King Jammy

King Jammy
What do you think your greatest innovation in dub has been? What words or wisdom or general approach did you get from King Tubby?
At first he didn’t give me any words of wisdom or anything! When I first started I was building amplifiers and electronics. Then I got interested in what the engineers were doing, so I stuck around, observed them very keenly and emulated from what I was seeing. When I started mixing that’s when I really got some techniques, that’s when I got some input from him.

Like what – EQ balancing?
That’s right, EQ balancing and style. That’s when I start developing my own style. Doing a creative thing.

What would you say is your own greatest innovation in dub?
I feel innovative when I create a new sound for the mix. Adding to it that hasn’t been there before, a different flavour.

Did you make dubs primarily for the dance floor or for the studio, or did it depend on the project?
What really happened is I make dubs for any purpose not particular for dancehall, I’m just creating how I’m feeling at the time. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a hit in the dancehall, or the sound systems or just in the studio I’m just make it for the creativeness of that set at the time

When you were starting out as a producer, you were known primarily for your mixing skills, how did this influence your vocal production technique?
I used to do vocal production at the same time as the dubs; the dubs is a spin off of the vocals. So the vocals you do before the dubs. What really happened with the first dub I ever did, Bunny Lee was doing mixes of vocals and he said, "Do some versions at the same time,” so we just created different mixes from the sound of the vocals.

But when your name is actually on the credits as it is for the production of the first Black Uhuru album, when you have to determine a good take from a bad one, it’s like a different range of skills.
Yes. A different range of skills. I got experience with Bunny Lee with the vocals, so I was already very experienced. But doing it for myself I had more interest and more feeling in it and I wanted to get my name out there.

Moving into the ’80s, people say that among the many changes brought forth by the Sleng Teng rhythms, one was that the golden age of dub came to a close in Jamaica. Do you agree? Were you still doing dub mixes in the mid-’80s?
I was still doing them, but it wasn’t released on the same scale as before. What happened was that when Sleng Teng came around, people were looking for a new thing. Most people gravitated to that sound so the dub phase was fading out little by little, and more of the Sleng Teng, Jammy’s [computer] mixes. It faded out in the key markets like England and America, but not in Germany and Japan. I made a dub album about eight years ago for a production company in Japan and it did very well. They were called Dry and Heavy.

Would you say that elements of dub mixing became a greater part of vocal mixes from the late ’70s and beyond – i.e. echo shots in vocals, instruments whose sound is altered by effects? Were you trying to do that as well?
Yes, in the early years, they used to mix a straight vocal, with a straight rhythm and bass thing, plus percussion, then I used to drop out and drop back in and use a little delay and that caught on.

Do dances in Jamaica still react to a wicked dub mix, or is that strictly old school now?
No, in Jamaica, the only way they react to a dub mix is in a live session in the dance, then you’ll play the dub mix underneath the DJ but other than that they don’t play dub mixes in Jamaica any more.

How about certain artists, do they get into dub? Sizzla comes to mind.
Yeah man, him got a lot of dub feeling in his style.

Are the artists starting to come back to that?
Some of them. Some of them who recognise the old school thing and give it a try.

When did you first become aware that dub was an international phenomenon?
That was the first thing I recognised when I really started doing a lot of mixes. The sound systems in England used to do a lot of dubs and I used to support the sound systems by doing dubs in Jamaica and sending to them every week. Fatman, [Jah] Shaka, [Lloyd] Coxsone, everyone’s sound system used to support my dubs.

Did any international productions influence your own work?
Of course! I’d get feedback - what did it do in the dance, what was going on. And I’d put more interest and input into it.

There’s a bit of a revival of the ragga jungle sound from the early ’90s, and your productions played a big part. I understand you’re working with a drum & bass MC. That music came directly out of your productions - did it feed back in?
Well, yes I think so.

How about bhangra?
I heard that style too. I hear some productions with some of my samples in there. New production with some of Jammy’s old samples.

Now the latest variations are grime and dubstep, have you heard much of those?
No, I haven’t.

Do you think dub is synonymous with experimentation in the studio? Whenever the mood of the times is more experimental, dub becomes more popular?
I think dub music on the whole is experimental sound. And the feeling you have at the time, you create things about the feeling that come across you when you do the mix. Dub is not something you plan to do this way or that way – it can never come out authentic if you do it that way. It has to be spot on thing at the time, the creativeness you put into it at the time, that’s dub music, real dub music.

