REGGAE HISTORY, page 6
In the mid 80ies the lack of new musical impulses in the mainstream-oriented
Dancehall scene became more apparent than ever. Channel One slowly wound down and
even highly talented bands like the Roots Radics couldn't help it much. So the need
for something completely new was felt everywhere. And a big change was about to come,
a change brought again by new technology that profoundly altered the way reggae was
about to take (like what the Echoplex and the Space Delay did for Dub) - a technology
called 'Digital Synthesizer'.
A major key role in the Digital Revolution was played by a man named JAMMY. Jammy
started out as an apprentice in King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi Studio in the early 70ies
(still under the name of Prince Jammy since he worked for the King) where he learnt
the musical and technological side of Dub from scratch. He also learnt a lot about
the music as a bussiness from the producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee, for whom Tubby did
most of his dubs - an experience that is essential for his later success. Jammy
produced some outstandig Dub LPs like 'Kamikazi Dub' later on and after his release
'THE CROWNING OF PRINCE JAMMY' he went his ways with his own sound system and was
called KING Jammy from then on.
The real breakthrough came on the FEB 23rd 1985 at the Big SoundClash against the
Scorpio sound system, which Jammy won with a single riddim: UNDER ME SLENG TENG.
While the riddim is quite easy the sound of it was outstandingly new - it was
produced 100% digital reggae, never heard before at that time! Wayne Smith, a singer
for Jammy's, experimented around with a CASIO music box and did some interesting
stuff with a slowed down rock'n'roll preset-drum pattern out of which Tony Asher,
keyboardist at Jammy's and one of the few people around who new their ways with the
new equipment, build the final riddim. Jammy produced the revolutionary classic of
it, which today is one of the most versioned riddims ever.
He took his way from there, working with a highly talented production crew
people like Bobby Digital, Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson (former keyboardist with the
Roots Radics) and Cleveland 'Cleavie' Brownie (former drummer at STUDIO ONE). Using
basically three small keyboards (YAMAHA DX100, CASIO CS01 and CZ1000) and an OBERHEIM
DX Drum Machine to create this special digital sound Jammy always tried to keep the
spirit of the 'classic' Dub and Reggae era throughout his tracks - an important thing
that we are also trying to do here at JAHTARI.
many of his numerous
outputs are of a high and unique quality he soon went for
big commercial success, using his distribution network in New York and London, to get
the financial reward he defintily earned with his innovative work. On the other hand
this more commercially oriented production style had a negative impact on the musical
side of his records so after quite a short time his tracks lost most of their force
and became rather cheesy.
But nevertheless lots of respect is due to him for his achivements. For a good
impression of this period and style check out the 'KING JAMMY's: THE RHYTHM KING'
compilation with 18 of his tracks. Many killers but also a number of the
aforementioned cheesy stuff .
By the early eighties dub was no longer perceived as a cutting edge music and its
innovations had long been assimilated into the musical mainstream. Tubby realised
that the days of his now classical production techniques were over and decided to
take a new step: in 1985 he build a new studio in the heart of the Kingston ghetto,
the Waterhouse District. During the run up to elections gunshots would echo
throughout the neighbourhood with such alarming frequency that the area was renamed
FIREHOUSE by its local residents. The new studio there was then equipped with lots of
new technology like a bigger mixing desk - and digital synths and drum machines.
After the studio-producer Professor went to the USA to
study electronics and computer
Peego and Fatman followed and a man named Phantom, who built riddims at Channel One
before. The sound they created is to me - especially from today's point of view - a
completely new dimension of reggae and dub: it's 100% bone-dry digital music (due to
the sound of the machines used for production) but it's also a pure, hypnotical and
new form of dub, a paradoxon really. It took a while for me to like that special
sound, but then the tracks are made to play them loud at sound systems and when I
heard 'SOUNDCLASH DUBPLATE STYLE', THE classic digital King Tubby-LP, loud it got to
me. The bass is extremely powerful and kicking while the drums gain a completely new
quality, simply because they all of a sudden were not shuffling anymore but set
straight to a beat grid. These releases have been highly influential for what we're
doing here at JAHTARI and we picked up the trail from there!
The first big hit for Tubby with his new studio was Anthony Red Rose's 'TEMPO', a
riddim versioned over and over until today and many other promising 7inches followed.
While Tubby did a completely different approach on music and the whole marketing side
of it than Jammy (music being always in the focus for him and no compromises were
made for that!) also commercial success came and SOUNDCLASH DUBPLATE STYLE sold
45.000 worldwide. But then in 1989 the day came and this whole promising process
stopped - when King Tubby was shot down in front of his house, the killer was never
found. And with Tubby's death - this can be said from today's perspective - the
complete history of Reggae and Dub as we knew it ended and was replaced by
Strangely enough Tubby and Jammy
themselves (especially Jammy's 'PUNAANY' by Admiral
Bailey) paved the way for that and established the rhythms. But in the end
Raggamuffin and its 100% mass-market oriented productions cut the last connections to
Reggae and Dub and sold out their musical heritage. Guys like Shabba Ranks or - even
worse - Elephant Man came and to me this has nothing to do with Reggae anymore except
the place of its creation.
After Tubbys death, his daughter ran the studio then, the firehouse crew produced
some more fine music (XTERMINATOR's 'Corn A Go Bust' with Gregory Isaacs is still a
classic!) but without a guy like Tubby holding everything together that soon
went down too.
Check out 'SOUNDCLASH DUBPLATE STYLE' and the DUB-VERSION-LP of it (watch out, both
have almost the same cover!), 'FIREHOUSE REVOLUTION: The Digital Era 1985-89' and
'WATCH HOW THE PEOPLE DANCING' (on Honest Jones), full of great digital Reggae done
by Jamaican emmigrants in London!