Walking down Fremont's North 35th Street, you can hear Kibo HiFi's powerful dub vibrations, two blocks away from the source. And before you even reach the Culture Yard space that serves as Seattle Dub Club's unofficial home, you can smell what Black Sabbath famously called the "sweet leaf."

Outside in the back of Culture Yard, an activity center overseen by longtime Northwest music promoter Farhad Tyabji, a diverse assemblage of dub/reggae aficionados puff tuff amid the greenery while discussing music and other matters. Down in the dank, low-ceilinged basement, master selector Ital Counselor (aka Andy Groeschel) spins extraordinary dub, reggae, and ska records by artists such as Black Uhuru, Prince Hammer, and Junior Dell & the D-Lites on a single turntable placed at eye level. Between songs he gets on the mic and schools the dancing and head-nodding crowd about the tracks, celebrates the music and musicians, and lifts spirits through indomitable passion for this culture that originated in Jamaica before most of the folks in the house were born. 

The sound triggers a potent mind/body high. The bass shakes your internal organs, thanks to the tower of speakers built by New York brothers Casey Raynes and Jesse Bayer of Jungle Skankin Sound System. Indian-born Tanzanian, Seattle-based tech worker Samir Vaidya maintains and transports the sound system, keeping it firing on all cylinders to optimize the sonic wizardry that dub's savviest producers laid down in various studios decades ago. 

Ital Counselor (aka Andy Groeschel). Eli Branch IV

Seattle Dub Club—which also includes flyer artist Bill Bruns and Blaine Watts, a part-time selector and full-time box boy for Kibo—has been seeding a growing interest in sound-system culture over the last 18 months, with assistance from 206Dub promoter Andy Crane (aka DJ Cray), who's played bass for unconventional metal band Wildildlife and glam-rockers Holy Ghost Revival.

Groeschel and Vaidya met while both were living on the East Coast, introduced by the owner of Philadelphia record store brotherlydubs.com, Anders Uhl. Uhl also linked Vaidya to the Jungle Skankin bros, and when Samir moved to Seattle in 2022 with speakers in tow, he reconnected with Groeschel to brainstorm how they could get Ital Counselor's mind-boggling record collection to flow out of Vaidya's formidable audio stack in public. (The bass speakers each weigh 250-300 pounds.)

So far, they've brought their dub/reggae gospel to Northwest Solar's parking lot in Kenmore, Woodland Park, Vermillion Art Gallery, and the aforementioned Culture Yard. The latter space—which some have christened "the reggae museum of Seattle," with its posters of musical legends and flyers from Nectar Lounge shows papering the walls—is where the event seems to harmonize best. On March 8, they will host their most ambitious event yet, with heavy hitters Vibronics and McPullish coming from Leicester, England and Austin, Texas, respectively, to perform at Culture Yard.

Culture Yard's infamous stack of speakers. Eli Branch IV

Dub and reggae are still relatively niche genres in Seattle, despite the best efforts of Seattle Dub Club, KEXP DJ Kid Hops's Positive Vibrations, and Nectar Lounge/High Dive's smattering of bookings. But those into this music in the Northwest really dig it. Both Groeschel and Vaidya's torrid love affair with dub/reggae originated in 1983. 

"For me, it started with—and I have no shame in saying this—Musical Youth," Groeschel says in an interview at Crane's Beacon Hill home. "The first time I ever watched MTV, I saw Musical Youth [at age 10]. My mind was blown. Three to four years later, Aswad came on my radar and that's when the Red Sea parted. I knew that this was the music I had to explore. I was constantly seeking it out and learning about it.

"That whole experience of reggae music, its history, its diasporic nature—Samir and I connected on that level. We both kind of grew up outside of the United States, in different cultures. (Groeschel was born in Spain and has lived in Kuwait and France.) Reggae music and dub—it's the space in between the hi-hat and the snare, culturally and musically. And those kinds of aspects of it were so mind-blowing and kept drawing me in."

Groeschel became an avid record collector and while at the University of Texas he made a beeline to the student radio station where he aired a reggae/dub program. A random listener asked him if he wanted to DJ at his party, and that circuitously led to Groeschel working for the Brooklyn-based, avant-dub/hip-hop label WordSound. He then parlayed that venture into DJing all over Europe during a time he calls "the Blood & Fire generation." A message board named after that UK dub-specialist record label enabled music producers and fans to connect for the first time on a global scale. 

"The lion's share of my youth was spent in Houston, Texas, [which] has a big, Caribbean immigrant community, so I had opportunities in high school to see sound systems and reggae shows that would come to town," says Groeschel, who works by day as a marriage-family therapist. "I realized on this message board that I had a little sliver of knowledge that maybe other people didn't have. That's how I met a number of different producers and cultivated relationships." These relationships resulted in Groeschel starting the Ital Counselor record label, with distribution help from brotherlydubs.com. 

Crane's dub/reggae journey began, as with many Americans, with Bob Marley's Legends CD. His fascination with bass-centric music accelerated with Roni Size/Reprazent's New Forms and the Positive Vibrations show, the latter thanks to the recommendation of a friend's "stoney rabbi dad," who told the young Crane, "You know what sounds really good on Saturday morning? Reggae." "That sentence rang with me. I thought, I should listen to reggae every Saturday."

