Part II of our series on great reggae bassists focuses on dub music. Dub was pioneered in the early 1970s in Jamaica by studio engineers and producers such as King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Errol T. Thompson. Today, elements of dub have found their way into hip hop, techno, house, jungle, ambient, and trip-hop, and form an important part of the remix culture of today’s pop music. For an excellent treatment of this area, read Michael Veal’s “Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae” (Wesleyan University Press, 2007).
Since dub music traditionally involved the isolation of bass and drums on vocal reggae songs, important reggae bassists – including those featured in the last installment – have been featured prominently in dub music, most notably perhaps Robbie Shakespeare.
We will focus here on bassists who are important figures in what can be referred to as “designer dub” – music that is conceived as dub in the first instance instead of as a “version” of a recorded song. The most important producers of this style of dub include Adrian Sherwood, Neil (the “Mad Professor”) Fraser, and Dennis Bovell, all from Britain, and Bill Laswell from the United States. Among the bassists who are major figures in this genre are Bovell, Laswell, and Jah Wobble (also from Britain).
Multi-instrumentalist Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell backed touring Jamaican artists on their visits to London in the 1970s. He later formed the Dub Band, which backed dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and has worked with artists as diverse as the Slits, the Thompson Twins, and Fela Kuti. He is best known for his work in reggae and his pioneering dub albums. Here is short clip of Bovell performing with the Dub Band at the Boss Sounds Reggae Festival in Newcastle in November 2006.
Bassist Bill Laswell’s major commercial breakthrough came in 1983 on Herbie Hancock’s electro-funk-jazz hit, “Rockit.” Many of his projects since then have been heavily dub-influenced, from his controversial “Dreams of Freedom,” an ambient dub remix of Bob Marley songs, to many “designer dub” projects under his own name. Laswell is shown here with one of the many incarnations of his group Material at Tokyo Jazz in 2005.
Jah Wobble, formerly of Public Image Limited, today owns and operates his own record company, appropriately named 30 Hertz Records, and recently has released projects such as Molam Dub and Chinese Dub, in which he has combined the music of Thailand and China with dub reggae with critically acclaimed results. His main axe is an Ovation electric four-string, year unknown, so gearheads be forewarned. Here, Jah Wobble performs with his group Invaders of the Heart in 1998; Wobble’s bass starts at around 3:30, but don’t skip the percussion extravaganza that leads up to that point.