INTERVIEW: Dub Legend Mad Professor Takes Coffee With Me
Neil Fraser aka Mad Professor, enjoying a fresh cup of Brooklyn joe…
The Dub Champions Festival kicks off tonight with Mad Professor & Francois K at Cielo. Before the big gig tonight, I had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with the legendary dub producer, discussing everything from weird dub concepts to American dubstep. Check it below and head to an event this week during the Dub Champions Festival.
Chris/DubEra.com: So dubstep exploded and kind of ceased in UK & America over the last 5 years. Did you follow the explosion at all?
Mad Professor: I was aware of it. People kept inviting me to do shows where these strange artists were playing. Most of them I never heard of before, and not only are they playing, but sometimes they’re headlining. So I’m like, “Shit, something’s going on…” For us, the biggest names in dub would be like Lee Perry, King Tubby, but then suddenly you start to see some [other] names. I got to know that a couple of the guys sampled some of my songs.
Were you cool with that?
Eh, I don’t mind sampling once you get acknowledged, you know? When you don’t get credit, it’s like kind of a rip-off. Sometimes you get acknowledged, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they try to discredit you, put it towards someone who doesn’t exist. There’s a very thin line between creating and copying.
And was there an instance that happened to you that especially ticked you off?
Yeah, this guy, what’s his name…he used this sample of Kunta Kinte. He called it “Jehova,” I think.
Yeah! That’s it! But they tried to say, “Oh you got it from somewhere else.” I don’t know how much it’s worth. We modified it from an old film.
And then he took your modification.
And he’s one of the guys that exploded dubstep in America. Have you ever met him?
I think we met somewhere. But he didn’t discuss nothin’. That’s life (laughs).
It’s good because people need to be reminded. It’s quite easy for people to forget where everything is coming from, you know? Every day a new genre emerges, but a lot of them don’t last long. Some might last a year, even so about 3-4 years it looks like dubstep was more popular than dub, but it looks like it’s stepping back again and people who got in to dub from dubstep are seeking more dub. I guess it’s got a longer history. People like Tubby and Perry have kind of done a lot. And then people like myself, the next generation. Right now you have places like France, Italy, and young people just love dub! It’s incredible. They’re not so mad on dubstep, they’re talking’ dub. Original drum & bass with the echo: the concept. You have dub artists with like 50-60 albums like Perry and myself…
What is it about the music that allows producers and engineers to have such an extensive output.
Well, it’s concept. Like my new album is called Dubbing With Anansi. Anansi is a mythical half human half spider.
And as long as I’ve been into it, dub is always into those weird concepts: aliens, zombies, ghosts, etc.
That’s it. You’ve got it!
Well, let me ask you why?
It gives you the space for imagination and creativity. You could have a song by Snoop Dogg or Mariah Carey, music’s great and the song says, “Baby I love you” or “Baby I hate you,” or whatever…
You get the direct message, right? Get a dub track, the track is telling you what you want to hear, not what the singer is telling you. The track might be telling you, “Hey, let’s go to the moon” today and tomorrow when you hear it it might be telling you, “Hey, let’s go and fight a war.”
So it’s the space that allows for individual interpretation.
And as someone who’s made a great deal of them, what makes a great dub tune?
Every time you hear it, it takes you in a different place. Then you don’t get bored with it. Consantly moving…
So you said you were hang in out with Lee “Scratch” Perry last night. Do you have any especially interesting stories with Lee?
Every story (laughs) Every story. You know, Lee’s such an ever-green person, ageless. He’s a good person to really know and understand.
That’s what I’ve heard from people who are close with him.
He’s sharp. He’s sharp without being a teacher or a preacher. He’s just interesting.
What about making music with Lee?
Well, his brain is always seeking to be interested, seeking to be stimulated. So if you’re collaborating with him, it’s a challenge for you to be on top of it because his brain is not allowing himself to be bored. Constant action, very interesting.
