Dub house. Dub techno. Dub trance. Dub ambient. Dubstep. Dubtronica. We’ve all heard music that has fallen under these vague, umbrella terms. However where did it all come from and what do these seemingly so divergent genres bear in common?
The term “dub” has been floating around in the ether for half a century now and on occasion, has fixated itself onto arbitrary musical vocabulary/categories it has come in encounter with. Looking back, we can trace its origins back to the 60s during the era of Reggae in Jamaica. During this time, musicians sought for a new outlet of aural expression and began by taking your typical reggae track, removing the overlaying vocals and flowery harmonies, and subsequently leaving the listener with the bare bone basics — a simple lilting yet bumping drum and bass line. This “dub” stood as the epitome of the track’s essence: the rhythm. Dub in and of itself is the production style of removing vocals, however a dub can refer to the vocal-less track made.
With this minimalist musical blueprint, artists could then manipulate, distort, and change the dub by adding in extensive echoing, reverb, delay or even bits and pieces of the original vocals, thus creating a completely new and original music piece. OG dub artists like Osbourn “King Tubby” Ruddock and Lee Perry pioneered this technique by zeroing in on the power of the turntable to mix different tracks together thus fashioning new unique rhythmic amalgamations. In Ruddock’s (re-)mix of “Fugitive Dub” by The Skatalites, he uses electronic mixing technology to add rhythmic elements such as reverb and echo that compliment and transform the original track.
Fast forward to the present and we can see that dub serves as the basis for all of EDM. By honing in on the infectious bass and drum line, dub provided music producers everywhere the creative power to REMIX. The remix begins as an inspired reaction while simultaneously having the capability to stand alone as a new work.
We can see dub’s influence most clearly in present-day DnB. By completely stripping a track of its vocals, Drum and Bass zeros in on creating characteristic and infectious heavy bass lines coupled with at times, schizophrenic drum patterns. Through this, producers, like Pendulum, remove and rearrange sound and rhythm thereby shifting the listener’s attention from a conscious awareness of tonal melodies to a viscerally stimulated experience.
Another genre of EDM that owes a figurative arm and a leg to dub is dubstep. Incorporating dubbed tracks with the catchy rhythms of 2-step, dubstep found its own way of paying homage to the funky beats of dub reggae while taking on the futuristic darker sounds of garage. While similar to DnB, dubstep’s bpm is slower, ranging from 138-142. Furthermore, its defining spin sets off instinctual bells and whistles – the wobbly bass so characteristic of dubstep forerunners like Plastician, Skream and Benga.
Dub is about more than just a track devoid of vocals. Dub is about the ability to isolate, mix, manipulate, and morph rhythms – to “make beats”. Scratch artists like A-trak manipulate rhythm in methods that owe much inspiration from dub production.
In the end, dub shaped the structure of EDM by transforming the regular musical engineer into a mixing artist.