and Dub two men held the esteem of being the ‘main players’. King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry were, in many ways, the originators of dub and reggae production. The production work of these two men created the sounds of dub and reggae.
Perry, as the producer-in-chief of most of Bob Marley’s music as well as that of Junior Murvin and Max Romeo, was behind some of the biggest reggae hits of the 1970s. Working from his back-yard, self-built studio The Black Ark, Perry employed various techniques and used various technologies to create his echoed, syncopated sound. Perry created many dub plates (dub songs) by employing techniques and methods used originally by King Tubby (more on these in a moment).
King Tubby is the man credited with creating dub. Period. The maverick work he undertook gave the world a new sound. Dub, in the main, comes from taking finished, mixed reggae songs and remixing them, stripping out the vocals and introducing effects like echo and reverb to give the songs a more spaced-out sonic scape. Dub music was, in the main part, created for Sound Systems. Sound Systems were a form of popular Jamaican street party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tubby had his own, well attended, sound system called King Tubby’s Hi-Fi which later became King Tubby’s Sound System. The Sound Systems were vital to dub music’s development. Oft used by the likes of Tubby and Perry as a platform for playing new dub creations, the parties were clearly the pre-cursor to the raves and nightclub nights of the 1990s and 2000s in Britain. Although it is certainly arguable that UK garage and dubstep club nights owe just as much to the Manchester rave scene and Factory Records, the 1970s disco scene in New York and 1980s hip-hop, their roots lie closest to dub and its Sound Systems. From the employment of an emcee (deejay in Jamaica) using spoken word hype slogans over the top of the bass-led repetitive music to the voracious violence and crime(1) at these events one can see just how analogous they are. Without Tubby and his resident deejay U-Roy ‘selecting’ hits and ‘spitting’ or ‘toasting’ respectively, the UK garage and dubstep club scenes of London, Manchester and Birmingham would arguably have never been birthed. By taking out the vocals and using echoes and reverb, making the dub records bass-heavy and rhythm dependent Tubby created dub and, subsequently helped create the bass-heavy, rhythm dependent instrumental sounds of UK garage and dubstep.
In the 1990s there was a buzz around Jamaican influenced club music in London. Jungle music had reached the UK charts in the earlier part of the decade with its fast tempo (generally 174 – 190 bpm), reggae tinged aesthetic and employment of emcees at club nights. By the mid-1990s, however, jungle’s honeymoon was over. Guitar-led Britpop and American Gangsta’ Rap had taken over the whole of Britain leaving the land devoid of any of its own urban music in the charts. UK garage came about amidst this scene and by 1999 and 2000 was starting to dominate the airwaves. Its sound was, rudimentarily, a slightly slowed down jungle (garage was generally recorded at about 138 bpm) with more melodic focus and often sung vocal parts and emcee raps akin to those in US hip-hop. Garage acts such as So Solid Crew and Misteeq hit the top of the UK singles charts with 21 Seconds – So Solid Crew’s hit which gave each emcee a slot of 21 seconds within the framework of the song to say something, anything in a rhythmic flowed pattern – hitting number 1 and All I Want, by Mis Teeq, hitting number 2. UK garage’s, and its successor dubstep’s, hits were generally made on modern-day Digital Audio Workstations such as Cubase, Pro-Tools and Logic where the producers of the records would use in-built drum machine plug-ins and synthesizer settings to create drum loops and bass sounds respectively. Each bass part would more than likely have been made by sequencer technology. How one can come to this conclusion is through listening. Bass parts in garage and dubstep songs play so consistently on-time that one can surmise that they are not played.
The success of UK garage and dubstep over the last 10 years follows a culture in Britain whereby Jamaican influenced dance music has historically been a constant and big hit on the streets of the major English cities, in the nightclubs and raves across the country and also, vitally, in the charts. If one takes a look at the recent success of artists such as Magnetic Man and Chase and Status and the success of So Solid Crew and Mis Teeq at the start of the 21st Century it is easy to draw a correlative line with the success of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby before them. Where people once went to the Hammersmith Palais to dance to Jamaican dub and reggae, now they may be found in the SE1 club dancing to dubstep or jungle or UK garage. As in many aspects of British social and musical movements, not much has changed, but just been given a new name.
The outcome of the studies undertaken from the essay shows that from dub to dubstep, Jamaican and British music have been intrinsically linked. The socio-political ties of the two countries have led to immigration and patriation to quote Canadian Law. Our ex-colonial cousins whom were once forced into slavery by the dreadful regime that was the old British Empire now influence us musically, artistically and socially and thus British cultural outlets can only be the better for it. Technologically, Jamaican music has changed popular music forever with its liberal uses of echoes and reverberation and inventing the popular modern fad of remixing. Without King Tubby we may never have had digital audio workstations or the remix and subsequently may never have had hip-hop from the USA or UK garage, jungle or dubstep from these shores. At the time of writing the popular British rapper Tinie Tempah has been nominated for four Brit Awards, maybe he should dedicate them to Tubby, because without him it is certainly arguable that his songs may never have sounded like they do.
The technological advances made by Jamaican dub have created British dubstep.