Saturday, September 03, 2011

Adrian Sherwood: On-U Sound At 30

British dub producer Adrian Sherwood is celebrating his label On-U Sound's 30th anniversary. 

Read a preview of ForwardEver's piece in the SF Weekly below. Then scroll down for out-takes and additional material!
British producer Adrian Sherwood's life and music have come full circle. Thirty years ago, London's streets were wracked by inner-city riots. Then as now, police harassment and a grim economy drove citizens to revolt. By 1981, punk was in its death throes as New Wave pop and post-punk music rushed in to fill the void. In the shadows stood Adrian Sherwood, a part-time record distributor and music fanatic who launched On-U Sound as a vehicle to promote experimental dub productions.

Three decades and hundreds of releases later, On-U Sound is revered by generations of dub, industrial, and electronic music aficionados and lauded by critics as one of the U.K.'s most important independent labels, its output and influence comparable to Rough Trade or Factory.
The label has released reggae projects by Dub Syndicate and Lee "Scratch" Perry; psychedelic world grooves by African Head Charge; plus edgy industrial hip-hop and dance beats by Mark Stewart, Tackhead, and Strange Parcels. Sherwood has also produced and remixed Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, worked withSugar Hill Gang's rhythm section, and recorded two albums for Peter Gabriel's Real Worldimprint. He remains active in the studio and onstage mixing live dub sessions that feature British reggae artist Brother Culture on the mic.
For On-U Sound's 30th Anniversary tour, Sherwood and Culture join San Francisco's DJ Sep Ghadishah to celebrate another milestone: Dub Mission's 15th year of weekly dub, dubstep, roots, and dancehall sessions at the Elbo Room. Ghadishah says she wanted to invite a guest who directly influenced her DJ work. "[On-U Sound] took me from the music I loved — post-punk, indie, experimental — to the music I came to love even more: dub, reggae, and electronic," she says. "It helped grow my musical tastes exponentially."
Other music experts concur that On-U Sound has made a significant impact. Steve Barrow, Blood and Fire Records cofounder and coauthor o fReggae: The Rough Guide, says that Sherwood laid much of the U.K. dub scene's foundations. Likewise,'s DJ Dublinator reckons that anyone who has heard On-U's '80s and '90s sample-delic DIY productions knows the impact the label had on artists like M/A/R/R/S, Coldcut, or even Aphex Twin. "On-U Sound may be small in name recognition," he says, "but it's huge in influence."
Over the years, Sherwood has endured disastrous distribution deals and the deaths of key On-U Sound artists, including Michael "Prince Far-I" Williams and Jarret Lloyd Vincent (aka Bim Sherman)."I've got some very fond memories of the last 30 years and also some very sad ones, friends who've died and all sorts of things that have gone on," he says. "But the job is to keep the creative fire burning and do good works. That's my agenda."  Read the rest of the post here.

SHERWOOD ON HIS US VISIT: "I’ve neglected in the States or a number of years. It’s almost like I’ve died out there. I’m looking forward to being there for the anniversary. I’m also going to go over to New York to work on other things while I’m out there. I might do some studio work. I’m doing a workshop in New York and I’m going to see the people from Eventide to get some more equipment."
ON MEETING BROTHER CULTURE: "We’ve been working together now for well over a decade. The first tune Brother Culture recorded was done at my studio with the singer Little Roy. I’ve known him quite a while. We’ve been everywhere from Italy to Mexico and Brazil – all over the place."
"Historically, from the '50s through the '90s there have been riots. The social set up in England has a disproportionate sharing of wealth. Now, the result of Thatcherism, the price of living in England is impossible. One room might cost you $1400 a month. For one fucking room! They’ve sold all the housing stock and created this crazy imbalance. They’ve sold all the youth clubs off and started this thing called ‘Stop and Search’ -- basically a re-introduction of the Sus [suspected person] laws from the ‘70s, which means a lot of Black and Asian youth get stopped and searched a lot. Any excuse to have a go, you can see what happens. It’s an expression of people who have nothing to look forward to."

"He was fantastic. He loved ultra-slow one-drop [reggae rhythms], that was his whole vibe – really heavy, minimalist songs because he knew that suited his voice. I tried to compliment it. He would do unexpected things like Elvis impressions and other things, he liked a good laugh. But he had another side where he thought people were working witchcraft on him."

"I was his number one fan. I actually brought him to England in 1979. His voice was like nothing I had ever heard and I love his lyrics and thought he was an amazing artist. We forged a long friendship. He recorded several songs for me but his main body of work was on his own label, Century. He was a very fiercely proud independent producer as well. He was softly spoken but he could curse someone out the same way. He was a lovely bloke."

"Lee is fantastic. He believes if you go into the studio something magical is going to happen, something spiritual; he believes it’s God’s work. I don’t know many artists with that attitude. Lee will light candles in the studio all around the room to create that ambiance that something magical will occur and that’s how he lives his whole life. I call him the Salvador Dali of dub; everything he does is work of art. You know you’re going to get something interesting even if you get the worst of him or he does a rubbish gig. When he’s good, it’s like shivers-up-the-back good. He’s got the spirit of a child, and that comes through in his work. Children love Lee Perry stuff because of the mad, silly little things going on."
Steve Barrow (Blood & Fire Records) Favorite On-U Releases:
North Of The River Thames, which is an affectionate Pablo pastiche from 1984, and the late Bim Sherman's set Miracle. The latter is a beautiful 'fusion' record that actually works by combining disparate elements into a coherent whole, and establishes a new sub-genre: acoustic drum-less reggae with Indian playback strings!

Mark Stewart 
An Interview with the man behind The Pop Group and contributor to On-U's Singers & Players, Mark Stewart & The Mafia.

FE: Describe the recording session for Learning To Cope With Cowardice, what was it like to work with Adrian then?

Mark Stewart: I had already started working with Dennis Bovell on Cowardice. But hooking up with Adrian’s open mindedness and my sense that nothing is sacred allowed us to sculpt some Gustav Metzger-like constructs beyond the limits of time and space. Taste is a form of personal censorship.

On-U sound recordings inspired many other dub, punk and industrial music generations. How do you feel about that legacy?

When you crash genres and sounds people run off with alchemical sparks in different directions. 

What artists inspire you?
I feed on nutrients as diverse as Keith Levine’s guitar, who I’ve just had the pleasure of working with again and [filmmaker] Kenneth Anger, another hero I’ve just worked with, to Lee Perry, again another collab, so it’s a bit like passing around the other.

What new projects are you working on?
Art interventions and viral xplosions in the heart of the commodity. Plus a big new album in Feb.

Look for these 2011 On-U Sound Reissues and releases

New Age Steppers – New Age Steppers (On-U's first release) reissue
Creation Rebel Starship Africa (A seminal psychedelic dub album) reissue
Singers & Players – Singers & Players reissue
African Head Charge Off The Beaten Track reissue
African Head Charge Voodoo Of The Godsent (A new album from this stalwart On-U act)