Musical embodiment, to me, is a kind of consistency experience.
On occasion, I get to exchange ideas or experience with folks who are, as Henry Rollins says, “…Sticking to their story.”
No chase of pop; no rockstar identity that gets in the way of the music becoming expressed fully.
One of my favorite artists who consistently exemplifies this sort of constancy is Dub Gabriel.
Sure, he’s worked in large studios and rubbed shoulders with giants (Michael Stipe, U Roy, Master Musicians of Jajouka, Karsh Kale, …) and can play traditional instruments as well as computer gear…but fundamentally part of what’s so interesting is that he maintains a very compassionate and humble musical identity; which I’m guessing why his music has stayed so consistently kickin’, fresh, powerful, bassive, and good-natured. Even humorous.
The music: strong, forceful, somewhere between dancehall, chillout, drum and bass, organic dubstep, and dub….
But those are just labels.
Dub Gabriel manages to integrate computer technology, like Ableton and the APC40; and yet the good ear can hear some Moog and Spring Reverb in his work that could have only come from live gear…and, when listening to his music, contrasted with many other artists with some sort of overly-specific style, it’s very clear to me that he has few limits and/or genre-trappings…he just does what he pleases, or maybe more specifically, what the moment requires. This produces a superior product.
Unafraid of traditional instruments or computerized tech machines, I think he exemplifies the sort of relaxed and yet determined nature that a musician of the future must possess.
J.Coppercat: There is a really good use of negative space in your music….do you have a ritual or focus that keeps you patient in the studio?
Dub Gabriel: For me what really makes music groove is not the notes, but the space between them. As a bass player for over 25 years, I’ve been chasing low-end frequencies and the spaces they embody for the majority of my life – whether it was playing in the school jazz band, punk rock shows as a kid, or mashing things up on my APC40 as I do today.
As for my focus in the studio, it’s a place I go to out of necessity and for relaxation. I need to spend dedicated time making music in the studio on a daily basis for my own sanity. I quit my “day job” August 22nd, 2000 and have spent almost every day since then developing my craft.
J.C: Ai Weiwei was incarcerated recently; you’ve been promoting the awareness of his art on FB…. Which dystopian society does China remind you of most? Feel free to make Sci-Fi mashups.
D.G.: Well, I’m not sure I need to throw together a dystopian-sci-fi-mashup for this one as my take on the detention of Ai Weiwei is quite literal – it really struck a nerve for me. I’ve been a fan of the writings of Ai Qing, his father, for the past 15 years, and a fan of Ai Weiwei’s work for the past 4 – I really jibe with his concepts and message. In a broader context, China has become a global powerhouse with its cheap manufacturing and international loans and our greedy quest for profit is overshadowing their human rights violations. The people in China are tired of the abuses and hungry for change and, as history has shown, the power of music, art and literature can mobilize the masses and overthrow governments. We MUST be vocal/visible in our support of the rebellion that is beginning to bubble over there, in the hopes that we can penetrate the veil of mass media and bring about real change.
I should also probably mention that I have a deep personal connection with China. My wife is Chinese and moved to San Francisco when she was 4 years old. Her parents recently moved back to China after 25 years in the States and almost all of her extended family lives over there. I have been to China a few times and expect to go back regularly for the rest of my life. I have also gigged over there in some pretty extreme situations like Givenchy’s runway show for Beijing Fashion Week and a “raging” dubstep show on a boat last year – all pretty surreal. The most important thing is that the response from the fans is always incredible. They are so visceral and hungry for new experiences that it makes it a really fascinating and rewarding market to play.
(Subsequent to this interview, Ai Weiwei was tentatively released! Yay for our team!)
J.C.: You’ve been rocking the “DUB” monaker for some time….can I assume this is a reference to Sly & Robbie era Dub…? How do you feel about the proliferation of Dub, Dubstep, etc.? Helpful or hindrance?
D.G.: Yes, yes and… yes.
J.C.: Do you build your waveforms up from scratch/empty space, or are you a sample-wrangler/ editor? Favorite Waveform or LFO shape? Reverb setting? Computer or Gear?
