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Mad Professor found fame from his living room

Back in 1979, one of the world’s greatest dub labels was founded in a London living room, using various collected and DIY pieces of recording and mixing equipment. 

Almost 40 years later, the man behind Ariwa Sounds is a household name and one of the living legends of the dub genre; Guyanese-British producer and engineer Neil Fraser, AKA Mad Professor.

Fraser has produced over 150 releases, and is simultaneously a producer, beat-maker, engineer, technician, and entrepreneur. Having last toured Australia in 2016, Fraser’s rigorous touring schedule – which has seen him venture to Germany, France, Sweden, Spain, Japan, the US and the now split Yugoslavia throughout his career – has brought him back Down Under for another stop in the golden country.

“I’m in Brisbane and it’s so nice, man. It’s just getting hot, and it’s beautiful,” says Fraser. “Coming to Australia is almost like coming home, because there are so many people, so many friends. I’m happy to see people and they’re happy to see me, all smiling faces. You guys are lucky, you don’t know how good you have it.”

Fraser’s eventual stardom in the dub scene is hardly the result of a fluke-ish hit creation. On the contrary, Fraser has been at the helm of his own success from day one, when he was still working as an electronic technician and was asked to fix a mixing board. Next thing he knew, he’d created his own mixer from scratch and was experimenting with sounds and production during his downtime between shifts.

I ended up doing so many of those jobs that I became an expert in them. I decided to build my own, and then I eventually ended up in the studio business,” Fraser explains.

“Overall, it was totally unexpected. I almost got into the industry by accident; I never thought I’d be in music, because I’m definitely not a singer,” he laughs. “It’s like a dream that’s come true. And it’s still coming true.”

Despite Fraser’s insistence that he’s not made for the microphone, his sweet and humble mid-interview rendition of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Could You Be Loved’ holds as much emotion as the reggae legend’s own recording. Fraser turned to the wise words of the Jamaican lyricist when asked about the activism that has always been attached to the Awira catalogue.

After Fraser founded Awira in Thornton Heath in 1979, it eventually became the largest black-owned studio complex in the UK. This was a political statement in itself, but Fraser has continued to embed activism into his work even today. ‘S.O.S (Save Our Sons)’, Mad Professor’s most recent release, speaks of ineffectual authorities, fearing for one’s children, and the uncertainty of the future with regard to the current rise of extreme right-wing politics.

“I think if you’re going to make music for people, you have to do something to turn people on. You can’t have a show and have no reaction, because in other words you’re fucking boring,” Fraser says.

“There’s also a big need for shedding light on these social problems, with black people in particular; it needs to be addressed, and you can’t wait for someone else to do it. I’m just doing my part. There are aspects of the media that feel uncomfortable with it, or tell me to shut up, but the people that feel uncomfortable are the ones that should. We can’t sweep it under the carpet. It’s undeniably there.”

The ease with which Fraser embeds social justice and politics into his funky, reggae-infused dub bangers is testament to his talent and experience as a veteran mixer and producer. He’s scheduled to bring it all to the St Kilda Beach Foreshore, and is excited to be kicking off the Melbourne summer with a bang.

“Is it on the beach? I actually had no idea. Well, in that case, I’ll have to figure something out. I’ll be playing my new songs, keep people moving, keep them dancing, keep them curious. That’s the essence of dub; it’s all about surprising people with the beat.”

Catch Mad Professor when he plays The Pleasure Garden at St Kilda’s Catani Gardens on Saturday December 8. Head to the festival’s website for tickets and the full lineup.