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A Decade of Dub 

San Francisco celebrates the genre’s 10 years at the Elbo Room

Wednesday, Aug 30 2006
Mission District mainstay the Elbo Room features a highly eclectic selection of sounds, an ever-rotating amalgamation of salsa, metal, rockabilly, and funk. You never know what you'll find there, it seems — except for Sunday nights, when the watering hole-cum-sweaty danceteria showcases dub music, a highly eclectic genre in and of itself.

Dub began in the late '60s-early '70s as an instrumental offshoot of reggae pioneered by Jamaican engineers like the legendary King Tubby, who experimented with echo and reverb, the manipulation of vocal tracks, and the addition of various musical instruments and percussion to make alternate versions of a prerecorded rhythm (or riddim, in Jamaican parlance). Tubby and his Jamaican peers created a sound in which the space between the drum-and-bass-centered grooves was as important as the grooves themselves. Dub has long since transcended its original reggae context; these days, its sonic principles have become ubiquitous to everything from house music to drum 'n' bass to bhangra and dubstep (a recent U.K. trend combining dub and two-step).

DJ Sep began hosting Dubmission in 1996, back when the music still had a mostly cultlike following — it was largely the province of roots reggae fanatics, ambient noise aficionados, and stoners bored with rock's cliches. For the past 10 years — a period representing several lifetimes in the club scene — she's offered Bay Areans a weekly dose of dub in all of its various forms, featuring resident DJs like Vinnie Esparza and Maneesh the Twister, live local acts like J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science, Tino Corp., and Kush Aurora, and the occasional appearance by international echo-and-reverb legends like Mad Professor, Scientist, Adrian Sherwood, Groove Corporation, Yossi Fine, Dr. Israel, and Blood + Fire Sound System.

"Dub is a form of music, but it's also an aesthetic," explains Sep. "I think it's been the foundation of a lot of electronic music," she adds. For instance, "the idea of a remix comes from dub — breaking down a song and putting it back together again," and it was through dub that the use of sound effects in club music became widely popularized. Interestingly, while Sep says "dub and dancehall come from the same root," dubheads (who gravitate toward experimental, left-field music) aren't necessarily dancehall fans (who hold an affinity for thick bass and movement-inducing riddims) and vice-versa. Yet Dubmission has brought the two audiences together under one roof.

Sep notes that Dubmission's longevity has a lot to do with the support she's received from Elbo Room owner Dennis Ring, her DJ co-hosts, and the people who have come out for the party week after week and year after year. It hasn't hurt that she's also got a firm handle on the dichotomy of dub. "We've been able to dip into the roots, but also look into the future," she says. In addition to showcasing the traditional, reggae-identified aspects of dub à la King Tubby, "we've had people who've explored [its] electronic side." The connecting principle is the notion of infinite space — dub's final frontier, if you will. "Dub has been a very powerful reminder that the notes count, but the silence counts, too," Sep says, adding, "That's what initially got my brain tweaking."

Even after a decade running the club night, Sep says, "there is still potential to grow creatively. I'm still excited to do it." Having recently taken time off for maternity leave after having a son, she's looking forward to getting back behind the decks. "As a DJ, it's always been about new artists, new songs, new sounds," she explains. It's also about the connection she has with her audience: "I've had many, many people over the years e-mail me and tell me I've introduced them to new music."

About The Author

Eric K. Arnold


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