DUB ME LAZY
Lee Perry is to the alternative what Bob Marley is to the mainstream: somewhere between the acceptable face or reggae and the untouchable face of reggae, and also non-coincidentally the only face of reggae most fans bother to engage with. Perry was of course a ‘dub pioneer’: dub is perhaps the most overrated music genre of all time, unsurprising given that it is, expressly, music dedicated to the most overrated drug of all time. For marijuana bores who needed to justify their habit by manufacturing an entire crapulout subculture around the ‘sacred herb’, dub was obviously a godsend. For anyone else, it was, no pun intended, a drag: the drop-out and echo techniques it pioneered went on to underpin some of the most incredible music ever made, but dub itself tended just to be shelled-out rhythm tracks with a bit of delay on them and a few ‘weird’ effects thrown in to make the potheads giggle.
The critical focus on dub, and particularly Lee Perry, in the 90s was a wrong turning for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Perry, though master of the ‘funny noise’ school, wasn’t even that good a dub producer – sitting and listening to the three-disc Arkology in an ‘unenhanced’ state, you come to realise how incredibly plain all the music is. It lacks the sweetness of Augustus Pablo, or the bottomless primitivist depth of Far-I, or the fierce spirituality of Burning Spear – now I’m sure for the ‘dub purist’ that’s exactly why it’s so good, but I’ve got no more respect for a dub purist than any other kind of purist. (And we won’t even get into Perry’s endless and embarrassing 80s and 90s attempts to go digital – too easy and painful a target).
Secondly, dub appealed to two baseline rock-critical prejudices: it lacked the tuneful danceability of other Jamaican music and could therefore be presented as way more profound and esoteric. And in Lee Perry it gave critics another black freak-figure to focus on, the kind of crazy shaman-type (think Hendrix, Clinton, Sun Ra) which plays so well with a rock audience for reasons you should be able to work out for yourself (charitably, it’s a marketing thing; uncharitably, it’s a race thing). Sell in your rarely-played copies of Arkology and go out and buy the Tougher Than Tough anthology, or Soul Jazz’ 100/200/300% Dynamite series instead, sets which put the dub obsession in its place and do Jamaican music long-deserved justice.