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THE LATEST

Episode 38

King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown

Augustus Pablo

Reggae music is easy to take for granted, but its impact is underappreciated and massive — in the case of dub in particular, everyone from Radiohead to Johnny Rotten to Run-DMC owes it a debt.

Augustus Pablo and King Tubby together created what’s regarded as “one of the finest examples of dub ever recorded.” Join us as we dive into the culture, history, and unique engineering experiments that made it possible.

Transcript

Note: our transcripts are mostly AI-generated for now. 

Cliff: Today we're talking about King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, mostly by Augustus Pablo.

Kyle: The joy of music never disappoints. When I think there's going to be a lot to it, normally it winds up being a lot simpler in conversation. And by contrast something that I don't know how much has really happened on this podcast, one that I thought would be really straightforward to talk about and breeze through and be like,  "isn't this neat," the closer we looked, the more evident became that we actually needed to look wider. I first listened to this record, or the title track from this record, on a compilation CD called Reggae Gold that I bought at Circuit City, when you and I took a break from umpiring one day in Jonesboro, Georgia or somewhere, and the song was way different than all the other songs on it. And I wound up buying that record at Criminal Records and this has been a, like, "on in the background" thing for 15 plus years of my life solid. And so, because I've never given the music much thought, just thought it was cool, by transitive property, I didn't think we'd have to put too much thought into this episode, but then I read one book about dub reggae, because the information about Augustus Pablo is pretty scant. And reading one book turned into another book, turned into another primer, turned into using my wife's master's degree log in, to find information in an Oxford academic journal about reggae, and all that to say my main takeaway is that I learned how vast, and frankly profound, a body of fundamental knowledge I lacked about the culture around Jamaican music to even be able to appreciate air quote "simple stuff" I thought it was happening on this record to begin with. So today I propose that we zoom out in order to zoom in.

Cliff: Yeah. The narrative of every single episode we've ever made and everyone we will make is, I thought I understood in general how much I understood about this and then surprise. I've determined that I knew close to nothing and I know close to nothing still, even after learning more. And compared to pretty much everyone else I know, I know way more. Music is endless. This is another... another one of those: uh, how do we even begin to approach reggae and dub respectfully? And we will instead just probably try to talk about all the things that blew us away. 

Kyle: Yes. Right on. "You know nothing, isn't that great?" is the joy of music. And I guess the joy of this podcast, I hope  I want to do a few things. I want to, without being pedantic or harp on it too long, try to summarize, some of the history of that Jamaican culture, like some of the really high touch points, and then recommend some reading that you actually go do if that's intriguing to you. This is a case where I think you would find it really fascinating, because of all the offshoots from dub. You know, if we wind up name checking something that you like, this is a route that you will want to get back to. And then I think we want to talk about some of the technical aspects, like some of the magic that creates this vibe... it's very vibe and space oriented. And then we'll, I think, try to talk about some of that legacy. 

Cliff: Yeah, and it's, it's really analog, which we'll talk some about, which is great, and the analog nature of musical instruments and recording and all that gets lost in the like classic guitar amps and mixing booths conversation, I think. But this one really draws out that period of time that we like to touch on, especially that was kind of happening simultaneously with the people who were discovering electric guitars and the things that could work, because what was actually happening is everyone was discovering electronics and they were figuring out ways to push on all the edges. And dub is just another wild example of like, Oh, it takes time to pump music from one machine to the other. And if I start exploiting it, I end up creating a genre by accident, which is amazing."

Kyle: It was really the decade of the electrical signal and what you could do and manipulating it in myriad different ways. and you didn't necessarily have to have a string instrument to do that.

Cliff: Yeah. And specifically between music becoming electronic in terms of a signal, but before it became digitized, which I think we take for granted, but like especially here. If you want to dive further, I mean, if you're going to be reading a book about dub to begin with, you might as well listen better. Understanding how they did this stuff, using the analog machines and tube machines that they did, in comparing it to the things that you hear digitally now that are supposed to replicate it, actually helps you like understand the nature of the music better, in my opinion. Like you really do know where the echo, the delay, the reverb is coming from, how they made it, and why it's like attaching itself to different parts of the mix.

Kyle: Yeah, you almost can't come out of this without becoming a little bit of a gearhead. just out of pure revelatory appreciation for signal flow, and a lot of the stuff we read talks about the people that got really good at this art form, that kind of pioneered it and mastered it like King Tubby and Lee Perry, were improvisers. They treated it like an instrument. And because it was a time-based thing where it was a signal coming out and coming back in, they learned to kind of surf that wave, so to speak, and manipulate the stuff live in the studio because they were pressing it to, a uh, tape, a piece of organic matter. So obviously we're very excited about that, but just to widen the lens a little bit for a second, this is one where the cultural context is easy to overlook or take for granted. and I see shades of lots of other kind of music cultures that we've talked about. I thought a lot about Can and the Stockhausen school of music in Germany and how they were kind of spiritual cousins in electronic experimentation. But, I really dug everything about sound system culture. You made fun of me on Slack by saying it's because I was a 311 fan growing up and I'll just go ahead and put that on the record for everyone. 

Cliff: Smart move teeing yourself up instead of waiting on me. You know I had like a few flags to really bring it out. Okay, good.

Kyle: Yeah, I had to come original.

Cliff: You did crack the code.

Kyle: It's not funny when you do a deep cut 'cause then everyone's like "is he a fan too?" 

Cliff: That's my commitment as your friend. If I'm going to make fun of you, I'm going to do it with non singles.

Kyle: You are like Mark Wahlberg in The Other Guys, like " I took a year of ballet just to make fun of those guys in my high school that are in the ballet troupe."

Cliff: I would do it.