D.G.: I do all of the above and more. As soon as your process becomes fixed you start to limit yourself. Every piece of gear and every program I own gives me a different possible approach to song writing – it all depends on what I pick up first. The vast majority of the sounds I use I have created myself in some way or another. I have a Moog, a Theremin and other analog sound devices that I will mash with my tube tape delay and other outboard gear. But, I also use soft synths – a lot of Native Instruments and heavy processing. That being said, I may find a loop that makes it onto a track from time to time. Things like reverb or any other processing is all about doing what’s best for the song. As the mangled Hassan ibn Sabbah quote goes: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”
As for my gear set up at home and on the road, this is what I’m currently running:
DAW: Ableton Live 8, Logic
Soft Synths/Drum Machines: Mostly Native Instruments
Soundcard: RME Fireface800 in the studio, NI Audio DJ for live
Mic Pre: Neve/Amek 9098 w/EQ
Vocal Mic: Neuman TLM103
Also, about 80% of the time I am mixing in commercial studios, so I always end up in Protools. I use Mark Pistel’s (Hercules & Love Affair/Meat Beat Manifesto) studio a lot – he has a really nice Neve summing mixer, an API2500 stereo buss compressor and about 20 different analog synths. Mark is a good friend and a great engineer, now that I’m living in SF it has been very cool to start projects at home then take them over to him for the final pass. If I’m not working with Mark I will typically go to Prairie Sun in Cotati and mix down on an SSL with Oz Fritz (Tom Waits/Bill Laswell) or, when I’m in NY I will go to Stratosphere Sound which is James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins‘ studio where I work with Geoff Sanoff (Green Day, Television, Nada Surf) and mix on a nice Neve Board. All 3 engineers are amazing to work with and I learn a lot every time we get together on one of my mixes.
J.C.: Alright, fill-in-the-blank. Your favorite part of Dancehall is ______ but you would change the _____ and the _______.
J.C.: Okay, on a more serious note: Snares: loose/tight? wet/dry? synthetic/organic?
D.G.: All of the above and a few combos that might surprise you – it all just comes down to what’s best for the song.
J.C.: True or False: Analog gear is virtuous.
J.C.: True or False: Analog gear is torment with wires and electronic purgatory.
J.C.: Vinyl: Do you miss it? How cheap will the vinyl cutters need to become to drag us back in time?
D.G.: Yes and no. I will always love vinyl and will continue to release on it where it makes sense. I love old school record stores…. worked in them for years… I prefer having my personal music collection on vinyl but I don’t miss DJ’ing vinyl at all. Much as I love the tactile nature of wax when DJ’ing, it is so limiting when compared to what I do now in Ableton Live with the Akai APC40 – it’s a whole different beast. From a distribution standpoint digital has also opened a completely different market where I can get certain projects out there almost instantly with little-to-no cost. But even with all of that, a digital file is not nearly as exciting as getting your music on wax – it’s not going anywhere as long as music is being made.
D.G.: The APC40 leans over the bar, grabs a bottle of tequila and proceeds to mash the living shit out of everything in reach. Yes, I am an Akai Pro artist so I may be a bit biased but, there really is no contest – the APC40 is a true slayer.
J.C.: The live set you posted recently on Soundcloud was mindblowingly good…danceable, groovy, some gnarliness, phat bass, lotsa riddims and space. Almost jazzy in concept…. Do you have a formula or are the performances spontaneous?
D.G.: Glad you dug on the set, it was recorded at a great party I played last month in Calgary! I am all about the spontaneity that comes from live performance; you feel the energy of it. Even when I fuck up, I usually leave it in when I’m posting a set to the net – it’s all part of the vibe And I do appreciate the Jazz reference! it’s a really good metaphor for what I am trying to do when I play out. I do spend quite a bit of time setting up my sets in Ableton in such a way so that I can take things ANYWHERE I want to go. What I end up performing is a hybrid DJ set with a lot of studio dub tricks and performance-driven live electronics. Hopefully you end up with something that is more engaging for the audience then a guy on Serato… Just Recently I saw a video of some big-name DJ’s; basically they would hit play and their whole shtick was to just jump up and down to the music, which really is quite silly. If I am going to be up on stage feeling the music I need to be actually doing something, not just going through the motions… Maybe that comes from my live band background – I am up there to PLAY music, not just be a clown.
J.C. :Alright, one last query: The key signature you somehow seem to invariably pick is _____________.
D.G.: Whatever key my hand lands on…
For more information regarding Dub Gabriel:
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