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Straight Outta Chapel Hill

A brief chat with Dub Assassin, the New South's own "Tekkno Boy."

By Marc Weidenbaum

“The music? We call it didge-Ital,” rants a character in Bruce Sterling’s late-’80s science-fiction novel, Islands in the Net. “Dig-ital, see, D.J.-Ital. … Mash it up right on the ship.”

Tim Harper, aka Dub Assassin, mashes his music up in Chapel Hill, N.C. And his new album, Tekkno Boy (on Freakadelic Records, of which he’s part owner), makes good on Sterling’s prescient rendering of digital culture’s intersection with dub-reggae experimentation.

Tekkno tracks like “Seagulls” graft varieties of warehouse-party rhythms and keyboard sounds together into a pounding, otherworldly experience, while the varying, hallucinogenic metrics of “Dream Control” and “Cosmos” challenge DJs who expect a cut to maintain the same pace throughout.

Harper got his virgin taste of studio wizardry observing one of Bob Marley’s soundmen. “That was the first time I had seen someone spin effects into each other,” says Harper. “He would take the delay and toss it into the reverb, and it would give it a nice little noise.”

If Tekkno Boy isn’t dub per se, it still feeds generously on the interaction of sonic events, sometimes the sort of machinations described above, often the prismatic overlay of house beats, triggered samples and scene-setting synth washes. “The way I saw it,” Harper says, explaining his DJ name, “there was a lot of use of delays and repeating of the same lines.”

The story doesn’t end there. Harper may be the only techno musician christened by one of “alternative” rock’s founders: Chris Stamey, best known for his band the dBs and as a major figure in the scene that gave us R.E.M. and Matthew Sweet, among others. Stamey and Harper, who supports himself as a studio engineer, run in the same circles. “I played him stuff and he turned to me and said, ‘You’re the assassin, the assassin of sound.'”

Originally published in Pulse! magazine, April 1999.

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