The third time around, dub hits harder, sweeps wider. Spurred by a planet-wide passion, DJs worldwide are riding faders and remixing the sounds that started midcentury in the Caribbean. These sounds have always circled around hubs far from Kingston, places where the music zigged in a new direction.
Tour de Force have channeled the energy of one of these hubs, Brooklyn, tapping into Jamaican grooves with electronic savvy on their recent release, Battle Cry. Now, with Battle Cry Remixed, the dub duo give fans a whirlwind tour of the worldwide dub community. This network includes Hungarian/UK dubstep whiz DJ Madd, American raggabass pioneer Dub Gabriel, Canadian dub-meets-electro kingpin Dubmatix, UK reggae producer Adam Prescott, French dub pioneer Brain Damage, among others.
The original tracks and the remixes all flow from a common source, however: The unmistakable sound and presence of the old-school, high-power sound system. “There’s a Jamaican culture of sound systems,” explains DJ Q-Mastah, one half of Tour de Force, as well as the Dub-Stuy label. “With the rise of EDM, and fans enjoying this music on festival and concert PAs, the time’s right for a stronger connection between electronic music and sound system culture.”
Tour de Force and Dub-Stuy have found that connection, bringing elder Jamaican dub fans together with exuberant club kids. The same reach across the ages and continents presides on “Battle Cry Remixed.”
It all began with the sound system. Back in Jamaica in the 1940s a few intrepid men hand-built banks of speakers and amplifiers to play the latest American R&B releases at open-air dances in Kingston. Inspired by this music, local musicians and producers began recording their own tracks, contributing to ska and reggae. With the West Indian diaspora, the sound system became a fixture of British blues dances. It’s never died, and with Tour de Force and their lovingly-crafted 15,000-watt Tower of Sound sound system, it’s enjoying a huge revival in Brooklyn, New York.
Add to that the advent of the third wave of dub music. It originated as “versions” – the first remixes – of reggae songs in the early 1970s, pioneered by names like King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Scientist, music to be played on sound systems. A second wave of dub in the 1990s pulled from those roots, but this time around, there’s a bigger pool of sounds and ideas artists are drawing on.
“We’re going back to that Jamaican source,” Q-Mastah acknowledges, “but we’re mixing in new styles from electronic music and dubstep.”
“I wanted to pay respect,” notes Double Tiger, the other half of the duo, “and also make it relevant for people who weren’t familiar with the past. Maybe it’ll send them back to the originals. On Battle Cry we had a formula. If there was a roots reggae bassline, we’d have dubstep drums. On a one-drop style, we’d use a synth bass. We were careful to mix everything equally.”
They also enlisted some powerful vocalists, like reggae icon Luciano and British MC Brother Culture on some of the tracks. And the connection with roots is evident in some of the riddims: “Pool Party” pays homage to early digital reggae with “Under Me Sleng Teng,” while Dennis Brown’s “Promised Land” underpins the title cut and the classic “Satta Massagana” riddim powers “Warmonger.” Like Tour de Force, it’s an album that looks equally to the past and the future.
The Tower of Sound and the Dub-Stuy label have garnered attention all over the world, and following the release of “Battle Cry,” they looked for a way to bring the global community together. A remix album was the perfect answer. It not only introduces the community to a wider US audience, it allows Tour de Force, which started in 2012 when Q-Mastah and Double Tiger met in Brooklyn, to act as an entry point for new dub fans.
They’ve certainly earned that right. They spent six month carefully building their rig. Not only is it powerful, as guests like Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) can attest, it’s also a labor of love and a thing of beauty that’s been displayed at Brooklyn Museum and New York Hall of Science.
But ultimately it’s about the music and the sound, and Tour de Force know that’s what really matters. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” observes Double Tiger. “We have older Jamaicans coming, young people into dubstep and steppers. It’s somewhere they can come together, the vibe is good. People are building systems all round the world.”
Dub helps unite them, and the versions of the original tracks on “Battle Cry Remixed” reach out to a broad audience of music fans.
“We asked some of the people we’re close to if they wanted to be involved,” recalls Q-Mastah. “It just grew and grew, but we had to limit the release to 15 tracks. The remixers picked their own tracks.”
“We were really fortunate to have such a dynamic community of producers,” says Double Tiger. “We wanted dubsteppers and steppers, doing something different to our sound. Sometimes we sent a mix back and told them to really make it their own.”
All over the world, the third wave of dub, where roots meets EDM, is rising. Tour de Force and their planetary posse are showing how hard that wave can hit.
— World Music Wire