When it comes to dub music in Dallas, there's no one else who does it quite like Sub Oslo. Their live show blows away all conceptions of the typical band in a club experience, a sensory overload of sights, sound and vibrations. Bass sounds shake and rattle the room like the inside of a subwoofer while spaced-out echoes wash over the crowd and psychedelic video projections push it all into another dimension.
But while Sub Oslo is still sporadically active after 20 years together as a band, their appearances nowadays are few and far between. It's been nearly a decade since their last hometown appearance, but the drought will end this weekend with a special performance at Three Links on Saturday.
Dub music is the oldest of sound system DJ culture. The earliest roots of the music were pioneered in Jamaica by the likes of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry in the late '50s before rising to prominence over the course of the next couple decade. Eventually Jamaican immigrants exported dub to the United Kingdom, where it continues to flourish. The origins of dub predate disco and krautrock as far as remix culture goes. The master producers would take popular reggae songs and strip them down to the barest essentials. Drums and bass become the dominant voice while the vocals, horns and guitars descend into a beautiful, echoing chaos. These are the roots that Sub Oslo is built on.
Sub Oslo is the stuff of legend in the North Texas area as a Dub band that creates the studio dub experience in a live setting. It's a sprawling set of musicians as well: Alan Uribe plays clavinet, synth and melodica; Quincy Holloway the drums; Eyad Berzetti is on percussion; Frank Cervantez on guitar; Brandon Uribe on flute, percussion and piano; Miguel Veliz on bass; Paul Baker on live visuals; and John Knuckles fills the dub producer role behind the mixer, orchestrating the effects and samples. Usually if you see dub in a live setting you get a little echo here and there, but with Sub Oslo you actually time warp back into the deepest of King Tubby studio sessions. A truly authentic dub sound system through and through.
It's been so long now since Sub Oslo's last appearance in Dallas, however, that they're not even sure exactly how long it's been. Cervantez recalls that they last played at Melodica Fest, which was "eight to 10 years" ago.
"We haven't been asked to play in Dallas for a while but after the last Fort Worth show Scott [Beggs] from Three Links had been in touch with Miguel about playing so we decided to do this," says Cervantez. "It's really all about timing with us. As with everybody, we have life and other things going on so it's hard to commit when we aren't playing on a regular basis. So we average about two shows a year or so."
The members have been busy with other projects while Sub Oslo lays dormant. The Uribe brothers are both active in Austin-based Suns of Orpheus. Holloway plays drums in Dovehunter and Panther Robe. Veliz did time in the now defunct heavy metal power trio Solomon. Amongst the the most prominent of non-Sub Oslo projects in the local scene has been Wire Nest, a more stripped-down take on spearheaded by Cervantes and Knuckles. Cervantes still plays guitar but Knuckles fills out the rest of the music with laptops and various electronics. Wire Nest has been playing out with increased frequency over the past few months with a string of shows coming in the near future.
So catching Sub Oslo this weekend is truly a rare opportunity for anyone versed in or even curious about dub music. That's further reinforces by the fact that the band only has three albums and a DVD to its name from its entire two decade existence. Those releases, though, have had a significant impact: Wire magazine called them the "Godspeed You Black Emperor of Dub" which is about as accurate a description of their cinematic brand of dub as you can get.
Getting a chance to hear new music from the band may be even more far-flung than seeing them live. "I don't know if Sub Oslo will ever record again but you never know," Cervantez says, slyly. "Never say never."
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