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Published: 2003/02/25
by Jesse Jarnow

Dub Side of the Moon – Easy Star All-Stars

Easy Star Records 1012

One of the ironies inherent in the emergence of new technologies is that the
same innovations which can theoretically best be used creatively (such as
dub and the remix culture) often end up spawning waves of legislation
designed to prevent anything of the sort (such as the whole systems of
copyright laws which have flowered in its wake). Let's face it: there's
probably no chance anybody would have ever been able to realize an actual
dub version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and get away with
it. And anyway it doesn't matter. You couldn't really attach reggae rhythms
to Floyd without some serious tinkering, probably requiring the master tapes
— and what right-minded soccer-team owning British multi-trillionaire bloke
would allow that?

So, yes, the Easy Star All-Stars meticulously rearranged Dark Side
and played it out, tweaking it into deep space. And, like El Vez's fantastic Chicano
reappropriation of Paul Simon's "Graceland", the All-Stars do it
lovingly, conscientiously, and with a great sense of humor (check out the
chorus of burbling bongs at the beginning of "Money"). On the original
Dark Side, for example, one of the ways that Floyd maximize the use
of their droney soundfields is through David Gilmour's languid, sad guitar
solos. They articulate Roger Waters' lyrics of deep alienation in a most
instinctual way, cutting through the paranoid lethargic grooves with soaring

Guitar solos aren't part of dub's vocabulary, though, and the musicians
needed to relate to the situation a bit differently. As such, much of the
space is filled by echo-crisped toasting, rapid bursts of wordplay that
unfold like verbal fractals (a slightly better idea in theory than in
practice, but still a worthy one). In general, though, the album manages to
find enough isomorphic translation points to fare abnormally well. It's a
tribute album, for sure, but one with a sense of style and art.

My friend Charles once made a dub version of the
Beatles' "Flying". An odd combination, I thought at first: The Beatles
and dub. In the end, listening to it, it made sense. Like much psychedelic
music, "Flying" made great use of space (even if Lester Bangs did once call
it "McCartney's first venture into FM muzak"). Through its dreamy echo,
wordless melody, and floating tempo, it gave the listener room to drift.
The use of space is a shared affinity between dub and psychedelia. In
psychedelia, long notes are the norm. In dub, the space is filled with
echoes, like radio waves reflecting off moist cloudbanks.

A strong difference between dub and psychedelic music is where their
functions lie. There is nothing political, by and large, about Dark
Side, except in a glumly resigned, almost existential way. Dub, on the
other hand, is often very political — from the molecular elements it is
made of (reappropriated, remixed tracks) up through its lyrics of
Rastafarian revolution. Musically, the space in psychedelia and dub both
create and fill sonic and emotional voids. Dub Side splits the
difference, and manages to create an optimistic paranoia.

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