Heal Yourself and Move: Moog Reggae and Cosmic Dancehall

May 28, 2010

This week’s Heal Yourself And Move—a biweekly column about dance and electronic music, written by Maryland’s finest, Andrew Field Pickering—presents to you, in honor of the upcoming Season of Slow Cuts, tracks at the impasse of island cool, dancefloor business and wild experimentation. Jamaica's impact on all things DJ is so humongous that I shouldn't even mention it, and there is amazing music in the hybrid forms of reggae that are dipped in technology. Check it all after the jump.

Anetta Jackson & Bobby Stephens, "P.E.O. 111"

Sometimes for this column I have an idea, and then I scour YouTube and Discogs to see if I can hunt down something I don't know that fits in with the idea. This is one of those cuts. I searched "Moog Reggae" and up popped a lot of rocksteady, which as a genre briefly caught the synth bug once the Moogs hit Jamaica (pardon me if this track is from the UK, as I can't tell for sure after researching it). There's no doubt in my mind that weed was a factor here, but the consistent swing of rocksteady (and all Jamaican musics really) lends itself perfectly to synth exploration. A la krautrock, kosmiche, and techno, if the beat is on point it can go on forever, and a skilled keyboard player takes this track to the stars.

Black Pepper, "Heavy Jeff"

Dunno who Jeff is, but he's heavy. I'm sure that keyboards, like Moogs, simply being available as instruments contributed to their usage by producers, but I wonder what else spurred reggae's interest in space sounds. Star Wars? The rocksteady group The Vulcans definitely copped a Star Trek theme to go with their Moogs and ARPs (see them below). Man landing on the moon? There has to be some sort of mainstream catalyst for this shit, these musicians were probably not going for an overtly "experimental" sound. Although maybe it is always the case in music that some off-the-wall style of production is suddenly popular within a scene, simply because it's awesome?

The Vulcans, "Star Trek"

My mainest man Jan went on a shopping spree of the Trojan reissue CDs when our local Tower Records shut down, and I definitely remember looking at this one like "...um yeah so let's put this on right now". Some of the other tracks on this album are prancier rocksteady that doesn't really grab me like the ominous horn blasts and spy-movie stuff in this track, but this shit rules.

The Sharks, "Music Answer" (Vocal)

Studio One reissued this on 12-inch in the Studio One Funk series. Now, while not particularly synthy, I included this song because of the bluesy melodic turnaround and the drum machine, which approaches proto-house on this cut. The vocal is great, and on the actual 12-inch there is a marvelous dub. You can hear the rhythm in this song and tracks like it as a starting point for Basic Channel tracks and any sort of dub techno, in the way the beat morphs into a locomotive, with guitar stabs on the two and four. Sick!

Yellowman, "Dub Me Strong"

Aiiiiiiight, this is a big one. Big Bad Baldelli played this, and that's definitely how I heard about it. It fits beautifully in any mix with everything from Larry Levan productions to pitched down Italo and synthpop cuts, and I kind of wonder who is influencing who here. Did this dub get made for discos or for dancehalls? Was 1983 just that beautiful year were there was no difference? And in 1983 Italy, lacking much of an "Afro" or otherwise black music consciousness, was this import track the perfect mindfuck for the dancefloor or what? All the comments for this on YouTube seem to be by aging Italians who remember grooving to it, no Jamaicans to be found.

Lee Scratch Perry & Dub Syndicate, "Night Train"

The ’80s in England must have been the shit, man. Musically anyway. Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label churned out a plethora of amazing songs, and took the particularly wild dubbing and production style of people like Perry, King Tubby, and Mad Professor even further (if you ask me). So here, the student hangs out with the teacher and they get extra stoned. All the early Dub Syndicate records are worth seeking out, for me they resonate especially because of their slant towards synth boogie and a slow disco lurch. If you speed some of these records up you can slip them right in with stuff like Imagination or other R&B dubs.

Gregory Isaacs, "Report To Me (Dub)"

Start the YouTube around four minutes in for the dub of this Isaacs track from 1989. The dub is so hypnotic! I could literally listen to hours of this track. There is a Greensleeves 12-inch of this and I need it so bad. I'm glad there is no dubstep white-label version of this song but someone could really do one up. It could be corny, but I would understand.

Anthony Redrose, "Electric Chair (Dub)"

Speaking of 1989, this digital dub was recently re-released on the newly christened Dug Out label, founded in part by Mark Ernestus, the same dude behind Berlin's Hard Wax store, Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound, Wackie's reissues, and other ventures. This came out a couple months ago and I somehow slept on it, but it is futurist from head to toe. The entire Dug Out catalog is ridiculous so far, the labels and even the broader re-issue mentality championed by people like Ernestus, Moritz Von Oswald and Honest Jon's (whose Mark Ainley is the other Dug Out collaborator) really is a public service.

Mad Professor, "I Spy"

Moving into the '90s, this is the Mad Professor's take on "Spying Glass" which is the best track on Massive Attack's Protection LP, itself a vaguely "Jamaican" offering featuring a few Horace Andy appearances. Here it becomes even more of a slow house cut (the album version flirts with a squelchy synth line, and that 4/4 909 kick is house as hell), it doesn't sound unlike something that would come out of Move D's Workshop label. The Professor zooms in and out of the main keyboard passages and cuts out Horace Andy's vocal to take the track super deep. The whole of the No Protection LP (the entire Protection album dubbed by Mad Professor) is cool, and better than the original album it spawned from.

One time I was at the Jammyland record store in NYC (which is now closed) and the owner was jamming some Mad Professor. An older man who was hanging out in the store started nodding his head as I went to the counter with a Wackie's t-shirt. After a few seconds he pointed at his skull, looked at me and said, "This sound is good fe ya head mon." The dude behind the counter was as stoked as I was, and then he told me that the guy talking to us was Wackie himself. I was so boosted!


Heal Yourself and Move: Moog Reggae and Cosmic Dancehall