Kyle: You would do it. "I bought out all the puka shell necklaces at the whole mall and I'm wearing them all right now. Look what a dick you look like." Anyway, amber is not the color of this episode's energy; let's get back into it. There were some unique things happening post-World War 2 in Kingston, Jamaica. there was this really incredible working class party culture where a sound system, which was really not necessarily just the equipment itself, but the group of people who worked with and operated it. The people they called DJs who were actually the MCs, also the toasters, that was kind of like an offshoot of DJs. and the selectors or the audio engineers, ostensibly the DJs, the people who actually played the music were called the selectors. This group of people would work together as one, they would load a truck up with a generator with turntables and huge speakers, like wall of speakers, Ted Nugent level wall of speakers... kind of iconic imagery... to play music for street parties. And in the fifties in Kingston, most of what they were getting their hands on was 1950s, American RNB, like heavy soul blues type of stuff, really danceable stuff. It was the locals', kind of the affordable everyday person, alternative to the live jazz scene in Jamaica, which catered to the upper-class. The bourgeoisie, the tourists. And this interesting thing started happening: exclusivity became a key factor, like who could get their hands on their rarest records or original records or like weird local stuff. So there was a total kind of record store culture there, and some selectors even went as far as removing the physical labels from the seven inches so that their rivals couldn't find copies of what they were playing, because it was all about getting the party jumping off... which is so fun. So like to know where this music came from the first place that you got to visualize a little bit of that, any night of the week, it could pop off and people could leave work and go drink and eat seafood and dance, and cut loose and enjoy themselves.

Cliff: I'd love to just insert the little bit of the setup that I think we'll touch on a little bit later in the production, but like one of my favorite like nerd things to talk about is how the culture around music shifts and is driven by the way that music itself is played. So when you're talking about sound systems here, like you said, it's, it's not just the equipment, but it's also, on top of it being the people around and the idea of it, also like the physical space of sound systems at a time where music had not become personal, right? So everything prior to the Walkman is non-personal stuff. The closest thing you can get is your record player at home. But in a sound system culture as you drive more towards like party and dance hall type stuff, there become these factors that drive one another. So bass you know, below about 80 hertz, becomes basically omnidirectional. So bass becomes the most important way to literally spread the knowledge of there being a group of people, hanging out, listening to music. And like, you can still see that today, like bass drives all like dance and party type music and that's, cause it doesn't matter where the DJ is or where the speakers are when it comes to the bass, which is all you need to know. And so to me, like, that's always an interesting aspect to draw out, especially when we're thinking about Jamaican culture here and like literal sound systems, literally outside, on a flat area of island where people are learning about music being played by what they can hear and how close they are.

Kyle: And being two dudes who grew up in the South in the nineties, there are shades of  "what's in your trunk" being a thing that people can gather around in a parking lot. And it's a different way to think about how we organize socially around stuff, right? And how there's a... kind of a cyclical culture. More music starts getting made as more people start hanging out and trying to one up. And so it's very interesting. You're right in that it's very environmental.

Cliff: Yeah. And it would lead to, especially here... driving further into emphasizing the bass, every time they would make dubs and all that stuff. They're constantly talking about bringing out the bass in a different way. And so like, I wanted to add that that was one kind of interesting historical and cultural aspect of the production that makes it interesting is like if you're trying to get more people to listen to you playing music over a sound system in a physical space, it behooves you to make sound that cuts further omnidirectionally to get more people's attention to overpower somebody else who's playing music nearby. Like it really adds this physical aspect to music that, that I think kind of unlocked an aspect of dub for me thinking about this record.

Kyle: And, the mix of the music itself, you know, learning that the low end has to support the toasting that the DJ was doing, right? Which is just kind of like, again, if you grew up in hip hop culture like we did, and you've listened to the radio that's just a live broadcast from the club and you, you hear the DJ cutting in every 15 seconds, being like, "Ladies in free till 11. Yeah, it's going down at Compound." This is the spiritual ancestor of that, right? Where it's like somebody talking and keeping the energy up. And you would also see it with James Brown and the JBs, just vamping just using a combination of the music and the human energy, uh, without playing live instruments, usually to just keep the energy up, keep the party going, uh, and just keep things at kind of a steady high vibration the entire night.

Cliff: Yeah. Even one of my favorite quotes from Augustus Pablo himself, uh, he talked about, "Everybody used to say our music was 'unfinished.' In America, they used to say that years ago. But now... now they coming out and mixing the music just like how Jamaicans used to mix: heavy, the whole echo thing, the dropout, even the idea of rapping and deejaying." He said, "Look how long Jamaican people been deejaying." So it's just like, it's... it's so historically centered in this one area. And the impact, which we've already said a number of times, was just explosive, even in ways that we didn't expect.

Kyle: So you, by the mid Sixties, are starting to see shades of, in the studio, these artists trying to manipulate with that in mind. And the story that gets cited a number of different places, even though there are instances of this stuff starting to happen before it, but kind of the "big bang" moment for dub, uh, was in 1967 at Treasure Isle Studio, a producer named Ruddy Redwood, and an engineer named Byron Smith were doing a dubplate. They were versioning a rock steady song called "On The Beach" by a group called The Paragons. And they miscued the dub, right? Which was the placing together of the instrumental and the vocal takes for a copy from the master. They miscued it, and so you basically wound up with an instrumental version, but the audio sounded a little different. And in the spirit of economy, of not having much studio time, Ruddy Redwood called it art. He was like, "This is great. Just leave it like that." And he, they went off and they took that dub version and played it at a party that weekend. in this book that I mentioned earlier, Bunny Lee ... the quote is in Patois, and I'm definitely not going to read it that way ... Bunny Lee said,  "The dance got so excited when he played the record that they started to sing the lyrics over the riddim part." So basically just the instrumental encouraged people to sing the song that they knew. "People got so excited that they started to sing the lyrics over the riddim part. And I had to play that for half an hour to an hour. The Monday morning when I came back into town, I said, 'Tubs, that little mistake we made; the people loved it.' So Tubby said, 'All right, we'll try it.'" Uh, and they tried it with a Slim Smith riddim,  "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", and Tubby started with the voice and then brought in the riddim, uh, then he played the singing and then he played the complete riddim without voice, and we started to call the thing a version. So it started with just straight up instrumentals with the vocals removed and then once they realized that was the thing that got the party going and could be stretched in infinite dimensions, they started reworking stuff around it. New melody lines, replacement of one instrument with another, and then obviously the sonic dimensions of the recording itself started to get stretched, but they realized that it can be manipulated; a moment that really landed with people like a standup bit could be sustained and extended. And, and the goal became to surprise people, to stretch some moments out, to lead with a punch. It became its own kind of form of tension and release, which was such a cool way to think about music and the social shared experience of music.

