Dub music: A guide to the genre’s history, artists, and sound

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that hip hop and electronic might not exist today if it weren’t for dub music, a groundbreaking movement originating in Jamaica over 50 years ago.

When it comes to Jamaican music, you probably know about reggae, but not everyone may be in tune with its more electronically-minded descendant, dub reggae, and the sound system culture that accompanied it. In the video above, we explore the lasting impact of dub music and break down how you can use some of its core production techniques in your own projects—follow along for in-depth insights and audio examples, and see highlights below.

The history of dub music

Dub music grew out of reggae in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Songs in the style largely consisted of heavily-edited remixes of existing records, which were created by removing the vocal sections and placing even more focus on the rhythm section, or riddim.

Novel audio effects like reverb and delay would then be applied, often generously, and vocal snippets and other instruments from the original song (or even other songs) could make their way into the track by means of dubbing or sampling. The term ‘dubbing‘ would also come to mean emphasizing the bass and the drums.

For an example of dub music, take a listen to this dub mix of “Ark of the Covenant” from Lee Scratch Perry.

The sound of dub music

The result of these sonic experiments was something really rhythmic, minimal, and immersive, which was a perfect fit for the sound systems that accompanied dance parties in Jamaica. Time selectors, a.k.a. DJs, were always looking for fresh and exclusive music to play, and largely instrumental dubs would become popular as tracks to rap on or toast over in a live setting.

The pioneers of dub

Early pioneers of dub music used the mixing desk as its own instrument to edit, process, and re-record their dub mixes. Some particularly influential figures include Lee Scratch Perry, Osbourne Ruddock (better known as “King Tubby”), and Hopeton Overton Brown (better known as “Scientist”), who has blessed us with his very own sample pack on Splice Sounds.

“The key element in dub reggae is a recomposition of original music that you use echo, delay, and different sound effects on to enhance the arrangement,” Scientist tells us. “Hearing what King Tubby was first doing influenced me to experiment with reverb and delay. King Tubby pretty much invented the modality of dub, but as we know with everything in life, it starts from something, and then it evolves into something different and bigger. So, I was the person who took it to the next level. I was strictly influenced by King Tubby, and when I went to the studio, I got full freedom to do whatever I wanted, which gave me enough time to find out what worked and what didn’t work.”

The impact of dub music on other genres

Dub music represented an organic and often psychedelic fusion of acoustic sounds with electronic effects. It notably empowered the producer / engineer to take on a new role as a musician in their own right, stepping out from behind the scenes to showcase creativity, taste, and technique in ways that would influence both mainstream and underground music for decades to come.

This paradigm shift is what makes this genre truly special. Punk, hip hop, house, techno, ambient, trip-hop, jungle, drum and bass, dubstep, the list goes on—these genres were all influenced by dub in some way, from sound system culture at large to its underlying production techniques.

Incorporating the genre’s techniques into your own music

On that note, let’s dive into how you can incorporate dub production techniques into your own music, regardless of genre—at 4:41 in the video, we open up Ableton Live to explore dub’s sonic signatures, using sounds from Scientist’s pack alongside effect plugins from Arturia. We also showcase how sends and returns can be used to expand your creative possibilities and simulate a workflow that’s akin to how early dub producers used their mixing boards back in the day. For more on this topic, explore our in-depth guide on audio busing:

What are your favorite dub tracks? What other genres and musical styles would you like to see us dive into next? Let us know in the comments section of the video, and subscribe to the Splice YouTube channel for more breakdowns and production tutorials.

Incorporate Scientist’s timeless sounds into your own productions:

May 13, 2024

Matteo Malinverno Matteo Malinverno is a New York-based music producer currently working on the Content team at Splice.