Deep Ellum Art Co. has been focusing on low-key local shows since it opened two months ago, but it hosted one of its first touring shows, Lee "Scratch" Perry on Sunday night. Along with King Tubby, Perry pioneered the amorphous reggae subgenre, "dub," which rose to prominence in Jamaica in the late '60s.
Dub is the earliest form of remix culture. It's the art of stripping songs down to their bare essentials of bass and space, with traces of the melody filtered through sparse blasts of flanger and echo.
Jamaican immigrants eventually brought dub to the UK, where it flourished and has infected popular British music from punk rock to drum and bass, house music and, most infamously, the earliest, laid-back forms of dubstep (before EDM got a hold of it).
New York-based Subatomic Sound System opened the show Sunday by laying down some deep dubs. It filled the room with bass and signaled to the audience that it was time to gather. A percussionist and a saxophonist eventually joined in, and after a few tunes, 81-year-old Perry was introduced.
After a few attempts to call him out, the crowd could hear Perry’s voice pushing through the sound system like a reverberated ghost hidden off to the side of the stage. After a few minutes, he hobbled out onto the stage, decked out in more bling than Mr. T. Even his microphone was covered in sparkly chains and an Egyptian ankh.
For the next hour and half, the venue was transformed into the pure essence of a classic Jamaican sound system. The art collective space, which places equal emphasis on visual and aural art, demonstrated its top-notch sound system during the show. It was crystal clear, and the bass made you feel like you were about to levitate.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
A true frontman, Perry commanded the focus on the huge stage, which was decorated with a tie-dyed backdrop. He pranced back and forth like a cross between a dancehall toaster, a well-seasoned hype man, an alien and a wearied but wise man. His words were often impossible to make out because they were filtered through a bevy of echoes and effects.
The evening's performance was more like a DJ set, with few breaks in between songs.
Deep Ellum Art Co. has a different vibe from the other live music venues in town, and it's discernible from the moment you walk through the doors. The bar is stocked with a nice selection of local brews, but it's not the main focus.
The colorful walls feature the work of local artists in lieu of the usual whiskey and beer signs. A permanent video installation bathes the main gallery wall in light. As you look around, you'll see the venue's motto, "Support the Creative and Native." The stars aligned Sunday night to place the right artist at the right music venue.