Cliff: One aspect of versioning, which you touched on there, but I thought was even more fascinating was the idea of versioning created this opportunity to more closely match the economics of the quote, unquote "music industry" in Jamaica with the actual levels of talent and expertise that existed. And so one of the aspects that talked about versioning and how it was kind of uniquely tailored to Jamaica at that time was talking about that, unlike instrumentalists, who were already working regularly in studios, vocalists weren't necessarily in great supply, especially not great vocalists. And so what versioning allowed them to do was kind of give a song either that didn't have a great vocal take in the studio, uh, or maybe even made it out of the studio with a subpar take or something like that. It created an opportunity for that song itself to live a new life, and would intertwine, especially with Augustus Pablo. For example, the instrumental "Java" that would come out a little bit after this record, I think? 1972? Uh, "Java" was originally supposed to be a vocal performance and now Augustus Pablo is playing it on, on melodica and putting it on, on top of the song that it would have gone on as, as a vocal. like just the kind of, of coarseness of that, uh, in the way that it kind of filled in the gaps in the music industry so that people could keep reusing their own music. Not only kind of like in a cultural sense, the way that the blues did, but in almost a literal, like, "we need more ways to make enough music to fill our need societally for all this new music." And they just found these creative ways to do it. And so versioning wasn't just remix culture the way it is today, but it was actually like, uh, we also don't want songs to fall between the cracks or go away just because we couldn't figure out one part of it just because we didn't have access to enough production or raw talent to make a song work.

Kyle: And it's a cool way for, uh, licks or rhythms or baselines to get in your bones. It's like a slow creep into your consciousness. Commercialization of music has made us think about crystallizing ideas, like "This guitar riff belongs in this song. And if they reuse it again, then they're AC/DC, they're the band that does the same song all the time." But this kind of inverts that whole thinking for me in that it's like, how far can you stretch a piece of music and make it recognizable and make it the same thing? Or have it stretch out too far and you kind of almost lose your musical identity, and... and Augustus Pablo with this record King Tubbys, I think this is largely kind of agreed upon as one of the examples where he rode that line really nicely, right? Where he had a coherent sound, but little things come and go and ebb and flow enough where it stretches out in a lot of really nice directions.

Cliff: And on top of that, just before we leave this little idea, there also wasn't really any formal copyright system in Jamaica until the early Nineties. So, one: another example of uh, countries that are not named America doing an okay job of upholding each other's ideas without the necessity of a legal framework, which is cool. Um, but on the other end of it, like, you know, by that law not existing at all, obviously that changes the nature of how versioning and repurposing songs can work at all. So it becomes like a relationship game and not just a, am I using this sample in exactly the right context that would allow me to then go and republish it and make it my song?

Kyle: Right. And when you look at performance credits on a lot of these songs, on this album in particular, you see that... such a pourousness between people performing on each other's records and how much stuff got produced by the same handful of people at the one place or two places, you know, Studio One or King Tubby Studio. You see how many people performed in or around the Wailers or the Upsetters... a litigious framework would kill this music culture. So I think you hit on a couple of things that, if you are a musician who listens to this podcast, I hope you will take away encouragement that, one, just because it's always been done that way doesn't mean you should assume in terms of, like, distribution, the way music gets heard and experienced, that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be questioned and attacked and changed. The culture at that time was of double A Sides, right? Was a single and then another single by a totally different artist on the flip side of the record, sold by the record companies. And this kind of did away with that. This destroyed that notion, and less of a regulatory framework to try to commercialize, uh, and capitalize on this stuff actually promoted greater creativity. Right? So those are a couple of things I really appreciated. There's so much freedom in the way that they went about all of this, that it was a real breath of fresh air, especially coming right off of Rihanna where the shadow looming over the way that record got made, and so much of what that record was trying to accomplish, was around the music industry capitalist commercialist framework, and here on the other side of it, you have a quiet, spacious, spiritual thing made by a person and group of people just trying to be free and create culture and do something really great and magical. So, real nice reprieve from week to week for us this season.

Cliff: Interestingly, you just said spacious and spiritual to describe the culture of it. I think that's a pretty good way to describe the sound itself.

Kyle: I would agree. I put in the notes, " it's psychedelic AF and easy to just vibe out to," uh, and we recommend that to be honest, but, um, because that's so easy, we don't want to take for granted what is actually happening because there is a real artfulness and mastery at work. So let's hone in on the elements, which, again, are executed just about to perfection here. If you want to talk about dub, in our opinion and the opinions of actual experts who have spent their lives studying reggae, people like David Katz, this is the finest document for this art form.

Cliff: That makes sense, if you haven't heard it before, either, because to me, this hit you upside the head. If you're not ready for what you're going to listen to, especially if you hang in there for a few songs, by the time you get to "Each One Dub", and that thing drops all the way out for what feels like eight minutes before the rhythm comes back in... like, um, it's, it's shocking.

