Peaking Lights and Mark Stewart Releases Reach Back to Dub Reggae
Peaking Lights and Mark Stewart

Peaking Lights photo by David Black. Mark Stewart photo by Chiara Meattelli & Dominic Lee.

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

“It was a ‘mistake’… one evening them a cut dub plate and when them cut, it’s difficult to put in the voice, and Smithy a go stop it and Rudolph ‘Ruddy’ Redwood say, ‘No, make it run.’ When it done, him say it art and me and Tubbys stand up right there so, me look ‘pon Tubbys and Tubbys look ‘pon me..”

– Jamaican studio producer Bunny Lee recalling the invention of dub in David Katz’s oral history of reggae Solid Foundation

Founded upon a studio muck-up in the early 1970s, “dub” as its own mutant strand of music soon overtook the Jamaican music scene, a sonic virus not unlike a dystopian sci-fi flick of the same era. Almost every Jamaican 45 featured a dub of itself on the flip side, both for economic reasons (it’s cheaper to fill a side with an already-recorded track) and because such novelty was a hit in the dancehalls. And the hotter the riddim (or beat), the more permutations followed. As David Toop wrote in his book, Ocean of Sound: “The rise of the version would ultimately pave the way for the experimental contours of dub, in which previously recorded songs would be remixed to emphasize drum and bass.”

Dub was process music, a way of re-imagining the very act of recording that paved the way for the remix, edit, rework, etc. From there, dub and its time warping properties — enacted via delay, reverb, and body-melting bass tones — radiated outward until it infected music around the world. Dub warped the time-space of not just reggae, but also disco, UK punk and new wave, hip-hop, ’80s boogie, German minimal techno, and American pop, and — most obviously in 2012 — dubstep.

Two recent albums sidestepped the current maw of dubstep to reach way back to the gnarly roots of dub reggae: former Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart’s Exorcism of Envy and mellow L.A. couple Peaking Lights’s Lucifer in Dub. Both acts released fresh albums earlier this spring and now their echoes return back come winter. In the case of Stewart, he was one of the first British punk musicians to hear and openly embrace that sound emanating from the West Indian quarters of London. In the Pop Group, Stewart and cohorts reveled in the stripped-back, spacious and pliant rhythms that dub offered (and that rock and prog rock decidedly didn’t). On their classic post-punk debut, Y, Stewart wrapped his agitprop howls in guitar lines as lacerating as razor wire- in manic and discordant dub. In the tape splicings of King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry and the like, Stewart could hear the Burroughs-ian possibilities of such cut-ups.

Exorcism of Envy goes the route of the drastically altered dub version of an album The Politics of Envy, (released in spring of this year), and you can even hear “Scratch” himself amid the digital screes and blats of “Mirror Wars.” Stylistically, Stewart is as drastic in his reconstructions as Jack Ruby, at times as jarring in his sonics as On-U Sound’s Adrian Sherwood. On the stand-out track — a tweaking of Politics’ “Stereotype” now called “Sexorcist” – Factory Floor and former PiL founder Keith Levene collaborate with Stewart for a salacious and speedy bit of electro.

Peaking Lights, however, favor dub’s narcotic effect. The Echo Park-based duo of Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes’s home-recording project produced some of the fuzziest lo-fi dubbed-out pop of the recent past, as hazy as some of “Scratch”’s smoked-out conjurings on dub classics like his own Super Ape and Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves.

In some quarters, the couple’s recent full-length Lucifer was shrugged off as diminishing returns on their enchanting 2011 album, 9E6. Deeper listening, however, revealed the sweet subtleties inherent in the duo’s sound: the ever-sliding analog components twisted to reveal weird new spaces, the vocal chants of Dunis that widen and decay across Coyes’s sputtering drum machines, the ear-mesmerizing dub that lies at every song’s core.

So either a dub album from the band will be overkill or a chance to get even further lost in their laidback grooves. I prefer the latter. Lucifer Dub serves a purpose similar to the Jamaican “showcase,” wherein the A side is gently mixed into its more spaced-out dub, resulting in longer journeys through the riddim. Keeping it playful, Coyes and Dunis pop in ludicrous everyday sounds, not unlike some of Joe Gibbs’s most playful dub productions. There’s the ding-dong of doorbell dubbed into infinity on “Low Dub High Dub,” a busy signal from a landline on “Beautiful Dub.” And every time the phone rings on “Live Dub,” I look down at my phone.

Mark Stewart‘s album Exorcism of Envy is out via Future Noise Music.

Peaking Light’s album Lucifer Dub is out via Weird World/Mexican Summer .

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