Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dubnoiz: Defining An Approach / by Dr Das


Dr Das is a bassist, producer and remixer and was one of the founder members of Asian Dub Foundation. He left the band in 2005 to return to his roots in experimental dub, rejoining in 2013. Throughout that time, he worked on a heavier, darker form of dub:

"Dubnoiz" as he calls it, employs a minimalist approach-instrumentally and compositionally-using only electric bass, percussion and noise elements to satisfy all the rhythmic, melodic and even harmonic requirements of the music. It’s a variant where there is a greater emphasis on noise and distortion than the more traditional dub elements of echo and reverb. As such, it immediately sounds more militant and more provocative

The bass is the main melodic component. Dr Das refers to his bass style as ‘indodub.’ His exposure to ragas at an early age, listening to indian classical records with his father, left him with a deep love of cyclical melodies and imbued him with a strong ‘modal’ sensibility. He discovered the same cyclical principle at play 20 years later in dub, except several octaves lower. He intuitively combined the two ideas when he picked up the bass. In his seven year sabbatical from ADF, freed from the constraints of verse/chorus/verse song structure, Dr Das often chose to play one bassline all the way through a track. The themes themselves might only be two bars long. The minimal melodies of Flabba Holt were a big inspiration. Rather than this being some kind of easy option, it required a Zen like focus and discipline.

The BASSLINE MELODY in much of contemporary dub has all but disappeared- that is, the bass, though having immense volume and weight has often become an ANONYMOUS FREQUENCY, a sub frequency relegated to the nether regions of consciousness. It no longer leads the music. The one note modulation is perhaps the consequence of dubstep but even when there is a melody, the bass is often poorly defined, distant and detached. It is the actual combination of melody and a deep sound that made dub bass emotionally as well as physically resonant, with that simultaneous cerebral and bodily impact. Basically, we’re talking about low frequency HOOKLINES or what used to be known as “riddims.” Those moments in the dancehall when a sweet, cyclical pattern emerged, enveloping us with the heaviest sound, defying gravity, inducing that collective gasp-those moments are now a distant memory…when was the last time you heard someone scream “BASSLIIIIIINE!!!” Throughout the history of dub, basslines have occasionally disappeared, but like London’s myriad underground rivers, they re-emerge in new environments as they did in the early days of militant jungle.


Dubnoiz tracks more often than not begin with the percussion, providing a compositional springboard for the bass: the tonic, the tempo, the rhythmic cycle, the phrasing and spacing. And not least-the melody. The melodic aspect of percussion is seldom acknowledged. Dr Das uses predominantly indian and arabic percussion loops. Not only are they particularly tuneful, but they possess a cultural-and by extension-political significance.

The ‘noiz’ component of the music is created by feeding the percussion elements through distortion pedals, filters and plug ins. The resultant sounds and harmonics add colour and movement and are what Dr Das calls IMPLIED MELODIES as opposed to explicit melodies played, for example, on a keyboard. These too affect what Dr Das will play on the bass.

Finally, a sparse but robust drum framework is built round the whole project. The bassline is not chained to the bass drum as in rock but dances with it. Sometimes, where one might expect a snare fill, Dr Das leaves a space-what he calls a ‘negative fill’-to denote the transition between two passages. Hi Hats flutter in the upper registers like butterflies between the speakers. 

Consequently, Dr Das is challenging people to listen differently, to regard bass, percussion and noiz as distinct and valid elements of musical THINKING. In his music he reiterates that these sounds, as well as fulfilling rhythmic and textural duties, are all melodic and that, with or without the presence of a vocal, convey emotional and political SENTIMENT and METAPHOR: anger, optimism, joy or militancy. Furthermore, he has always taken issue with the strict notion of ’groove’-dub mentality implies that the bass and drums constitute the entire composition and are not awaiting a ‘lead’ instrument to come and justify their existence. 


Everyone loves the word ‘dub.’ Dub currently has more associations with the MC/DJ format, which admittedly, takes us back to the days of the original Jamaican Sound System, the first place where the sonic accidents and innovations of dub were unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. Now, there are fewer proponents of a more experimental approach, at least on the live scene, Adrian Sherwood being the most notable. When you present, therefore, music where there is initially an expectation of vocals, you are challenging the audience to visualize for themselves. Ultimately, you are asking them to write their own lyrics and engage in their own research. Not everyone wants that responsibility.

Dr Das traces his original dubnoiz inspirations back to the early On-U recordings “Threat To Creation” (Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers) and Missing Brazilians, the first time he heard distortion and extraneous noise in the context of dub. However, it was the more recent exposure to the caustic ambience of Muslimgauze that alerted him to the immense potential of distorting percussion to create unusual, emotive sounds that also express political INTENT. He also pays respects to Rebel Familia from Japan, arguably also engaged in dub/noise, juxtaposing heavy dub basslines against bit-crushed electronic beats.  The seventies music of Miles Davis, particularly the album “Dark Magus” with its minimal melodic basslines underpinning collective improvisation, has also had an impact, encouraging Dr Das to opt for more open ended structures rather than fixed arrangements in live situations. Dr Das performs under the auspices of “Dubnoiz Sound System,” accompanied by Bantu on electronics and visuals, augmented occasionally by percussionist Ramjac or Parisian ‘jazzcore’ guitarist Pascal Vaucel.

Over a period of ten years, Dr Das has created a suite of four dubnoiz albums. ‘Dubnoiz’ is more an approach to creativity and he has applied its principles to the production work he has done with Indigenous Resistance and to several remixes, including ones for Maga Bo, Watcha Clan, Dhamaal Sound System and most recently Word Sound Power from Delhi. (Look out for the Dr Das Blood Earth Remix EP.) 

"Dubnoiz" is an attempt to reprimand dub, to grab it by the scruff of the neck and restore a sense of urgency. It is not music for professional activists. You won’t hear it at festivals, dub or otherwise. You will seldom hear it at all. You have to look for it. It’s designed as motivation and propulsion for those trying to effect change from the bottom upwards (bass and drums) / those not awaiting dictates from above (bassline) / those employing a diversity of tactics (bass, percussion and noiz). It is music for aliens and outsiders and unconventional thinkers. 

Dr Das’s latest album “Preparing 4 War” is released on January 14th 2014 on Bandcamp, the follow up to 2006’s “Emergency Basslines.”


Remixes and other tracks can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/dr-das