As a youth, Crane was a fan of punk, metal, and grunge and had played in many rock groups, but "When I stumbled upon dub, I thought this is the sound I've been looking for," he says. "It was the space and heaviness—I'm a bass player. Dub bass lines are so simplistically fascinating and how the music is basically just drums and bass was really different from the songs I'd been listening to."

One thing that distinguishes Ital Counselor DJ sets is his between-song chat. Does he see himself as a teacher, of sorts? "Exactly. I'm sort of a historian/social scientist by trade and by temperament. When you say 'sound-system culture,' you have to unpack that word 'culture.' There are layers to it. There's the material culture of what goes into making a sound system—the boxes, the pre-amp, what goes into the production of the music I deal with. But there's also the cultural, social, and spiritual import of the music.

"I'm not a Rastaman, but for Rasta sounds, it's almost as if they're bringing the Ark of the Covenant into wherever they're playing. My role is to convey some of that history about the music, aspects of the history that have impacted me. I share stories about things I've done, sessions I've played. I try to tell stories that connect people to the music or give them a reference point in understanding. In the US, a lot of people don't know that history.

"These are not just songs. Song are rooted in a time and place. When you're playing a song from 1977 in the UK that has lyrical content that's speaking to immigration in the British context, you can give a sense of understanding of what that meant then, but also how can you relate that to this historical moment we're in now, with immigration and racism? The political aspect of reggae music is important. It was central to it in its prime. In some ways, it's been lost in the music."

Another unusual aspect of Ital Counselor's DJ setup: most DJs use at least two turntables, but Groeschel only had one at the January Culture Yard show. This approach reveals his respect for how the original selectors did it in Kingston back in the day. "Necessity is the mother of invention," Groeschel says. "Sound systems back then couldn't afford two turntables and the technology of a crossfading mixer didn't exist at the time. So they had one turntable, which gave birth to the deejay or the toaster, the MC or the compere who introduced songs. They advertised the next session or they introduced the artists.

"The main template in the roots tradition of that style is Jah Shaka, the one-changer deck. For me, that has always had the most import and impact, because of the silence, the break in between songs. There's a band aspect to it. But also, there's an anticipation of what's coming next, the sound of the needle hitting the vinyl. Again, it's a different experience. We live in a time where we're all plugged in. I think it's more important than ever to have that space, that pause. It takes on another significance, in that regard, in our hyper-connected world." 

While he reveres traditional dub and reggae, Groeschel isn't a purist. For example, he loves the radical dub mutations of On-U Sound artists such as Creation Rebel. His personal taste dictates selections: foundational artists include Aswad, early-'80s Mad Professor, Matumbi/Dennis Bovell, Pablo Gad, Black Slate, Tribesmen, and the Eclipse Band. Nineties cuts by Iration Steppas, Bush Chemists, and Disciples also figure in his repertoire. But Groeschel never plans a setlist for his gigs, which typically run three to six hours, during which he neither drinks nor smokes pot. The music gets him high enough.

"I always bring way more records than I'm gonna play," Groeschel says. "And in the moment, whatever the spirit grabs me. Sometimes sessions start off and you're like a galloping horse. Then you hit your stride. Then you play this one tune that, something happens in the audience, it's like a collective neural connection. Then you go off in your something like a fugue state until the session is done. 

"On [January 27], I was struggling. We had a little feedback; I had to switch it up, so I pulled out these ska tunes, and it totally shifted the energy and the vibe of the night. I played four or five minor-key ska tunes, and it was lift-off.  That was not some conscious plan. I had no idea.

"I try to bring tunes that other sound systems wouldn't play. The ideal would be that there would be more sound systems in Seattle that play different styles. You go to different sound systems because they have different amps and speaker boxes and selectors and dubplates. We try to bring that to this humble mission we're on to bring sound-system culture to Seattle. 

"I listen to a wide expanse of music. I'm a huge Philly soul guy, and that's why I love UK reggae music from the '70s and '80s—because it sounds different from Jamaican reggae. You'll rarely hear me playing flying-cymbal, Bunny Lee tunes. There are tons of great flying-cymbal tunes from Johnny Clarke, Cornell Campbell, you name it. But so many sound systems play that style. I bring tunes that are a little left of center that most people wouldn't hear." 

That ethos extends to the Vibronics/McPullish show happening on March 8 at Culture Yard. As Groeschel notes, "In the early 2000s, Vibronics came along and sprinkled his fairy dust on the [UK dub] scene and galvanized a next energy in it." Vaidya adds, "I have a bunch of his releases and I've seen Vibronics on sound systems before and absolutely love what he plays. He has a bunch of stuff that you only hear at a Vibronics show. And McPullish does his own productions that are a little different from everything else that's going on that night."

In addition to this gig, Crane is bringing England's legendary Channel One Soundsystem to Clock-Out Lounge on April 4. He praises owner Jodi Ecklund for taking chances on little-known musicians who fall outside of the venue's usual styles.

Reflecting on the pervasive unifying vibe of Seattle Dub Club sessions, Groeschel observes, "There's a felt sense of a kind of energy. We're coming out of this weird psychological zone [from the pandemic]. So there's a longing in people to connect, to be in communal spaces. Come and feel the spirit of this music."