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King Tubby - The Roots of Dub / Dub from the Roots

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Artist: King Tubby

Album: The Roots of Dub / Dub from the Roots

Label: Moll-Selekta

Review date: Feb. 13, 2004

Osbourne Ruddock, a.k.a. King Tubby, was a conjurer; a sonic sculptor who, using the simplest of electronic equipment – some of it self-designed and home-made – hacked away at the raw materials of Jamaican vernacular music held together on multi-track magnetic tape and produced a potent, timeless art-form that explored the musical components of time and space. Among the things that separate Tubby’s visionary music from the work of European explorers like Stockhausen and Ussachevsky is his ever-present organic groove – the drum and bass foundation that grows from the Afro-Caribbean continuum: calypso, mento, ska, rock-steady, reggae.

There are a bewildering array of Tubby releases on the market, most of them collections of singles and B-sides. (The collections on the British Blood and Fire label are particularly worthy productions.) But this recent re-issue stands out, as it presents two entire albums from an early peak period of dub, Tubby‘s first long-players: Dub From the Roots and The Roots of Dub, from the years 1974 and ’75.

I remember hearing Dub From the Roots for the first time from, of all people, a globe-trotting local doctor in the small New Hampshire town where I grew up. He’d brought back a copy from his vacation in Jamaica. The cover photo, of Tubby in a dashiki and a cheesy-looking royal crown, worked a strange, alien magic on me. And when the needle hit the vinyl, there came an even more portentous magic – cavernous echoes, stabbing guitars and horns, deep electric bass the likes of which I’d never heard before; a throb that made the rock bass I knew and loved seem suddenly tame and safe and tepid. It was one of those listening moments when time falls away and everything changes.

Dub From the Roots is the slightly more conventional of the two albums, featuring good solid riddims on Bunny Lee-produced tracks by the Aggrovators, with plenty of the vintage “flying cymbals” that Lee was famous for, and Tubby’s trademark sparseness and rumble.

But Tubby’s mixes on The Roots of Dub are something else. They seem to carve up time and space in a way that’s close to jazz improvisation, with a radical approach to reverb washes, fluttering echoes, and EQ filtering changes both subtly shifting and shockingly abrupt; all that, and the original tracks (once again the Aggrovators, produced by Bunny “Striker” Lee) that Tubby works with here are noticeably more supple and elastic.

In the decades since Tubby and other dub pioneers invented remix culture on their tiny, steamy island, the concept of musical “cut n’ mix” (see Dick Hebdige’s seminal 1987 book of that title) has, through reggae, rap, hip-hop, and techno, eventually evolved – or devolved – into a familiar technique in mainstream popular music. The two albums revived here are important for the way they still sound fresh and brave 30 years on, thick and alive with the deepest Jamaican soul, and the incredible, inventive originality of King Tubby, the dub master.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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