As a dubhead, 2020 is probably my favorite year for dub music. This indoor year meant more creation, with so few live music shows and too much streaming. The industry “suffered” from artists and producers focusing on releasing new music and experimenting and, we, the fans, had the luck to be caught in the pouring waterfall of sounds and Bandcamp Fridays.
Sometimes things just clicked this year, like the case of Denise Sherwood releasing her debut now, 17 years since she began work on it, or Tony Baboon reaching the “seven-year itch” and finally releasing his debut album. In other cases, Mad Professor celebrated 40 years in dub with an excellent digital compilation, and the dub sound manifested superb mutations into bass music with The Bug & Dis Fig’s 'In Blue'. Dub belongs now to the world, and it morphed into the global sounds of Transglobal Underground, Baba Zula, and Voodoo Ale by Chouk Bwa and dub duo The Ångströmers.
There is nothing I love more than sharing my passion for this style and sound with everyone. So, the opportunity Codin and Black Rhino Music gave me means I can go berserk with my favorite acquisitions and downloads from this special year.
I love records where science-fiction sounds mix with dub music. It always takes me on some of my favorite LPs from Scientist, Adrian Sherwood, and Mad Professor, who all feature on Gaudi’s number one dub album of 2020 – '100 Years of Theremin (The Dub Chapter)'. I already reviewed the album here, but I also loved and bought Gaudi’s tribute to the dub originator - Lee Scratch Perry, a reworked Return of the Super Ape classic Bird in Hand, now dubbed Theremin in Hand. I endlessly spin the 'Dubmission' LP and the amazing 7 inch single. They work like magic one after the other. I highly recommend them to those who enjoy the eerie sound of the touchless instrument, juxtaposed with eastern melodies and a heavy dub sound. These releases are a must-have for any fan of the dub genre!
The Bug, one of my favorite music producers, comes with a collaboration with the excellent and elegant industrial electronic poetess Felicia Chen aka Dis Fig. At last, we witness the return of The Bug with a full LP, the mutant dub 'In Blue'. Here you can find my full review. The album stands out with the dancehall beats and the synths perfectly complemented by the haunting vocals. The record is a master class sonic clash done through exchanged files and discussions. I hope the future brings more.
Imagine an alien transmission from Jamaica, it is not dub, nor electronic, maybe sound art or ambient dub noise. Clearly, from another dimension, none else than the Riddim Twins could pull this off. In the past, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare have let visionary music producers twist their studio work to the max. My favorites are their albums with Bill Laswell, Howie B, and Jan Bang. But this time, Sasu Ripatti aka Vladislav Delay has gone all the way and put a filter through a three-day session in Kingston.
You might have never expected such a radical sound exploration from the duo behind hits from pop icons such as Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, and Joe Cocker, but be careful what you wish for. My life is now complete as I am the lucky owner of both psychical formats CD and vinyl. This is proof that the sound of dub ping-pongs across the globe, just like globalization, echoes from Jamaica to Scandinavia.
The Walls Have Ears is one of my favorite 2020 albums, and I contributed to the crowdfunding campaign to create it. It is a reunion with Natacha Atlas, Tuup, and founding multi-instrumentalist Nick Dubulah, but with new great voices, like Inder 'Goldfinger', Loretta Heywood, Nawel Ben Kraïem, Sheema Mukherjee, Sofiane Saidi, and Ingrid Webster. This record has the edge and ambiental tension the new Asian Dub Foundation LP is missing. Plus, Transglobal Underground was supposed to play live in Club Control before the lockdown here in Bucharest, so I am bitter and sour, as I wish I heard these new subtle songs in a live context.
If you want to hear a peculiar eclectic radio station that drops dub horns next to sitar and haunting Arabic vocals next to ragga and hip-hop, make sure you tune in to this band and LP. They also have an ambitious promise for 2021, if you subscribe on their Bandcamp page you get an album a month! That sure makes me want to spend a few euros per month on new dub fusion music!
In seven years, Tony Baboon has created a flawless masterpiece! I have never heard another Romanian album flowing so seamlessly from one tune to another, especially this record being is a collage of tribal music, hip-hop, dub, reggae, and indie-folk, all melted together so you don’t feel like skipping one tune. Properly all killer, no filler material!
Tracks were given time to settle, and the spooky cartoonish vibes are most welcomed from an ape that freelances as an illustrator, animator, and occasional street artist. I would love to remix the whole thing in Mad Professor style and, of course, to buy that cassette or vinyl when it will be released. Plus, the Eugenie artwork is excellent.
Mad Professor aka Neil Fraser is a monument of dub independence with his Ariwa label and a four decades legacy of promoting the best reggae, dancehall, and electronic dub remixes. The man worked with Turkish innovators, Bristol disrupters, and JA and UK’s most talented. If it wasn’t for him the world would have no Massive Attack, no Pato Banton and Baba Zula. At least not in the way they sound and look today.
On another level, John Peel is forever my musical mentor – an inexhaustible music finder, the only man who would put reggae and dub, punk and post-punk on the BBC and would ask these artists for sessions too. He single-handedly created the careers of Bauhaus, Nirvana, and Zdob și Zdub. What more can you ask? I would say a clash between the two. And thank Jah it happened on the '40 Years of Dub' compilation Mad Prof released recently. Man, just put on your headphones and chill into the outer limits of quality dub music!
Denise Sherwood took her time with her debut LP. 'This Road' was created in 17 years. But it worth the wait, not only with musicians and composers from the On-U Sound rooster but with Mala too. Such a tender and self-confident LP! It has a little bit of everything: soul, dub, reggae, salsa, drum and bass, Adrian Sherwood, Lee Scratch Perry, Mark Stewart, and LSK. I think that the road is much clearer for Denise now and even though it was long, the trod was worth it and The Best is Yet to Come. Check this out, preferably on vinyl or CD, if you touch it, magic will rub off!
Afrobeat inventor, African legend Tony Allen, manages to clash with the UK’s most experimental post-punkers (Jah Wobble of Invaders of the Heart and Public Image Limited and Youth of Killing Joke). Do you think that is enough? No way! In comes Acid House music martyr Andrew Weatherall and the lovely Hollie Cook, who herself was never afraid of abrasive sounds as the daughter of Sex Pistols Paul Cook and vocalist of The Slits and collaborator of Prince Fatty. Once again if you feel like tuning in to an LP that sounds like an eclectic radio station picks the Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse!
Did I ever mention I am a big fan of spoken word poetry, dub poetry, and the artists representing this style? My wet dream came true, Ney York’s The Archives pays tribute to spoken word poet, blues, and soul singer Gil Scott-Heron in a dub reggae style! And wow how superb it sounds and spins. Brian Jackson, Gil’s musical partner, is invited on a few songs too and it is a beauty to hear him play on the dub groove. In the wake of Black Lives Matter 2020, and my profound love for Gil Scott-Heron, I have to throw in here The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Peace out but don’t cop out!
Does voodoo music from Haiti mix well with Dub? Of course, just ask Haitian Chouk Bwa & Belgian duo The Angstromers. Their 'Vodou Ale' LP is a masterclass on how global sounds can morph in today's pop culture. With synthesizers as a bedrock for Haitian chants, this LP is a true challenge - all about Rhythm Powa. The sound is warm and airy with the compositions offering the vocals room to breathe. It surprises me how Vodou Ale does not fall into the tribal hermeticism of some of its peers but accomplishes a raw and frenetic prowess generating a unique contemporary visionary sound.