Though Dub’s processes and sonic lexicon were basically already in place in the 1960s, forward-thinking producers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry developed it from its beginning as a method of creating mere instrumental remixes of existing songs to a compositional process in its own right. It’s fair to argue that 1976 was the year that Dub truly transcended its status as a reggae subgenre—in that year, Tubby and Augustus Pablo released King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown and Perry, under the imprimatur of his studio band The Upsetters, released Super Ape, both high-water marks and turning points in the art of Dub.
Perry—possibly best known in Caucasia for his contribution to the Beastie Boys’ “Dr. Lee, PhD”—recorded Super Ape at his Black Ark studio, a modestly appointed facility that was years behind the mid-‘70s state of the recording arts, but by dint of his creativity and bottomless mad-scientist eccentricity, he created sounds that continue to amaze. Per Michael Veal in his 2007 book Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae:
Over the five or so years of its operation, as Perry realized some of the most distinctive sounds to come out of Jamaica, the Black Ark control room and mixing console simultaneously grew into a virtual art installation with photos, random objects, scrawled words, and other items that served a talismanic function for Perry’s creative energy.
Perry was known to run a studio microphone from his console to a nearby palm tree, in order to record what he called the “living African heartbeat.” He often “blessed” his recording equipment with mystical invocations and other icons of supernatural and spiritual power such as burning candles and incense, whose wax and dust remnants were freely allowed to infest his electronic equipment. Perry was also known to blow ganja smoke onto his tapes while recording, to clean the heads of his tape machines with the sleeve of his T-shirt, to bury unprotected tapes in the soil outside of his studio, and to spray them with a variety of fluids including whiskey, blood, and urine, ostensibly to enhance their spiritual properties. In fact, [music journalist] Richard Henderson draws a direct correlation between the technical decay of Perry’s facility and the unique sounds he was able to realize from his studio equipment. In this case, Perry’s “craziness” functioned to reanimate the symbol of sound science with black personality and black spirituality, drawn from a diverse array of ostensibly potent organic sources.
The Black Ark burned down in 1978, after he recorded the second Upsetters album to bear the “Super Ape” name—Return of the Super Ape. Perry has long claimed that he burned it down himself because it was infested with vampires (though by “vampires” he may have meant bad wiring and by “burned it down himself” he may have meant no he didn’t), and last year, Perry released Black Ark Vampires as an act of revenge on the vampires that drove him to destroy his studio. That recording was made in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Subatomic Sound System, who’ve served as Perry’s live backing band for ten years now, and next month, Perry and the SSS will be releasing Super Ape Returns To Conquer. This is at least the fifth Perry album to boast “Super Ape” in its title, depending on whether/how you regard unofficial releases and comps, and this one directly references the first one—It’s not exactly a track for track remake, but all of the tracks from the 1976 album are transformed somehow on Super Ape Returns To Conquer.
On the subject of revisiting a 40 year old album, the 81 year old Perry helpfully offered “Times changed. It’s not about Black Ark anymore. Evil get squeezed. Too much vanity… Now I come to conquer ragga and destroy raggamuffin, conquer raggamuffin with a new beat and a new sound of dub.” Mononymic Subatomic member EMCH was a bit more specific about the process:
The 1976 original was my top ‘desert island album’ so I made sure we revisited the music with respect but also pushed it somewhere else that might make it feel fresh to new and old listeners alike, as an alternative perspective on the same music and not just cover versions or straight remakes. Although many people know Scratch, I don’t feel like he really got his due for all his contributions to music and culture and so I hope it shines light on what he has done and, despite what many might expect for an 81 year old, continues to do to inspire people, myself included.
Scratch often jokes that he has no time for the past. His curiousity is ravenous and coupled with energy that drives him every minute of every day to try something new: whether singing, painting, drumming, joking around. He’s still as easily bored as a little kid with ADD. So it took me 7 years of touring with him to convince him to go back, only after I proved that we could do something new with the old music not just repeat it. He has vowed never to perform the same song the same way twice because he says he would be faking the feeling and betraying the audience.
After the jump, the premiere of “Underground Roots,” a remake of a Super Ape track originally titled simply “Underground.” The new version features vocals from the late Ari Up of The Slits…