Every DJ should have a wide appreciation for music plus a special focus on a particular artist. For me, Lee “Scratch” Perry was the one-stop embodiment of the entire culture. Scratch was a network of interconnected nodes across the planet, across genre and history, he was there at many of the turning points, yet remained musically experimental and uniquely Scratch at the same time.
Reggae music has lost some of its major innovators recently, U-Roy and Bunny Wailer both passed within two weeks of each other have ensured that the heaviest soundsystem in the universe, dubs out to infinity. Rest in dub.
Bob Marley’s mentor! Nuff said, and Scratch produced many of those lush, relaxing butter kissed dub reggae slices featuring Bob and the Wailers. Speak to any decent sound engineer and let them explain to you how Scratch innovated music production, on a shoestring, to create spacious acoustic worlds using reel to reel tape tricks and magic. I was first properly introduced to his early Black Ark works via the triple CD Box Set: Arkology, that featured vocal tracks followed by the dubs. His methodology and remixology of overdubbing tracks resulted in degradation and enhancements of certain frequencies and tones. Dealing with tape, Scratch was able to experiment with saturation and like Miles Davis, and The Beatles, Scratch cut-up and stitch-edited back together recordings, to both add a further uniqueness and originality to his ‘Sound’ plus, to chop and change time, past-present-future all on one reel.
During the 1990’s in the UK there was a resurgence and recycling of dub reggae into new forms, both upbeat Jungle music and downbeat trip hop/ambient electronica, was noticeably pulling on influences such as Lee Scratch Perry. Arguably, the early Mo-Wax sound was heavily drenched in a Scratch approach to filtered drums, deep sub bass and tripy echo-chamber ‘dub outs’. Many of the existing, original Dub Sound Systems crossed over and experimented in different genres leading up the millennium. Perhaps best captured in the collaborations between Scratch and Adrian Sherwood, plus the remix spin offs from these projects. Culturally, and from a musical perspective, the impact Scratch has had, together with all the other Sound Systems, artists, producers and recording engineers with roots in Jamaica and the Caribbean, in the UK is exemplary.
Testament to underground movements and artists doing art for the love and community of it, the thrill of musical creation, experimentation and playback. Showing how to peacefully celebrate art, build community and stay healthy and happy, updated to what’s going on via the general heart. A toast to the original toasters, to Scratch and to those who selflessly shared music, art and culture, in service to some other ubiquitous force. Stronger than commerce, the force to keep experimenting, like a scientist, moving forwards, march, chant, dance and sing tales of conquering adversity. The mighty sound engineer god, my kind of god, if I were to want to worship such an entity.
The Mystique of Scratch, adds another dimension to his personae, and so his music. A self confessed self-mythologizing multi-dimensional being, The Upsetter of the Upsetters. In the tradition of Sun Ra, Scratch included the scriptures and religious mythology into his music and into himself, self-mythologizing through sonics. Another defining attribute of great Reggae artists, the devotion – religious devotion – to the music, as the music is part of the culture, not just some entertainment on the side…central to the whole thing, the oneness of experiencing all the senses at once.
For me, in the late 1990’s, listening to Lee Scratch Perry while high, I became aware of some very attractive high-frequency phase shifting (like what happens when you play two copies of the same vinyl record and very slightly slow one of them down, or up) a new sonic world emerged for me, and from there when I heard the music from the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sun Ra, I thought to myself, “wow, these cats are up and out there, playing in this other world”, it was kind of like a new dimension in sound. Scratch productions sent me to a similar place “outta’ space’ indeed, and that’s not to discuss what he was actually saying and singing. Scratch was a consistent labyrinthine puzzle maker, the Inception-Setter, who often spoke in tongues breaking down the linguistic barriers imposed by imperial forces.
Scratch was a poet too, a spontaneous preacher of Dub Science Mysticism, notably, distinguished by his ability to perform and present proof of concepts which enter through the ear and skin, to explore the rest of the human sensory solar system. As with Bob Marley, if his music is a church and/or religion, I am of it. Same with John Coltrane. I maybe model agnostic, a secular humanist but I can explore and appreciate and even temporarily “believe in” religious thinking via music. Scratch to me resembles a hermetic tone-scientist, and I can get on board and take the ride without worry, it’s a love dub trip.
Listen to his new album for evidence of his broad spectrum of collaborations:
Perry’s Guide To The Universe
Rest In Dub