Since 1982, Neil Fraser (aka Mad Professor) has made the studio his laboratory, earning a reputation as dub's preeminent beat scientist, heir to the throne of Lee “Scratch” Perry. But amidst all the sonic trickery, it's easy to forget that Fraser first made his mark in the industry as a producer of lovers rock, a popular style that subsumes production technique beneath swaths of sweetly sung melody. The beatmaker's ear for catchy tunes, combined with his knack for manipulating sound, is perhaps best exemplified on No Protection, his seminal full-length reworking of Massive Attack's 1994 album, Protection. A '90s landmark, that remix project provided a generation of club kids with an introduction to the mechanics of dub, the alpha genre for so much of the rave scene's sounds.
A decade and a half after No Protection, Massive Attack is revisiting that concept with its new album, Heligoland, which it has asked the dubstep producer Burial to remix. As the elder statesman of South London's dub community, Fraser has a fatherly regard for Burial and his fellow dubstep specialists.
“It's interesting that the scene started in Croydon, where my studio is located,” says Fraser, reached in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles. “Croydon has always been a very creative part of London, and it's always had a nice concentrated dub scene; there's been a club there called the Georgian for years, and you have Morpheus Records, which was based in Croydon and started to release reggae and dub in the '70s. So I feel very close to all this dubstep stuff.”
Fraser is collaborating with some of those next-generation beat scientists, developing tunes for an album called Dubstep Dub to be released later this year on his long-running Ariwa label.
“Obviously it's a more technological process, rather than what we do,” he says of his time in the studio with London producers like Cessman and Potentz. “What we were doing is more acoustic and natural; what they're doing is more of a remix style. But it all works.”
The 55-year-old may be tolerant of his collaborators' digital techniques, but he's generally dismissive of modern music and repulsed by the idea of using computers in his own productions.
“I don't like what's going on at the moment,” he says. “It's the whole electronic process; things sound a lot harsher. As far as I'm concerned, the best phase for music, the best technology, was the '70s. If you listen to stuff that's played on the radio, it doesn't touch what was going on in the '70s. And analogue is what I know. Just like if you're a fish and you only live in the ocean, you can't live on dry land. I've lived too many years in analogue to become sucked in to the digital world. It's totally impossible.”
That old-school approach extends to Mad Professor's unique live show, which he explains is a kind of touring version of his vintage studio setup.
“We try to show the recording process, the remix process, right there to people,” he says. “I'll bring a multitrack, some effects, and a mixing desk. I just tear the tracks apart and put them back together in new ways. For the audience, it's like coming into my studio to get a glimpse of what's going on.”
Mad Professor plays the Shark Club on Saturday (April 24).