(Mostly Electronic) Dub (on eMusic & Bandcamp)
Outside of electronic enthusiasts, I expect most dub fans will be far more familiar with the classic sounds on vinyl than what I like below. This is a lot more than just instrumental reggae, and unfortunately what I like most might seem like I’m trying to de-Jamaicanize it. Apologies if that offends anyone. If anyone wants to educate me on the rules for what is and isn’t dub, especially as distinct from reggae, I’m ready to learn.
Overall, since I don’t know anyone who’s a fan other than people who listen to reggae, I think dub is vastly unappreciated. Most music fans I know would never think to browse through it and couldn’t name a single artist who specializes in it. I myself have no idea what a “dub plate” is. Serious dub connoisseurs might just want to skip to the list of dub labels at the bottom.
I remember back in the track-stipend days of eMusic when I further reinforced my impression that everything Bill Laswell touches turns to gold, maximizing value with 10 to 20-minute songs. Bass-heavy is more the flavor of dub I prefer, though I have nothing against the classics. I do enjoy “ambient dub” from groups like Sounds from the Ground and others from Waveform in the 1990s, but I’m less likely to consider it either ambient or dub.
eMusic still has a good chunk of the Meat Beat Manifesto discography, which I assume needs no introduction.
In approximate order of how much I like it…
1. “Noirabesque” - The Thing with Five Eyes (2018) & “Glory” (2017). It’s tragic when an awesome album is doomed to obscurity by an off-putting band name, especially when it was clearly trying to fit the music and be cool. I had them wishlisted for ages, always hesitant to buy based on 30-second samples and my skepticism about the band name and questionable label. Gongs, cymbals, and acoustic drums set the scene for a darkly cinematic listening experience like none other. Other instruments like brass, woodwinds, stand-up bass, and other strings may well be acoustic; electronic enhancements are very subtle, if they exist at all. The overall sound is somewhere between dub and jazz fusion. Occasional vocals suggest what Natacha Atlas might sound like if she were trapped in an ancient pyramid at midnight. The 99-cent, fully instrumental EP is a great bargain offering some of the darkest dub out there, all at a pace so slow and sinister, it’s sure to send shivers down your spine. https://svartlava.bandcamp.com/album/noirabesque
2. “Zero Station” - Aptoms (2017) & “Hepman Platofv and the Subjugation of the Cossack Race” (2017). Fully electronic and instrumental, but also full of guitars and faster paced than most dub. If someone told me Bill Laswell was on the bass for the opening tracks of “Zero Station,” I’d believe it. The driving, but not overpowering beat on “Kloop” makes for a nice groove with the bassline and guitars. The EP with the long name is a bit mellower; I’d start with the full album. Both are NYP (or 99 cents for the EP), as with the rest of Romeda Records. https://romeda.bandcamp.com/album/zero-station
3. “明天 Tomorrow” - Blood Wine Or Honey (2019). Other than the title track, these are all remixes, and I like the remix of the title track the most for its stripped-down, bass-heavy darkness. A long EP on the urban electronic side, there’s a lot going on in these songs, from vocals to ethnic instruments and what sound like makeshift acoustic oil drums. For 99 cents it’s sure to spice up your dub collection with something different, like the rising banshee voices on the fifth track. I never would have guessed from the sound they’re from HK, though I guess it explains the album cover. Never been a better time to support HK artists. https://bloodwineorhoney.bandcamp.com/album/tomorrow.
4. “Righteous Day to Stand Up” - Colonial FX (2018). Both albums on eMusic are a great deal for 99 cents, though the 2020 album is listed under drum & bass/dubstep. That’s surprising considering this is among the most traditional, no-nonsense, and Jamaican on this list. There’s a slow, deliberate pace to most of the songs here, and despite the prominent electronics, there’s an unmistakably dub atmosphere. The dance beat on the second and last tracks are a cheeky facade built on a clear dub structure, with vocals fading in and out of the mix dreamily. I wish they did more like the trippy, almost 9-minute “Smoke the Herb.” https://colonialfx.bandcamp.com/album/righteous-day-to-stand-up.
