Dub Narcotic Studio

This place should be on the list of revolutionary heritage sites along with the Bastille, Le Chat Noir, the Cabaret Voltaire and the Moncado Garrison. – Ian Svenonius


“Sweet bananas, the world needs Dub Narcotic Studio!” - The charitable sentiment that drove the initial assembly of all recording and musical ephemera collected in the corners of Calvin Johnson’s various closets shipping containers receptacles in which the spoils of his many travels tours and thrift store safaris had accumulated. This grand pile was not much – wouldn’t make an impression on the trained eye. Fortunately the standards of the days comprising the summer of 1993 (Dub Narcotic Studio’s point of origin) were not those to which this venture aspired. Rather the goal was to create a space where time is not a factor. What is that you say? A recording studio is based on time, its purpose is to imprison the inspired moment so it can be recreated, not unlike the dinosaur’s DNA found in the proboscis of a mosquito trapped in amber. That is exactly what has occurred at Dub Narcotic Studio in the twenty plus years of its existence.

Michelle Mae of Make-Up recording “Someone Else’s World” for the Selector Dub Narcotic [KLP082] compilation.

As one took the plunge down the cement steps to the original basement Dub Narcotic lair (beneath Calvin’s humble abode in Olympia, Washington) you enter a world revolving at a different pulse rate. Slightly dank. It was here the first recordings were committed to tape (½” 8-track and ¼” 4-track, ½ track mastering deck). The pre-amplifiers were tube and transistor, the mics unremarkable. The music however was blood genuine. In that second half of 1993 Dub Narcotic Studio was visited by local and traveling troubadors alike: Mukilteo Fairies, Versus, Built to Spill, Blood Sausage, Beck, Halo Benders, Cockpit.

The equipment scavenging continued and the arsenal of audio options expanded with mixers, tape recorders, keyboards, amplifiers, spring reverb boxes, tape delay assemblies, and microphones stacking up like cord wood. Dub Narcotic Sound System was formed as a house band for those interested in augmenting their sound with a dose of basement soul disco bleed. Dub Narcotic Studio asks only one question: “Where’s the passion?” Artists are ever expressing their answer and we Dub Narcotic are there to document it.

In the beginning Dub Narcotic Studio was exclusively the domain of K recording artists. Some who took advantage of this unique situation were Black Anger, Kicking Giant, Miranda July, the Softies, Modest Mouse, Lois, Mecca Normal, Fitz of Depression. Eventually the basement could not contain and the sessions spread throughout the house: Make-Up, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dub Narcotic Sound System could be found moving furniture and setting up shop in every room. At last reality forced an expansion like a supernova and a new era was carved into an industrial loft space downtown by the railroad tracks in the Olympia Knitting Mill. 2” 16 track recording at last.


D+ (Phil Elverum, Karl Blau, Bret Lunsford) recording their debut album D+ [KLP072] at the basement Dub Narcotic Studio

Black Anger Movement recording "Ra-n-Untut" in the basement for the Selector Dub Narcotic [KLP082] compilation.

The move of the studio into its expansive domain coincided with the arrival of Phil Elverum to Olympia, who took up residence two blocks from the new Dub Narcotic Studio location. Phil had recorded at the original space as a member of D+. He established himself at the new studio recording his Microphones records and collaborating with Mirah to record her first several albums. Everyone else got in and created timeless tones: Old Time Relijun, IQU, the Blow, Little Wings, Rondelles, Yume Bitsu, Gene Defcon. Stop the madness. No. Let it flow. Notes are bent and wrong and then fly off the handle and land with grace. Music beautiful and unclean, scorched delights. Elevator clang. Back that truck up. Music and birds. Record everything and keep moving. Could Memphis or Houston ever scrape themselves so clean?

Mirah recording with Spectratone International

Karl Blau walking up the stairs to the Dub Narcotic Studio in the Olympia Knitting Mill

After ten years of hollow log thumping and seagull caws it was time to learn from the experiences of the loft and bottle the sounds that chime and rhyme in a more concentrated environment. Dub Narcotic Studio moved two blocks south to a former temple building. The sunshine streamed through the stained glass and the heat worked, too. In this setting, Dub Narcotic Studio opened itself up to all sorts of possibilities. In the last few years we have seen the likes of Adrian Orange, LAKE, the Hive Dwellers, AIDS Wolf, Mirah, the Blow, Moon By You, Dial-Up, Math & Physics Club, Shivas, Arrington de Dionyso, Jeremy Jay. What could be sweeter, banana?