Kyle: It plays with your conception of time a lot. I think one of my favorite things that I read, where I sat back in my chair and was like, "Oh!" was, y'know, Jamaica being such a melting pot of cultures, of people from all over. They talked about how the dynamics of dub-- of reggae, but especially of dub music-- are unique and special. The music isn't structured in a traditional Western sense, which is about tension and release, build up and build back down. it's more about, like, an ongoing fullness. The melody and harmony really fills up the mix and is bright and is out front, versus starkness, drum and bass. And it comes and goes like waves rather than up and down steps. It's more in and out than up and down like you would see in Western music and it's not traditionally African where repetition or interlocking of rhythms really becomes kind of the thing, the way that you make the piece of music move. It's more stop start, and that's, to your point, exactly what happens in "Each One" where it just goes away. It just recedes, right? Rhythmically. And you're just like, "Whoa whoa whoa." And then it lasts for anywhere from 10 seconds to 8 minutes, depending on when you're listening to it. So where most systems of dynamics in music are polar, because this plays with form and loose inspiration from everywhere, it shifts kind of more between axes. It's more four dimensional than the normal kind of two dimensional approach. And it does it effortlessly. That sounds like a really complicated, heady explanation for what it is, but it's the opposite. It's almost impossible to explain. So when I finally read that explanation, I was like, that's it. It comes and goes in your consciousness with a really beautiful dexterity. I mean, it's like water in that way. It's very elemental. 

Cliff: There's this quote from Adrian Sherwood, who, uh, was a dub producer out of London, and he said, "With the dubs, you're working with a rhythm that's hanging on the verge of collapse all the time. You're putting it into pieces, holding it together with delays, adding and spinning the rhythm, taking it out. One bar blurs into another and distorts into the end of a four bar figure. Then you pull it back just when you think it's going to collapse, then you soothe people by bringing back the bass when you've taken it out. There's more space in it than anything." I thought that was interesting. Cause like you can never get too far away from tension and release, but to your point, the way that we normally experience it, especially in Western music is totally absent here. And instead it's a lot more like an extended troll from people who definitely know what they're doing.

Kyle: I think a lot of it is at the subconscious level, right? I think it's a gift in that way and that they follow instincts about where to bring it up and where to pull it back. I hadn't thought about this 'til right this second, but what would dub sheet music even look like? Like how could you explain to a trained player at Berkeley how to make great dub? I don't think you can academic your way into what this is. It's all feel. And I think when we talk about it being spiritual, that's really what it means, is it's an improvisation based game, but not in the way of jazz, where it's about notes and that kind of thing, like dexterity. This is really about interplay. A lot of it comes down to one person or two people, this is bedroom pop. This is really, really great Tame Impala, where you play all the stuff and then you remix your own thing, which is next level.

Cliff: Well, and one of the things I think we'll probably touch on later, too: in dub, looking back, you can see a lot of the guitarists who would later go on to do all the shoegaze stuff, because they will effectively take the position of the mixing console except through their guitar rig. That's why it got the troll name "shoegaze" to begin with. Uh, and we'll see later that there was a more direct connection between these movements, but like, if that helps to picture it that way, it's a lot more like a guitarist who's really into their rig, being able to create feedback and then pump it back through other things to create textures. Except even in describing it, right, I'm thinking of 10 times I've seen that where someone was terrible and it was really boring and it didn't work. But when someone does it really well, you know, to their credit, like bands like Radiohead, when they know how to build texture from their own feedback and delay and all that, like that's a lot more of what we're seeing as a modern version of dub, at least in the way that it was approached in terms of music making, even if it sounds totally different. 

Kyle: It's breathtaking when you watch it get built in real time in person, for sure. One of the key components I think structurally of the rhythms of the song, you know... R-I-D-D-I-M, the songs themselves... is here especially you have great source material, right? Like you gotta be a really good curator and then build on it in a really beautiful way. Every song on this is great to me. I know we'll share on social a whole listing of what the source material was. But of the three or four examples that get called out from this record and in a lot of the short write-ups, the title track is really the one, right? And that's the one that was on that compilation I talked about. It is sourced from a Jacob Miller song, a record of Jacob Miller songs that Augustus produced, called "Baby I Love You". And they never give you the whole phrase "baby I love you" on that. Like, it'll be like, "baby I, I, I, I ..." And it's really fractal in that way. And, one of the things that I really appreciate about the sonic culture of dub... I'm going to keep quoting from these books because there were so many moments where I was like, "yes," is the way that it evokes the past and the future, right? The quote is, " In the sonic culture of humans, the sensation of echo is closely associated with the cognitive function of memory and the advocation of the chronological past. At the same time, it can also evoke the vastness of outer space and hence the chronological future. So dub is obviously about memory in the immediate sense that it's a remix, a refashioned version of an already familiar pop song, and it derives much of its musical and commercial power from manipulation of the listener's prior experience of a song." So stacking the way you already feel about a song... I know we're essentially just describing a remix, but spiritually, that approach is so different. That headspace is so different than, like... the first remix single that I ever bought was "All About the Benjamins" because Puff Daddy did a rock remix, right? And it's so different because that was for... a little bit for an experiment, but also for commercial purposes to put something else on the CD. This was let's see where else we can take this musical idea that is beloved. and... I don't, I just, that's the thing that I wish was more a part of mainstream popular culture. Like obviously as you've alluded to, there are places in culture, especially club culture now, where that influence has worn on and evolved. But I mean, wouldn't it be cool to hear a Johnny Greenwood dub of a Taylor Swift song, and that's just what the radio was? Just an hour of pirate remixes of Ariana Grande and DaBaby and stuff like that. Just kind of all blending and ebbing and flowing in and out of itself. how much more cerebral and lovely an experience would that be? Essentially, I think I'm describing NTS Radio the app, but it'd be nice if, if Clear Channel had one weird station on the dial. Anyway, neither here nor there So... so what else? Talk about some of the other elements, technically speaking, the building blocks of dub that kind of makes it what it is.

