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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Q&A: Five things you need to know about dub pioneer Mad Professor

London-based producer and remixer Mad Professor. Courtesy of Outlook Festival Dubai
London-based producer and remixer Mad Professor. Courtesy of Outlook Festival Dubai

London-based producer and remixer Mad Professor has enjoyed an enviable, 35-year career, carving new sounds in reggae and dub, while pursuing a parallel path collaborating with mainstream acts from Sade to the Beastie Boys.

The 61-year-old legend will make his UAE debut at Something Big’s Outlook Festival launch party, topping a packed bill of six internationals, including P Money, Matt Jam Lamont, SpectraSoul, Kahn and Sir Spyro

Ahead of the April 22 party at Story Rooftop, here’s five facts you should not be without.

Originally from Guyana, the boy born Neal Joseph Stephen Fraser moved to London aged 13. He didn’t touch an instrument until he was an adult — instead getting into music through a love of electronics, hence the nickname “Mad Professor”.

“England was very cold, and very dark,” remembers Fraser. “I started by building equipment, and eventually I got down to making a mixing desk and putting things through it, without any definite point. When I was 19 or 20 I thought ‘maybe I should get a piano and some drums’ — I got sucked into it. I’m from that generation that if you want to do something, you don’t go to school — you teach yourself.”

In 1979, Fraser opened his first studio in the front room of his South London home, named Ariwa. After several location changes, the brand still exists today, and boasts a catalogue of hundreds of releases.

“I built it myself, it wasn’t a proper studio in anybody’s book — I couldn’t sound proof it properly, so the neighbours weren’t happy for long and I was instructed to move. So I went to Peckham for a few years, which was very rough — the punks didn’t like it.”

As well as recording paying artists — from lovers’ rock to punk — in 1982 Fraser released a debut artist album, Dub Me Crazy, Pt 1, the first of a 12-volume series with played a key role in the new, digital-age “second wave” of dub. John Peel was an influential fan.

“We in the UK managed to revive something that went on ten years before — dub music was the first form of techno music, in Jamaica, and then people like myself [in London] started to do a different blend of things. I’m not quite sure how John Peel heard about it — but he was very important in getting the sound out there.”

Throughout the 1990s, Fraser worked on ten albums with dub forefather Lee “Scratch” Perry, starting with Mystic Warier. Last year saw the release of collaboration Black Ark Classics In Dub.

“Scratch was looking for a studio for some stuff in the early 1980s — and he liked it so much he kept coming back. We’ve been in and out of touch over the years. It’s hard to put into words what I learnt from him, he’s got so much experience. Is he that crazy, or is it an act? Maybe, he could be acting — but you never know what to expect from Scratch, he’s a man of many moods.”

Mad Professor’s biggest commercial success was a complete remix of Massive Attack’s 1995 album Protection, titled No Protection.

“I don’t want to take credit — the baby is their baby — but my hand was in there. I was on points [royalties] for that album, and it’s done well, it worked.

“There’s a bunch of other stuff I did with Massive Attack which never came out — maybe one day, I hope so.”

Outlook Festival’s official Dubai launch party will be hosted by Something big at Story Rooftop Lounge, Holiday Inn Express, Dubai internet City, on Friday April 22 from 5pm. Tickets Dh100.

*Record collectors listen up — Mad Professor says he will be selling vinyl at the gig. Check the Ariwa label’s back catalogue here.