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  • Lee Scratch Perry at Meltdown Festival. London in 2003 photographed by Mark Mawston

Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Lee Scratch Perry was an innovative Jamaican born record producer whose pioneering techniques and production styles in the creation of dub music laid the foundations for hip-hop, dance music, and the remix industry.

Perry was born Rainford Hugh Perry in Kendal, Jamaica in 1936. He earned his “Scratch” nickname from an early recording, The Chicken Scratch, in 1965. Perry left school at 15 and eventually moved to Kingston where he became involved in the dance and music scene. His first job in the music industry was as a record seller for Clement Coxsone Dodd's sound system. It was at Dodd's Studio One recording studios, that Perry began to record songs for the label. After a fall out with Dodds and a period working for Joe Gibbs's Amalgamated Records, in 1968 he decided to set up his own label, Upsetter Records.

During the 1970s, Perry put out a wide number of recordings from his various record labels and his work grew in popularity in Jamaica and the UK. It was during this time that he began to pioneer dub music and experiment with studio effects, reverb, and remixing to create new, unique sonic sounding, sometimes instrumental, versions of existing reggae tracks. Bob Marley and the Wailers went to work with Upsetter Records to make the albums Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution during which time Perry encouraged Marley to consider more spiritual and political themes in his songwriting, a suggestion that helped develop Marley’s career.

As his reputation for innovative production techniques grew Perry built his own studio in Kingston in 1973, the now-famous Black Ark, which became the birthplace of countless reggae and dub classics. Here he continued to experiment with drum machines, sound effects, and sampling. He worked with and produced for a wide variety of artists, including the Paul & Linda McCartney, Beastie Boys, The Clash, The Orb, plus many others.

In 1983 Perry burned down his Black Ark studio having been convinced it was possessed by dark spirits. He did however continue to record albums and collaborate with artists for the remainder of his career, and in 2003 won a Grammy for his own 2003 album Jamaican ET.

Perry sadly died aged 85 in Germany in August 2021.

Lee Scratch Perry at Meltdown Festival. London in 2003 photographed by Mark Mawston

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Lee 'Scratch' Perry captured during his Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, London in June 2003

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