Once upon a time, a man called John Wardle, an East Ender with a reputation for boozing and brawling, fell in with London’s early punk scene, got a new name, discovered dub music, became, with John Lydon, a member of Public Image Limited, and – this didn’t happen overnight – found redemption in the music and philosophies of the Far East. Japanese Dub, the latest album from Wobble and a companion piece to 2008’s incredible Chinese Dub, shows just how serious his intentions are.
As Wobble writes in his illuminating notes to Japanese Dub, the ‘overriding aesthetic’ to it ‘is that of ma, or what we might call sensory space in the West’. For Wobble, ma is not space alone – the gaps between the reverberating low timbres, but an emptiness that he locates, via a vertiginous, erudite treatise, in religious ritual, Japanese court music, Mishima, and even Copolla’s Apocalypse Now.
Japanese Dub is a thoughtful exercise to reach to the heart of a musical structure. Dub, with all its architectural properties, is Wobble’s modus operandi. ‘Cherry Blossom of My Youth’ is where the low, vibrating bass lines kick in, but unlike traditional reggae, they don’t drive the track. They are anchors that hold so much else – kotos (13-string zithers), Japanese drums, shakuhachi flutes and scratchy vocals from Joji Hiroti. Like ‘Koririko’ (hear this on the New Internationalist website) and other folk songs scattered here, the song is indicative of a conversation that Wobble wants to set up, one that explores commonalities and celebrates divergences.
Listen to the track Kokiriko: