Dubplate Cutting

vinyl

A dubplate is a one off acetate (not vinyl) record often played by Dub Reggae sound systems, but the term is also used in Drum and Bass and Dubstep. The dubplate originated in Jamaica in the 1970’s and these records were a combination of two separate stages of the record manufacturing process. Disc cutting lathes by manufacturers such as Neumann and Skully were usually found in vinyl manufacturing plants and used to cut acetate discs or lacquers as part of the manufacturing process, before the vinyl was pressed. Jamaican producers such as King Tubby however, bypassed this stage by having a disc cutting lathe in the recording studio itself. This allowed Tubby to make test cuts and special one off discs for playback on sound systems before the commercial release of the track on vinyl. The fact that each record is a one off cut, allowed him to cut different versions of the tracks, making each dubplate unique for the sound systems that played them.

Having an understanding of the audio frequencies which can be cut into the groove, helped Tubby’s mixing process as he knew exactly how much bass and treble could be crammed into the groove, without unpleasant errors and skipping on playback. This meant that his dubplates would sound better than others, when played back at loud volumes on his Hometown Hi-Fi sound system, or by other systems. The one off nature of the dubplate also informed the compositional approach of dub music as it provided endless opportunities for versions and remixes, taking away instruments, filtering and adding live manipulation of effects such as spring reverb and delay.

In the history of electronic music it is rare that the composer or producer is also the vinyl cutting engineer. Les Paul experimented with disc cutting as a form of early multi-tracking in the 1930’s and electronic music pioneers Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry used disk cutting lathes to create musique concrete during the 1940’s, but they later abandoned vinyl cutting in favor of tape recording. DJ’s in genres such as Drum and Bass and Dubstep, have a strong connection with vinyl and dubplates as well as inspiration from dub’s mixing techniques, but composers are usually detached from the cutting and mastering process. I have found that being both a composer and disc cutter has influenced my compositions in much the same way as King Tubby, by using my understanding of mastering for vinyl to influence mixing decisions during composition. The fact that each record is unique rather than mass produced also leads well to remixing, both in terms of versioning and live remixing in performance.

Bibliography:

Bass Culture – Lloyd Bradley

Dub – Michael E. Veal.

The Producer as Composer – Virgil Moorefield

Tracks to Wax dubplate cutting and audio mastering

 

More Record Cutting on this blog:

Record Cutting: Fresh dubplates for United Nations of Dub Weekender (with video)

Record cutting 5″ lathe cut vinyl

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