Cliff: Sure. So I also want to touch on specifically inside of this record, the, the Far East sound that was known and attributed to Augustus Pablo. You know, obviously you've... he's got lots of melodica playing. Like that became a thing, which, I literally can't imagine a more chill sentence than "I was known for my melodica playing in dub invention."

Kyle: So, again, again, Google "melodica", it is a child's instrument. In some countries, that's the equivalent of like in fifth grade pre band, where they give you a recorder and you play Hot Cross Buns. This is a thing that children play and it's intended to be simplistic. And for further context, Augustus Pablo was like a studied multi-instrumentalist, he was a great keyboardist and could play multiple instruments and he chose this of all things to make his thing, which I think speaks to the core of the spirit of who he was. And that's shown through in the spirit of his music.

Cliff: Yeah. And it's worth mentioning that specifically in the context of how dub evolved in this time and on this record for a few reasons. So the, the reason it caught my attention is because he's, he's really well known for literally that capital F capital E "Far East" sound. But a melodica specifically is just a keyboard on top of a woodwind instrument, which means that it's really literal in terms of the notes that you're able to play, which is not the way that Eastern music works, or at least, um,  some of the more Arabic influenced music that we know of. So it caught my attention and for him to constantly be called Far East, while being known for an instrument that was specifically Western. But it led to a couple of interesting insights. One is just, yeah, he had his kind of own style of playing with the scales in the minor keys that invoked a sense of Eastern music, but it actually went a little bit further than that, which was wild because a kind of meta or parallel level thing that was going on at the same time here was that Chinese Jamaican producers were also contributing to what would become dub and it's way too on the nose and is literally untrue to just say, because there were Chinese Jamaican producers, there was Far East influence on the music. It literally wasn't like that. But the nature of mashing these cultures together meant that this unlocked the question for me of like, how does Augustus Pablo get known for a Far East sound on a non Far East instrument? And like, this is how. Not only by being interested in that music or producing more music like that. But also being around another, you know, Chinese Jamaican subculture who had the same ethos towards dub, who was trying to build it up, who had their own production techniques, and they were learning from one another. And so that became like a literal cultural melting pot. And it was so surprising to me, probably because it's hard enough to hear about who contributes to something like dub in a time before there was IP and copyright law. But it's just as difficult, maybe even more in some cases to hear about this kind of like "sub-sub-culture" of people who weren't from the Caribbean originally and who would later on be part of, kind of like a mass exodus during some of the violence a few decades later. So it was just like, that's another kind of big rabbit hole worth drawing out because there's so much, uh, Chinese Jamaican influence at this time too.

Kyle: And he gave, Herman Chin Loy being that guy's name, gave Augustus his name, Horace Swaby is his real name. But initially that was a production pseudonym that came from the nickname that he gave him. Uh, but he also shared it. So some of the early recordings that are under the name Augustus Pablo are a combination of Horace, of Herman Chin Loy, and a session keyboardist, so it's not necessarily melodica player guy himself. Eventually as his reputation grew and he became known for the melodica he assumed the identity alone. And Rockers, of the name Rockers Uptown in the album title, was the name of his brother's sound system that he used when they would go out and play, air quotes, play live. And it was also the name of his label, on which he released some of these songs, and a record shop that he owned on Orange Street. So hearkening back to your point around essentially IP and the law around this stuff really beautifully, they weren't too worried about any of that in that they even shared a name that was a person's name and also kind of a band name. It was like anti- Hootie and the Blowfish little bit, something like that. So... really interesting the way that the inspiration was shared so freely, uh, kind of at every level between these people.

Cliff: Yeah. And so another place that we see it, even after they start to develop distinct, um, again, between native Jamaican producers and then the cohort, I would say, of Chinese Jamaican producers who are all kind of working together, but started developing distinct styles, brings out another thing that we can start to hear a little bit here, where some of the reggae based production, because they were pulling from engineers who either weren't necessarily getting the highest quality recording, or they just wanted to push it until they could reach max volume without distorting too much. A lot of times they were working with distorted tracks already. And so what they began to do, intentionally over time, which influenced... again, goes back to that cycle of like sound system culture, and emphasizing the bass... they started to push for the distortion on purpose. Now this does something really interesting with dub that, honestly, I never knew to listen to, and now I can't unhear it. When you push into that level of distortion and you do so on the downbeats when you also have the bass, you create this impression that we now take for granted, because we're so used to like digital hip-hop using like pad synths and all this stuff, right? Which is basically like a bass note on pitch. That wasn't really a part of the music that they were mashing together. And yet, because they would create that distortion intentionally on the downbeat with the bass, it created this thick texture that made you feel like it was a melodic drum pattern. And like, that's... I never considered that before, but it's something that's obvious once you start listening to it. And like, of course it works, right? I think even in our personal experiences of music, we probably heard more of that than other people would have gotten exposed to because OutKast really worked on a bass guitar, right? Uh, and really produced towards making that bass guitar sound like it was the actual beat itself. 

Kyle: Oh my God. They did a retrospective on Aquemini and, set in a million times on this podcast. Spottieottiedopaliscious favorite song when they were like, "Oh yeah, we were trying to do a reggae song." I was like, Oh my God. Of course that's what it is. Of course that's what it is. Cause that's a... it's a moving rhythmic bassline that kind of functions as the drums almost, as the low end. It's... oh, it's so good.

Cliff: Next time you listen to that song. Like, I love that you brought that up... when the verse drops back in and the rhythm stops being a bass riff, it still feels like of exactly what you're mentioning.

Kyle: Yep. Very dub-like. There's a lot of that on this record.

