For David Wake, a big part of performing dub music – basically defined by his musical partner Max David Knowlton-Sachner (aka Selector Max) as "Jamaica’s answer to the art of remixing" and something most certainly not to be confused with dubstep music – is discomfort.
"(Dub) is kind of a loose term, and that’s the thing of it: There’s people who really know Jamaican music, then also people who are willing to take risks and get into that uncomfortable zone, where it’s like, ‘Is this really weird what we’re doing right now?’ and everybody’s like, ‘Yeah!’" Wake laughingly explained. "It’s getting outside of one’s comfort zone and getting into a dub space."
There may be a level of discomfort involved, but thanks to Wake, Knowlton-Sachner and several local DJs and musicians, dub music has found a very comfortable spot in the Milwaukee music scene – in particular at the Nomad World Pub, where, in less than a year’s time, the two have helped create Living Dub.
Hitting the stage on Thursdays at 10 p.m., Living Dub is a collection of rotating musicians, DJs and featured dub engineers – "scientists," as Wake and Knowlton-Sachner often call them – intimately playing and remixing a lot of reggae music to a crowd of people on the dance floor ready to hear something both old and new, familiar and fresh. Every other week features a live, typically five-piece band mixed and reworked by a dub scientist, while other weeks simply pull local DJs onto the stage to spin the finest dub, reggae and dancehall records from their crates.
"I almost look at it as a challenge," Knowlton-Sachner said. "Some people don’t have a very large dub reggae collection – they might have a lot of rock steady, but not dub – so I kind of challenge them to put a set together of the most experimental reggae set that you can put together from your collection. And it always just works out really great."
Started just last fall, Living Dub has expanded out from its successful Nomad gigs, spreading out to other venues – including, for instance, headling a 21-plus show Saturday night at Company Brewing alongside Knowlton-Sachner’s group Chalice in the Palace Soundsystem and the classic ska/rocksteady group The Tritonics. The party begins at 10 p.m., with a $10 door charge.
"We started talking about doing some other shows outside of the Nomad where we have both the band and DJs, and then George (Bregar, Company Brewing owner) revealed to me one night that his wife is a huge rocksteady and reggae fan," Wake explained. "He said her birthday’s on May 28th and asked if we wanted to do something, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’"
Before teaming up for Living Dub, Wake and Knowlton-Sachner came from two different perspectives on the same dub reggae music world. Wake hailed from the musician side, known mostly for his work with De La Buena. His particular interest in dub, however, started as a child thanks to his parents’ Ethiopian friends and grew throughout his young adulthood, playing soccer and talking reggae and dub music with some Jamaican friends. Eventually, as his knowledge grew with his musical career, he earned the chance in New York City to tour with reggae icon Lee "Scratch" Perry for a couple of years.
"I was already pretty deep into dub, but that really kept the flame going, a lifelong love of reggae and in particular dub music," he recalled.
On the other hand, Knowlton-Sachner comes more from the DJ side of dub reggae. Yet when it came to how he discovered his love for dub reggae, Knowlton-Sachner had a similar name in mind: Lee "Scratch" Perry. Back when the future Milwaukee DJ was just in high school, he received a Perry anthology box set and thus began his fall down the dub reggae rabbit hole.
"I just remember noticing that a really cool song would be on the CD, and then the next song would sound the same, but a different version," Knowlton-Sachner described. "That’s when I learned what versions are and what dub versions are and DJ versions. Then I started realizing that it’s all about the producer and what producer has certain styles."
"Back then, there was no Internet or YouTube, and there were no record websites where you could listen to what you were buying before you ordered it," he continued. "It was just going to record stores, going through their Jamaican 45s, listening to the B-sides and wondering what the heck was going on. Why does it sound like this, and why does every Jamaican 45 I buy have a crazy-ass B-side? Once I unlocked that door, it was just a big-ass room full of music."
It was only a matter of time before fate would bring the two dub reggae fans together. After returning to Milwaukee, Wake would often coincidentally meet up with Knowlton-Sachner at Pizza Man, where the DJ worked at the time as a delivery driver.
"Before we totally knew each other, he delivered pizza to our house, and I tipped him with a bud," Wake jokingly recalled. "I remember talking to my wife and saying, ‘Max is so cool; I’m gonna tip him with a bud!’"
"I remember that day!" Knowlton-Sachner laughed.
The two would chat about reggae, the Milwaukee scene and all things music. Quickly, a friendship was born.
"It’s a cool mix, because I’m such a musician that sometimes it’s so great to have the perspective of a DJ," Wake said. "It’s a really cool balance."
So when Mike Eitel of Nomad called up Wake last year about creating a weekly gig for the Brady Street bar, after thinking about – and rejecting – doing a Latin or Afrobeat night, he thought about Knowlton-Sachner and decided on Living Dub, with the two working together to co-curate the performers and DJs coming onto the stage. And with less than a year under their belt, so far, the project has been a proud success for the two dub junkies, creating not just a concert event but what seems like a community.
"My absolutely favorite thing is, right now, it hasn’t even been going on for a year, and I can’t even name all of the people who have been a part of the band and the group of selectors," Knowlton-Sachner said. "It’s all about bringing together all these musicians and DJs from the city."
"There’s younger people and older, more established people and all of these artists, put together from different backgrounds under the banner of dub – whatever that means," Wake added. "It’s about love, really."
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.