By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
On old reggae records, though, the horns often sound like asthmatic goats. “Sometimes it’s just luck,” Scientist suggests. “Something might sound that way, and the song hit. So now you find that becomes an influence. Everybody now want to tune a little bit funny.”
As a dubbist, Scientist has his own style. Many engineers lean more on dramatic bong-whang effects; he mainly discovers different ways to bring out melodies. “Melody is something that’s stuck in people’s head. If you take the melody out of the song, it’s like takin’ the milk out of the coffee.”
Scientist’s involvement with music was really accidental. His father was an electronic technician, and young Hopeton found he liked taking things apart and figuring out how they worked; that’s how he got his nickname. No schooling, just an interest, but the more he did it, the better he got. King Tubby, a technician himself, used to call Scientist down to the studio and get him fixing amplifiers and speakers.
A lot of fixing was needed, because ’70s Jamaican music raised new technological challenges. Scientist says his customers used to tell him, “‘All my speakers and all my amplifiers wanna pop. What’s going on with this reggae thing?’” Diabolical frequencies were tearing up King Tubby’s tweeters.
“How R&B and rock & roll was mixed back in them time, it had a very narrow audio spectrum, it was mostly mid. No highs, no lows. So there wasn’t any way to successfully test speakers. Wit’ your amplifiers and instrument, everything look normal as far as t’ numbers. But if I play some amplifier, this is a piece of shit! It taught us you need to not put a Band-Aid on a problem. Find out why it’s doing that to the equipment, and prevent it. Reggae influenced the electronic industry so much — a lot of people in my opinion don’t give it the props.”
Dub vs. Remix
“Dub is about tripping out the tune, and a remix is more about tricking out the tune.”
“The dub is closer to the essence of the song; the remix is on the edge of becoming something new totally. We are always testing the limits.”
—Mark Quan, Riddim Doctors
“To use jazz terminology, remix is more in, dub is more out. A dub is generally going to make a song deeper and stranger.”
—Tom Chasteen, DJ
Musicians hired Tubby and Scientist for the sounds they were getting. And listeners started buying records for the sounds rather than the stars. So, contrary to any intention, Scientist became a star himself. “It so happened,” he says, “that I did t’ings that was unique and influenced all these different genre of music, and I find myself in the spotlight.” He prefers that you don’t point that thing at him, though. Get somebody else to jump around on the stage. He’ll be in the back, in the dark, making it sound good.
Scientist is a scientist. He never picked up on the Rasta thing, doesn’t have much use for religion in general. His science was his salvation. That and one other thing.
“Growing up in Jamaica, I was getting to go on the wrong track. I drop out of high school, still doing my electronics, but I find right after that I start thinking about beer and cigarettes, trying to be a man, trying to hang out with the boys. But the moment I pick up a joint, that was my last cigarette and my last beer.”
Lyon, the singer, has been listening in the corner of the room; a light goes on in his eyes, and he pokes his joint in my direction. I’m glad to be sociable. “Oh, I didn’t know you burned,” he apologizes.
After I partake of the sacrament, I look at these two with new eyes. And they both appear different. To my right, Lyon is smiling more, almost squirming with enthusiasm. To my left, Scientist has gotten taller. He’s gotten up on the mountaintop; he’s got Word to deliver.
“Reggae is the music that can bring about peace — different people, of different races, different background, can all sit down, can all shake hands, and we don’t have any violence. You have a bunch of people gettin’ irie smokin’ herb, and after that there’s no incidents. Y’know, the CHP, they don’t have any job to go to — no dead bodies, like when you have a big rock & roll festival, people drinkin’ alcohol and they’re all driving down the road drunk.”
“Alcohol kills, marijuana heals,” says Lyon. He has a high, childlike voice and talks fast. “In any other country but America, reggae is on the radio 24/7. I sing in different languages, so I go to many different countries. It is everywhere. It’s very revolutionary music. We’re for real.”
When I get home, I can’t help marveling how these guys manage to tie their shoes, forget making music. I prowl around my house, heart thumping. The walls look like the bars of my cage — that Humboldt we were sucking up was ridiculous. I feel strong, restless, like a wild animal. A . . . lion? I’ve got work to do (I think . . .). But all I want to do is hear dub.
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