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February 19, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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Mad Professor

One of ‘second generation’ dub’s most influential producers, UK artist Mad Professor still swears by using retro recording equipment and doesn’t play favourites with his albums. Salient music editor Stacey Knott spoke to the Professor before his upcoming Orientation show.

mad-professorIf the Mad Professor wasn’t a dub musician, he’d probably be an electrician. From an early age, he’s had an insatiable interest in electronics which, at school, earned him the title the Mad Professor. “I used to build radios and amplifi ers and transmittors. I used to build anything. I was handy with a solder iron,” he recalls.

It seems only natural that Fraser would create music heavily reliant on electronics – a running topic of conversation.

Dub music, according to the Professor’s own Awira Records website, was born from a few reggae producers experimenting with electronics. They removed vocals from tracks, mixing accompanying instruments and added “echoes and reverbs and rebounds and swells and stretches” to create a “fully mind-andbody bending, primitive yet sophisticated, techno-atavistic, root futurist kind of minimal hypno-trance music.”

Through a conversation over a distractingly-crackly phone line, full of “sorry, I can’t hear you’s” and humoured chuckles on his behalf, I found his slow, laid-back, English-cum-Jamaican accented answers often elusive.

Dub has been around since the early ‘70s, with many ‘first generation’ dub producers influencing Mad Professor’s work.

“There are a few guys who have influenced me in dub: Tubby, Eric Thomas, Lee Perry, and it’s been like, just with their techniques, everybody has their different techniques in their dub. So I just listen and draw and learn.”

Like Lee Scratch Perry, Fraser decided to set up his own record label and recording studio in South London in 1979. From humble beginnings, over the past three decades it has grown to host over 50 artists, has produced countless chart-topping hits and is regarded as the most successful UK-based reggae label, with a back catalogue of over 200 singles and albums.

1982 saw the release of the Professor’s first self-produced dub album Dub Me Crazy Part 1 – the first in a 12-part series. Next came Black Liberation Dub, encompassing five albums, and on the third chapter, the Evolution of Dub, is a track named ‘Kiwi culture’ which he wrote to communicate how “the Kiwi people live”.

When it comes to how Fraser gets his deep, bass-heavy, reggae rhythm, revered, echoed, twisted sound across, he credits the multi-track recorder as the most-imperative and timeless equipment, as it “gives the versatility to make all kinds of music by different means”.

According to Fraser, this one piece of equipment has not improved over the years: “The best multi-track machines were made by the late ‘70s, early ‘80s really, when they were designed. They haven’t really got any better, just more computerised. The machines from the ‘70s still sound the best. Just listen to the records and you hear.”

Fraser’s love of this early dub sound is obvious in one of his Ariwa studios, which features a 24-track analogue system, with only original 1970’s sound equipment, in order to capture the sound that he first fell for.

Fraser also credits sampling as essential to his technique and catalogue of music. “I use sampling but not necessarily of other people’s music. I use sampling as a technique,” which he reckons is needed “at some point to make things sound better.”

While his studio has evolved with time to digital-based equipment, Fraser believes that as music evolves to this digital based music as ‘the medium’ is lost, and the digital medium tends to take over in importance. “Digital as a medium itself is a very harsh medium. As opposed to analogue, with digital it is not the music – it is the medium.” Coming from analogue roots, where dubbing was done by hand, so to speak, it’s surprising Fraser is not totally biased towards analogue over digital. “I wouldn’t really say digital music is better but if the music has got to draw too much on the digital medium it will sound like crap.”

When it comes to our digital age and how Fraser deals with it as a musician, dependent on people buying his albums rather than ripping them off, he has a strong bias: “The whole era of people getting music is changing. And we are adjusting to it. We are in the midst of this change, and obviously digital and downloading and the computer era is just another era,” he says.

“You can’t stop it you can only make it work the best for everybody.”

When it came to discovering if Fraser had a favourite selfproduced album, he hit back with a question: “Do you have any children?” Due to the bad phone line, this had to repeated a few times, with my answer being negative due to my age.

“Well that won’t stop you, some girls by 21 got 5 children,” he says with a hearty chuckle. “Having a favourite album is like having children, when you have a few children it’s like having a few albums, you don’t have favourites. You like different ones for different things, there – you know how I feel.”

Favourite albums aside, when it comes to what to expect from a live show at the hands of the Mad Professor, he was, again, mysterious, merely saying “anything”, with another of his chuckles.

Rest assured, past national and international reviews have credited the Mad Professor’s live shows as mind-and-bodybending experiences, so if that sounds like your bag, be sure check him out.

Mad Professor plays with The Upbeats at Sandwiches on Thursday, March 1 from 10pm.

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