Experiments in Dub
On a recent trip to India, dub music producer and remix maestro The Mad Professor spoke about his eventful journey in the genre.
If Neil Fraser aka The Mad Professor hadn’t been a dub producer, he’d probably have been an engineer. Introduced to electronics at an early age, he was building radios and telephone systems by the time he was 10 years old. That he should have forayed into electronic music should have surprised no one. Today, more than 200 records down, Fraser’s path breaking innovations in the realm of electronic music and his prolific collaborations has made him one of the legends of the dub music that he helped propagate.
Fraser moved from his hometown in Georgetown, Guyana to London at the age of 13. He continued to dabble in electronics and his fascination with experiments and inventions at an age when the rest of his friends were more interested in girls and sports led to his nickname, which stuck. “Guyana is a place where you don’t have much. If you wanted something you had to build it. So I started taking apart electronics to see how things worked. That’s when my friends gave me the nickname,” he says, smiling. In London, Fraser began to drift into the reggae and Motown scene. In 1979, he began collecting recording equipment and opened his own studio, Ariwa Sounds, in his house in Thornton Heath. He began predominantly recording “lovers rock,” a form of reggae that focussed on apolitical romantic content as opposed Jamaica’s Rastafarian, politically-driven form. He began recording artists for his own label, Ariwa, and caught the attention of influential radio jockey John Peel with his dub series Dub Me Crazy, who gave him significant airtime.
Fraser was instrumental in the transition of reggae and dub into the digital era. His early experiments with the genre started with processing vocals with reverb and delay and laying it out with electronics. He teamed up with dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry on his album Mystic Warriors and began collaborating with artists like Sade and Sly and Robbie. Dub Me Crazy brought him attention from outside the dub scene and he went on to work with pioneering electronic artists like Massive Attack, remixing their album Protection. Quiz him about the experience of working with so many diverse artistes and he says, “You it’s so difficult to pick a favourite because they are all so close. Remixes and productions are like children. You like them all, no favourites! Massive Attack for example, the high-end was really good, really great quality.” Fraser’s strong socio-political overtones in his work are rooted in the simple ideology of freedom. Dub and freedom go hand-in-hand according to him. “I think both of these grow in extremely unexpected places. It’s interesting to study the evolution of both,” he states.
Now touring around the world in support of his Dub Me Crazy series, Fraser made a pit-stop in India last month. “I want to explore the Ganges River, it’s amazing!” he smiles. “I’m also ready and waiting to collaborate with Indian musicians. I love Indian instruments, especially the tabla.” And while his globetrotting lifestyle keeps him busy today, he thinks back often about the times when being an artist was the most difficult thing for him. “I think the toughest period of my life as an artiste was when I was going around playing to empty clubs. It’s the hardest,” he reminisces. But the producer in him continues to move forward as he plans his next big project. “It’s going to be a brand new 2010 dub conceptual album. Wait for it,” he grins.