Richie Meldrum
Richie Meldrum

If bad luck comes in threes, then good things come in pairs. Exhibit A – Pieter Bourke and Donnie Dub, a duo going by the name Secret Masters, whose mixed musical backgrounds combine to form an inspired sonic synergy of reggae, dub, dancehall and electronic influences. Formed in 2002, the boys are currently preparing for the release of their second album Words, Power, Sound, a project that has seen Donnie Dub (aka Brian Westbrook) travel to Jamaica to visit the source of their beloved sound. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, a chance to gather an authentic crop of creative energy to fuel the studio fire back in Melbourne.

“Brian is really the person in the project who has the deepest connection with reggae and Rasta culture,” explains Bourke in his contemplative tones. “He was introduced to it at quite a young age and went over to Jamaica for the first time in ‘98 for a holiday just with some friends. I think that planted a seed in his mind, so when we were doing the second album, Brian headed off to Jamaica again for a surfing trip, but he also had his laptop and a bunch of instrumental mixes of songs we were working on.”

From there, Westbrook just let his environment take control. He emerged himself in his surroundings and engaged with the local artists, sometimes even without really trying. The guy running the surf camp he was staying at put him onto Kulcha Knox who performs on the title track on the new album. Then, while flicking through some vinyl in one of the island’s many record shops, he first heard another album guest, Mad Doggy Dogg just happily toasting to himself in the shop. He liked what he heard, introduced himself and booked some studio time for the very next day, the result of which can also be found on the new album.

Back in Melbourne, Bourke was waiting to take what had been gathered, pulling all the elements together, then adding his own, more electronic input before finally mixing the record in the studio, an essential process and massive part of what dub is all about, as Bourke explains. “When your mixing dub, the actually mix becomes an performance. Most pop music is just mixed in bits and pieces so that its all perfect and everyone is happy, whereas with dub, the actual mix is a performance and it’s going to be different every time. Its not just a technician in a lab coat, there’s an appreciation for what the engineer does. So you can take a recording and make 6 completely different versions of it. They are the arranger in a sense. They are deciding when the vocals are coming in, when are the drums going to come in. It’s a very powerful position.”

With power comes responsibility but even from the very start, it’s clear that Bourke was up for the task. “My first introduction to dub was through a band called Colourbox. They put out a bunch of tunes in the mid 80s, where they took these classic reggae tracks and recued them with samples and drum machines. But there was still this soul and that was what got me. They didn’t sound mechanical, they had this incredible soul but with this electronic edge, which really sparked my imagination.”

It’s a spark that kept on sparking, and Bourke is relishing the opportunities that the new album could bring. “For the second album we looked at what we wanted to do differently. We really wanted to make it tighter, more powerful, maybe not as many layers in the sound, stripped back a little perhaps. Another clear objective was that we really wanted this to be able to compete on an international level, in terms of the sound the vocal performances, the mix, the artwork, that was a really clear aim.”