Neil Fraser, AKA Mad Professor is a name we are all familiar with. Known for his Guyanese dub music production and remix work, Mad Professor is without a doubt one of the leading producers in the genre’s transition from analogue to dub.
Mad Professor is known partly for his major collaborations with the likes of Jah Shaka, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Horace Andy and Pato Banton, alongside his original production of the Dub Me Crazy series.
Nitelife caught up with the prestigious dub producer ahead of his Mad Professor’s Dub Club set at Fiesta Bombarda at Thekla this month, featuring the Lionpulse soundsystem and Hold Tight records.
Mad Professor invited us to listen in whilst he sat in his Ariwa Sounds studio working on a new track with Brazilian flute player Chico
Mad Professor invited us to listen in whilst he sat in his Ariwa Sounds studio working on a new track with Brazilian flute player Chico. In between random spouts of Mad Professor whistling wacky hooks and shouting direction from beyond his sound desk, the pioneering professor gave us an insight into how he works.
Coming from an electrician/technician background, Mad Professor has always been surrounded by electrical devices, learned to tackle and re-build gadgets from a young age after he first came over to London in the early sixties. Not long after learning to work his magic behind a mixing desk, Ariwa Studios was born.
‘You know what? I just love music,’ he explains. ‘I built my first studio in the 1970s because I wanted to sing, so I started recording myself. But I realised I didn’t like my voice, so I decided I best stick to producing music instead.
I built my first studio in the 1970s because I wanted to sing, so I started recording myself. But I realised I didn’t like my voice, so I decided I best stick to producing music instead
‘I am totally self-taught. I came from an electronics/technicians background, so I always used to play around with electronics, looking where the signal should and shouldn’t go to. The whole thing developed from there. You are constantly learning new techniques as technology develops though.’
Over the years Mad Professor has worked with a huge selection of artists in both his collaborations and remixes, but most notably, living reggae legend and pioneer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who he continues to work with after almost 30 years.
‘When I started working with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but I had to re-learn it all. He has a certain way of working and I found that when I changed my technique, we worked so much better together.
When I started working with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but I had to re-learn it all
‘He’s not the kind of guy who will speak up and say when something sounds wrong, as such, but he will just say, ‘Nah man, this is how it should sound’ and you go from there. It’s a great way to learn and develop really. We continue to work with each other every now and again. We’ve got a couple of European tour dates coming up for June and July too.’
On top of working with some of reggae’s great pioneers, his eclectic list of collaborations include The Orb, Sade and Massive Attack, proving that this producer does not give himself any restrictions when it comes to choosing new artists to approach and work with.
I always like to look out for someone who is original with the sound they make
‘I always like to look out for someone who is original with the sound they make. I like to look for artists who are really fresh and original, that’s the whole package I listen out for.’
During his musical career, Mad Professor has at the forefront of the second generation wave of dub, whilst playing an instrumental part in the genre’s transition from analogue to digital production. The producer explores whether dub as a genre will progress as technology develops, or whether it will stay true to its authentic roots in sound:
‘Music is always influenced by technology. The thing about it is that we still have some old school habits here at Ariwa studios. We still like to record things on tape, which is a much longer process, but the end result makes it sound a little bit more full and really organic.
We still have some old school habits here at Ariwa studios. We still like to record things on tape
‘We aren’t personally influenced so much by the digital sound, although I like a lot of aspects of it. I still think some of the best music has been made on 16 track and we still have a couple of analogue machines in the studio too. I really love and respect that era. Digital is still ok though, especially if you are on a budget.’
Not only has the change in technology affected the way we listen music, but Mad Professor reflects on how a change in the way we access new sounds has influenced our relationship with music –
‘Everything is so much easier to find and listen to now – just a click of a button away. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as such, there is just so much music to choose from.’
As we wrap up and talk about his upcoming set at Thekla this June, Mad Professor explains what he thinks makes for a good show. ‘The atmosphere of the venue is very important. The sound equipment is also very important. Also, a nice interaction between the artist and the crowd.’
Keep an ear out for new material from the leading dub pioneer, with releases featuring General Levy that’s expected to surface later this year
Luckily, the Fiesta Bombarda crew are as well known for their immersive décor and carnival party vibes as their very special lineups, so atmosphere is not likely to be a problem.
We highly recommend grabbing a ticket to witness this rare Bristol and undoubtedly memorable Dub Club performance from the Professor. Plus, keep an ear out for new material from the leading dub pioneer, with releases featuring General Levy that’s expected to surface later this year.
The Professor be joined at Thekla by Lionpulse, as well as a Hold Tight top deck takeover with Walker, Ickle and Roots Agenda.