At this point in the history of popular music, most well informed people know what dub music is. Although mercurial, ever-changing, and fundamentally open to interpretation, dub is sort of like pornography: you know it when you hear it. Jamaican music, in its various incarnations, has become so ubiquitous to anyone who listens to popular music made since 1960 that it is easy to forget just how remarkable Jamaica’s contributions to international popular music really are, and nowhere is this contribution more profoundly evident than in the strange, psychedelic remix genre of dub.
As ethnomusicologist Michael Veal convincingly argues in his 2007 monograph Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae, dub opened the door for indefinite remixing of particular tracks. Dub suggested to a whole generation of knob twiddlers and sound-obsessed producers that the studio could be its own strange sort of instrument, that the track never really needs to end, but can be endlessly reworked and reinterpreted. Some of the folks who were impressed by King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry went on to create hip-hop, while others invented house and techno. Dub producers forever blurred the relationship between artist, sound, and technology in ways that fundamentally changed popular music forever.
That brings us to the particular dub collection at hand, Studio One Dub Fire Special. This is, apparently, the third installment of Soul Jazz’s series of dub tracks recorded at the venerable Studio One in Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. Studio One was one of the most important epicenters of dub’s evolution and Studio One Dub Fire Special is as clear an overview of dub’s most basic essence as you could ask for. We have here 18 tracks, stripped of vocals and original structure, and reinterpreted through the language of dub. For folks who have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary dub, these tracks may seem a little bit simplistic. This is dub in its most definitive and representative form. While it may not challenge listeners in the way that someone like Bill Laswell might, or totally reinvigorate the fundamentals of dub like the utterly mind blowing 2009 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Adrian Sherwood collaboration Dub Setter, but it still scratches that classic dub itch that many of us can never quite satisfy.
The CD booklet for Studio One Dub Fire Special does not tell us when these tracks were first mixed into the form that we find them here, but the overall vibe of these tracks suggests the early 1970s. There is nothing on here that most of us have not heard before and I mean that in more ways than one. Track 17 of this comp is titled “Darker Black” but even those of us who are not Beatles fans will recognize the melody from “Norwegian Wood” echoing and thumping from the depths of “Darker Black”. In 2016, there is nothing unexpected or unfamiliar on Studio One Dub Fire Special; this is instrumental dub done the old fashioned way and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
For someone looking to educate themselves about dub music, Studio One Dub Fire Special would be a fine place to start. For listeners who have spent uncountable hours over the years with dub’s psychedelic lunacy echoing around in their headphones, Studio One Dub Fire Special will not disappoint. Like a nice piece of chocolate cake or a cold beer on a hot summer afternoon, this kind of straight-forward Jamaican dub will always be welcome and never really gets old. This collection will not convert listeners who never really “got” dub, nor will it shock or amaze longtime fans, but there is something to be said for that balmy, bass-heavy comfort that classic dub never fails to provide.