Cliff: So that's one big, I think, sonic aspect. The other one that I think is worth bringing up... like I mentioned a little bit earlier, So much of dub here is analog where music is being turned into an electronic signal, but because of the time delay it takes to literally pipe it from one thing, one like tube-based machine to another... eventually, you know, not only dub producers here, but then, in a very other part of the world guitarists like Les Paul would start to discover that they could create a sense of echo. Like Les Paul was over there taping tapes together to spread out the amount of time so that he could create that little slap back, right? A lot of what's happening here with dub production, uh, and especially with the Roland Space Echo that people love to mention as part of this, because when we talk about the board being the instrument here... you have to kind of really visually conceptualize, just like with electric guitarists and multi-track recording opening up the possibilities for overdubs and layering... similarly, a live mixing board, sending signals in and out not only creates an opportunity to overlay things, but also gives you the opportunity to just turn things off, drop them out. And then depending on how your signal chain is set up, you've got maybe something being piped out of the board that you've already recorded into something like a Roland Space Echo, and then you're pumping it back into another channel, which you can then separately mix on top of what's already playing in the board. Now you've created these artifacts of the live music that you're now mixing back into the real sound, and it not only creates that, like we've talked about that really different sense of space and time, because you're hearing like fragments of the thing that you just heard, but it's not distinct enough to feel like what they're doing is what they're doing. The other aspect of it that kind of brings it into view, like basically, "how does that not turn into chaos immediately"... well, because they were so driven by rhythm and by understanding the bass and the downbeat, they began to quantize that feedback that was coming back into the system. I mean, again, what seems obvious to us now, but might not have been at the time. It's like, well, okay. There's enough space being created, sending all these signals out, creating delays, and piping it back in and all that. Well, what if we find a way to create just enough of a gap to where it's actually on every other beat or every four beats. Now, all of a sudden you have these fragments, which again, we take for granted today because digital delay literally accepts whatever tempo you want to feed it. You know, it can be matched up to whatever's being played, but back then they didn't have that. All they had were knobs and tubes and in the length of the signal that it took to send it out and get it back. And so combining those things together, they are creating, for lack for a better word, soundscapes, that would be easier to make today because of the tools we have, but are just incredible gems of technology back then, especially considering that they were doing... King Tubby especially... was doing so much of this with so little. I mean, every time he would add one piece of equipment to his arsenal, it would create hundreds of new ways to listen to things.

Kyle: And it was a limited set up. At his studio where this record was produced, was using a mid sixties, 12 into four channel console that he bought you know, on the cheap, when, Dynamic Sound Studios, one of the big studios, upgraded to a 16 track. 12 is a lot of tracks; it gives you a lot of freedom to do stuff, but to think about manipulating that and getting it down into a third the amount of signals on the fly to get one kind of dub down is really an amazing thing. And both of those books talk about King Tubby's jazz influence and how he took some aspects of the playing of it and applied that, again, to a board. And it just totally inverted the role of the producer, right? Who, in nine cases out of 10, their... their role is just to capture the document as authentically as possible. To center the producer and the engineer at the core of this experience is an interesting thing. And I think it also speaks to that egolessness, right? It's just like whoever is the best person to produce the sounds in our head and create the space, let's have that person do it. And that King Tubby, or a person like King Tubby or Lee Perry, could develop a reputation for sitting behind the board... that too is a big cultural shift, right? in American culture, when you think about producers of that era, or maybe a little bit before that, you think of like a Sam Phillips who wasn't really there to enhance the musicality of the thing or be an artist in his own right. He was a businessman. He was there to capture the thing and produce and then commercialize and make money on it. So the "engineer as artist" idea... again, not so novel anymore because those lines are so blurred, but I think we got to give King Tubby his due on this thing, because the confidence of that, and the "Of course, why wouldn't I do it? I have these ideas and I'm the Baryshnikov of this machine, who else but me? it's a ... another really beautiful narrative that spun out of digging into this stuff.

Cliff: One more example to build on top of that, because I... it's too good not to mention, uh, another example of King Tubby specifically taking a normal engineering tool and turning it into something trademark was the high pass filter. So again, it all comes back to this particular time in music, things were analog, but not digital. That meant that the signals that were going out, like for anyone who's never tried to chain together even a few guitar pedals, your sound is garbage by the time it comes out of the third box of metal and electronics. So one of the things that needed to be done here especially is they needed to cut out that low frequency hum that was going to come from piping all the output and input channels into one another. You start using a high pass filter just to get that stuff out of there to make sure it doesn't make everything super muddy because the bass was important. King Tubby turns it into something trademark. And I think like the easiest place, in my opinion, to check that out is again the title track. When you listen to it, he's got the rhythm panned way left, uh, and the melodica in the guitar are centered and then they fade out to the sides, but especially to the right. And so actually on this really influential dub song where the bass and the rhythm is the focus, it's panned all the way on the left side and you can hear how actually that snare is cutting through things like a melodica and a guitar because the filtering has been applied in this way that would honestly sound really ridiculous otherwise, but because he's using it to accentuate it and separating it out from the other parts of the rhythm, it created this entirely new way of thinking about combining, like, high-pass filtering and compression to where now he was making these little rhythmic things that, again, we hear all the time on a beat pad, but back then, were just like sounds that didn't exist. And there are plenty of stories of them doing, there are a lot of correlations, I think, between them and the way that Led Zeppelin recorded for awhile. But there are even some really great stories of like King Tubby capturing the sound of hitting a spring reverb literally against a wall in a room in order to keep it, then run it through all the processing, then use it again in future versions. We've touched on a few of these things. It feels like there's infinite numbers of these little aspects of his production to touch on. And they, they are just incredibly all come out here, uh, or at least come into really clear view on this record.

