Klong-term innovations are often born of shortages. Your instrument only has one string? Let’s see what you can do with it. You only have 4 tracks on your recording device? Let’s see what can still be accommodated on it. Is your studio a dump? Let’s hear what kind of old device you can still create interesting sounds on.
The latter is probably also what Lee Perry thought when he started to build a recording studio in the backyard in 1973. It became the legendary Black Ark Studio, to which reggae and dub music largely owes its sounds. These are mainly the delayed reverb effects and loops, but also stranger ones like the rustling of palm trees, played backwards. Other of his ideas are also central: for example, temporarily fading out the bass, which then comes back with all the more force at some point.
Rainford Hugh Perry was born in northwest Jamaica in 1936. He was initially a record seller; In 1968 he founded his own label “Upsetter Records”. He owes his nickname “Scratch” to his debut recording “The Chicken Scratch” from 1960. Thanks to his new sound and recording ideas, however, he soon became more successful as a producer than as a musician.
Smoke and cleaning
Significant records in reggae history have been recorded in his Black Ark Studio, particularly those by Bob Marley and the Wailers. It would be an exaggeration to say that he invented reggae, but that can be said for the sound of dub. Perry was also a pioneer of remix culture and then appeared as a dub poet himself, especially in collaborations with the Mad Professor.
His idiosyncrasies and craziness, which were also due to drug use, made him a flamboyant freak. He placed values on strange rituals, such as blowing smoke on tapes. He burned down his legendary studio himself, ostensibly for the sake of spiritual purification.
In the eighties, Perry was once again influential when he worked with young artists such as the Beastie Boys and The Clash. He has remained a factor for newer (and often retro-Romanesque) pop sounds to the present day and has been a guest at numerous festivals, as well as at conferences on loop music. Perry lived in Switzerland for a few years, but had recently returned to his homeland.
The last decade of his life was already marked by a historicization, which can be seen in the documentary “The Upsetter”. What defines his musical legacy can be heard in condensed form on the “Arkology” box set and the “Trojan Upsetter Box”. Lee Perry died on Sunday in Lucea, Jamaica.