Richard Skinner explains what Dub is.

Below is the English translation of the review of Richard Skinner’s ebook Dub: Red Hot vs Ice Cold. The review originally appeared on this blog in Italian version only.

Translation by Christian Patracchini.

dubredhotvsicecold_coverWhen it comes to Dub music, the first thing that comes to mind is reggae. Indeed, we tend to think of Dub as a sub-genre, taking away all its autonomy. We discard it in a hurry as something born out of reggae, rather than an artistic/musical (aesthetic?) movement in its own right. Wikipedia, in the first few lines, brutally defines it as a ‘musical genre born from reggae in the Sixties’ and ‘commonly considered a subgenre.’ They do also cite far more authoritative sources such as The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin (‘Essentially reggae in the raw’) or The Grove (‘A technique of reggae’).

While it is undeniable that dub was born as an offshoot of reggae, more precisely as a B-side of the 45 rpm discs that were played in Jamaican dance halls, it is not difficult to see a common thread that links reggae to a lot of today’s music. Many have tried to investigate this phenomenon, presenting the dub aesthetic, as a technique of mixing, or as a musical mood. There is an extensive bibliography and also some interesting movies such as Dub Echoes, produced by Soul Jazz Records and accompanied by a double CD compilation.

In these titles very often the part devoted to the connections with reggae represents the majority, and those who want to understand more about its later evolutions find themselves displaced. Dub is a concept in the same way that, for instance Swing is a concept; started as a term associated with jazz, it has gradually become a specific term to indicate a precise inclination of the composer/performer in understanding the composition/interpretation (‘it hasn’t got swing…’), even before a precise sonority.

An explanation is finally provided in a concise and comprehensively agile e-book (can we call an e-book ‘agile’?) which has just been published by Noch Publishing: Dub: Red Hot vs Ice Cold by Richard Skinner. Already from the title it is clear that the essay is divided exactly in two parts: the first, ‘Red Hot’, investigates the origins of dub (obviously Jamaican) providing not only historical coordinates but also anecdotes in order to aid understanding. The second, ‘Ice Cold’, traces all the territories the concept of dub has penetrated, some of which are far removed from the origin (techno dub, jungle, 2step, dub step and virtually every electro-club-dance sound coming from England in the last twenty years – from Massive Attack onwards).

This book, above all, contains some of the most incisive definitions of dub that I have ever read. All without any academic undercurrent, making for light reading even for those not too familiar with musical terminology, which a study of writing on popular music of British origins would have given them. The credit for this is due (also) to the fact that Noch Publishing is an English publishing house which, according to its website, specializes in the concept of ‘extended listening’, but is at the same time directed by two Italians who know their stuff. Paolo Inverni is a Piedmontese artist who works with different languages and media with a resume that speaks for itself. For many years, Daniela Cascella has been working in the field of music and sound art, she is a contributor of prestigious magazines such as Contemporary, The Wire and Frieze, and a writer, blogger and conductor of a radio program. She is also the author of two books available in Italian, Sculptor of Sound (Tuttle, 2008) and The Edge of the World (Arcana, 2008), the latter is a complete critical analysis of all the texts by The Cure and it improves on older biographies and pseudo-analysis produced in the past for the consumption of the average Italian teenager.

The author, Richard Skinner, is a writer and poet, as well as the director of the Faber Academy Fiction Programme. This year Faber & Faber published his fictional biography on the life of Erik Satie: The Velvet Gentleman. I do not know whether or not it is his habit of writing in such a straightforward, comprehensible manner, but in Dub: Red Hot vs Ice Cold it manages to be an absolute and much-appreciated added value, which puts an end to the age-old million dollar question that we, the average music fan have asked over and over again: ‘What is dub?’

Dub is the science of studio pressure, when engineer becomes artist