Prominent figure in the English Dub music scene for over forty years and founder of label and studio Ariwa in 1979, Neil Fraser, aka Mad Professor, is one of the most notorious and prolific second generation dub music producers. Following the lead of dub pioneers and masters, the likes of King Tubby or Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mad Professor experiments with machines in his own transgressive way. His album “Dub Me Crazy”, produced at the Ariwa studio in the ‘80s, has contributed a great deal to reggae’s transition into the electronic era. Fraser has worked on tracks for numerous artists and bands such as Depeche Mode, Jamiroquai, the Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, Rancid, The Orb, not to mention reggae musicians including Horace Andy, Johnny Clarke, Sly & Robbie, Buju Banton or U-Roy. All have, at least once, entrusted their compositions to the wild electronic wizard, whose career will undoubtedly be remembered as a cornerstone in the history of Britain’s thriving Bass music.
Prince Fatty chats to Mad Professor about his beloved SSL Mixing Console at Ariwa Studios, December 2014
Dub puts the Engineer’s Skills Center Stage
“Before dub, as the engineer, you had to ‘not be seen and not be heard’, as the proverb goes! Because if you had an identity on a track, you were not fulfilling what an engineer was supposed to do, which was basically to be invisible. You were already invisible, being on the other side of the board, but you were also supposed to be invisible in a sonic way. We reversed that with dub music. From the point where you heard a drum roll, you could go ‘Yeah, that sounds like Erryl Thompson recorded that roll!’”
Home-brew analogue equipment has always been at the heart of the dub sound
…and Mad Professor clearly feels that the sonic identity dub mixers worked so hard to establish is threatened by the rise of digital gear. “We spent years developing an identity, where you could hear exactly who’d done what. The problem with the digital format is that the more a producer leans on it, the less of his identity is stamped on the record. The digital thing takes that away.
Anything you do on your digital system, he can do it as well
According to Mad Professor, “The difference between the real dub and the digital euro dub, made on a computer, is that the real dub is built on songs. When you hear a good dub album from the ’70s by Tubby or Perry, the tracks are built on songs with proper constructions. Original melodies. A lot of the new guys don’t build on good a song, or at least not a very good song, so it doesn’t take you anywhere. It’s a marriage between music and technology.”
We always have our effects hooked up
The first stereo auxiliary is always my reverb, a Lexicon 480l. It’s a quad-input reverb, one of the most developed reverb units ever, so we could have two stereo auxiliaries to that one. That’s always on and comes back into two stereo splits. Next, we got our delay. I’ve always used the Roland SD3000, I think that’s one of the best delays ever built. A magic delay. I also use MXR phasers, quite a collector’s thing — I’ve got them hooked up to the desk as well.”
“Truth is, after having made several hundreds of records, if you do everything one way, you’d soon have to stop. It’s all challenging and it’s a challenge to take everything in its own context and to have a different approach. “You have to approach each project in a different way. You can’t just say ‘I always do this, so I’ll just do it again.’ I don’t know what other people do and as for me, I just do what I feel for in the moment. It’s like what you want to eat: some days you want curry, some days something else. Sometimes I want a long echo, sometimes I want a short one.”
Great interview with the Mad Professor from Prince Fatty TV
Excellent workshop from Dub Champions Festival!