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  • Sicko Mode is the big single off Travis Scott's album Astroworld.

  • It was one of the most sonically adventurous hits of 2018.

  • This song has been described aswhacked-out and skittery” —

  • Billboard saidthere's no disguising how weird "Sicko Mode" is as a pop song.”

  • So what made this song so bizarre to so many critics and listeners?

  • For one -- its structure: Sicko Mode is essentially three songs in one, each section riding on

  • a completely different beat.

  • But even more so it's the moments before these beat switches that sounded like nothing

  • else on the radio.

  • Take this moment, halfway through:

  • Who put this shit together I'm the glue

  • "Shorty facetimed me out the blue"

  • Before the beat switches, two things happen: First, all the music drops off except for

  • the vocal and what sounds like a distorted kick drum.

  • Someone said

  • And then, this happens:

  • Someone said, motherfuck what someone said (Don't play us for weak)”

  • A vocal sample echoes over and over into silence.

  • These spacious interludes in the song can be traced back to a genre of music that has

  • influenced everything from punk rock and hip-hop to pop for nearly half a century.

  • Jamaican dub.

  • Jamaicans are a people obsessed with audio.

  • In the 1950s, DJs in Kingston, Jamaica's capital, would load up their trucks with a

  • turntable, a stack of American rhythm and blues records, and massive speakers, to play

  • at parties.

  • These sound systems - the DJ and their setup - gained cult followings - each one taking

  • on their own whimsical names.

  • Like Duke Reid's The Trojan

  • Coxsone's Downbeat

  • And Mutt and Jeff's Sound

  • Named after the comic strip.

  • Through the 50s and 60s, the speakers got more complex, but the basic set up remained

  • the same.

  • Deejaying was basically like one turntable, a mixer, and an echo chamber. And it was really

  • about who had the cleanest, clearest, loudest sound.

  • That's Chris Leacock: He's a DJ and producer who goes by the name Jillionaire. He's part

  • of the group Major Lazer.

  • For the most part you know you have a subwoofer, You have a midrange speaker, and then you

  • have a horn or tweeter which is your high end.

  • Certain frequencies you will hear out of certain boxes. Whether

  • it's a drum, the bass, the piano, the hammond organ - it all goes in somewhere along the

  • line on the sound system.

  • This is Mikey Dread, he's one-third of Channel One, a UK based sound system that's been around since 1979.

  • When the sound system drops the bass you feel it from your feet right up to your belly.

  • Competition between the sound systems was fierce - deejays would scratch the labels

  • off of their most popular r&b tunes so other sound systems didn't know what they were

  • playing.

  • And when American r&b was taken over by rock & roll, Jamaicans looked to their own musicians

  • for a new sounds - that led to Ska which became Jamaica's first form of pop music.

  • Through the 1960s, Ska evolved into the slower tempo Rocksteady, and then Reggae.

  • By the 1970s there were a handful of highly prolific recording studios across Kingston

  • churning out reggae hits that blasted across those sound systems.

  • It's at Treasure Isle Records, though, where things started to shift into new sonic territory.

  • This is King Tubby -

  • A radio repairman turned music engineer who would radically change the sound of reggae.

  • He worked at Treasure Isle and was tasked with stripping the vocals out of songs to

  • produce instrumental versions that would show up on the b-sides of singles.

  • Through this process, he realized he could produce unique versions of songs if he added

  • and subtracted different aspects of the track.

  • In doing so, he created a new genre called dub.

  • Dub - in its most basic form - is taking a song, stripping out the lead vocals, pumping

  • up the bass and drums, and adding effects like echo and reverb.

  • That sounds simple enough, but King Tubby and other legendary dub producers like Lee

  • Scratch Perry, Augustus Pablo, and Scientist made this an art form.

  • Their studios were laboratories filled with gear that they pushed far beyond their supposed

  • limits.

  • The best way to understand how dub works is by listening to a song's original version.

