by Joe Yong-hee, JoonAng Daily
A legendary figure in reggae, the man who calls himself the Mad Professor has produced more then 150 albums, launched a formidable label called Ariwa and collaborated with the likes of Jamiroquai, the Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, Rancid, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Sade. He helped develop the reggae scene for close to 25 years; critics once said he showed no signs of slowing down. But he did.
Born Neil Fraser in the South American country of Guyana, the Mad Professor has gone from producing 10 to 12 albums a year at his peak to, lately, producing maybe one album a year. He burned out, he acknowledges in an interview at an Itaewon coffee shop. He is in Korea for a performance tonight at Itaewon’s J Bar, and for a producer’s workshop he hosted on Thursday night.
Wearing a black Ariwa T-shirt and a digital camera slung around his neck, his black-rimmed sunglasses nearby, Mr. Fraser speaks in a deep, lilting voice. He often stops midsentence to softly sing. His voice, and a mind constantly chewing on millions of sound bits, seem the most active part of him.
“Now, I think I’m back,” he says. After a four-year hiatus, he’s got a batch of eight albums coming out this year, mostly centered around dub, reggae or dancehall. “I’m hungry for the studio like a hungry man,” he says.
Mr. Fraser grew up in Guyana, where he developed an interest in electronics. His friends called him the Mad Professor because he was constantly fiddling with wires and diodes. His family moved to London when he was 13. Around the late ’70s, his fascination with electronics led him to music.
“From day one, when I started, I won’t say it was a joke, but it was an extension of an electronic career,” Mr. Fraser says. In those days, electronics was strictly analog. He was not only collecting, but building, amplifiers and mixers. So he thought, “Why not build a studio?” When that studio went up, he thought, “Why not get some artists?” From there, things “erupted.”
“I found myself entering a career ? music, which I knew nothing about,” he says. “Really, I didn’t think I stood a chance of surviving. So I said,