Dub Gabriel on Developing a Global Sound and the Benefits of All-Vinyl DJing
For the past three years, producer and DJ Dub Gabriel has traveled across three continents, perfecting and seeking inspiration for his Kickstarter-funded fourth album, Raggabass Resistance. Released last weekend on 4/20, the album employs the talents of friends like legendary MC Brother Culture, and combines elements such as psychedelic rhythms, poetry, and reggae to form a sound that the artist characterizes as forward-thinking dub music. We recently spoke with Dub Gabriel about his newest album, recording around the world, and his upcoming all-vinyl release party. It takes place this Sunday at Elbo Room's Dub Mission, with support from DJ Sep and Maneesh the Twista.
Kelly Freedman Dub Gabriel
Can you explain what making future dub music means to you?
Dub, reggae, and dancehall have been going through a little bit of a rut in the past few years. My own favorite period of that music is from 1984 on down, [which is] of course hugely influenced by the masters, King Tubby, Lee Perry, Scientist, Jah Shaka, Adrian Sherwood. What a lot of newer producers in the dub world try to do is emulate the sound of the masters, which is cool, but it doesn't bring any originality to the music. Plus, I have so much respect for the legends of dub that I don't want to try to copy their style. Why make an album that sounds like King Tubby? He already did it and did it masterfully, so what could I do to match such perfection? All the foundation people are a massive influence, but for me, to be a true artist is to take these influences and give it my own spin, not just try to copy it.
Since you've been in the dub music scene for so long, what have you found to be the most important aspect to educate people about?
Mostly the history. So much electronic music owes itself to dub, and a lot of American kids don't understand how these current trends go back to the dub foundation. Club culture owes itself so much to the sound systems, and without people like U-Roy being one of the first to rhyme on top of someone spinning a record, we might of never have had hip-hop, too! My introduction to dub was because of bands like the Clash and Bad Brains; punk owes so much to dub also.
Congrats on the album release of your fourth solo album Raggabass Resistance. What was the three-year journey like?
The journey of making Raggabass Resistance was amazing. Part of the reason that it was recorded in so many countries was [that] the first two years of making the album was also a time of [heavy touring]. [There were] two tours of Europe, moving back to Berlin for a few months, a tour of China, and [going] nonstop around Canada and the States. Sometimes it is hard to work on an album while always on the road, so for the last year, I took completely off touring. I stayed in San Francisco the whole time, working between my studio and Mark Pistel's Room 5 Studio. It was great to be home for a bit and just focus on recording and getting a chance to be more of a homebody and make bread daily, garden, cook, go to farmers' markets. It really helped me finish the record.
How fulfilling was it to have an album funded by Kickstarter, where your peers/fans were able to take part in the creation of your album in a real tangible way?
Using Kickstarter to fund the album was one of the most exciting and most nerve-racking things at the same time. It is work and definitely a hustle, but it was such an amazing experience receiving so much support from total strangers. It taught me so much. I have been on so many record labels through the years. It is always tough, but what Kickstarter did for me was a declaration of independence. We have a music industry that is like the wild west, with no clear answer on how to run things, so it is great that I can engage directly with fans, friends, and family directly, and have the support I need to run my passion and my business exactly the way I choose. It has been liberating and truly brings me back to my D.I.Y. roots. And even after the Kickstarter, this continues with using Bandcamp and how amazing it has been to have fans buy direct from the artist. I still engage in traditional distribution, but it is great that if fans want limited edition vinyl or a FLAC version of my albums, they can get it direct from our online store and we can continue to offer high-quality content.
How did recording in all different parts of the world influence the sounds in the album?
Well, I think if you are more of a regional artist, you develop more of a regional sound. A lot of the electronic-type producers on the West Coast definitely have a certain sound. Myself, I work with people from around the world and I get turned onto new sounds from all over the place, so I pull from lots of different influences. I also have been a little bit of a gypsy throughout my life, and have lived in many places, so I have never fit into any one place.
Which track was the most difficult to make and why?
Well I did have a hard drive crash with a lot of my work on it. Two of the tracks on the album had the master sessions on [that drive], but luckily I was able to piece them back together and made it work. But it is always a nightmare when something like that happens. Let's just say, I have moved on to RAID drives since then.
How did you go about choosing whom to collaborate with?
I sort of have no idea how the choice selection went. Most of the guests on the album are friends of mine, so that part happened very organically. I sort of just write music and don't think too much about it, and when I am doing it, there is usually a vocal melody that starts to swim around my head. So the voice I hear is usually the one I ask to sing on it. I am not one to just get any random person on a track, either. I write with someone in mind or it comes to me afterwards. But either way, I am honored to have such an amazing list of guests like U-Roy, Warrior Queen, Spaceape, Brother Culture, Jahdan Blakkamoore, MC Zulu, Juakali, David J, Dr. Israel, and others who were all simply amazing!
Why did you choose to go with all-vinyl for your release party this Sunday at Dub Mission?
Two reasons: one is to get back to my roots. When I started DJing in Brooklyn in the '90s, vinyl was the only option. There were no CDJs or any professional DJ CD player, and of course DJing on a laptop was years away. All you had was a bag of wax, but it had something special to it. Nowadays, with laptop DJing, you have DJs that are staring at a screen the whole night, not engaged with the crowd. As soon as I decided to go back to vinyl, it was like a wall was torn down between me and my audience; I felt more connected to the people than when I have a screen blaring in my face. On top of that, the quality of sound was hands-down soupier. MP3s are great if you are driving, jogging, cooking in your kitchen, but they were never meant to be a high-decibel platform. The science behind a record groove makes it gentler on the ears and fatter on the bass --¬†all that I love. The crazy thing is how many young people come up to me and say they never heard someone DJ all-vinyl before, so I am happy I can bring this experience to a new generation. It definitely falls in the tradition of soundsystem culture and [I] hope we can show them the past while pushing into the future.