Monumental selection of Adrian Sherwood’s finest, stretching to his furthest-out disco mutations and beyond
Let’s start by calling Adrian Sherwood the most prolific, fearless and influential electronic pioneer to sabotage this country’s eardrums and cerebral reference points in the last century. For over 35 years, Sherwood’s productions have replanted the dub ethos at the heart of the machine, while managing to assimilate and twist New York’s post-disco electronic dance templates and turn loose later major talents in settings they never experienced again.
Trevor Jackson is an unashamed On-U acolyte whose immersion in Sherwood’s productions fuelled his own idiosyncratic approach, using aliases such as Playgroup and Underdog (the name under which I first encountered him when he remixed The Sabres Of Paradise’s ‘Theme’ in 1994). Recently hailed for his ‘Metal Dance’ compilations for Strut, Jackson has been let loose in the colossal On-U vaults and come up with a collection which is as startling, individual and speaker-shattering as could be hoped for.
Sherwood started On-U Sound to release the one-off New Age Steppers collective, which included members of The Slits, The Pop Group and Aswad, but the roster swiftly grew into a multi-headed hydra of mavericks, anarchists and conscious souls. Just the idea of conceiving a fresh way of presenting a new take on On-U Sound’s catalogue is daunting, but over two CDs (or triple LP plus downloads) Jackson comes up trumps by homing in on Sherwood’s experimental avant-disco and electro sides, along with the expected deep dub mixing desk demolitions with names such as Creation Rebel, Dub Syndicate, Suns Of Arqa and African Head Charge.
It’s these warped boogie excursions which really elevate the set, along with rarities and obscure hidden gems. For instance, Sherwood’s dismembered space-take on UK jazz-funkers Atmosfear’s ‘When Tonight Is Over’ from 1984 boasts the kind of glistening pulses, disembodied vocals and clunking synth basslines which were then drenching the groundbreaking mastermixes being carried out by names such as Shep Pettibone on New York radio stations KISS FM and WBLS. These radio tapes were pure gold at the time and a huge influence on British electronic developments later that decade (which Sherwood followed up on the mangled disco outings of his 1984 album as Voice Of Authority, represented here by ‘Stopping And Starting’).
Sherwood already had ties to New York’s dance underground after hooking up with the Sugarhill house band (bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip McDonald and drummer Keith LeBlanc) to form Tackhead and Fats Comet. He was now conducting a London parallel to New York’s genre-straddling melting pot by merging his dub sensibilities with these hip hop studio titans, resulting in a new strain of alien dub-funk. These were often built on the behemoth drum machines heard on tracks here such as Tackhead’s ‘Now What?’ and Fats Comet’s ‘Dub Storm’ (the B-side of 1985’s ‘Stormy Weather’ single).
Other obscurities include ferocious post-punkers The Chicken Granny, club dynamo Alan Pellay’s confrontational disco tear-up ‘Parasitic Machine’, an early outing by Shara Nelson (with 1983 single ‘Aiming At Your Heart’) and Neneh Cherry’s electro-rap hoedown ‘Dead Come Alive’. Both of the latter were realised with The Circuit, aka Steve Beresford, who appears solo with the booming ‘Loudspeaker’.
Obviously this selection is the tip of a mighty iceberg, but Trevor Jackson has done a fine job of distilling one of the biggest meltdowns to hit music into a concise explanation of its significance. And it rocks like a motherfucker.