Monday, March 17, 2008

Bass Culture: Mad Prof at Mighty

I love dub reggae. Its bass-heavy, sparse, echo-laden arrangements, with various musical and sound effect tracks weaving in and out, insinuate their way into your consciousness and move you in ways that very few other genres of music can. At least it does that to me, anyway.

Mad Professor is one of the true masters of dub production, right up there with Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Scientist, Dennis Bovell and Bullwackie. So you can imagine my excitement when a friend invited me to check him out live at Mighty in San Francisco. Big shout out to Chiara and Derek - thanks again for everything.

Mighty, located in Potrero Hill, is a medium sized gallery and club, which as partner Derek Hena mentioned to me, has invested seriously in its sound. And it shows. While I have seen and performed live music with some unbelievable sound systems, I have yet to experience a set of dub music run through such impressive, booming, chest vibrating, leg buzzing sound, all while maintaining great crispness, clarity and punchiness. If you are a musician or DJ and happen to be looking for a 500ish capacity venue in San Francisco that is serious about sound, then Mighty is definitely worth a look.

Back to the man that brought me to Mighty, Neil 'Mad Professor' Fraser. Best known for his 12 part 'Dub me Crazy' series of records, Mad Prof was in top form DJing live. Along with him was a toaster and hype man, who would occasionally stir up the crowd and throw in some toasting over the music. I would best describe Mad Professor's style as driving, mid to upper tempo and highly percussive, with some of the most unusual sound effects I have heard in dub thrown in for good measure. In between songs, or sometimes alternate versions of songs (the remix, by the way, is essentially a Jamaican concept derived from different artists' takes, or 'versions' of classic hits), Mad Professor would introduce a song with a brief anecdote, a quick check-up on the crowd, or a plug for his record label, Ariwa. All delivered in a heavily processed alien sounding voice. Awesome. My favorite aspect of the set was that Mad Professor was not just merely spinning records and punching effects buttons, but essentially mixing, dubbing and arranging on the spot, as he was able to isolate each channel and mix or add effects to the various instruments as he saw fit. It's an art that requires a high level of coordination, and above all a great ear.

I left Mighty feeling like I had satisfied my long lingering primal urge for taking in some top notch dub music, as conveyed by a legendary practitioner of the 1's and 2's.