Dub vets Scientist and the Roots Radics took over this year’s Dub Champion Fest—Amy Wachtel reports
Like any respectable “creature of the night,” I got to BB Kings just before the bewitching hour of midnight, an appropriate hour for both vampires and night nurses. Deadly Dragon’s sound system filled the air with the sounds of drum, bass & dub recordings. Remembering that Scientist’s jackhammer style of mixing tends to be on the LOUD side, I uncharacteristically put in a pair of earplugs. I even carried an extra set. On the second of five nights at this year’s Dub Champion Festival, the iconic dub chemist Scientist (seen above in NYC, Fall 1988) and dub innovators the Roots Radics band blessed the stage and, joined by the great reggae and dancehall vocalist Johnny Osbourne, put on a show for the ages. Before the concert even began, the energy was palpable throughout the subterranean building as anticipation was through the roof. This was the kind of reggae show that crossed, and then collapsed, the Time-Space continuum by bringing out veterans and old timers, alongside a more current regime of reggae aficionados and dubheads. Video and photos from the performance after the jump.
The night was filled with the promise of an-extremely-once-in-a-blue-moon bonafide Musical & Sound Higher Heights destination sensation. An album recorded over 30 years ago with seminal reggae stalwarts the Roots Radics by the iconic sound engineer, mix-master and heavy weight dub champion Scientist was going to be performed in its entirety for the first time ever on the East Coast. Live.
The first person I ran into was Scion Sashay Success, orginal 1980’s Jamaican conscious dancehall singer from the Jah Life stable of artistes. Not used to wearing ear plugs, our conversation began rather awkwardly as I couldn’t really hear what was being said. Happy to see him, I was happier still to learn that he has a new release called “The 7th Seal”. Just then I was approached by Norman Moore, an original listener from my days in the 80’s on Adelphi’s radio station, WBAU-FM. Beaming with his trademark smile, he said “I told my wife, if you see Night Nurse tonight, you must wish her a happy birthday!” Surprised that he knew, I quickly realized that Facebook was most likely the informant, I checked my watch and it was exactly midnight .”Cool,” I thought. “First official bday wish right on the stroke of 12”. The vibes were pretty magical, and the show hadn’t even begun. The Curse of the Evil Vampires was already lifting.
A few more feet into the club, and I bucked up the mighty Jeff Sarge, host of WFMU’s Sunday morning “Reggae Schoolroom” for the past 26 years. After saluting this high ranking reggae official, I grabbed my corner at one of the tables, and danced to the sound systems. I noticed the room continue to fill up, right up until the band made their way on to the stage. The room started to pulse, pulse, pulsate as Flabba Holt (bass), Dwight Pinkey (guitar), Style Scott (drums), T. Bird (keyboards), and Larry McDonald (percussion) hit us with the rhythm — sweet reggae classics, including “Night Nurse.”
It was an added bonus that Style Scott was there on drums, because in recent times, he splits his duties between the Radics, and the UK’s Dub Syndicate. When the Radics were in NYC this past August, for example, at the Central Park Summerstage show where they backed Israel Vibration, Style was not with them. And having our own “hometown” hero Larry Mac adding cool & deadly dimensions of percussion via his gold congas, shakers and other layers of instruments, only added to the dub mystification time.
Scientist apparantly didn’t get the arrangement he had hoped for, because his mixing equipment was not on stage, alongside the band, but out in the middle of the room where the sound board is generally found. The type of set-up that Scientist requires, or desires, is not in the books. And this night, really became one for the books. Old time studio mixing-sparring partner of Scientist’s & Brooklyn-based producer & label head Jah Life (Hyman Wright) wanted the audience to realize that certain sounds were created by the mad Scientist at the controls, not from the musicians’ instruments. So he saw to it thatthe video screens on either side showed Scientist’s hands maneuvering the knobs on the board.
With sound effects, dub and bass, Scientist dropped the Evil Vampire laugh track that led into “Voodoo Curse” and “Dance of the Vampires.” While the Radics dubbed their way track by track through the album, various imagery and people appeared on stage in attempts to aid and abet the erradication of the vampires. Not to mention turn up the heat. Daddy Lion Chandell, NY-based singer, selector & MC, appeared, baring an ANKH which he used expressively, as he pantomimed snaky and slinky dance steps and slithery movements. It was eerie and ancient and flowed with the sounds from front and back. The Mobius Collective emerged on horns, trumpet and sax, on and off throughout the night.
When Johnny Osbourne took the stage, it was a moment of revelation, as he was part of the original artists that Scientist sourced material from for this album. No longer “Night of the Living Dead”, as the Vampire Curse was no more, Osbourne brought in the Light, and what felt like a whole other show began. He opened with his classic hit “Buddy Bye” . He was joined by Screechy Dan for a rousing rendition of “Ice Cream Love” and was met with much delight throughout his upbeat set.
Neither a silver bullet, clove of garlic, nor wooden stake was used to rid either New York nor the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires. It was through instruments of music and dubtronic sounds that the deed was accomplished. Executed by some of Jamaica’s crucially crucial talents of all time. I cannot speak of the Roots Radics, though, without calling to mind Bingy Bunny (Eric Lamont) who was their rhythm guitarist up until his passing in 1993, as well as Blacka Morwell, founding member of the Morwells, along with Bingy Bunny and Flabba Holt.
After the show, I took some great backstage shots of the various members of the reggae fraternity who were in the house. Even got a few of Style & Flabba to add to my collection of drummers & bassies. When I went to upload the pictures from my camera onto the brand new computer I had just gotten for my birthday, the photos were wiped out. My camera was empty. And the computer showed no files. Part of Vampire folklore is that they have no reflections. You cannot see a vampire in a mirror, nor capture its image.” Kiss me neck”, I thought to myself. With a slight shudder, the “Corpses Rises” track went through my mind, as I wondered …
Drop it like a 20 megaton dub bomb…