Published Oct 04, 2010These days, you're more likely to find the word "dub" suffixed with "step" as a cutting edge term. But France's veteran dubbers High Tone remain the number one dub band in the number one dub market in the world and have always adapted new impulses into the fierce yet echoic sound. Having formed in 1996 in the unlikely dub locale of Lyon, High Tone and their label Jarring Effects have built a worldwide reputation for skull-crushing organic/electronic workouts on stage. Their latest album, Out Back, came out at the end of June, and the road warriors found themselves back on tour. Exclaim! caught up with them at the Festival of Emerging Music of Abitibi-Temiscamingue.
How did you get into dub?
Antonin Chaplin (keyboards): We listened to punk rock music. Also Bad Brains and the Clash were doing crossovers at the time.
Lionel Dumas (DJ, video mixer): Our first important dub albums were Screaming Target (Big Youth), Blackboard Jungle (Lee Scratch Perry & King Tubby, and No Protection (Massive Attack and Mad Professor).
What was Lyon like at the time?
LD: There were a lot of squats with a lot of independent bands coming around to play.
AC: We came from a DIY culture, punk rock culture, that's why we use five musicians on stage.
So if you'd been listening to say, dancehall, you might not be using musicians?
I find a lot of dub bands came to the music from punk; maybe that's why there are so many dub bands?
LD: I don't know if there's an easier way to say this, but the fact that we were white boys, maybe it was easier to be directly related to the punk scene rather than a proper reggae dub scene from Jamaica, though we had a big taste for that sound as well.
AC: But from the beginning, we don't only play dub, we use dub as a concept.
LD: Working on machines with samples and effects, it's not so far from techno, or hip-hop either.
Back when you started, was it harder to work with loops and samples?
LD: Yes. Now the samples themselves have more (connectivity) with computers. Then, there were shorter loops, mostly played by the drummer and sampled by the keyboardist.
How did you get involved with Jarring Effects?
AC: The label began as a non-profit, lending space for rehearsals, then lots of different musicians and sound engineers then people started to thing about producing music together.
LD: In the early days everybody was part of the same scene. We were maybe not everyday workers, but if the label needed help we would try to give advice.
What's your audience like? Is it multi-racial? Are they strictly dub enthusiasts or do they cross over into different scenes such as hip-hop and different styles of electronic music ?
LD: The audience is wide, different styles, dubbers, hip-hop guys, techno. People who love the mix of different cultures, different riddims ... and of course it's multiracial.
Was Lyon an important place for that to happen politically and socially?
LD: The heritage of the punk and DIY scene was really important in the early and mid-'90s. That fed a lot of the people who came after us on Jarring Effects.
Did the politics of the National Front (French far-right party centered around Lyon) have an impact?
LD: Lyon is a very conservative city, even though the city government is left wing. When you see what's happening ― it doesn't feel left wing. But it didn't have much impact.
How does the band achieve its sound?
AC: We jam a lot and record to computer, then we take the propositions of the music and expand and edit it.
LD: We have a basic idea from the jam but we develop ideas of how the track can evolve. Everybody has the chance to bring in ideas, and the fact that it's the same crew for so long in the same room ― the Jarring Effects studio, which we don't have to rent, so you can do more ― maybe after all that practicing it sounds good and powerful.
Do you find that recording in a computer based environment changes how you think about "dubbing out" a track?
LD: It depends on your configuration. But sometimes with a live mixing desk it's more wild. There's more feeling.
You first described yourselves as "Ethno Dub" ― what does that mean?
LD: In France there are many dub projects with ethnic samples. Of course after the musical pleasure to mix these two really different worlds and music is a feeling of openness representative of many people in France, cause there's many different ethnic minorities who live together and (have many) problems.
The inevitable question for any dub band is are you interested in working with vocalists?
LD: With a singer you rely on a classic structure of verse, chorus, that kind of stuff. From the first we didn't want to follow the classic structure of rock or reggae but to try to bring it up in a different way. So it's not incompatible, but it's not the same music.
AC: We've jammed with friends who are singers, but when we decided to begin High Tone we decided it would be instrumental because we couldn't find a singer who was compatible.
LD: We'd rather have the rhythm rolling behind with things on top.
How as a live band have you responded to dubstep?
LD: Our last album Underground Wobble had one track that was inspired by dubstep but it wasn't everything. It's not in the idea of the band to stick to one genre. For me, dubstep is a lot like drum and bass. There were a handful of producers who brought new ideas, then a lot of people want to copy those ideas. But if you go out and listen to the latest releases of the week maybe a lot of them will sound alike. But that's typical to DJ culture, people want to mix them the same way so they sound good together. The dance floor influence can be kind of limiting.
So dubstep is just one aspect of your term "urban dub"
What's the state of dub in France?
LD: It's big in France, it's big enough to keep expanding.
AC: It's the biggest market in the world for reggae, and big for dub too. It's growing for dub sound systems too (mobile P.A.s). A lot of people are producing their own music and playing it (on their own soundsystems). Put out the boxes and make your own party!