Dub is a brand of musical creation that originated in Jamaica around 1970. Many people credit King Tubby, the most famous early dub artist, with having created the “remix” in his dub versions of songs he and others produced for the Reggae market.
Dub arises out of the popularity of “versions” in Jamaica in the 1960s. Versions were the instrumentals from songs, commonly released as b sides of singles. The full version of the song was released on the a side, and the version without the vocals on the b side.
These instrumentals became popular at dance events, and the mobile “soundsystem” disc jockeys (known as MCs in Jamaica, not to be confused with MCs in hip hop: rappers) would sometimes fiddle with the controls on their amplifiers or mixers to create special effects as they played the music. It is believed this was an inspiration for the early studio experiments that led to dub.
Music producers would use the filters and other mixing board effects in the studio to create instrumental versions of pop songs that were often very far from the originals, usually creating a trippy alternative the “straight” vocal track.
Much of dub involves a “subtractive remix” approach – that is instruments are removed from the mix or severely filtered to move attention to other parts of the mix, typically the bassline and drums. Among the most characteristic practices in dub are heavy echo and reverb effects, heavy filtering of instrumental tracks, temporary or total cutting out of various instruments, and cutting up and rearrangements of (usually fragmentary” parts of the vocal track. Sometimes someone will “toast” (the Jamaican precursor to rap) over the instrumentals at various parts as well.
You can get a quick sense of what dub is often like by comparing the beginning of the vocal version of Earl Zero’s 1975 Reggae hit “Please Officer” with Tubby’s b side “Officer Dub.”
Earl Zero, “Please Officer”
Earl Zero, “Officer Dub” (King Tubby)
Dub has influenced many other forms of music, including drum and bass, dubstep, and trip hop.