On a balmy late May evening under the stars at Chris Blackwell’s stunning cliffside hotel The Caves in Negril, Jamaica, legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry strolls up to the DJ booth and takes the microphone.
For the next 45 minutes Scratch, now 81, his hair and beard dyed cherry-red, freestyles lyrics as DJ (or selector, in Jamaican parlance). Kingston Dub Club owner Gabre Selassie tweaks his mixing console’s controls, manipulating the riddim track, transforming the bass line into a recurring thunderous boom.
The event, part of the inaugural Tmrw.Tday Festival, was called The Dub Cave, nodding to the musical art form Perry helped define. Dub refers to rearranging elements within an existing recording through the isolation of individual instrumental tracks with the addition of various effects to create a new work.
Scratch’s experimentation at the mixing board, particularly at his fabled Black Ark studio in the ’70s, established him as one of the most creative forces in dub. Alongside other visionaries who conducted experiments in their respective studios and on the sound systems that played the music, they created dub, which rose to prominence in Jamaica and internationally during the 1970s.
“Dubbing is a traditional Jamaican sound system vibe; if you go to a dancehall sound system [session] they take out the bass and drop it in as an artist is performing, but they are not dubbing as we would do it. We turn on the bass, turn up the knobs, keeping the craft a little more intricate,” comments Gabre Selassie, whose thoughtfully curated playlist of traditional Rastafarian Nyabinghi chants, classic Jamaican tracks, contemporary roots reggae and powerful dub mixes is heard each Sunday evening at the Kingston Dub Club, located in the hills overlooking the capital city.