King Tubby – Playing the mixing desk


King Tubby (1941 –1989) was a Jamaican electronics and sound engineer, and his innovative studio work is often cited as one of the most significant steps in the evolution of a mixing engineer from a purely technical role to a very creative one.

In the 50s and 60s, he established himself as an engineer for the emerging sound system scene, and he built sound system amplifiers as well as his own radio transmitter. While producing versions of songs for local deejays, Tubby discovered that the various tracks could be radically reworked through the settings on the mixer and primitive early effects units. He turned his small recording studio into his own compositional tool.

Tubby would overdub the multitracks after passing them through his custom mixing desk, accentuating the drum and bass parts, while reducing other tracks to short snippets. He would splice sounds, shift the emphasis, and add delay-based effects until the original content could hardly be identified.

King Tubby would also rapidly manipulate a tuneable high pass filter, in order to create an impressive narrow sweep of the source until it became inaudible high frequency content. In effect, he was able to ‘play’ the mixing desk like a musical instrument, and in his creative overdubbing of vocals, became one of the founders of the ‘dub music’ genre.

See G. Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music: Granta Books, 2010.