Dubmatix-Interview – Sly and Robbie meet Dubmatix

Sly and Robbie meet Dubmatix – Overdubbed

In reggae, all roads lead to the “Riddim Twins”, Sly & Robbie. They’ve been revered as style-defining icons for years, and together and individually have a massive influence on the genre. Now, Sly & Robbie meet Dubmatix. The Canadian producer and multi-instrumentalist took original Sly & Robbie tracks and spent months crafting this new album, Overdubbed. The result is an album that shines with eclectic diversity. From roots oriented tunes to dubs for the clubs, there’s a bit of everything. Dubmatix’s refreshingly playful, bass-heavy approach creates new highlights while at the same time paying deserved homage to two world-class musicians.

The “Riddim-Twins” Sly & Robbie meet Dubmatix – definetly great news! How did this project come about?

About two years ago I was in Hamburg and met with my label boss Nicolai Beverungen (Echo Beach) and we were talking about collaborations and releases when he mentioned the possibility of doing something with Sly & Robbie. After speaking with the label who has the album masters they agreed after sending them two tracks Revisioned/Overdubbed.

What recordings of Sly & Robbie did you work on?

Nicolai sent me 20 songs to choose from. I selected 11 that I felt would be most challenging and interesting musically for me to “overdub”. Ranging from roots, to steppers and a few in between it was a nice blend of styles and sounds from Sly & Robbie.

What was the first feeling for you to touch hand to the stems of music recorded by these living legends?

It’s Sly & Robbie – two of the most accomplished, integral and forwrard-thinking bass & drum duos in history – I was honoured and really eager to have the opportunity to work with their music and see where I could take what they had already recorded and alter it as much, as musically, as possible.

How much of the original material/compositions did you leave in the mix, how much Dubmatix did you add? Did you try to capture the original essence or did you work with the tunes completely in your own style?

The first thing I did was NOT to listen to the tracks. I loaded up only the drums, bass and some of the percussion parts. It was a like having a blank slate – only bass & drums + percussion. The next step was to look at each track individually and think about where I could take it. As they had already been released as dub tracks I didn’t want to re-hash. I wanted to create something unique from each song. When you listen to the album, all 11 songs are different in sound, texture and style. That was intentional. What started out as a Re-Vision became something else entirely. It became an overall revision for me personally – from what was played, the instruments used, re-wiring my studio and setup to be different from past releases to having a goal of ZERO-Midi. This album is about 950% performed live, no midi and only a few loops/samples. I wanted to hear imperfections. Musically it spands dancefloor space dub to classic early 80s style dancehall (pre-digital), Specials-inspired ska/steppers to breakbeat electronica to vintage King Tubby-style dub, triphop and more.

What do you think, Sly & Robbie will say when hearing your ReVisions?

One of the many things I’ve always admired about Sly & Robbie is their dedication to pushing boundaries and trying to move their styles and sound forward. They’ve created so many iconic sounds and styles over the years and continue to do so and I hope they will hear the passion and respect I have for them, their music and the joy I had in working with their creations and them.

You have brought in some interesting musicians to add their flavours to the music. Who has impressed you most?

All of them impressed me. I was particular with whom I wanted on the album as the songs took shape. An example was Jay Spaker from John Brown’s Body (Easy Star Records) – he recently released a loop pack and I was tinkering around with a couple of his loops when I decided it would be fantastic to get him involved directly and voice something that spoke to the music and himself. He agreed and went off and worked on his vocals, harmonies without me knowing the topic – the only suggestion I had was to sing the entire song in falsetto. Hearing falsetto for an entire song is rare. A couple classic reggae tracks exist but again, rare. Jay came back with something spectacular. When I heard his vocals and especially the chorus – I had chills.

Pato Irie was another artist that I’ve been wanting to work with for years and finally the right track arrived. Pato is a Toronto-based percussionist (Afro-Brazilian) that has the “T.Dot Batu” batucada band, and one of the tracks “Dirty Flirty” was the perfect choice for his drumming. I brought him into the studio with his brazilian drums and we layed down two drumming style options and he did an incredible job and amazing performance. His playing becomes the core focus of the track at moments.

