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Interview: Dub Fx Tells Us Why We Owe It All to Reggae

Dub gives his thoughts on the value of busking, why the music industry is basically fucked, and how we need to give more props to the Caribbean for modern music.

Dub Fx creates walls of sound with his mouth. He lays waste to bass bins in flurries of low-end funk that can make you weak. And all the while he finds a way to infuse his music with thoughtful lyrics that evoke the true spirit of reggae, rave, and hip-hop. These are clearest reasons why he was so successful as a street performer, where he first developed the sound that would later catapult him to viral success. It was in those early days of busking his way across Europe, that he learned how, armed only with his effects box and a looping pedal, he had the power to make fans out of not just ravers and punters but grannies, suits, and soccer moms.

It’s been several years since he moved from Melbourne, Australia to Italy to live in a van and busk his way across Europe. And while he’s left behind the bohemian lifestyle that proved to him that he had the ability to move people, he’s never forgotten the impact that street performance has had on creating his sound. He’s traded selling CDs on the streets for tour schedules and massive festival stages yet, the love he has for the raw unfiltered energy of an off the cuff street performance on a renegade sound system sit with him still. I had the opportunity to have a chat with Dub and get his thoughts on the value of busking, why the music industry is basically fucked, and how we need to give more props to the Carribean for modern music.

Because you started out as a street performer without a huge following, you've had to struggle quite a bit to get to where you are. Can you talk a bit about what it was like when you first started out?

Living in a van can be quite lonely, it's scary when you start to run out of money and it's raining every day. It also really sucks when you’re not feeling well but you still have to go out and perform to make a few bucks. Living hand to mouth definitely, puts hairs on your chest. It took me about three years of performing on the streets across Europe and Australia before I started getting booked for small shows, but because I could make anywhere between €800-1500 in one day on the street, I was charging that for my club shows also. Then in 2009, I met a film maker called Ben Dowden who posted the first videos that went viral, after that the small one off shows became bigger and more regular. I found myself touring across countries like Russia, which I had never street performed in. 

Around 2012 I had saved enough money to put a deposit on a house in Australia and pretty much from then on I was living off touring festivals and clubs.  

How did you overcome feeling uncomfortable in such a raw and intimate setting? 

I threw myself straight into it and got really good over the course of a few months. Over time I refined my performance until I was selling roughly 100 CDs every couple of hours. Street performing helps you cut away all the fat as an artist and a performer. You literally drop all the shit you think you need to have in your performance until you're left with your strongest elements. 

How does the dynamic of a street performance inspire you? 

On the street my focus was clear and simple, sell as many CDs as I can as quick as possible without getting shut down by the police. I would look around and see what type of people were in front of me. If they were older people I would sing up beat melodic tunes like "Love Someone" or "Soothe Your Pain." If the crowd was young and grungy I would do dirtier heavier tunes like "Step on My Trip." I adapted my songs and genres to the city I was in. It taught me to be flexible and how to present myself in any situation. 

I also spent a lot of time refining my sound and experimenting with different ideas on the street. So once I was getting paid to perform in front of crowds at festivals I had already made all the mistakes possible. 

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Your rise via social media happened quite organically. In what ways have you found yourself having to adapt as social media has become more focused on paid plays? 

Lucky for me my online presence was established before Facebook decided to monetize posts and limit the way shares get passed around organically. Now it's all been blocked in so many ways that it's even harder. People are so numb from social media. Nobody trusts the radio or TV for promoting art. The music industry is pretty fucked if you ask me. The only way to get your music out there is to do what I did from 2006 to 2012: street perform 3-4 days a week and sell your CDs directly to people, creating your fan base.

You have several personas when you get in cipher. How do they represent different parts of your own personality? 

I definitely have multiple personalities. When I get into the musical zone I feel possessed by several different entities. It's weird to explain but I feel like my body is a ship being controlled by loads of different conflicting consciousness. Music is just one aspect that draws out these different sides to my personality.    

How did your parents influence your art? 

My parents never really tried to stop me from expressing myself. They fought a lot while I was growing up and I’ve heard that psychologically, any type of repetitive trauma sends children into their own fantasy world which kick starts their ability to be creative. On top of that, my parents both have pretty good taste in music.    

Your new single "Listening" name checks several of your influencers. Can you talk about putting this song together? 

I wrote this tune while I was on tour last year in October. I was super inspired to write about my love for reggae because I came to the realization that if it wasn’t for reggae music I wouldn’t be doing what I do. In fact, there are many artists that wouldn’t be doing what they do now considering that reggae music started bass culture. It started sound system culture, which is what inspired hip-hop in America. Reggae started remix culture, DJ culture in the way we have it today. MCing and toasting over DJs also started in Jamaica in the 50s. We don’t even give the Caribbean credit for any of this.   

I made the beat on my Korg Electribe 2 and wrote the lyrics to a different beat, then I had the crazy idea of mixing the two together. I came home and recorded it and finished it all within about five days.   

You've said you don't consider yourself a reggae artist, but it has clearly made a huge mark on your sound. Where do you see yourself fitting in on the massive genre spectrum...if at all? Is that even important to you?  

Not really. I’m an artist. I draw inspiration from all kinds of things, not just music. My brain soaks it up and spits it out into my loop station. My lyrics reflect the times and so do my beats. I get booked for rock and metal festivals, reggae festivals, EDM festivals, the list goes on. I’m super blessed to be accepted into so many different demographics. I guess they all hear that I have drawn inspiration from them all.  

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