So you started making music 35 years ago, a lot has changed since then in technology. Do you embrace new technology or stick to your vintage guns?
I embrace some things, I reject others.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve embraced.
I love the portability of modern equipment. I love the fact that you can edit [on the road]. I don’t like the sound. I don’t like how modern equipment sounds.
What’s your studio like?
My studio is full of vintage, what you would call vintage. Totally. I’ve got analog machines, old microphones, everything.
Man I’d like to go in there one day.
Yeah, you have to. It’s one of the few places that exist like that. They don’t make machines like that no more. They don’t make desks like that. It’s from the past. I mean how old are you?
Twenty-three, ok. So you’re born in the 90s. I think the last analog tape machine was probably made around the time you were born. And they don’t make them anymore.
In the 35 years you’ve been producing, you’ve put out, I don’t know how many…
About 300 different albums, not just Mad Professor, but different people. It’s a cult label.
Are there any releases or songs that mean a little bit more to you? Could you take me through some of those?
One of the outstanding one was with a guy called U-Roy. He was one of the first talkers, what you call rappers or toasting. A lot of people see him as the biggest toasters because he has lasted four generations of reggae. He first came to prominence when I was a teenager, about 1969. In those days Jamaica was a vibrant record market. He had three records in the top 10 of what they call Hit Parade now. Billboard or whatever. That was the first time people actually talked on records. Prior to that people had to sing.
Wow, a lot must have changed with that record.
Around ’69 quite a lot of changes were happening. A lot due to the fact that the techniques were changing. People were using multi-tracks. When this industry first started, I think there was only a one track record where everyone had to record everything at one time. Multi-track came in the 60s then you had 2-track, 3-track, 4-track machines. Jamaica, being a hungry society, the guys that made use of this facility, the overdubbing, one of the first benefits that came out of this thing is the B-siders because originally when records were first made you had A-side and B-side. You record this song for the A-side and this song for the B-side. And I think it started in the black music scene in America.
One of the things that came out of this was, take James Brown, he’d do a song for A-side and instead of recording a new song for the B-side, let’s just take out the vocals and run an instrumental for the B-side. Jamaicans see it, echo it, and call it a version. And this saved the producer quite a bit of money.
Why do you think it caught on? James Brown is James Brown, it’s crazy to think people liked James Brown without James Brown.
When you’re at a party, and it’s hard to imagine now because we’re going back in time when people were excited by the slightest technological thing. So [a DJ] could plug in a microphone and “da-dun, da-dun” be James Brown for a moment!
So it was to make way for the MC or the toaster.
And it was coming up. It’s a prelude to the karaoke thing. I’m happy that I saw the whole evolution from a technical way so I can transfer it to you. A lot of people couldn’t tell you this.
So I have just one more question, and by the way thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me, why do you think people love dub music?
Funny enough, I think because it’s an alternative. I think most people, if you’re suppose to be walkin’ on the left, they’ll walk on the left. Most people want to do what society tells. And then there’s a section of people who like to not do what society tells.
Like us! [High fives]
Right, yeah! If everyone walk on the left, I’d probably walk on the right. I just think it strikes a chord. I don’t think it will ever be the mainstream, but it doesn’t need to. I think people like myself are satisfied once we can pay our bills and move on to the next level. We’re not looking to make a fortune from it, obviously you want to cover your costs, but I make records that are tongue-in-cheek records and records with hidden messages. Sometimes you don’t have to calculate it. Certain things you have to be subtle about.
I think it’s a great way to exist. It makes me want to wake up tomorrow morning. There’s a sense of purpose. That’s why I think some people like dub music and music that’s alternative. That’s why dub is so much the alternative from dancehall. Look at the people who like dancehall, mainstream people who want to play it safe. Dub music, every time you listen to a good dub track, you hear something different. There’s something more spiritual about it. Nothing spiritual about dancehall.
Ha, well is there anything else you’d like to add before we go off the record?
No, I just reflect.