5. “Back on the Controls” - Lee “Scratch” Perry (2014). Two-disc revivalist set w/ a dub version closer to but still not usually instrumental following the more reggae track rather than on the second disc. Good value with over an hour and a half of music. See also King Tubby. https://leeperry.bandcamp.com/music
6. “Goma” - STA (2016). A brief album at half an hour, this approaches minimalist dub, almost fully instrumental (except for “Malmo”), and perhaps the least electronic on this list. Most of these songs consist of a bassline and some brass, guitar, and electronic noodling over it, though never less than pleasant. Ideal for those who like simple, short melodies. NYP and also several free downloads available. https://standrius.bandcamp.com/album/goma
7. “Blue Bullet” - Andrew Weatherall (2018). Highly rated two-track single, it’s well worth the 49 cents on eMusic and notable for not actually being available digitally on Bandcamp—instead, only on cassette. Soundwise, I wouldn’t say it’s so distinctive. https://byrdout.bandcamp.com/album/blue-bullet-ep
On other lists: Hawk of the Low Hills (2014), “Mountain Spirits” - Hoarang (2014)
Bandcamp Only: “Blood Is Shining” - Eastern Dub Tactik (2001). The “Eastern” in the title is of the Middle/Oriental kind, as becomes quickly obvious on this should-be classic of scintillating urban darkness. Vocals are usually but not always in a non-English language, and the beat tends to be strong. Leans on both guitars and record scratching to contrast w/ Middle Eastern elements. I would disregard the odd AMG review entirely https://www.allmusic.com/album/blood-is-shining-mw0000015390. https://waveformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/blood-is-shining
See also U-Cef https://crammed-discs.bandcamp.com/album/halalwood and Digital Bled https://digitalbled.bandcamp.com/album/caravana for more underappreciated classics of Middle Eastern electronic dub.
“Disconnection” - Strange Parcels (1994). Very rare to dip back into the 20th century, but this would-be supergroup remains obscure enough to deserve it. Almost scuzzy sounding with its dirty guitars and distorted vocals, I really wonder who the intended audience was for the whole album. It’s a little dated where electronics are concerned, but in part because of that this sounds like nothing else on the planet. Consider it the haunted dub mansion at the end of the road that no one enters except on a dare. https://strangeparcels.bandcamp.com/album/disconnection
“Bamana Project” - Soundspecies (2011). No longer available on eMusic (just too good to stay 99 cents), this one’s more for fans of guitar dub and African music generally. I definitely can’t draw lines between reggae, dub, and Afrobeat on a flawless track like “Fassirimar.” A pound a piece for these four highly substantial tracks is still well worthwhile. Fully instrumental. https://roundinmotion.bandcamp.com/album/bamana-project
Dub labels on eMusic (w/ some reggae, electronic, dubstep overlap): Top Tier = Acroplane; Break Koast; Byrd Out Limited; Clocktower; Dub Store; Gorgon; Jah Life; Liquidator Music; Monkey Dub; Pressure Sounds;
Fine & Good = Boom One; Conscious Sounds; Dham Rockas; Hudson VanDam; Jah Warrior; Rub-a-Duck;
Questionable = Dubophonic; Dub Doze; “GMI” LLC; Hard Bark Entertainment; Mindtrick; Space of Variants;
Sadly, neither eMusic nor Bandcamp has one of my favorite dub artists and steel drum masters, Little Tempo, whose soundtrack and theme song to “The Taste of Tea” is one of my all-time favorites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70ODhHXLrGI.
Bombay Dub Orchestra is sorely missed from the old eMusic, especially since only a few tracks are available on Bandcamp. I could relax to “Strange Constellations” forever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emERAb874j0
And for the darkest, hardest of instrumental dub, try “Hypnerotomachia” by Philosophy Major, unfortunately still extremely obscure https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kEwD2c5eAP2_ZwkSM2MYao6o5t3M5ZfG0
Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMuReddit.html
& by my evaluation http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMusic%20Labels.html