This month, Beijing gets a dose
of roots reggae in the form of
two UK dub heavyweights:
Zion Train and Vibronics. The former
collective, founded in Oxford in
1988, went on to inspire a whole
tributary of currently trending
dance music genres, including,
of course, dubstep. The latter,
formed in 1995 with founder Steve
Vibronics at the centre, signed to
Zion Train’s label early in their career
and have subsequently maxed
out subwoofers at music festivals
around the world with their self-proclaimed
‘future sound of dub’.
Ahead of this one-two punch,
Time Out talks with Steve Vibronics
about the sounds and social causes
underlying his music, and dub’s
enduring, global relevance.
This is your second time playing
Beijing. What made you want to
There is a small but strong scene for
underground music in China, so it’s a
joy to see it grow. For me it’s exciting
to visit places as exotic and dynamic as China. What I look forward to the
most, though, is connecting with
fans of my music.
Your 2013 album Empire
Soldiers tells the story of Asian,
African and Caribbean troops
that fought in the
First World War.
How do social
themes connect to
We picked these
they link with the
of roots reggae
– the struggle of
oppressed people and, particularly,
the results of slavery. One hundred
years after the First World War,
oppression and brutality continue.
What have you been working on
since the release of your latest
album, last year’s The Return
As well as recording Jamaican
legends Earl 16 and Rod Taylor, I have been recording two new EPs
for release during the summer.
One features the vocalist Jah
Marnyah, the other will be an
instrumental release. After that it’s
some recording with a live drummer
and bass player – something a little
different to my usual
along with Zion
Train, who gave
first major break
by signing you to
Egg label. What are some key
lessons you learned from
working with Zion Train?
Zion Train have been my mentors
since I first released music back
in the ’90s. I really connected with
their independent, DIY ethos, and
that has stayed with me with the
establishment of my own record
label. It was Zion Train that showed
me how music can be turned from a hobby into a job, but without
compromising what you believe in.
How have you seen the UK dub
The UK dub scene has for sure
gotten bigger over the last 20 years.
Some off-shoot genres like jungle
and dubstep have used dub as a
big influence and brought people
to the source music. The explosion
across the world has been the
most surprising thing. The scenes
in France, Italy and now Spain are
growing all the time, and the dub
scenes in Mexico and Brazil are
Is there much overlap between
dub and other bass-heavy
genres, like dubstep, in the UK
clubbing scene? Or do people
mostly stick to their own niches?
These genres have always lived
side by side, like the way punk
and reggae were friends back in
the 1970s. There will always be
purists that want only one kind of
music, but most people like a range
of styles. I enjoy playing to both
crowds: people who know every
note of every track and people who
are experiencing UK dub for the
How does dub in the UK differ
or mutate from the original
Jamaican dub experiments of
the late 1960s and ’70s? In what
ways are the sounds of ‘digital
dub’, for example, distinct from
the homemade spring reverbs
and other analogue inventions of
early dub producers?
UK dub is surprisingly similar to
the Jamaican foundation music,
especially in the UK where Jamaican
producers and artists live and have
shared their unique knowledge.
I look to the masters, like Scientist
from Jamaica, who really ‘play’ their
mixing desk like an instrument and
make a live dub mix on the fly through
improvisation. It is possible to use
computer effects, but the original
tools have some amazing limitations
that keep you working extra hard.
Are there any corners of the world
where you’ve been surprised to
find a strong scene?
We have yet to receive an invite from
North Korea, but in the last year we
have been to Russia, Mexico, China
and all across Europe. As for different
audiences, in some places I have to
play more of an ‘introduction’ set, as
UK dub music can be pretty intense.
Other places want it raw and heavy
with no compromise. I’m happy either
way – I love my job!
Zion Train and Vibronics will be hitting the decks at Dada Beijing on Friday 17 June.