I can’t think of a music which has meant so much to me for such a long time; where its significance has deepened over the years to the extent that I appreciate it more than ever before.

My first experience of dub was as a voracious alternative music fan, a seventeen year-old, in 1988. The Melody Maker was full of neo-psychedelic groups such as AR Kane and Loop talking about mythic outsider music by the likes of Sun Ra and King Tubby. My first Dub LP was Augustus Pablo’s “Original Rockers” which I bought in Notting Hill one sunny Saturday. In that first flush of romance with marijuana, that night my friends and I listened to it over and over again. To this day it's still a favourite of mine. At that point in time the record was a positively ancient nine years old – which thirty-four years later seems faintly comedic. Sounding like “old fart at play” no doubt... Wistfully reminiscing about the times of his carefree youth. Sighs.

My dub chart printed in The Wire in August 1992.

Dub acquired increasing significance throughout the nineties. As a touchstone for hardcore and jungle, for spliffed-out techno and trip-hop, for glitch even. It’s a well-covered story which music fans are very familiar with. But rather than forgetting about the music I doubled down (dubbled down?) in the Noughties and Teenies. This was stoked by the sheer pleasure it continued to give me along with a gnawing sense of the music's cosmic importance.

Two essential theoretical books on dub.

Dub's meaning would have been implicitly apparent to its original makers and audience. Although I have only read a mere fraction of the masses of literature on the topic, even the most promising avenues I've come across, authors Michael Veal's great Dub Soundscapes and Christopher Partridges's brilliant Dub In Babylon don't quite articulate what I think is the music’s real meaning in a way that outsiders like myself can understand it.

Emperor Haille Selassie I.

I had never grasped the significance of the Rasta phrase “I-and-I”, and to be honest until I had done the research for “Retreat,” even if you would have explained it to me I would not have understood it. Listen to this (quoted in Professor Christopher Partridge’s “Dub in Babylon” (2010)) from Jack Johnson-Hill’s “I-Sight: The World of Rastafari: An Interpretive Sociological Account of Rastafarian Ethics”(1995): “…in the first instance [I-and-I] connotes a sense in which the self [ed. meaning here “the ego” or individual’s consciousness] is believed to be inextricably linked with the symbols of divine agency such as Selassie-I, Rastafari, God or “Jah”. For example, the “I” of the self is fundamentally related to the “I” in Selassie-I.” He goes on, “by referring to oneself in the first person singular as I-n-I, there is a virtual equation between oneself and God.” Or to slightly rephrase this, the individual's consciousness is part of the god consciousness.

A sadhu in Varanasi with dreadlocks.

These days I am familiar with the Hindu Vedic philosophy of the Upanishads, which holds that “Atman” (the individual’s localised consciousness) is contiguous with “Brahman” (the sum total of all consciousness) just as the air in a topless bottle is contiguous with the atmosphere. Rastafarianism, therefore, comes to a similar philosophical conclusion as Hinduism.To the Rastas their “I-ness” is an emanation contiguous with that of Selassie the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Juddah, elect of God and light of the world. In the Hindu religion the emanation of divinities like Shiva and Vishnu is felt by their followers as though they were prisms capturing that divine light.

An Indian Sadhu smoking a chillum.

In Hinduism sound is understood to be able to traverse the entire spectrum of emanation from “gross” - meaning physical or incorporated, to the most “subtle”, meaning etheric or immaterial. Sound can be heard like thunder which shakes the foundations (like dub shakes our rib cage); but it can also be heard in our minds; for instance we can talk to ourselves and hear a voice. It’s arguable that sound can be yet more subtle than audible in our mind – it can even have a presence which is inaudible, immanent, so to speak – though then we can only imagine it in its absence.

The Hindu Deity Shiva.

With the mantra in Hinduism, a syllable “Ram” or the something like the Shaivite mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” it can be recited as japa (muttering) in forms ranging from the gross to the subtle, from vaachick (aloud), upanshu (tongue moving) to mansik (silent). This silent recitation (like for instance as practiced in Transcendental Meditation) being the most powerful. Mahesh Maharishi Yogi promised that through the practice of the mantra in TM “the conscious mind fathoms the deeper levels of the thought process and eventually transcends the subtlest thought to arrive at the state of Being. The conscious mind reaches transcendental Being and becomes acquainted with that state.” This he explained was because, “When one speaks within oneself and the mind hears the sound, it is because the mind associates itself with the subtle level of the sense of hearing. When during the process of Transcendental Meditation the mind perceives very refined states of thought, it is due to the mind’s associating itself with the very subtle states of the sense of hearing. Thus we find that during meditation the finest ability of the sense of perception is put to use, whereas ordinarily in our daily life we continue to use only the gross levels of the senses.” No matter what your thoughts are on Mahesh he articulates this idea beautifully.

