sweet as the scratch

michael veal's shattered songs

Given Jamaican music's popularized and often self-proclaimed association with a kind of "grass-roots" sensibility, it seems almost contradictory to consider reggae as electronic music. But this is exactly the tension that Michael Veal deploys to guide his study of Jamaican sound culture, Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (2007). Looking at reggae & dub's simultaneous uses of mechanically (re)produced sounds and Rastafari/"of the earth" influenced lyrics and instrumentation, Veal argues that this apparent contradiction is in fact representative of a broad pattern of Jamaican artists negotiating their relationships to the changes in technology, communication, and capital taking place in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

This is carried out through an analysis of Jamaican culture and dub & reggae itself. On the one hand, Veal addresses the profound impact that Jamaica's highly competitive and money driven music industry, dancehall scene, and club culture had on Jamaican music. During dub & reggae's development, these institutions and spaces largely determined which artists and what music would be marketed locally and abroad. That being said, the majority of the book is dedicated to analyzing the sound of dub, and the influence a bunch of bros from the caribbean had and continue to have on electronic music production across the world. Mainly, Veal empahsizes the unique way dub repurposed machines for instrumentation. "At the controls" of the mixing and sound processing technologies of the recording studio, these artists and musicians introduced the world to a powerful landscape of improvisation, repitition, and fragmentation expressed at the level of technology. In doing so--by remixing reggae hits and injecting them with improvised special-effects, heavy bass-lines, and vocals shattered by atmospheric echoes--they created perhaps the most widely drawn upon music genre of the 20th-century.

Dub is an ideal start to our series of "book playlists" because of its intensive engagement with specific artists and music releases. Over the course of the text, Veal refrences over 60 albums and 300 individual tracks as a way of framing the cultural histories and theoretical perspectives that structure his argument. He then lists the music he refers to in an "Index of Recordings" section at the back of the book.

To see (and listen to) such an in depth and comprehesive understanding of a genre take shape in the form of a tracklist is a rare thing. For Veal's collection of materials is not simply a history of Jamaican Billboard hits, but an "archive" of sorts that only someone with a profound understanding of sound and culture could put together. This pairing of Veal's "taste" in music with theory/criticism is something I would like to see more of in the academic world because it places just as much emphasis on the aesthetic materials as it does the argument. That Veal goes to great lengths to offer both a theoretical reading of Jamaican musical history and a sampling of some of the most experimental, sophisticated, and straight up beautiful music to be composed over ther past 50 years suggests that, in his eyes, neither is more important than the other. Take a listen to some tracks from Veal's 28+ hours of selected audio, then check out the book--both are equally enriching intellectual pursuits:

0:00 "Distant Drums (dub)" - Twinkle Brothers - (1978)
1:10 "Your Teeth in My Neck" - Scientist - Scientist Rids the World of the Curse of the Vampires
5:49 "Black Panther Dub" - Mad Professor - Under The Spell Of Dub
9:34 "007" - Los Tunches - Rocker Dub Session
12:31 "Moving Dub (Better Things)" - Massive Attack - No Protection: Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor
18:22 "Reform Institution" - George Isaacs - Slum in Dub
21:25 "Addis Ababa Dub" - Bullwackies All Stars - African Roots Act 1
24:53 "Bag A Wire Dub" - King Tubby - (2001)
28:16 "Tribesman Assault" - Roots Underground - Tribesman Assault
31:05 "Way Over in Dub" - Tappa Zukie - In Dub
34:01 "Crisis dub" - Black Uhuru feat. Sly & Robbie - In Dub
37:46 "Jungle Rock" - Herman Chin Loy - Aquarius Dub
40:30 "Cutting Razor" - The Versatiles
43:21 "Black Bat" - The Upsetters - Heavy Manners
46:17 "Roman Dub" - Harry Mudie - Harry Mudie Meets King Tubby In Dub Conference
49:09 "Revolution Dub" - Hugh Mundell & Augustus Pablo - Africa Must Be Free By 1983
52:39 "Shackles & Chains (version)" - Earl Zero - (1977)
56:00 "Who No Waan Come" - Wailing Souls - (1981)
59:30 "Croaking Lizzard" - Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters - Super Ape
1:02:56 "Street 66" - Linton Kwesi Johnson - Bass Culture
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