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Interview: Neil Perch

Interview: Neil Perch

Interview: Neil Perch

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"My whole family thought I was crazy when I quit my studies and a safe way to a high salary and a career. But I’ve never regretted the decision"


He was on his way to a PhD in biochemistry and a lucrative career in the pharmaceutical industry. Instead, he became one of the most prominent producers and songwriters in the field of dub. Neil Perch, the man behind Zion Train and Abassi All Stars and labels Universal Egg and Deep Root, tells his story and predicts the future of dub.

Neil Perch

Neil Perch is a bona fide dub pioneer. He started Zion Train about 20 years ago and has since then produced rough and tough tunes for himself and for others. But none would have thought that he’d become a musician.

In the mid 80’s, Neil got his Master’s degree in biochemistry and was ready to begin his doctoral studies. But something happened. He went to a sound system dance with Jah Shaka and was blown away. Today he describes it as a supernatural and spiritual experience.

I’m not religious, but there is some form of higher energy in certain types of music. Jah Shaka did something extraordinary that night. My whole family thought I was crazy when I quit my studies and a safe way to a high salary and a career. But I’ve never regretted the decision, says Neil on the phone from Cologne, where he lives with his wife and dog.

Working with something he loves

Before he dropped out, Neil had never set foot in a studio. He has no formal training in music and is entirely self-taught – which has been demanding – but he says he doesn’t mind working hard doing something he loves.

Neil started his music career to produce dub exclusively, a genre he describes as psychedelic reggae.

Dub is about inducing synthesia and to create an experience that depends entirely on emotions, he explains poetically and adds that it’s not about drugs.

Cultural aware

When I talk to Neil, it is obvious that he’s an academic. He is articulate, politically aware and philosophical. He speaks German, Italian, Spanish and French and complains about the British and the Americans because he believes they’re lazy and don’t care about other cultures.

Neil PerchCultural change provides a lot of knowledge and wisdom. It’s important to travel and learn about other cultures and languages. I don’t think you can get to know a person until you speak the same language.

During our conversation, Neil comes back to politics, apparently a beloved subject. Not party politics, but more conspiratorial thoughts about politics behind the decisions we make in life.

We’re all slaves in the economy. It’s the JP Morgans and the Rothschilds that decide.

However, it was party policy in England that prompted him to leave and move to Germany – a country with a system he’s not satisfied with. But he still believes that Germany is better than other countries.

Do it yourself

Neil is a typical DIY-profile. He does most things himself and is keen on giving something back to the reggae scene. He, among other things, promotes unknown bands and artists.

I’m privileged today and earn good money. Therefore, it feels good to help others to come forward. I’ve for example worked extensively with artists from Poland, Croatia and Italy, he says.

Neil insists that it’s in the underground scene things happen. He’s fascinated by the fact that there is so much dub being produced in the world, when most people don’t even know the genre exists. But even if dub is an underground phenomenon, it does not prevent the music from being distributed worldwide. According to Neil, Mexico is one of the countries where dub is in high demand.

The last time I was in Mexico, we did nine concerts. The audience likes a lot of brass and dub music that goes back to the roots, he explains.

Rooted in 70’s dub

Neil's own musical roots go back to the 70’s and King Tubby. But he also highlights UK producers Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor as inspirations.

King Tubby is the best that has existed. A genius who could twist and turn everything. I think his greatness is that he didn’t try so hard, says Neil, and explains that the combination Tommy McCook, Yabby You and King Tubby created magic.

Although Neil's heart is in dub from the 70's, he’s known for experimenting with other styles and genres. He has for example experimented with electronica and world music.

Key ingredients in the development of dub

How dub will evolve is difficult to predict. Neil believes that it is partly a technology thing, but also due to the environment in which music is produced. He raises a more unexpected reason for the development of dub.

Zion Train - Rainbow ChildrenI believe that the supply of marijuana or what other substances are available in the creative process, will play a role in the development. I also believe that there will be more influences from world music and that producers from countries like Brazil will play a key role. It’s those who are the newest and most hungry that will make the most exciting stuff, Neil concludes.

Be sure to check out the new Deep Root compilation consisting of hard to find 7” and the new single from Zion Train – a recut of Aswad’s classic Rainbow Children. These may not be the future of dub, but a great addition to the record collection.

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Read comments (1)

Posted by derek pela on 09.09.2012
Hi Neil.. Big hugs from London and thx for a quick chat the other day during Zion Train's gig at Brick Lanes.. Hope to talk to u about politics nxt time.. Lol... Cheers

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