Discovering dub culture and its influence on music at Couleur Café
Dub is a culture and a style of music that is embedded throughout society in various ways. It had a big influence on how music evolved over the years and still does to this day.
Dub music has its roots on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. This birthplace of Bob Marley is also the birthplace of the roots of hip-hop and many other musical genres and traditions. Over the years, dub has spread out over the world and established itself as a subculture with a broad following.
We sat down with the guys from Roots Corner Soundsystem at Couleur Café. They hosted their own stage with their sound system for three days in a row. Discover all about dub music, the culture and its influence in this article!
Written by Levi Adriaenssens, pictures by Tim Schrijnemaekers
Hi guys, today we’re on a mission to discover more about dub-culture. For starters, we would like to know how you guys got into dub music?
Léo: I first discovered dub music when I was about 12 years old, I was digging vinyl records in my grandparents' attic. After sorting out all of the records, I noticed that I always preferred the roots reggae music like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. About five years later I met Piet because we had mutual friends.
Piet: I discovered it through my father because he has been a big fan of reggae music for a long time. He’s a very eclectic record collector. Reggae music was the music that I connected to in the best way. I discovered it with artists like the Twinkle Brothers and Israel Vibration. There is also a reggae radio show that used to be aired on radio campus in Brussels which influenced me big time.
Babba Jah: For me, it definitely started with Bob Marley. I started with the new roots reggae vibe until seven years ago when I met Léo and Piet. Then I started to discover the B-sides on vinyl reggae records which really started dub music. Now dub music is really a different genre, it’s a version of a roots tune.
Is it truly a way of life, or more a hobby? Or rather something you decide to become more than a hobby?
If you have a sound system or you are an MC like Babba Jah it surely takes up a big part of your life. It can also be more of a hobby when you only visit some shows and enjoy the music. For us, it is definitely a big part of our lives because we invested huge amounts of time and energy in building this sound system.
What does dub culture stand for?
A big part of the dub culture is also Rastafari culture because it is very linked to reggae music. Dub is a real conscious music where you will almost never hear bad intentions on the lyrics. It is always from the bottom of your heart so it's meant for positive people.
BabbahJah: Dub is also a rebel minded community because you don’t accept Babylon domination.
What exactly do you mean by Babylon domination?
Babylon domination stands for the money mindset that is above helping and caring for other human beings. Some people can live with that, but we can’t. We should always help each other.
How much does it cost to make a sound system?
It took us three years to collect enough money and to build the sound system. The price of your sound system depends on the size of your speakers, amplifiers, materials etc. There are a lot of parameters that make the price of your sound system, but it can cost up to 8 or 10 000€ to build!
A sound system would mean nothing without records of course, what’s the function of dubplates for sound systems and dub culture in general?
It takes a lot of patience to collect all of these records. But without a record, there would be no music of course.
Are there original dubplates as well or is it always a remix of a roots reggae song?
We usually use the term dubplate for a specific version of a track from a producer or artist. A dubplate is always really exclusive, it’s a rare thing. You can have dub music but a dubplate is something special!
Each sound system has a different sound as well because every sound system has different dubplates. That's why the live setting of a sound system is very important. Only at a live session, you can discover the ‘secret weapon’ of the sound system. You can hear tunes in a dub session that you would otherwise never hear.
Where do you find these records?
Piet: Jamaica is of course a great place to discover records, I already travelled there to find some new music.
We buy and discover a lot of music online. It is almost always on vinyl as well. A lot of our friends have a vinyl shops so we buy from them too. Gamma Sound is a Belgian sound system which has an online record store as well.
Which record should everybody who wants to get into dub music own?
I think they should definitely check Jah Shaka, he is the king of dub music. The twinkle brothers are also a very interesting band. They are a roots live band but their B-sides are always super dub oriented. There are not so many bands who do that live.
Is the Belgian dub scene big?
Yes, very big especially in the northern part of our country. Ghent, Bruges, etc. have huge dub scenes.
Could you put a number on it?
I think the number of sound systems we have is at least around 30 or more. However, we still discover new sound systems all the time in Belgium.
We have one question that we could not resist to ask… Do you need weed to fully experience a dub party?
No, not necessarily. Of course in the dub scene, people smoke quite a lot, but we do know people who don’t smoke weed at dub parties. During a session, we mostly don’t smoke either as we have to stay focused. You have so many things to do, also physical work. When you lift 90kg speakers and you are placing cables and stuff there is no place for error.
Something that not many people know is that remix culture came to existence within Jamaica. You also had dancehall and block parties who later flew over to America and found a place in New York, where the Jamaican-born DJ Cool Herc plays a role in the creation of hip-hop. Do you have some other interesting facts about this?
It influenced so many genres, especially electronic music nowadays. You have classic dub music effects being implemented in these styles such as the delay and crush effects. You also have ragga mc’s in electronic music such as drum and bass and jungle. From hip-hop to house, ambient and trip-hop, dub culture influenced a lot of genres. The dubplate itself is indeed the start of the remix culture as well.
A key thing to know is that sound engineers first took an artistic place within writing music by producing dub and reggae music. That was the first time in music history where this person gave an artistic input aside from pushing buttons to record stuff. It is an influence that changed music forever, now plenty of artists and bands work together with producers because of their creative input. A producer itself as an artist became a phenomenon as well.
Talking about this influence, do you recommend certain artists or sound systems we should keep an eye on?
A lot of artists are mixing new and old-school which is really nice. Eek-A-Mouse is a really old singer from Jamaica who releases stuff with cool new-school beats.
Piet: You also have the famous example of the group Massive Attack working together with the legendary reggae singer Horace Andy…
To conclude we would like to know if you guys have any suggestions for documentaries or magazines we could check to dig deeper into to dub music?