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A Magazine for Sheffield

Netlabel Dub.

The pages of this magazine have long been shouting praise in the direction of the netlabel scene and like it or not, I am here to shout a little more. This time around I'd like to focus on one of my favourite little villages of free music - the dub scene. Since its humble roots in the 1960s, dub has become one of the main threads in music. While often not directly found in the mainstream, genres like hip hop, jungle and dubstep have no doubt woven dub influences right into the current musical spindle. Despite its age, the sounds evoked by dub remain inherently modern. The futuristic textures of the space echo and the phaser, distorting the fabric of the music, and the sirens delaying in out over the smokey sub bass are all things which have been a part of Jamaican and European dancehall culture for many years. Documentaries like the excellent Dub Echoes by Bruno Natal demonstrate this point with aplomb, drawing lines from dub right through early hip hop and 90s dance while also paying tribute to the invention and endeavour of the pioneers of dub. The idea that through experimentation, a handful of modified effects units and a basic rhythm track, one can bring about a whole new genre reflects the fact that music is very much a genealogy of ideas - each one leading to a new innovation as opposed to a landscape of separate entities. It is in this spirit that the netlabel scene has always operated. Most netlabels release genres we are all familiar with - drum and bass, garage, electronica - but the sounds are different somehow. Dub is also very much about minimalism; about how you can improve something by removing elements. What the original dubbers achieved by taking out vocals, horns and guitars actually created something different and covertly, more intense. In a similar way, the shedding of the many trappings of the commercial music industry creates a directness and vitality which can build upon what we already take music to be. The lack of corporate worries in the minds of label managers and artists means that all that is left is the aesthetic and philosophy of the music. Although there is a vast variety of quality and style within the scene, there are some things going on within free music, particularly in the dub realm, which are definitely worthy of note. One of these is the work of the German netlabel Jahtari, which started as a netlabel specialising in what its founders termed 'digital laptop reggae' - a continuation of the dub thread into the world of programmed music. As well as a pleasing Atari brand image, Jahtari has produced music with unrivalled originality and flair. What is also fundamental and enjoyable is that it is all driven by a clear mission statement - the desire to take dub music into the 21st century. In the words of Disrupt, one of the label's founders: "Today we have technology at hand that the dub producers of 30 years ago could only dream of: the computer or other comparable hardware and digital processing in general. Those are powerful tools that open up new possibilities for music almost daily. So it is essential to constantly keep researching on that frontier of technology. That should be felt in every track." It is very much in this spirit that the contemporary dub community thrives. Other labels such as the brilliant LCL netlabel from France and Italy's A Quiet Bump have taken inspiration from Jahtari and now play a part in a thriving, non-commercial dub scene which is eager to develop dub towards new frontiers. Unlike the commercial recording industry, which is constantly confronted by the necessity to be financially soluble as well as creatively active, the nature of free music liberates imprints from their duties to their bank accounts, meaning that the focus can be on on the creative process. This would would surely have brought a smile to the likes of King Tubby and co. Modern music seems almost afraid of simplicity, a core value which lies at the very centre of much of the best music the human race has produced. If overcomplicated production values are left to dominate then we might have a lot less to shout about in a decade. Moreover, idioms of dub music live on in every remixer, MC and bassist. It would be a shame to forget where all that came from. The idea of free music has always had a special resonance for me, and since discovering the netlabel community I have created a strong bond with the work these labels do. It is pure in its intentions and makes for an exciting and challenging take on a classic genre. Dub music is nothing new, but labels like Jahtari give the feeling of listening to music which was handed to you in earnest. It is the sound of impressive creativity and conviction and one which I urge you to investigate. )

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