Mahesh Maharishi Yogi

In Guy Beck’s weighty academic text “Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound” (1993) he quotes Govinda Gopal Mukhopadhyana describing the hierarchy immanent in the sonic continuum between the concrete emanation and the molten (or dematerialised), “The masters explain that the original nature of the mantra is Nada, which you call the flowing sound which had become congealed or concretized in the so-called letters of the alphabet. Now we generally go on repeating or pronouncing these letters. This is called japa; but the main purpose of japa – continued repetition or muttering, whatever you may call it – is to kindle or arouse the fire in which the Tantras is called kundalini. And, as these hard or concretized letters begin to melt, the aspirant or sadhaka begins to hear the Nada. The words melt, leaving only a continuous flow of sound in the consciousness or experience of the aspirant.” Eventually the flowing sound Nada, “goes on interrupted till it reaches its source or point of origin (Bindu).”

If we can understand the idea that sound has properties which extend from its ability to exist as a concrete force in the world, to a presence only audible in one's consciousness and then eventually to a metaphysical, inaudible presence - we are well on the way to understanding how Dub works. Just as the mantra can be audible and silent, with Dub Reggae we understand that what was once present can become inaudible. The musical parts, bass, drums, horns, voices always exist but as the writer David Toop once commented, in a passage which scratched the surface of the idea, as though they were actors on a stage taking it in terms to come in front of the curtain.

The Paragons: On the Beach

Right from its very inception this idea of inaudibility, of a sound being absent because it hovered at a metaphysical level only appreciable in the imagination of the listener, was apparent. Rudolph “Ruddy” Redwood, wealthy entrepreneur and sound system owner described what happened to Steve Barrow when he played out a dubplate of The Paragons “On The Beach” (1967) which he had encouraged to be cut without vocals: “I put on “On The Beach” and I said “I’m gonna turn this place into a studio”, and I switch over from the singing part to the version part, cut down the sound and, man, you could hear the dance floor rail, man – everybody was singing.” The whole crowd reaches to fill the gap in the music – they hear the Paragons’ voices in their collective mind and themselves project it forth in song.

It’s a phenonemon which perceptive commentators often remark upon. Here for instance is author Jim Dooley from his review of “Macca Rootsman Dub” in the invaluable “The Small Axe Guide to Dub” (2010): “On some of the songs, it is almost impossible not to hear [Gregory Isaacs’] distinct voice in your mind even when he is absent.”

While it’s perhaps most exciting to hear voices disappear; horn parts or guitar, bass or drums, the impact is the same. Where once something was audible it melts away in a reverberating mirage – not gone, but flickering between ours and a higher transcendental strata of existence. I can’t get enough of it! For me it’s like a signpost to nirvana – the very fact that the technique is so enchanting in practice seems to fundamentally endorse as true this emanationist understanding of reality.


In the spirit of sharing I’ve made a mix, the sequel to Woebot in Dub v2. Here's a little breakdown of its contents.

Woebot in Dub v3

The Upsetters: Iron Wolf

A version of Bunny and Ricky’s “Freedom Fighter”, itself a hypnotic take on Junior Byles “Beat Down Babylon.”

The Mighty Two: Earthquake

This version of Lizzard’s “Fight I down” is a spectacular opportunity for Errol Thompson to add some ghostly muted synth effects. Usually synth overdubs ruin dub, for instance check Joe Gibbs’ lamentable Almighty Dub Chapter 4 – but not here. Whilst the original track is slender – the dub, as sometimes in the most skillful hands a better track is found within the architecture of a weaker one, takes this slenderness and makes its opacity fascinatingly translucent.

King Tubby Meets The Skatalites: Middle East Dub

Not sure how I lived all those years without discovering The Skatalites in Dub, or “Herb Dub-Collie Dub” as it is sometimes known. I’m sure I was dissuaded by investigating because, legendary as they are, The Skatalites were the old-time ska band who peaked in 1965 and I’ll take ska only in small doses. But by the time of this release in 1976 they had moved with the times and were making exquisite, jazzy roots instrumentals. Tubby doubtless was honoured to find himself remixing, was at his best, and the resulting LP is a masterpiece from start to finish. With more texture and instrumental variety, and frankly sheer prowess in the hands of these top-flight players, this is a quixotic, dreamy LP heavy on the Niyabinghi drumming.

Jah Stitch/Horace Andy: Greedy Girl Dub

Sheer magic. Driven by the grumpiest, most insistent bassline ever. Stitch and Andy weaving in and out like duppies. Goosebumps when Stitch whispers “The taller the trees ah the cooler the breeze” as though he were the wind itself...

Tappa Zukie/Horace Andy: Rub a Dub A Weh Them Want

No vocals on this cut, but a minimalism worthy of Steve Reich. The A-side “Natty Dread A Weh She Want” produced by Tappa Zukie was a massive dancehall hit in 1979 in which Tappa popularised his “Yagga yagga yagga ya” chant. At 6 minutes 44 it seems to go on forever but one wishes it would never end.

Leroy Smart: No Love Version

Leroy Smart has such a great voice – tough, no nonsense, ultra-real. I’ve always loved his “God Helps the Man”. Lovely hearing him atop this pneumatic bassline a version of his “No Love”.