It’s interesting that you talk about the authentic sound, because the tools that used to be used for that - like working with tape – people don’t do that so much anymore, they do it with computers. How do you preserve that authentic dub feeling when you’re working in a totally different recording environment?
I start to set instruments to do certain things like what the tape used to do. Like we use certain sounds, certain of our old echoes and delays and things like that because even on the computer, if I’m mixing a sound from the computer, I don’t mix direct from the computer or EQ direct from the computer, I put it through a mixing board. The actual source may be from the computer but we put it through the mixing console and we can add other sounds to it externally.

Do you still work with analog equipment?
Sometimes.

Like Space Echo?
Yes - not really that one but we have other ones that we work with. Combine the digital with the acoustic.

How do you think the new school producers approach dub, or is it even a priority for most of the newest producers in dancehall?
Well the new school producers, I wouldn’t beat them down because, I’ll tell you what, it’s time you have a new generation of producers, and a new era. I have to learn to accept that, to acknowledge that and accept new things. The only thing is that some of them are not really musically orientated. They’re not really real producers, so when I think about the old thing, I think before you start to get in, you should have some training as a producer or as an arranger or something to do with music. Some people have a gift, some people go to school and study computers and because computers are the thing of today, they decided they’re going to use it for music and they don’t really know about producing or arranging, so I think they should get themselves up to date to be successful and authentic, doing good stuff in the business.

The productions that you hear coming out all over the world, people are doing productions in Germany, in New Zealand, in Japan, do you feel that your music has reached them and they’re producing that kind of authentic sound that you cherish so much?
Well, of course, I know my music has reached the entire world. When most of these people are going to do certain things, they call me to say I wish I could come to your place and do this, but I gave them a lot of advice from time to time. To keep them on track and to keep the music intact where I would like it to be.

What does the average reggae fan in Jamaica think of dub these days? Is it just something they appreciate on a historical level like ska, but they don’t really feel it anymore?
Well yes, like that. It was appreciated on the level that it was good at that time, but it’s not going now. You see, whenever I listen to a good dub music and a good dub album I can hear the real music and the real creativeness flowing through the air. Because dub music wasn’t so big in Jamaica, some people in Jamaica didn’t learn to accept the music, like even myself and other producers and other elders who were fans of dub music. Most of the people in Jamaica who accept dub music still are people who used to be involved with sound systems that played dub music and had producer friends, used to frequent around studios. You know, certain disc jockeys like Barry G [veteran Jamaica Broadcasting Company host] still love dub music.

That’s an interesting comment because a lot of people around the world who are really into dub think of the ’70s when "oh, dub was massive, it was the classic era,” but to put it in perspective, it was never as big as vocal music. Yes, it was a classic time, but it wasn’t the dominant force.
I know in England, dub music was very big in England, you know? That’s where I got my interest from. When the sound systems in England, when I used to send them dub music, they used to call me back after a dance started and say, "This one is wicked, King! It was the wickedest dub that night!” That boosted me up, gave me more energy.

That’s good too because it’s the most creative and experimental side of your music - which leads me to my last question, why do you think that dub music is so universal.
Because it’s a natural creativeness. I think people who listen to dub music learn a lot because it’s not something people are doing every day. When you hear Jammys or Scientist or Tubbys is coming out with a new album, people are looking forward to some new creation. Every dub is not the same. Every time you listen for a new dub from Jammys, you’re looking for a new creation. And people always want to hear a new creation, which is good and binding and pounding because dub music is a heavy-duty beat. It’s really impacted on the world like that.

Do you think because dub is abstract and has no vocals it brings people together because people who love art music and experimentation - no matter what colour they are - can really relate and come together?
I think so. Because the vocals, if it’s an international thing, everybody don’t understand the vocals. Most nationalities understand the rhythm, the drum and the bass and the creativeness around it, you know what I mean. If you listen to most DJs from Jamaica, you don’t understand what they’re saying, but the rhythm is there, pounding, and you dance to the rhythm.

Well that’s it in a nutshell.
Yes! Most people don’t understand Jamaican patois, until lately they understand some. Dub is a more international music to me than some vocal music. Dub is an instrumental creativeness, that’s the way you feel at the time, you put a lot of impact in what you do. You put a lot echoes, verb – it’s art. Art.

Click here to read David Dacks' "Dub Voyage" research story featuring King Jammy.