Interview: Dubmatix

You have to get used to a new thought: the best Dub and Dub-oriented reggae no longer comes from England or France (not even from Germany or even Jamaica). He comes from: Canada! Because there is currently the hardest-working, most talented and probably also the cleverest producer of the genre: Dubmatix. He is not only a studio virtuoso par excellence, but also an incredibly reflective artist and perfectionist, who, with his unmistakable feeling for the ultimate groove, pulls out productions that define the current state of the art of the genre. When music hits, you feel no pain - luckily, one can only say, because the rhythms of Dubmatix strike with irrepressible force. But this power does not arise from bass and even more bass, but is the result of a finely thought-out arrangement and perfectly fitting timing, which brings every single element of the music to its maximum effect. This studied musician started work 10 years ago and has since produced 6 brilliant albums (Dub and vocal). Now he reveals how his music is made and what makes its special quality.

What is your definition of Dub?
Space! Space, experiment and freedom. In the center of Dub stand drum & bass. They form the foundation. The song, the instrumentation, the effects and the arrangement only serve to strengthen this foundation. Dub is one of the few musical genres that offers almost unlimited freedom - anything is possible. For me it is Dub the highest form of musical expression. There are no hard and fast rules.

Your father is a well-known jazz musician. Has it influenced your musical development?
My father played blues, funk, rock, jazz - everything, and we always had bands at home that my father rehearsed with. In addition, as a small child I was allowed to go on tours and spent a lot of time in the studio. My parents were also reggae fans and heard the young Bob Marley. My father played in one of the first reggae bands in Toronto during the early 70s. Over the years it has all influenced me a lot: my father's record collection, the music he played himself - and of course my parents' encouragement to learn an instrument and to try out all kinds of music. It all created the core of who I am today in musical terms.

You have a degree in music. How does academic training affect your music?
I started playing drums when I was a little kid. When I was 11, I was given the opportunity to learn a second instrument: tuba or bass. It was an easy choice - I went for the bass without hesitation. So for the next 7 years I learned to play the double bass. I learned to read music, interpret music and play as part of an ensemble. It was a fantastic experience. At the same time I learned to play the piano and took jazz guitar lessons. All of this finally enabled me to grasp musical ideas, to implement them, to record, to mix and finally to publish them.

You would expect someone like that to play more classical music or at least jazz. How did you get into reggae?
I've listened to a lot of classical music, but also a lot of blues, rock, metal, punk, hip hop, funk and reggae - practically every genre. But there is something about reggae that particularly appeals to me. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that my two most important instruments, drum & bass, are also the most important instruments of reggae. In addition, reggae with its sub-genres offers such a diverse musical landscape in which you can romp around and experiment that it inspires me immensely. I also never tire of a good skank. Reggae is also incredibly uplifting, positive music. I love Marley's line of text: “When music hits, you feel no pain”. It expresses exactly what the musical art form "reggae" stands for.

How does your musical training help you in the production of reggae?
I've spent most of the time in studios over the past 25 years, experimenting a lot with styles and techniques. I've learned to understand exactly what I'm doing and how I can create certain sounds. But my real training was to listen to the reggae productions of the 70s and find out how they got that dry drum sound, or how they went about making the bass sound so big and fat, or why it was sounds so good when the winds play slightly out of tune, or how they produced that incredibly percussive guitar skank. This knowledge is very important in my studio work today. Just as one learns by z. B. re-enacting a Jimi Hendrix solo note for note, I tried to "reproduce" King Tubby mixes and imitate the clean, polished Marley recordings or the reduced sound of a Burning Spear.

Your productions are complex and incredibly detailed, but at the same time they sound very simple and clear. How you do that? What is your approach to producing reggae?
Experimenting and layering, constructing and deconstructing, these are the essential elements. I always start with a drum pattern or a bassline - the whole song develops from there. I try a lot: one drop, stepper, half step, blend, etc. - until I find the perfect drum pattern for the bassline (or vice versa). As soon as I have a drum & bass rhythm that I am satisfied with, I layer the instruments on top of each other: organ bubbles, organ skanks, piano skanks, guitar skanks, guitar riffs, organ riffs, synths (if it fits), percussion, etc. When the track is ready, then I may decide to replace the programmed drums with live ones or to record the bassline again. I delve into the smallest details until everything is perfectly coordinated. For me, music is like a puzzle where every piece has its place. Every instrument, every effect, every sound has its own specific position. The last step is adding the effects: echo, reverb, reverb, phasers, sound FX, cymbal crashes, drum rolls.
Then I listen carefully. Does the piece have a continuous flow, from the beginning to the end? Are there any irrelevant items that I can remove without loss? Sometimes I remove an entire chorus or verse when I feel like the piece is stuck somewhere. If I wander with my thoughts while listening, it is a sign for me to shorten or restructure the piece.
Only when I can listen to the piece without anything bothering me do I know that I have finished my work. I am very particular about it. It can be a single hi-hat beat that I don't like that makes me feel uncomfortable. Then I sit down and tinker with it until it is finally correct. Only then am I satisfied.

You've been recording a lot of vocal tunes lately. How do you choose the artists you want to work with? How do you contact them? Do you tell them what to sing?
When I started letting artists voice my rhythms for my album “Renegade Rocker” in 2007, I contacted almost all of them via Myspace. Ranking Joe, Pinchers, Sugar Minott, Mykal Rose, Linval Thompson - all on Myspace! Today this is done through promoters, tour managers and friends.
Usually I send the artists a few selected rhythms from me and let them decide which one they want to voic. For me, that's exactly why I want to work with them: I want their vibe on the rhythm. They should sing whatever comes to mind. I usually produce specific rhythms for individual artists, in exactly the style that suits them. For example, I sent Alton Ellis a rock steady rhythm. As soon as I get the vocals, I do them intensely. Most of the vocals that can be heard on my productions have been edited to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes I cut entire stanzas or split them up, or I create a chorus from a hook that I found somewhere in a stanza. Always with the aim of enriching the overall production. One important technique I've developed is simply to give a song room to breathe. This can be heard on almost all of my tracks: After a chorus, the vocals only start again after four bars at the earliest. Instead, maybe the horns can kick in, or I just let the music play. It is very important to me that the singing has ebb and flow, so that it is dynamically embedded in the music and never dominates the song.

What inspires you
Traveling and touring opens my ears to new styles of music and new sounds, which I really want to experiment with. For example, on our tour last November, we listened to MUSE for hours while driving between two gigs. The sound bored into my head. When I got back home in the studio recording songs for my album “Rebel Massive”, I incorporated some of these ideas into the song with Prince Jazzbo (RIP). The same goes for certain Steppers sounds that I encountered, as well as for Dubstep and jungle. At the moment I'm inspired by Congo Natty, who brings back memories of the 90ies jungle in me.

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