Do you swear you saw a giant gorilla at Bumbershoot 2015, but your friends keep telling you it was just the 'shrooms? I have good news: You were right. Two years ago, Jamaican music legend Lee "Scratch" Perry blessed Seattle Center. This man is bona fide royalty: He recorded the first reggae song, launched Bob Marley's career, and released the genre-defining dub album Super Ape in 1976.
Hence, the gorilla you saw beneath the Space Needle. The inflatable simian was a 40th anniversary tribute to Super Ape. Perry, now a spry 81, had decided to perform the album live for the first time ever with the help of his band, Subatomic Sound System, using instruments and contemporary digital music technology.
The homage to his old masterpiece was propitious at a time when dance music has gone mainstream and rappers are pop stars. "Super Ape was a harbinger of things to come," explains Emch, the Seattle-born studio wiz and Perry acolyte who serves as Subatomic's bandleader. "He created a blueprint for where electronic music and hiphop has arrived at today: The producer is at the forefront, the author." (Dub is a variation of reggae that strips out verse-chorus vocals and emphasizes drums and bass while using effects like delay, reverb, and echo, all of which are now de rigueur in today's pop, rap, and EDM tunes.)
It may sound like a stretch to draw a direct lineage from a backyard Kingston studio more than 40 years ago to the new Odesza album, but it's safe to say that Perry and his Jamaican contemporaries paved the way for everyone from Dr. Dre to Skrillex.
A lot has changed since Perry's heyday, and now producers like Diplo are making bass-heavy tracks like the ones that sent shivers down your spine when he headlined Capitol Hill Block Party this summer. "If you play someone an album from 40 years ago, the sound palette is different and young kids aren't going to get it," Emch says.
Meanwhile, the Super Ape live tour sent fans into ecstasy and they clamored for a recording—not a new pressing of the four-decade-old classic, but something that sounded like what they heard on stage. Thus, the idea: "Let's transport the album 40 years into the future," said Emch. "We should be able to re-create it now, and it should sound fresh."
Purists used to a zoned-out dub session with a spliff in hand might cringe, but as Emch argues, "Translating dub from this meditative head nod to a live environment meant changing the music in certain ways." As a result, the remake, Super Ape Returns to Conquer, can stand toe-to-toe with any bottom-heavy production thanks to meticulous work at Emch's Brooklyn studio and Perry's audio outpost in Negril, Jamaica.
When the crew gets together at the Croc, meanwhile, expect Perry's signature weirdness. Just watch his KEXP live in-studio from last year. His hair and beard are dyed red, a dream catcher dangles from around his neck, and he's wearing a military uniform with epaulets and "JAH" patches on the arms. "I am a madman," he intones through echoes on a custom mic. "God bless my soul / I shall never grow old / And never catch cold." Amen.