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DUB CITY: Systemwide & BSI Records Lead the Charge of Portland’s Abstract Reggae Boom, by Charles Mudede

Image and text source: The Stranger

Despite its large Mexican and Asian communities, and a black neighborhood that’s more distinctive than the black community in Seattle, Portland seems isolated and singular. Isolated because its architecture, laws, and civic infrastructure are unique, as if the municipal and design trends radiating from the big centers of the world failed to reach this remote outpost, and in this splendid isolation Portland established its own ideals. Singular because its cultural products seem of one mind, one lifestyle, one world (white, middle-class), and not like, say, hiphop, whose parts were fused in boroughs that contained various ethnic groups (African American, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Jewish).

Portland, however, is not completely isolated as an artistic community, being intricately connected with cities like Seattle, Vancouver, BC, and San Francisco, and it isn’t confined solely to the production of postmodern novels or rock music. In fact, Portland is one of the North American capitals (in terms of production and distribution) of dub music, an abstract form of reggae that originated on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. The reason for Portland’s dub capital status is the presence of Systemwide, the house band for a thriving dub label called Bucolic Sound Investigations (BSI).


If you already know what dub is, then I recommend you skip this part and resume the feature in the next section, titled “Portland’s System.”

There is a famous story of a Rastaman and a hippie dancing at a reggae concert. The hippie dances wildly, flapping his arms and moving frantically. The hippie’s expressive dancing irritates the chilled-out Rastaman, who, when accidentally struck by the hippie’s hand, finally tells him to stand still and dance. This is precisely what one must do when listening to reggae: stand still and dance. Reggae is less dance music and more soul music. It’s the soul, not the body, that dances when one listens to Bunny Wailer or the Roots Radics or the Itals. Reggae is so preoccupied with the soul (its condition, its qualities, its shivers and shades) that a whole subcategory of the music is devoted to reproducing soul worlds or geist dimensions. That subcategory is dub.

Read the entire article at The Stranger

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