Mighty Diamonds: Merciful Dub

From “Vital Dub”, King Tubby’s mix of Bunny Lee’s riddim, a version of The Mighty Diamonds “Have Mercy” from their “Right Time” LP. Lulu and I went to see the Mighty Diamonds a few years back, with support from Max Romeo, Big Youth and Little Roy and they never showed up because Tabby (or was it Bunny?) failed to fill out his visa in time. Too bad. It might be that Bunny Lee’s riddims are the best material for Tubby’s studio to work with. I think there’s probably a higher hit rate with that combo than any other.

Yabby You: Creations and Versions

From the epic King Tubby’s Prophesy of Dub LP. I’ve been listening to a great deal of Yabby You – I even bought a wonderful Yabby You cut-out from Pressure Sounds which is on my mantlepiece. Top accessorising.

Niney the Observer: Rich and Poor Dub

The dub boom saw a lot of otherwise very limited recordings reaching a wider audience. This track is from Niney's “Sledgehammer Dub LP”. Another good example is the reissue of Errol Brown’s “Orthodox Dub” which is definitely worth hearing. The solo sounds like I dunno what, a grungy clavinet fed through a Leslie speaker? Bewitching.

Skin, Flesh & Bones: Spider Man Web

From the Fighting Dub LP.  Another recent reissue and a tip-off from Jim Dooley’s excellent “Small Axe Guide to Dub” book. A lean, clean machine.

Yabby You: Prophets

Top cut from the excellent Beware LP. One I’ve had for many years but have returned to with gusto. One of the nice surprises of cataloguing all my records into Discogs mid-shutdown last February was discovering that my copy of this is fantastically valuable. It’s Yabby You all day long round here I can tell you.

Scientist: Straight Left

From “Heavyweight Dub Champion”, a version of Barrington Levy’s “You Come To Ask What Love Is”. It’s an LP I remember I got given it by legendary TV advertising director Steve Lowe when he gave me his records back in 1994. The tiny synth-spring ear worms are what takes this to the next level. It’s all in the detail.

Gotta admit I find the decision to reconfigure all of the classic Scientist LP covers to feature the names of producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes (and singer Linval Thompson's) as a mistake. Mainly because the Scientist sleeves, for Showdown, Rids the world of the Evil Curse of the Vampires, Meets the Space Invaders, Encounters Pacman, and Wins the World Cup are such icons. Is nothing sacred? Lol.

The use of cartoons on dub LP covers is also tightly woven into this spiritual dialogue. Let us not forget Tony Wright’s beautiful illustration for the cover of Super Ape and Lloyd Robinson's cover of The Return of Super Ape. This is comic art as emanation. From William Blake, to Crumb, and Moebius the best comics have always had a psychic quality. This is why the genre has a natural affinity with the superhero genre in which super powers (siddhis as the Hindus call them) from higher levels are bestowed upon mankind. I’ve always been taken with how in X-men Stan Lee and the devoutly religious Jack Kirby had Professor X, Charles Xavier’s backstory set against a scuffle in the Himalayas when he was crippled by one “Lucifer”. The Hindu Cosmology itself like a gigantic comic book, right back to the illustrated tales of the Ramayana. The iconic and archetypal imagery of comics fits Dub’s album covers like a glove.

Prince Douglas: Tongue Shall Tell Dub

Horace Andy again with a version of his end-of-days recounting Studio One classic “Every Tongue Shall Tell” here on the Wackies label. Swaggering.

Revolutionaries: The Flood of Dub

Version of Gregory Isaacs’ “Happiness Come” by producer Ernest Ranglin. Traces of Gregory swirling up there somewhere in the stratosphere. Great bassline in the spotlight.

Prince Jammy: Chapter of Money

From the excellent Blood and Fire compilation “Dub Like Dirt” – absolutely engulfed with echo.

Horace Andy: Government Dub

“In the Light” (1977) isn't a bad LP - but the many of the dubs on “In the Light Dub” take it to another level.

Keith Hudson: Formula Dub

After his cult classic “Pick a Dub” (1974) (the subject of JA controversy as it was commissioned by Junior Walker and allegedly released against his wishes) Hudson nearly blew it on the “Too Expensive” (1976) record, his jive bid for punk-era commercial success on Virgin. A familiar case of misreading your audience. Getting his feel for the international market he back-pedaled furiously with the bleak and mysterious “Brand” (1977) and “Rasta Communication” (1978) before he really struck out with the almost avant-garde “Playing It Cool” in 1981. It's a Dub LP Jim, but not as we know it.


Top 125 Dub Albums (According to RYM's Heavy Dub Heads)
Motion Records Supremo James Dutton's Dub Albums List
Interview with Snoopy
Snoopy's best Dub Albums List
Steve Barrow's 21 Dub Salute Chart
Classic David Toop Dub Article at Test Pressing

Special thanks to Jim Dooley and Chris Partridge.

In memory of Lee and Robbie.