Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Black Ark Vampires

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Subatomic Sound System
Black Ark Vampires
Subatomic Sound, digital and 7”

1 Black Ark Vampires (bass steppers mix) Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Subatomic Sound System
2 Black Ark Vampires Dub (bass steppers dub mix) Subatomic Sound System w/ Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Jahdan Blakkamoore
3 Black Ark Vampires (roots rockers mix) Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Subatomic Sound System

An email arrived in my inbox today with details of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark Vampires, a collaboration with New York’s Subatomic Sound System. With Reggae Roots Review coming up to it’s first birthday I realised there was a criminal omission, no posts on Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry! So here we are, details of the great man and a release which marries old reggae and new reggae. Some of these unions work and some don’t, but with Black Ark Vampires, the modern-day sound system versus 70s dub style clicks and provides a brilliant showcase for Perry’s magical lyrical conjuring.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (photo by Nate Gowdy)

Emch and Subatomic Sound

The main man behind Subatomic Sound is producer, DJ, and instrumentalist Emch, an active figure on New York’s dub scene. He is founder of the US and Europe Dub Champions Festival and with the Subatomic Sound System spent five years acting as the live touring band for Perry, spearheading the 40th anniversary Super Ape tour.  The Subatomic Sound record label specialises in limited edition exclusive vinyl releases that push the envelope of dub, reggae, & dancehall with a  mixture of electronic bass music, forward sounding productions and unlikely collaborations with icons such as David Lynch, Anthony B, Elephant Man, Ari Up of The Slits, as well as new school torchbearers like Dubblestandart, Jahdan Blakkamoore, Dub Gabriel, and many more.

Black Ark Vampires started life as ‘Vampires & Informers’, a dubstep track Subatomic Sound System had produced for dancehall vocalist Elephant Man. Perry began performing on the riddim live, which led to him developing the lyrics for Black Ark Vampires and Subatomic developed a riddim for Perry that captured his vibes. It was originally released on vinyl in 2014 and has featured as a regular encore tune on Perry’s Super Ape tour. This spring sees the tune have a re-vamp(ire?) and is presented here with three mixes. The Bass Steppas Mixes are modern takes on a traditional sound, the laconic riddim bubbles away with flashes of up-tempo segments, almost like a heartbeat going into overdrive. The Roots Rockers Mix gives us a more traditional version, trademark Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, echo, bobbing riddim and crazy lyrics.

Vengeance, retribution and vampires

In best reggae style, Perry’s lyrics talk about vengeance and retribution. You always get a sense with Perry that there are lots of messages in his words, they may seem impenetrable to some but he says a lot in his own way. Despite his unconventional exterior, Perry is sharp and smart as they come. In this track the vampires in question are those who forced him to burn down his famed Black Ark studio, he promises the details of where, when, and how he will kill these vampires. From Kingston to London to New York City and everywhere; vampires beware; he will kill them with his hair, with fire, with electric wire, and even with roast corn!

My theory behind the Black Ark destruction was that his actions were prompted by self-preservation. I think the pressure on Perry at the time, as number one producer, writer and performer was immense. Perhaps it was his only escape from the stress and maybe danger that a man in his position faced. Emch from Subatomic Sound System says that one night after performing a show in California, he and percussionist Larry McDonald, a Black Ark studio veteran, were talking backstage when Scratch told them the reasons for his own longevity. ‘Stress will kill you. That’s why I had to burn down the Black Ark.’ He said the popularity of the studio had attracted the vampires who came to suck him dry and corrupted the magic of Black Ark, but rather than let that slowly destroy him like a cancer, he chose to close the book on that chapter of his life and move on by torching the studio and making an exodus to the UK leaving the vampires with nothing but the ashes. That all sounds feasible to me.

It’s good to hear Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry on top form, as he moves into his 80s he is still so relevant and has so much influence and experience to pass on. Long live Scratch and long may he continue to keep the vampires at bay.

You can listen to Black Ark Vampires below on SoundCloud. Check out the Subatomic site for details on where to get hold of these mixes and for details of their other work.

As always, please give this post a share if you like what you read, Bless


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. […] There is an English variation on the American saying ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ which says ‘Don’t f*** around with it’. It’s a phrase that came to mind when I first heard about this re-working of the mighty Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Super Ape album. Although I probably shouldn’t have been concerned as the driving force behind the project is long time Perry collaborator Emch from the Subatomic Sound System. You can read about some of their earlier collaborations in this piece. […]


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