  • Since you likely won't have time to build a wall of custom speakers to feel the bass,

  • you should probably put on your headphones.

  • Here's a few seconds of ”I Admire You

  • Hey, girl, I admire you

  • On the flip side isWatergate Rock,” King Tubby's dub version

  • The first thing you'll notice is that the vocals are stripped out and the bass line

  • has been pushed to the foreground. You also might have noticed this sound right

  • here:

  • That weird snare hit didn't show up in the original, but it was a King Tubby staple,

  • likely achieved with this piece of gear right here:

  • The Fisher Space Expander.

  • Released in the early 60s, the Space Expander was a spring reverb unit originally meant

  • for home hi-fi systems and even cars.

  • The idea was that you'd connect it to your home turntable, and with the slight twist

  • of a knob, soundwaves bouncing through the spring would simulatethe natural reverberation

  • of a well designed auditorium.”

  • In King Tubby's hands, this machine did more than its makers intended. He used it

  • in subtle ways to make an old fashioned snare drum sound otherworldly.

  • But he also found a whole other way to create effects that were anything but subtle.

  • The only way this effect right here:

  • could have been achieved is if King Tubby physically shook the spring, and that's

  • exactly what he did.

  • He turned the gear into an instrument.

  • The effect became a King Tubby trademark and would go down as one of the most discordant

  • sounds in dub music.

  • Among the thumping bassline, wobbly snare hits, and the clanging of metal springs is

  • another quintessential effect in dub, and my personal favorite: Echo.

  • Tape delay, which creates that echo sound, was developed in the 1950s.

  • It's the process of recording sound to magnetic tape and using the distance between the recording

  • head and playback head to create audio feedback.

  • By the 1970s tape delay had been used on dozens of iconic recordings, albeit in very

  • subtle ways.

  • From Elvis Presley

  • Oh baby, baby, baby

  • To The Beatles

  • "Well they took some honey from a tree Dressed it up and they called it me"

  • "Everybody's trying to be my baby"

  • Dub artists used tape delay like their lives depended on it.

  • Mikey Dread: The word echo, alone, is represented in reggae music. So if you really don't

  • have echo something is missing.

  • While there were dozens of different types of units that could create echo - two that

  • found their way into many dub tracks of the 1970s were the Roland Space Echo and Maestro

  • Echoplex. If you open the tops of both - you'll see

  • that there's not much to it: A single magnetic tape spinning in an infinite loop.

  • But when the knobs of these machines were turned to extreme combinations - the results

  • were trippy.

  • Take a listen to Jacob Miller's song "Baby I Love You So"

  • That melodica you hear is being played by Augustus Pablo, the producer of the track. He was a

  • protege of King Tubby and mixed the dub version of this song at his studio.

  • The result is one of Dub's most celebrated tracks: "King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown"

  • A heavy dose of echo applied to the slivers of vocals and melodica make the song feel

  • like it's floating in outer space.

  • When King Tubby left Treasure Isle to build his own studio, he did that not just

  • to have his own space to experiment, but to produce unique dub versions for his own sound

  • system: Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi.

  • The story goes that the first time he played a dub version, the

  • crowd went wild.

  • Today, we've come to expect a heavy bass line, reverb, and echo, because dub's influences

  • have made their way into nearly every genre of music.

  • But sometimes those sounds still surprise us:

  • Whether deliberate or not, Sicko Mode's production mirrors the sonic themes

  • that Jamaican dub music pioneered decades ago.

  • It is a very typical kind of like King Tubby, Lee Scratch kind of production

  • in terms of one song going in you know two or three completely different directions.

  • Dub music has evolved with every generation

  • but its spirit of sonic experimentation has always stayed the same.

  • In our sessions it's like a spiritual movement,

  • makes your mind go into your own - no matter who's

  • around you.

  • We don't stop playing reggae music. Rastafari.

Sicko Mode is the big single off Travis Scott's album Astroworld.

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Where Sicko Mode's weirdest moments came from

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/08/18
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