Screechy Dan and Megative (Gus VanGo, Tim Fletcher, Chris Soper, Jesse Singer) happened to be in Toronto on tour. They came to the studio and hung out for the day and I played them the track “Smoothie” and they jumped on board to have some fun and see what might happen. Each member dove into an instrument or two (plus vocals) and we recorded everything. Screechy Dan hopped on the mic to deliver vocals along with Princa Alla that I’d had on the chorus. It was one of those spontaneous moments where music knows no boundaries or ego – simply people sharing music together. The end result is something really fun and uplifting and a great memory for life. A very big thanks to Screechy Dan and Megative for their wonderful contributions.

Trèson is another Toronto-based vocalist that I’ve worked with in the past – he appeared on my 2006 release „Atomic Subsonic“ on the track “Dirt, Dust & Sand”. We hadn’t worked together in almost 10 years and after running into each other last year, I wanted to get him involved – he’s got a wonderfully rich, smooth tone to his voice. I found the track for him, “Frenchman Code”, with it’s early 80s dancehall vibe and we got together a couple of times to write and voice it. It’s a rock solid dancehall groove with a ethereal chorus and vibe.

My band and family members Bill King, Pablo Paul and Shane “Shakey” Forrest had to be on this release. We hit Pablo’s Side Door Studio for two tracks.  No guidance was required – they roared. Hammond Organ, guitar and percussion. They made the tracks what they are. And for me a personal joy to have them part of this project being long time bandmates and family.

The Heavyweights Brass Band who appeared on „Rebel Massive“ are fantastic musicians and players and they delivered the perfect parts and tones as always.

Also Illorn who appears on three tracks scratching/cutz hailing from Brighton area, UK. He’s been on several tracks (for my next album) and his work is both subtle when needed and epic when necessary. And finally a good friend since college Aaron Kazmer who dropped some tasty harmonic bits on a track for me.

If you compare the tunes to your output so far, do you see any differences in sound, that was maybe inspired by working with stems from Sly & Robbie?

Absolutely. Without their drums and bass – these tracks would not exist. Each one was based on, and inspired by them and at the root – it’s Sly & Robbie. It forced me to push myself to create new sounds/styles and songs from their music.

The original tunes were dubs without vocals. Now you have added the voices of Trèson, Screechy Dan, Jay Spaker and others. How did you decide on who to voice for the album?

When I was talking with Nicolai and about the project I decided I wanted to have some vocals – not to be just a dub project. As the songs developed I could hear tracks that really suited vocals and certain vocal styles as I mentioned above.

“Communication Breakdown” is by sound a very outstanding tune of the album. Jay Spaker does a great job and sounds a little bit like Cedric Myton from the Congos. The style of the whole tune sounds like you took it back to Black Ark in the seventies. Amazing! What are the reactions towards this tune so far?

This is something you don’t hear often – in texture, rhythm and vocals. I’d built up the track, had Bill, Pablo & Shane add their parts and it really could have remained an instrumental. But when I started messing around with some loops for ideas – Jay Spaker’s vocals from his loop pack instantly gave the song a new dimension and sound. As I mentioned, I approached Jay to sing on the track and was very happy he agreed. His delivery and lyrics make this track something very special. The reaction has been really positive and rightly so – Jay’s vocals are inspired.

You told me, that Grippa from the Hempolics was involved a bit too. In which way?

Grippa and I, along with the Hempolics have been collaborating for a few years now – remixes and in Grippa’s studio for an EP – currently titled “HempMatix” for lack of a name at the moment. I had to have Grippa involved. He’s got a unique style and sound and a fantastic ear so early on I sent over the stems for “Smoothie” – he sent me 10 parts back (haha). I used them all.

I know that you have a huge amount of other new tracks in the pipeline. How long will it take until the next strictly Dubmatix album will follow?

This year has quite a few projects being worked on including a King Size Dub Special album with Echo Beach and the 6th Dubmatix studio album (Sept 2018 release). An EP with The Hempolics is in the pipeline as well – we’ve been working together on this for the past year or so. Also working with MC/singer Jago (UK) on an EP. A collaboration with DJ Brace – more of a breakbeat, triphop vibe EP – as well as various productions and remixes for artists around the globe are to come.

To all the people involved I can’t thank you enough. It’s been an honour and a privledge to work with Sly & Robbie, Groove Attack, Echo Beach, all the vocalists and musicians on the album…. Thank you!

Interview: Karsten Frehe



About Karsten

Founder of the Irie Ites radio show & the Irie Ites Music label, author, art- and geography-teacher and (very rare) DJ under the name Dub Teacha. Host of the "Foward The Bass"-radio show at ByteFM.