Moving to England at 13, Neil Fraser acquired his nickname thanks to an early obsession with electronics. By the mid-’80s he was working with some of the UK’s top reggae artists, and in 1990 he reached the pinnacle of dub by collaborating with Lee “Scratch” Perry on Mystic Warrior.
However, Mad Professor’s real contribution comes not from his early dub work, which was faithful to the Jamaican style, but from his later recordings, in which he cross-fertilized the music with electronica by adding more synthetic and futuristic sounds to dub’s basic reggae vocabulary. The growing links between the two genres became apparent when he began touring Japan in the late ’90s with the likes of ambient house maestros The Orb.
Unlike your standard DJ show, which features normal left-right mixers, dub sets by the likes of Mad Professor see artists working with full, multichannel desks, through which they manipulate prerecorded instrumental tracks. For his gig at Eleven, Mad Professor will pit heads against a posse of local dub mixers, including Kaito (a.k.a. Hiroshi Kawanabe), to see who can come up with the most mind-blowing sonics, with live music from local outfits such as Rub-A-Dub Market…
If Mad Professor represents the history of UK dub, then dubstep duo Skream & Benga are its present. Dubstep has at its core the same thunderous drums and bass as dub, but takes these elements into more abstract territory, with layers of synths and an almost cubist reworking of reggae rhythms. Compared with dub, the audience for dubstep is also decidedly younger and whiter.
Skream (Oliver Jones) and Benga (Beni Uthman), both in their mid-20s, are based in Croydon in South London. While Skream is considered one of dubstep’s founders, Benga is known for blending the music with the sounds of East London grime. Presented by the long-running Drum and Bass Sessions, the night is another indication of the increasing popularity of dubstep on these shores, with drum’n’bass itself taking a back seat…
Finally, for those who like their dub in more rootsy flavors, UK bassist and bandleader Dennis Bovell will be at Eleven in early August. A formidable onstage presence, Bovell had perhaps his finest moments backing dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. But he’s also worked in Japan with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and for the upcoming night (to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Shinjuku reggae club Open) he’ll be performing with talented singer and drummer PJ, among other members of the pick-up “Open Band.”
July 31 @Eleven
A Night Called Strictly Dub Mood. Dub, reggae: DJs Mad Professor, Kawanabe, etc. From 9pm, ¥3,500 w/1d. Nishi-Azabu. Tel: 03-5775-6206. www.go-to-eleven.com
July 31 @Unit
Dubstep Warz. DJs Skream, Benga, etc. July 31, from 11:30pm, ¥4,000. Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5459-8630. www.unit-tokyo.com