Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Various Artists "Sound System Scratch" and "Return of Sound System Scratch" (3.5* for the general public, 4* for reggae fans, 5* if you’re heavily into dub)

Well over thirty years after the time frame in which these sides were recorded, and given the non-proliferation of roots reggae outside diehard fan circles Down Under, the average Australian listener is going to feel a little, um, lost when faced with these two collections of dub plates from the legendary Black Ark studios and the hands of producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry a.k.a. The Upsetter.

After all, if you’re not familiar with the originals, how, you might ask, are you going to handle the dubs?

Well, boys and girls, before we answer that question maybe we’d better fill in a little background, like, first, who on earth is this Scratch the Upsetter dude and what in the name of creation are these things called dub plates?

Well, taking the second one first.

A dub plate, in its original context, was an acetate disc used as part of the recording process (a ‘test pressing’, if you like) before the studio moved on to a final master and subsequent commercial release of the recording in question.

As such, they were used all over the world, and you’ll find the odd collectible here and there containing an unreleased version of an album or single that has subsequently been retracked or remastered. Here’s a well-known one from Neil Young.

In Jamaica, on the other hand, in a dance hall scene dominated by disk jockeys and sound systems rather than live musicians, the dub plate takes itself off into an entirely different universe.

For a start, different sound systems were aligned to rival studios, and while they might play something from a rival studio there was a predictable tendency to stick to the sponsor’s product, particularly when it comes down to a sound clash, where rival sound systems compete to out do each other. Sure, it’s fine to play the hits, and to have your selection of tracks that are guaranteed to pack the dance floor, but when it comes down to a competition, you want an exclusive, compris?

Now, one way of getting your exclusive is to take a well known song, or more particularly a well known rhythm (or, in Jamaican patois riddim) and drop some of the vocal or instrumental passages out to give the DJ something to rap or toast over.

In that sense, if you get hold of a nice little track, that’s a little on the nudge, nudge side like Breakfast in Bed, as done by Dusty Springfield or, in Jamaica, Lorna Bennett and with a little effort transform it into something like this.

That, coincidentally, was my introduction to the wonders of dub back around 1974...

Alternatively, with a little bit of studio wizardry you can transform the same piece of music into a number of one-off items where the ‘official’ lyrics are tweaked to name check the particular sound system, remark on the operator’s extreme good taste and cast aspersions on the operators of rival systems.

So, in that sense, it all comes down to the producer, who may or may not be the studio owner. If you’ve got some dude wearing both hats (as Lee Perry was with the Black Ark Studios) you’ve effectively got unlimited studio time to play around and churn out inventive and innovative rearrangements of well known tracks and the result has been described (admittedly on the record label’s website) as some of the greatest, most complex and seriously mystical music ever to come out of Jamaica.

Now, as you might expect, there’s a wealth of material along these lines out there, and any common or garden fan’s probably only going to scratch the surface. Personally, I’ve always had a weakness for the dub melodica stylings of Augustus Pablo and tend to steer clear of the rapping toasters, so Hughesy’s collection includes the likes of King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown and a few other odds and ends without going too heavily overboard.


Given the fact that Scratch and the Black Ark recording studio are widely held to have headed off in inventive and innovative directions that no-one else has, even now, thought to consider (and again, we’re quoting that website, but you’ll find plenty of opinion along the same lines) these exclusive mixes never heard outside of sound system dances will probably have a sufficiently high coolness factor to attract the devoted aficionado if, like me, you don’t mind a bit of this sort of thing thrown into your musical mix these two collections are close to essential listening.

If I was a more devoted fan I’d probably have been better off going for a hard copy rather than the $16.99 iTunes digital downloads since that version would deliver a treasure trove of rare photographs and informative sleeve notes by well-known reggaeologist Jeremy Collingwood.

So, in case you’re interested, and being fully aware no one’s likely to recognise anything listed below, what’s on these two collections?

Sound System Scratch:
Lee Perry: Dub Plate Pressure
Augustus Pablo & The Upsetters: Lama Lava Mix One
The Upsetters: Groove Dubber
The Upsetters: Groove Rider
The Upsetters: Jucky Skank
The Upsetters: Chim Cherie (the first use of a drum machine in Jamaican music)
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: The Rightful Organiser
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Stagger
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Big Neck Cut
The Upsetters: Zeal Of The Lord
The Upsetters: Dub of The Lord
The Upsetters: Returning Wax
Winston Wright & The Upsetters: Bushdub Corntrash
Clive Hylton & The Upsetters: From Dub Four
Junior Murvin & The Upsetters: Roots Train Number Two
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Locks In The Dublight
The Upsetters: Moonlight Version
Carlton Jackon & The Upsetters: Dub History
The Upsetters: Groovy Dub
Keith Rowe & The Upsetters: Living Dub

Return Of Sound System Scratch:
Aleas Jube: Righteous Land (previously unreleased)
The Upsetters: Righteous Rocking (dub version of the preceding track)
Junior Murvin & The Upsetters: Get Ready (Bongo mix) (reworking the Impressions' People Get Ready)
The Upsetters: Natural Dub (reworking Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic)
Candy Mackenzie & The Upsetters: Long Enough
The Upsetters: Kiss Me Mix
The Upsetters: Strong Drink (Melodica version)
The Unforgettables: Time
The Upsetters: Longer Dub
Leo Graham & The Upsetters: Revelation Time
George Faith & The Upsetters: I’ve Got The Dub
The Upsetters: Deep and Deadly
The Upsetters & Lee "Scratch" Perry: Jah Jah Ah Natty Dread
The Upsetters: Mr Dubz
The Upsetters & Lee "Scratch" Perry: Enter The Upsetter (actually Enter the Dragon, but you catch the drift)
Jimmy Riley & The Upsetters: Darkness In The City
Jack Lord & The Upsetters: Economic Crisis
The Silvertones: Rejoice Jah Jah Children

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