Neon Lights 2016

Mad Professor to play rare tracks here

Mad Professor is an institution in Britain's dub and reggae scene.
Mad Professor is an institution in Britain's dub and reggae scene.PHOTO: NEON LIGHTS

Tucked in an unassuming corner of London is a building along Whitehorse Lane that houses a music studio and record label, Ariwa Sounds.

While it looks nondescript from the outside, the unassuming venue is where some of the most prominent dub and reggae music made in Britain was recorded in the last three decades.

It is the headquarters and work space of producer, engineer and Ariwa founder Neil Joseph Stephen Fraser, 61, better known as Mad Professor, an institution in Britain's dub and reggae scene.

"Oh yeah, a lot of people are quite surprised that we've been in the same place for 30 years," he says in a telephone interview from his home in South London.

"When we moved there in 1986, it was just a shell of a building, and we had to build up everything."

More than just studio work, Mad Professor also does a lot of live shows worldwide and will play his first Singapore set on the second day of arts and music festival Neon Lights at Fort Canning Park on Nov 27.

  • BOOK IT / NEON LIGHTS 2016

    WHERE: Fort Canning Park

    WHEN: Nov 26 and 27, from 2pm

    ADMISSION: From $135 for a single-day pass for adult, $25 for child under 12. Free entry for children under two (excludes booking fee)

    INFO: www.neonlights.sg 

Ariwa's releases number in the hundreds and include his own music under the Mad Professor moniker as well as artists ranging from his son, who performs as Joe Ariwa, and Jamaican dub legend Lee "Scratch" Perry, a frequent collaborator.

The label's early supporters include the late BBC DJ and tastemaker John Peel, who regularly played their repertoire on his radio shows.

Mad Professor also does a lot of work outside of the reggae world. These include prominent collaborations and remixes for acts like trip-hop veterans Massive Attack, synthpop icons Depeche Mode and even Japanese pop star Ayumi Hamasaki.

Born in Guyana, he moved to London at the age of 13. A love for tinkering with electronics since he was a child earned him the Mad Professor nickname, which he eventually used as his stage name.

In 1979, he built the first version of the Ariwa Sounds studio in his living room, recording acts such as reggae singer Deborahe Glasgow. He moved his operations a couple of times before settling in the current location.

His upcoming set in Singapore will include rare tracks that he recorded in Ariwa, but have not released.

"These days, the whole record industry has changed, I still record a lot but we have a pile of recordings that we haven't released. The marketplace is not such where you can release too many things at the same time," he explains.

Still, the vagaries of the music industry have not stopped him from producing copious amounts of music over the years.

"Because it's not just about finance," he says of the motivation to keep on creating. "When you have an idea in your head, you just do it."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Mad Professor to play rare tracks here '. Print Edition | Subscribe