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Dubbing Is a Must 

Surya Dub: Behold the global reverb

Wednesday, Jan 24 2007
San Francisco has always been a global city as far as musical experimentation goes. It's also been home to a thriving underground of subgenres — each one carving its niche in our nightlife scene. And while DJ culture continues to evolve at a fast pace, it hasn't developed entirely new forms as much as recycled old ones in different ways — remember electroclash?

It's feeling like the next big thing to hit S.F. may be the global dub movement, which has emerged on the cutting edge of the progressive electronic scene. Its resident curators have been building momentum for as long as a decade, starting with Cheb I Sabbah's 1002 Nights, Club Dread, The Jungle at Il Pirata, and DJ Sep's Dubmission parties, and its influence continues with more recent attempts at localizing the outernational sound, with club nights Dhamaal, Electric Vardo, Worldly, and Non-Stop Bhangra, as well as U.K.-trainspotting events like Grime City.

The most recent development in our club culture fuses traditional, roots, and world music elements with the ultra-futuristic electro-skank of dubstep, a spinoff subgenre of drum 'n' bass (whose rise was covered recently in "Dawn of Dubstep," Nov. 15, 2006). Spearheading this effort at linking dub with its offshoots is Maneesh the Twister, of Dubmission and Dhamaal fame. He's now unleashing Surya Dub, a new monthly global dub party, this Saturday, Jan. 27, at Club Six. Over herbal tea at Oakland's Jahva House, the Indian-American DJ and software engineer explains his mission to unite dub's far-flung branches under one venue, in two rooms, with echo and reverb for all.

There's a schism, Maneesh says, between the roots-reggae side of dub and its electronic counterpart — not so much in the music, which shares similar elements, but in the crowds who attend the events. The folks who attend Give Thanks and Karibbean City, and the audiences who go to dubstep nights at An or Underground SF, he says, need to get on the same page and realize "there is a common bond to this music."

Maneesh finds it ironic that dub's audience has been segregated, since "all that music is electronically produced" in the first place. Dub-derived microgenres like "digi-dub and the kind of more ragga drum 'n' bass, they took it to the next level, but still appreciated where the roots music was coming from," he insists.

"With dubstep, the idea was to make it kinda heavier, a little bit darker," Maneesh explains. "My side of it, what I'm trying to focus on in my night, is really kind of the dubby side of it. Even with the ragga drum 'n' bass, I was never an advocate of the metallic dark side. That's what I think the roots crowd missed. That's where they don't have a connection to it."

Evidently, the definition of dub is open to multiple interpretations. The Surya Dub DJs share different ideas on the subject, but they all believe the music has universal qualities. To bhang ragga — a musical style combining bhangra and ragamuffin reggae — innovator-DJ-producer Kush Aurora, "Dub music is musical meditation." To dubstepper Kid Kameleon, "Dub is like a code word for experimentation, and a license to do things in a nonlinear style." DJ Ripley, meanwhile, says he feels that "Dub has always been ahead of its time, based in playful misuse of technology for creative purposes." And to hip-hop/reggae head Ross Hogg, dub is "as much about what's missing in the music as what's present. The silence, the dropouts, the echoes ... "

To Maneesh, dub — usually defined in its original sense as an instrumental, remixed form of reggae — isn't just a musical genre or production style, but a culture in and of itself that's shared influences with other cultures all over the world. For example, "Indian music has had influences in the Caribbean; there's a lot of sociohistoric things that tie those things together on a nonmusical level," he says.

To paraphrase George Clinton's remark about how funk not only moves, it removes, dub not only recycles, it cycles. Via e-mail from the New Delhi airport, while awaiting a flight back to S.F., Kush Aurora relates how one beat or riddim can serve as a metaphor for dub culture's global significance: "I just did a hip-hop track in San Francisco with a guy from Jamaica, N4SA, [and] a rapper from Oakland, Blacksmith. A Punjabi singer [from] San Jose heard it in India and I echoed his voice in a dub style throughout the track in the background. I brought a dub version of this riddim to New Delhi and I had an Indian ragga MC voice on it. Right there, the riddim has traveled around the world."

At this point, it remains to be seen whether global dub can successfully draw together the dubsteppers, the drum 'n' bassers, and the dancehall heads. Still, it's important, Maneesh says, to reach out to the reggae audience while pushing the envelope of how progressive and experimental dub music can get. With the new Surya Dub night, he says, "I want them to be able to come in and not feel alienated. They could be listening to Sizzla upstairs and them come down and be, like, these are similar vocals, but the beats are all double-time. So they get the connection. It's gonna be dubstep, ragga breaks, drum 'n' bass, and electronically influenced reggae ... you know, dub music."

About The Author

Eric K. Arnold

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