This reissue retains the classic tracklist from the original issue and sounds as crisp and vital as ever.
Within the last weeks, two crucial court cases have ruled against the unauthorized use of sampled material; Katy Perry was found guilty of the plagiarism of a drum beat and, after 20 years in the courts, Kraftwerk won against Moses Pelham and Martin Haas, who had used a two-second sample from Kraftwerk’s “Metall Auf Metall” without permission. And while the ruling in the Kraftwerk case concluded that modified and unrecognizable samples could still be used without permission, recognizable samples could only be used with the express permission of the original artist. These two cases, which highlight the complex relationship of original to inspiration, a largely legal context that willfully ignores how art evolves, makes the re-release of Augustus Pablo’s King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown on Clocktower Records even more significant. Dub is the place where pre-existing sonic material can be recast, remade, freed from the specific requirements of the song and allowed to grow in different directions. As David Toop explains in The Audio Culture Reader, to dub (or “double”) is to both reinvent and recreate, conjuring multiple versions from the material of the song and “spreading out a song or a groove over a vast landscape of peaks and deep trenches, extending hooks and beats to vanishing point…”. By mixing and mingling original and recreation, dub is the perfect antidote to the kinds of cases noted above where art becomes a limited commodity and originality is isolated from creativity.
Horace Swaby – Augustus Pablo – was a producer and musician in his own right by the time of this collaboration with Osbourne Ruddock – now-legendary engineer and producer King Tubby. Together they would create what is widely considered one of the finest moments, and most crucial records, in dub reggae. And while this might not be the first dub album (an honor that might well belong to Lee Perry’s 1973 LP Blackboard Jungle), King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown is definitely one of the most important and influential, driving artists as diverse as John Lydon, Simon Raymonde, Adrian Sherwood, Tricky, Massive Attack, Cabaret Voltaire and The Brian Jonestown Massacre to experiment within their fields and seek new material beyond the familiar.
“Keep On Dubbing” starts as the album means to continue, with the single word “Lion” spliced over the drum fill and melodica intro, itself punctuated with bass-heavy piano notes that give way to the easy rolling beat of the track. Here, all of King Tubby’s various tricks are displayed: snares buried under gated reverb that sit back in the mix; strummed guitar chords that echo away into the background while the percussion skitters underneath, adding an insectile sheen to an otherwise languid experience. These tropes return throughout the record and become a shorthand to remind us that these tracks are compositions that occur after the fact of performance, a result as much of Pablo’s artistry in encouraging the best from the session musicians as King Tubby’s in arranging and engineering these songs.
The album’s title track is a near-perfect dub rendering of Jacob Miller’s “Baby I Love You So,” keeping snatches of the original Miller vocals but fragmenting them, layering reverb over everything and highlighting Pablo’s melodica throughout with a delay that pulses in time with the song’s drumbeat, percussion and bassline. The melancholy of Miller’s original, which Pablo produced and played on, remains but, without the lyrics, it’s largely down to Pablo’s melodica and its “Far East” sound, again heavily processed, to stand in for the ache of unrequited love. Miller’s single “Each One Teach One” is also used as the foundation for “Each One Dub,” retaining more of Miller’s vocals but, again, stripping back to the drum and bass spine of the song and pushing his voice backwards in the mix, just another sound source to be used to highlight the atmosphere of the song and not the singer.
To be fair, there are some moments where the deliberately reduced framework of the songs turns them into exercises in style, such that “Frozen Dub” and “Satta Dub” meander through their sections and are saved from near ambiance by Tubby’s playful cutting and splicing as they proceed. But these moments are part of the dub experience, the ebb and flow of the sound part of the experimentation with space and time that is central to this form.
Despite the relatively primitive recording situation – King Tubby was, at this point, mixing on a two-track desk – there’s nothing primitive about this album which broke new sonic ground then and which continues to inspire today. It’s no great stretch to consider that without this album and the interplay between King Tubby and Pablo, there’d be no remixing, no house, no rave and, some have argued, without John Lydon’s playing of “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” on British radio in 1977, no post-punk either. This reissue retains the classic tracklist from the original issue and sounds as crisp and vital as ever. From its release and through various reissues, this album remains an essential piece of recorded music.