Dub Book

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I ran into local reggae historian Jim Dooley a short while ago and he told me that he’d just written a review of a new book on Dub over at the Small Axe web zine. I read up and ordered it the same day. Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae is the latest from Wesleyan UP’s long-running Music/Culture series – the most consistent source of academic writing on popular music. The series can be spotty but it’s books like this that show it at its best.

Surprisingly, forty years on from the original version experiments, this is the first book entirely devoted to dub, and it stands as something of a corrective as well. So much writing on roots reggae plays on the exotic, fixating on African roots and diasporic yearning, music forever looking backward to a tragically irretrievable past. Veal fills out the other half of the picture: dub as Afro-futurist cauldron and the Jamaican recording studio of the 60s and 70s as one of the most active sites of technological and conceptual innovation in 20th Century music, period. He does so, by turns, through studio histories, producer/engineer bios, musicological analysis, impressionistic sonic description and social contextualization of it all. Central to all of this is a carefully researched discussion of studio practices, choices and (mis)uses of audio technologies, and the conceptual development of dub as it has been sonically theorized by its pioneers.

Refreshingly, for a book emerging from musicology/popular music studies, Veal is very good at writing with the music rather than attempting to rescue, debunk or speak for it (citing the influence of Paul Gilroy and Kodwo Eshun, and following on Alexander Weheliye’s approach in Phonographies). Veal takes Dub for the highly conceptual praxis that it is and engages it as such:

…the music comes to rival the written word as a medium for theorizing, ultimately positioned as an act oftheory itself. This understanding of music as theory resonates with the aforementioned Africa-derived idea of music as history; simultaneously, it demonstrates the way that art is capable of engergizing and/or revitalizing theory.

Exactly. Moreover, Veal traces this movement, spending a brief but satisfying few pages on the work of amongst others, Eshun, the CCRU and, in particular Luciana Parisi’s book Abstract Sex  (including a mention of what was likely a kode9 and Space Ape multimedia performance at its launch).

Finally, in the closing ‘Coda,’ Veal also makes brief mention of grime and dubstep (possibly, by a hair, the first book to do so) alongside short discussions of jungle and ‘neo-dub’ from the likes of Rhythm & Sound and Adrian Sherwood. Quite spot-on apart from an odd moment when Mark Stewart is described as a member of Massive Attack (though, given how well-informed the rest of the book is, I assume that was a casualty of last minute editing).

Ultimately, Dub proves very successful at filling out a long-abbreviated musical history while, at the same time, demonstrating how much more can be done by music writers – academic or otherwise – to engage the sonic, technological and conceptual dimensions of electronic musical practice.

One Response to “Dub Book”

  1. Gutter Says:

    this looks hot, thanks for the tip-off, paul!