Twilight Circus on the Origin of His Moniker and the Rise of Dub Music into the Mainstream
With 25 years of experience in the worlds of dub and reggae music, Ryan Moore, aka Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, has taken his musical abilities worldwide, to places like hazy Triad-ridden buildings in Canada and makeshift studios in Jamaica. Working with notable reggae artists such as Sly Dunbar, Mad Professor, Robbie Shakespeare, and Dean Fraser, his discography boasts over 90 releases as a solo performer, producer, or instrumentalist. He recently spoke with All Shook Down about his origins as a dub producer, dub music in the mainstream, and the various places he's traveled to and worked through his extensive career. This Sunday, he headlines Dub Mission at Elbo Room with support from DJ Sep.
Your musical career began with a guitar and other various live musical instruments. What began your infatuation with the dub and reggae genre?
I first got into reggae and dub back in '81, just at the tail end of the golden age of reggae music, when some classic dub LPs were still getting released like the Scientist series on Greensleeves. When I first heard dub, it literally was one of those cliché moments of epiphany, where the clouds parted and a voice drenched in reverb said, "Ryan, this is your kind of music!" It wasn't so much a light bulb going off as a giant beacon. Something about the skeletal fragments of sound, stripped-down drum 'n' bass patterns, and psychedelic reverb and delay effects just struck a chord with me. There was no turning back. I had picked up the bass guitar about six months previously, and so it wasn't long before I'd traded in playing "Louie Louie" in the garage for playing along with reggae records and learning bass lines from Aston Family Man Barrett, Robbie Shakespeare and other masters of dub-reggae bass.
How have you seen the integration of dub music into modern mainstream music through the years?
The influence of dub I think really cannot be overstated when it comes to modern music production, remix culture, and electronic music. Nowadays you can listen to any number of mainstream tracks and frequently notice the presence of dub-style effects and techniques.
The integration already began to take place in New York and London in the late '70s, thanks to the presence of the Jamaican diaspora, where any forward-thinking producers, musicians and scenesters who had their antennae unfurled might have come in contact with the sounds. For example, anyone who attended the underground dance clubs of New York such as the legendary Loft would have heard Errol T's killer mix of African Dub Chapter Three in steady rotation.
Dub-style production techniques really started to cross over in the '80s when it became almost de rigeur for there to be a dub mix on pop and dance 12-inches, though this was at a time when King Tubby and the Jamaican origins of dub was actually quite unknown. So you had people making dub versions, but their reference might have been dub-influenced producers operating on the cutting-edge, like Adrian Sherwood. I recall those days well -- I used to make up mixtapes of classic Jamaican dubs and hand them out to producers and engineers I knew in order to promote the Jamaican roots of dub. Then, in the '90s, a whole new era was ushered in with dub's influence widely permeating electronic dance music culture, and the arrival of quality reissue labels, which fostered a reappraisal of vintage Jamaican music, leading to a Global rise in awareness and respect for the towering legacy of King Tubby and Jamaican dub-wise. It is truly amazing to me how a mixing style developed and honed by a handful of figures in a small Third World country, and originally meant as a cheap way to fill up the B-side of a 45 single, became a stellar art form along the way and managed to spread forth its influence like a shockwave out into the rest of the world, changing modern music production as we know it!
How does the name Twilight Circus reflect the music you make?
The genesis of the name took place up in Vancouver, Canada, in the mid-'90s, where I was working after hours at a friend's studio in the notorious Downtown Eastside neighborhood. This area is known for its high levels of crime, addiction, mental health, and social problems and really looks like something out of a 1970's Scorsese film -- a vision of an urban nightmare lit by vintage neon signs. Up in the studio it always felt like being in a fortress surrounded by dark forces swirling around outside, trying to penetrate through any cracks in the defenses. One of the Chinese organized crime Triads had set up an illegal brothel downstairs, and from time to time we'd hear disturbing sounds wafting up from below, people getting knocked around -- all quite unsavory stuff. So, by the time I'd hit 5 a.m. on one of my late-night dub sessions, the lack of oxygen, aural disorientation from all the dub delays, the sounds and energy from outside the studio walls would all combine to create a mixture of semi-delirious perceptions in my mind -- this was and is the Twilight Circus.
Although you are now based in Holland, your career has taken you to produce and make music in many different places around the world, like Jamaica. Where's the most unforgettable place you've had to lay down a track?
Some settings range from studios of all sorts to unlikely places like hotels and abandoned spaces. For me, the most memorable would have to be recording at Youth Promotion Studio in Sugar Minott's yard, in a rough area next to Trenchtown in Kingston, Jamaica.
Things started out innocently enough in the morning, as I arrived to a scene of stray dogs roaming the courtyard and various homeless figures, possibly musicians, emerging from ramshackle doorways. I had managed to record some great tracks with vocalists like Sugar Minott, Tampanae, and Daddy Shark, when the first in a series of fairly curmudgeonly veteran singers began to trickle in to voice dubplates and specials for customers abroad. Soon the trickle turned into a flood, and the small studio began to fill up to almost standing room-only capacity with vocalists on deck and their entourages. Sure enough, as if there were some hidden cue, out came the herbal trombones, which were lit simultaneously, quickly filling the space with a thick fog of ganja smoke like something straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie. By this point, my own activities had become completely derailed and displaced by all the incoming clients, so I was just taking it all in from the sidelines when, to top it all off, completely out of the blue, a group of Japanese tourists comes crowding in with a tour guide providing a Japanese-language commentary. Totally surreal but amazing! I love randomness and chaos as this is where the magic resides.