This evening I participated for the first time in one of urban music’s great rituals: I went dubplate cutting.
You turn east out of Forest Hill train station, deep in south London and head into a sprawl of houses. Transition Studios is tucked away down a terraced street. You meander around the side of pebbledash building hemmed in by people’s back gardens , until you enter the barred front door.
When your time in the waiting room is over, you enter a tiny, and in this current heatwave, sweltering room. There you present your CD to the cutting engineer - and the ritual begins.
He’s sat at an analogue desk. A stack of outboard equipment, valves, EQs and a tiny quaint flashing green oscilloscope, tower above him. Underneath the desk , exposed wires and curious exposed cables snake and writhe. There’s even a telephone, just like in that classic dub photograph (Augustus Pablo is it? Or King Tubby?).
To the right there’s the cutting lathe, part precision engineering tool, part sonic magic-maker. It’s littered with bizarre discarded tools, gas cylinders, a selection of lubricants and is built with three aluminium drawers, complete with green flashing lights.
The process from digital CD to analogue vinyl is not trivial. It’s part art, part science. Part experience, part emotion. After “pulling the tracks apart“ a bit with EQs, the cutting process begins. Soon – I say soon but it’s a process that takes a while and can’t be rushed – you have a freshly cut dark black 10” dubplate. It smells funny, like it’s soaked in some kind of solvent.
I’m not obsessed by tradition: just because something has been done one way before, doesn’t mean it has to be done that way again. I’m open to change: Ableton, Traktor or Final Scratch, I’m excited by them. But I can’t describe the buzz from having a pile of freshly cut exclusive dubs. This might be a routine feeling to Hatcha, Youngsta or Transition’s biggest customer, Jah Shakka. But tonight it’s anything but routine to me. Bring on DMZ03.
Transition Studios are on +44 (0) 20 8 699 7888