DITDC: UK Psych-Dub 2-for-1: Starship Africa and Captain Ganja

SACH O SACH O Sach O sach o IS IN EFFECT EFFECT Effect effect The received wisdom is that Dub is first and foremost a technological and chemical achievement. Years before professional remixing and...
By    April 13, 2009


SACH O SACH O Sach O sach o IS IN EFFECT EFFECT Effect effect

The received wisdom is that Dub is first and foremost a technological and chemical achievement. Years before professional remixing and electronic music, Jamaican producers took crude equipment and created a revolution out of reverb, bass and collie weed, setting the stage for the idea of musical recordings as source material rather than final product. Roots music meanwhile, was the thinking man’s Reggae: ideological, idealistic and full of ideas. Black Uhuru and Burning Spear had something to say, Sly & Robbie were a studio rats experimenting with effects.

Granted, with so many versions being producer-only affairs and so many tracks concerned solely with satisfying the sound systems, it’s not unfair to think of dub as music for the body. What’s often forgotten though is that for millions of reggae fans, dub is Jamaica’s own psychedelia: mind expanding music in the vein of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. So it’s one of music’s great ironies that Jamaica’s psych revolution was often shepherded by England’s punks: a group little enthused by wandering hippie grooves.

Due to the economics of releasing full-length records, cross-commonwealth immigration and the scorched earth music environment of England post-77, however, the UK produced and was receptive to, a number of fascinating albums exploring dub as psych–masterpieces perfect for headphone sessions.

Take Creation Rebel’s Starship Africa. A product of Englishman Adrian Sherwood and a backing band originally meant for Prince Far I (a legend in his own right), the sessions started off as ordinary backing tracks only to be discarded and later enhanced by half a dozen studio drummers and a shed-load of echo. Capturing at once the half-hazard “remix” approach to dub native to Jamaica and a more cohesive self-consciously arty vision emerging as a second generation of producers took hold, Starship Africa is more than the sum of its recording sessions. A two-part suite subdivided into multiple movements, the album is as ambient as anything Brian Eno ever recorded but with the benefit of some of the deepest grooves as yet put on wax.

Taking it’s space theme seriously, Starship Africa recalls both the Afro-Futurism of Sun Ra and the sci-fi soundtracks of British prog, shifting at a moment’s notice from a standard riddim to extreme tape experimentation. It’s a testament to Sherwood that the results are never jarring, fitting together as a single piece of music rather than descending into abrasion for abrasion’s sake and though ultimately psychedelic, the album’s stark minimalism often recalls another post-punk touchstone: the experimental rock conceived in Germany just a few years earlier. The combination of stoned jamming, Motorik minimalism and fracture loops and samples should be off-putting but ultimately the record shows that much of the world was heading in a common direction by the 70’s end, and acts as a brilliant precursor to the DJ era, even if the music would kill just about any dance floor.


Tradition’s Captain Ganja and the Space Patrol is an even more mysterious record with little information about it to be found online apart from a list of producers and musicians. Recorded in England and “manic mixed” by “Tyrone and the Captain”, Captain Ganja sounds like a fully fledged concept record, apart from the occasional vocal snippet betraying the first and last tracks as remixes. Wherever it came from or whatever it’s based on, one thing’s certain: this is some of the craziest, smokiest and spaciest dub ever made. Throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, Captain Ganja pushes the core idea of dub just about as far as it can go in terms of sound effects and atmospheric elements without ever losing sight of the drum and base foundation.

Where Starship Africa pared dub down to the essentials and THEN went crazy, Tradition over-stuff their record from the beginning: rarely does the Captain Ganja let the listener breathe, instead forcing sensory overload through the sheer heaviness and amount of tracks coming in and out of focus. All dub is stoned, yes…but this release is better suited to a plate of space-cake than a spliff. The use of vibraphones throughout the record adds a jazzy touch to the proceedings but the absolutely devastating amount of reverb and the sheer amount of sound flying around makes for anything but a dry “jazzy” experience. Though obviously not lacking in humor (the record’s called Captain Ganja and the Space Patrol for God’s sake), Tradition’s release is no less radical and musically serious than Creation Rebel’s and may ultimately be the better record: the brighter high and middle end makes for a more engaging listening and the stop-start dynamic reveals a more carefully conceived record, one that truly validates the idea of dub as an idea to be expanded upon and colored rather than an experiment in extremes to be followed to a logical (or illogical) conclusion.

Things were just as exciting back in Jamaica with names like Scientist and Mad Professor pushing the ideas of their mentors Lee Perry and King Tubby just as far or further than Adrian Sherwood and Captain Ganja. But there’s something to be said for the sense of space and unified musical conception of these two albums and others that emerged out of England’s nascent reggae scene. Years later, Britain continues to be a leading voice in dub, both in its slow-n-low traditional form and its moderns aggressive and modern hybrids (like the ultra-hyped and genuinely exciting dubstep movement.) Though the differences between Jamaica and England’s take on the music weren’t yet so extreme in the early 80’s, it’s worth noting that the seeds of a bright future were already in place.

MP3: Creation Rebel-“Movement Section, 4”
MP3: Creation Rebel-“Movement Section, 5″

MP3: Tradition-“Subaquatic Swerves”

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