Rub a Dub
When Motown and Jamaican music collided in the late '60s in the soulful sounds of Bob Marley and the Wailers, it started down the path of what would eventually branch out into ska, rocksteady, roots, dub, dancehall, and ragga. The storied, larger-than-life characters of the late '60s and early '70s reggae scene, like demented producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, infused the roots of this movement with a dose of edgy politics and slightly unhinged fervor.
Between the easy soul ska and bristling, politically charged reggae was dub reggae. It originated as a subgenre in 1967, when Jamaican producers began dubbing rhythm-oriented, instrumental versions of reggae onto the flip sides of 45 singles. The producer became the musician as the soundboard was used to twist, tweak, and distort selected parts of the original recording, creating something distinct from the original track. Usually, the vocals were stripped away, and reverb and echo were laid on thick. Good dub tracks create a gooey, watery soundscape with pulsating bass lines, the perfect aural playground for a stony (or stoned) mind. Reggae followed Jamaicans and other Caribbean folk out of the islands, picking up bits and pieces of cultural and stylistic influences and recruiting new voices to spread the word.
One guy who heard the word and knew it was good was Adrian Zelski, front man for Athens, Georgia,'s Dubconscious. "Our music is definitely experimental in nature; that's the American influence more than the Jamaican influence," he says. "We want to avoid the 'jam band' term. We have that influence, but we like to stay in our pocket and raise the energy in a reggae, respectful kind of way."
Respect is an integral component to Dubconscious' old-school dub. As Zelski talks, he drops the names of people who have influenced the group: Bob Marley and Scratch, natch. But lesser-known legends like Joe Higgs, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, and Burning Spear are also mentioned. Hearing the sound of more contemporary reggae bands led to a search for influences, and the family tree of Jamaican music has mighty thick roots. "We started going deeper and deeper and deeper, and that's what turned us on," he says with a twinge of awe. "Here's a whole canon of music made by Jamaicans in the '60s and '70s that's just really started to be understood by American culture. We really connected to it."
So they started to play the Jamaican music of the '60s and '70s -- specifically dub and the lyrically spiritual roots reggae -- in their hometown of Athens. As things began to gel among the members, they made the decision to move in together, selecting an old Habitat for Humanity project house as their residence. The barn in the back became the studio where Dubconscious' first studio album, Word of Life, was recorded.
According to Zelski, recording was an experimental process: "We basically got what we could afford and threw it up in there. But the good side is that it didn't cost us any money; we could spend 12 to 16 hours a day just testing everything, knowing the sound of every note. That's the good thing about having your own studio. You can create something that has who knows how many hours of work in it during a month, 'cause it's your time." This approach was necessary, as, by definition, dub music is created through the slightest tweak of a knob in a laboratory-like setting. Word of Life was manipulated through an old-school array of pedals and monitors, as well as with the technological touch of a Mac G4 and ProTools. "We were trying to put a whole album out that had a serious reggae vibe yet [was] danceable, more than trying to provide any easy form of entertainment or anything," Zelski claims. "But we also got some very easy hooks that are lighthearted as well, kinda like roots reggae. The lyrics are serious, but the music is more conducive to being on the beach or something like that."
Zelski hopes folks can still bust a move on the dance floor while also feeling the positive vibe."The thing with reggae, I see reggae as being this new dance rhythm that can captivate an audience if the rhymes are good and the melodies are good and the dancing is there," he says emphatically. "I don't think that we're making an effort, because being sincere is something you can't try to do. When I watch a show, if someone is sincere, I really appreciate that. I hope to get that same vibration across myself."
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