Kyle: And John Lydon-- Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols-- would describe, in that horribly grumpy way that he talks about everything, even things that he loves, that he loved the rudeness of things like hitting the spring reverb, things like including sirens going by near the studio in the actual mix of the song. There was an accidental or otherwise field recording aspect to the thing. But again, hearkening, back to sound system culture: environmental noise and space, omni-directionality is so, so Important. And then in this particular case, one other little detail where I think the idea of space really helped: the melodica. Take the flute by contrast; take Jethro Tull. If you played Jethro Tull too loud, when the flute solo gets going, it is like a knife through the side of your head. It's cutting. It's oppressive. Melodica, somewhat in the same register as a, as a manipulated woodwind can kind of do the same thing, right? What the Space Echo does... the title track is a good example, but "555 Dub Street" is another good example where it layers it. It pushes it out into space, multi directionally, and it gives it a lushness. Which, again, think about your fifth grade Hot Cross Buns recorder. When in the world would the word "lush" ever come in to describe the sound of that instrument? So many little examples of inverting what we now think of as simple ideas or subverting or pivoting on. Really just like the sound manipulation idea applies to the big overall palette; to the mix of a thing, and then to little details. And I think each song on the record has a, a little bit of a different thing where the focus, gets manipulated in different and interesting ways. Sometimes it's the snare drum. Uh, on "Stop Them Jah" it's uh, the horns, uh, a lot of times it's the guitar, the kind of rock steady guitar lick, the skank Sometimes it's the melodica and sometimes it's just the creation of space from the mix of all the other elements. So one of the really fun ways, once you've listened to this record, like 50 times, and you feel like you have the grooves in your bones, one of the fun kind of 2.0 exercises is to hone in on what's being manipulated and kind of picking up on the story that that tells. 

Cliff: And speaking of stories, I feel like we couldn't really close out this episode, unless we tell at least one or two about the frankly insane amount of influence that not only dub, but like this record specifically, had on dancehall, dubstep, drum and bass, hip hop, post-punk goth, electronic music, or Radiohead the band. I mean...

Kyle: but, I mean, what ... what else is going to connect Bauhaus, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Massive Attack, Portishead, hard techno artists that I will never know the name of, the Migos... y'know, whether they know it or not, Mike Will... Incredible. What a point of origin do you have to be, how strong do you have to be in terms of the originality of what you're doing to cast that wide a net that lasts 30 plus years, multiple generations, really, truly incredible. One story that I think was like, uh, an aftershock after the big bang was how that trajectory of influence got accelerated. John Lydon was on a show on Capitol Radio in the UK in 1977. Punk icon at this time, uh, the Pistols had put out Nevermind the Bollocks. and this is kind of right on the cusp before he's moving into Public Image LTD and Branching out sonically. So they have him on to play a playlist of songs that he loves, which like, I mean, that's why I love some of the Beats One shows like with Frank Ocean and with Josh Homme. I love more of that "get me inside your brain" type of stuff. So the playlist is crazy and we'll share it. It's everything from "Halleluwah" by Can to Captain Beefheart to Peter Hamill, two tracks by Peter Hamill actually, a track from Neil Young's On The Beach, and then a bunch of reggae. And the guy was like, We don't get a lot of punks on here with much of a reggae record collection." And he was basically like, " I like this shit a lot." And "King Tubbys", the title track, comes in right around the middle of the set. And it went on to be a musical moment. There was another reggae song that got played-- a rare 45-- and it reportedly sold 50,000 copies, like in the immediate aftershock of that broadcast.

And it was kind of incredible A reggae cat named John Letts went on to say that, you know, that influence became obvious with Public Image LTD and some of the stuff he did later, but that he had that blueprint in his mind long before ever traveling to Jamaica and becoming part of the culture. John really thought of reggae and especially dub as a kind of avant garde music. He understood the kind of deconstructed and reconstructed nature of it deeply. That was kind of an inflection point. And when you start to hear Bauhaus and Joy Division and post punk stuff with space, you obviously can't attribute it entirely to that moment because there was a whole movement going on in the underground at that time, but that certainly accelerated the trajectory greatly.

Cliff: Yeah, like I was telling you, you know, before we started recording, this actually helped me understand the cure a lot. You know, because reading this story from this perspective... Punk loves to kind of over-index on its idols a little bit. So, you know, you'll hear plenty of stories about like Johnny Rotten dropped the needle and then dub magically spread throughout the world. But thinking about that, like you said, as like a seminal moment, and then you're introducing specifically in that title track, this kind of cavernous sound to things. Well like, okay. Yeah. The Cure, Public Image Limited, and like all this stuff that I would say, even in contrast to like The Clash or Bad Brains who were introducing elements of reggae into a punk sound over on the other side, you've got that kind of a post-punk thing going on. It really drew out for me here, the difference between the trajectory of bands, like the cure and all that, and that sort of, post-punk very ethereal and spacious sound to the music as opposed to something like The Clash or Bad Brains, which introduce elements of reggae into a punk template. And so like, it really helped me to understand, like, I frankly don't like, love that post punk genre of music, at least what we're calling post-punk here. but it gives it a sort of, I have a fondness for it that I didn't before thinking about these people listening to Johnny Rotten talking about these reggae records that he loves and then listening to it for the first time and then saying, this is the thing we should do with our music.

