If the names King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry are synonymous with the emergence of dub in Jamaica, it's only natural that Scratch protégé Mad Professor (born Neil Fraser) has been a guiding light in the dub coming out of Britain for nearly two decades. His calling card, Ariwa Sounds, grew from a four-track studio thrown together in the front room of his London home into one of England's most significant reggae labels. Mad Professor has recorded and produced albums for everyone from Pato Banton to Perry himself, not to mention remixes for Massive Attack and others. Still, if the Professor's production skills are among the most demanded in the reggae world, his own albums are the best mark of what his knob-twiddling has evolved into. Despite his distance from Kingston, the Guyana-born producer distills the '70s-era roots-heavy sound that came out of Jamaica, cutting it with a quarter-century's hindsight that notes both better technology and a recultivated interest in dub among the electronic set. Bleeps, whizzes, jet engines, and assorted lost-and-found sound find their way into his trippy mix, settling in among grinding rhythms and ethereal vocals.
In his live shows, rather than setting up double decks and spinning dub plates behind a singer or band, Prof builds a ministudio and remixes live what his players are coming up with. Those who caught Lee Perry's last couple of local stops will recall Mad Professor at the sonic controls at stage rear, manipulating both Perry's mike perambulations and the Robitiks band's lofty riffing. Tonight, the Prof sets fire to the lyrics of conscious reggae toaster and steady studio pal Macka B. Sometimes hilarious (his British beef sendup “Mad Cow”), sometimes strident (as in the pre-Diallo cop-watch anthem “Suspicious”), and occasionally inane (his ganja-brained melatonin theory “Natural Suntan”), Macka B forges a reggae that is at the same time British, Jamaican, and pan-African in scope.
Mad Professor and Macka B perform, along with Bargain Music, on Thursday, May 11, at 9 p.m. at the Justice League, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Admission is $18; call 440-0409.