Kyle: Yeah, I totally agree with you on that. I also think that influence is in the kind of spirit that Augustus Pablo would have really appreciated. And he lived a while longer. Until the Nineties, I believe. But I, I didn't get a sense from anything that I read or saw that he was really quite aware of the impact and how many ripples there were. But this cat Crispin Sartwell in an article for Splice Today, wrote a quote that I think puts a bow on it really nicely. For me, he said,  "Pablo's work is uniquely ego-less, which is the essence of his spiritual message. His music was described elsewhere as religious music of a particular intensity and humility." And, you know, as he got on in his life, things went even more in the dance hall, clubby direction, Like things got even poppier in Jamaican music culture. And he just kinda carried on with an almost monk-like, spiritual drive to get these expressions out of himself. " Pablo's work is uniquely ego-less, which is the essence of a spiritual message. The sound of the melodica itself is quote unquote naive and shifts in timber and toner achieved by studio effects. But Pablo specifically tries not to show his virtuosity on the keyboard. He wanderingly follows the rhythm or cuts right to its essence often very simply with a line of single notes or two note semi chords. It's not about himself. It's about the bassline and Jah Rastafari. He's the opposite, for example, of John Coltrane," who we've previously talked about is an intensely spiritual musician. And you come out thinking not that's impossible, but I bet I could do that too. I've tried, but it's harder than it sounds to do it well." It physically creates a space where it invites you in to be part of it and to see yourself in it. And there's so much about the culture of Jamaican music in general, but specifically about this one player and this one producer in Pablo and Tubby respectively, that makes this the perfect entry point to me, not just for dub, which is my kind of favorite artifact in the history of reggae, but really for all of reggae music itself. If it's too monolithic, if it's too huge, if it has never been a thing that's really tickled your fancy, I hope that you can find an entry point, because of the wavelength that this was on, that has not been occupied before, since in the same way.

Cliff: Everyone can find an opportunity to play this record. Absolutely no excuses, both brilliant and inoffensive. Put it on.

Kyle: It's wild. Chances are you are stuck in your house, or if you're doing a job that has you out in the world, you're, probably doing it on your own with headphones on, so I hope this will let you occupy a world that is more wholesome and more positive and allows you to feel a little more one with everything for 35 minutes at a time.

SEASON 5 EPISODES

TuneDig Episode 38: Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown”

Reggae music is easy to take for granted, but its impact is underappreciated and massive — in the case of dub in particular, everyone from Radiohead to Johnny Rotten to Run-DMC owes it a debt.

Augustus Pablo and King Tubby together created what’s regarded as “one of the finest examples of dub ever recorded.” Join us as we dive into the culture, history, and unique engineering experiments that made it possible.

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TuneDig Episode 37: Rihanna’s “ANTI”

By every measure — sales, awards, chart-toppers, global name recognition — Rihanna is objectively as big as the Beatles ever were. In fact, ANTI is so big it’s still on the charts, a record five full years later.

Take a closer look with us at “the record you make when you don’t need to sell records”, and get a taste of the true freedom that comes from focusing on your inner voice when faced with insurmountable expectations.

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TuneDig Episode 36: Son House’s “Father of Folk Blues”

All American music traces back to the blues, and deep at the root sits Son House. That the recordings on “Father of Folk Blues” even exist is something of a gray area that cuts to the heart of the great American myth, but wherever you land after hearing these stories, you’ll find that what matters most is what the great Muddy Waters once said of House: “That man was the king.”

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TuneDig Episode 35: Melvins’s “Stoner Witch”

The futility of describing the Melvins has stretched critics in the direction of absurd words like “Dadaist” for nearly 40 years now. They’ve belligerently flogged any attempt to pinpoint their essence simply by being themselves, but “Stoner Witch” remains a reliable mall directory for the Melvins’ vast and wild discography. Grab yourself some pretzel bites.

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TuneDig Episode 34: Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”

We should talk about Dolly the way we talk about Prince. Her extraordinary kindness and unique kitsch both make her universally loved, but what gets left out of the conversation is the very thing that made her famous: the music. Join in as we focus attention on the sonics and songwriting of the low-key masterpiece “Jolene”.

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After stepping away from talking about albums in 2020, we took time to regroup and reground in why we started this thing in the first place.

Join us as we share our renewed perspective on music coming out of Hell Year and tee up the special group of albums we’ll be diving into over the next few months. There’s a little something for everyone.

RADIO EPISODES

SEASON 4 EPISODES

SEASON 3 EPISODES

SEASON 2 EPISODES

SEASON 1 EPISODES

BONUS TRACK EPISODES

Kyle and Cliff

BONUS TRACK: How We Got Here

We got a bunch of interesting listener feedback in our off-season, and it encouraged us to shed some light on why we do things the way we do ‘em. Also, we reflect on our first writeup, which was … interesting.

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ABOUT US

We're Cliff (left) and Kyle (right). We’re two dudes born and raised in ATL with day jobs in tech and entertainment, respectively.

We met in middle school, and in one way or another, music’s been the thing that’s kept us close for the two decades since — whether it’s sharing and talking about new music (like this podcast, except in our texts or over beers), going to shows, or working with our favorite record stores to help them survive and thrive.

We started TuneDig as a little art project that connects us more deeply ourselves and to the world through the infinite gift of music. We hope you’ll join us for the conversations, let us know what you think, and share discoveries of your own.

More About TuneDig

TuneDig began as a little something called MusicGrid.me, which we created after realizing there was no place online to directly exchange music recommendations with your friends. Our aim was simple: to make rating albums simple, useful, and social. We got some love from places like MashableWiredEvolver.fm, and Hypebot. We managed to foster conversation between music lovers, get thousands of reviews, and meet great people.

Along the way, we realized that record stores were an essential part of the music lovers’ community. After many a conversation about how we could helpfully connect them to the people who loved them, we began helping them leverage technology to create new revenue streams and embrace streaming services without giving up what’s unique to them: expertise and curation. (Long live the counter clerk who knows exactly which record will be the right introduction to jazz fusion!)

TuneDig is our vision to connect music lovers with the music they love, because no matter how much has changed in the way we discover and enjoy music, recommendations from people you trust and respect will always be the best way to find new music you’ll dig. With this podcast, we’re channeling the spirit of trusted curation pioneered by record stores, and bringing you something to take you deeper into music you can love.