Enemy Records 1988. EMY106
OK, so let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Band name is crap, album title is crap, and this must be the worst cover I’ve posted so far. What this unpromising artifact is though is one of Bill Laswell’s innumerable projects. In fact I can’t believe that almost a year into writing this blog, this is the first Laswell post I’ve done.
As is usual with Laswell, this is a collaboration, in this case a group of traditional Korean drummers whose thunderous rhythms fit surprisingly well with Laswell’s dubbed out funk. This is a live recording, and sounds improvised to me, although my guess is they set up some of the motifs in advance and did a spot of rehearsal.
Bill Laswell is irritating because he has no quality control at all. He records incessantly and everything gets released, garbage or gem. This, rest assured is a gem.
On-U Sound 1982. On-U LP 17
It’s been too long since I posted any On-U material, so to remedy that here’s an early release from Bim Sherman. For me his voice is so beautiful that I’m happy to listen to pretty much anything he recorded, but even without that, this is a strong dub album as you’d expect from the label. It’s not as experimental as the material they became best known for – sometimes it’s straight up reggae, sometimes pleasing but predictable dub, but this is a solid effort from guys who really know what they’re doing.
My copy looks absolutely mint, but unfortunately crackles in places. Somehow the crackles remind me of the handful of Jamaican pressed singles I have so it’s not as annoying as it might be.
State Injustice 1989. SIJ 1
This is a very rare, but sadly not valuable benefit album released as a fund raiser for Martin Foran who was one of many victims of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, now thankfully disbanded. Foran finally had his conviction overturned earlier this year, which seemed too little too late.
It’s a rather odd mix of tracks – from the thrashy indiepop of the Mega City Four through two obscure Welsh language punk bands, an early Shamen exclusive and the majestic Dub Syndicate, here appearing with the silky voiced Bim Sherman. There’s even some poetry from the ever reliable Brummy Benjamin Zephaniah. As you might imagine, it’s not the most coherent of albums. I guess inclusion relied more on support for the cause than anything else. Despite that, much of the material here is worthwhile, and as far as I can tell, unique to this release.
Virgin 1979. VS276
I bought this when I was 13. Back then I didn’t have much access to music – just the old records my Mum had and chart stuff. I hadn’t figured out there was good stuff on the radio if you knew when to listen. On the way home from school, I had to change buses outside Woolworths, which of course was never a good place to find interesting music, but they had a very well stocked and generously discounted bargain bin, so it was one of the few places I could actually afford to buy anything. They were blessed with a terminally incompetent buying department, so they were forever getting stock of stuff no-one record shopping in Woolworths would ever want to buy – and then have to almost give it away to shift it. Unfortunately in 1979 I didn’t know enough about music to spot these gems, so ended up with the the quirkier end of what had been in the charts recently.
This single still has the Woolworths price ticket on the cover – 20p. I kind of liked it then, but I like it a lot more now. It’s an extremely deadpan electronic cover of the RnR classic, Money. Back then I didn’t even know it was a cover version – maybe I enjoy it more now I understand how it sends up the original. I love the primitive electronics, the snooty vocals, the bonkers effects which don’t really fit with the music, and how the whole thing, especially the lyrics, somehow fits. The B side is even better – an insane dub version. Dub versions get done to death these days, but back in 1979, it was a pretty radical thing to do, especially to an electronic record. The Flying Lizards did more dub experimentation in the 90s which I’ll post later. In a way though this single, their second, started a rather dull period for the Flying Lizards. Money was an unexpected hit, so they felt obliged to churn out endless similar covers of classic songs. It got old very quickly.
On-U Sound 1989. ON-U LP49
I’ve been ripping too much indiepop lately, so here’s a change of mood to the ever reliable dub label, On-U Sound; this time Gary Clail.
This was his second album, easier on the ear than his earlier outings with Tackhead. Here he collaborates to good effect with On-U labelmates Dub Syndicate (more from them later), Barmy Army and most notably the singer Bim Sherman whose silky voice is enough to stop you in your tracks.
His political fire hasn’t dimmed though – on this album he rails against corporate power (Two Thieves and a Liar, Privatise The Air) and a remarkable anti-meat eating track, Beef. I’m a vegetarian, but if there’s one thing likely to get me back on the burgers it’s the likes of Morrissey and his absurd preaching. Here though Clail tells it like it is and leaves the listener to draw conclusions. I have a better version of this track on a single which I’ll post at some point.
Virgin Ambient 1995. AMBT 8
I seem to be having a weekend dominated by Kevin Martin, but I suppose there are worse things. This is Martin as musician (alongside Justin Broadrick of Napalm Death and Godflesh fame) rather than curator; here we have his second album under the moniker Techno Animal, another release in the Virgin Ambient series.
At the time, this was a ground breaking album, so much so that it stands up pretty well 18 years down the line. It’s dark, sinister and slow with a distinctly industrial feel; it reminds me very much of Burial’s material over the last couple of years (I’ll be posting some Burial vinyl here at some point), which is perhaps not surprising as Martin currently records as King Midas Sound for the same label: Hyperdub. It also has elements of hip-hop, and is even sometimes psychedelic. This all sounds like a horrible mish-mash, but it works together superbly and is for me one of the best electronic albums of the 1990s. Just don’t listen to it alone, late at night.
More music? Well I’ve never heard Kevin Martin put a foot wrong so anything you find would be worth getting. In terms of what I have that’s still available, Waiting For You by King Midas Sound is fantastic.
Virgin Ambient 1996. AMBT14
The second and final volume in the Macro Dub Infection series, again compiled by Kevin Martin.
For the general idea behind this compilation, have a look at Volume 1.
This is slightly less successful than volume 1, but still has enough great material to make it essential listening, that is, if you’re into this kind of thing. For me the most bizarre track is the last, which brings together “Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Ice (yet another Kevin Martin alias) to make an incredible futuristic dub version of a Will Oldham classic. Other stand-outs are the ever reliable Mouse on Mars, Rhys Chatham and, unsurpsingly, Martin’s own Techno Animal.
Virgin Ambient 1995. AMBT 7
This is another installment of Virgin’s excellent Ambient series from the 1990s. Like Jazz Satellites, this was compiled by Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, Techno Animal amongst others. Martin is always worth listening to; always innovative, always interesting.
There’s not much on this album you’d call dub in a traditional sense. What it’s about is artists using dub ideas in other genres, in other words, the legacy of dub rather than dub itself. A project like this is of course spoilt for choice given the overwhelming influence dub has had in experimental music, so the success of this compilation lies in Martin’s skill as a curator. It spans electronica, hip-hop, jungle and even jazz, but what it all has in common is a spacey feel, thundering bass lines, and elements of the tracks, especially vocals swinging in and out of the mix.
Standouts are Tortoise, Bedouin Ascent, Coil and Spring Heel Jack, but what makes this a great compilation is how it hangs together.
It’s a double CD ripped as though it was a very long single because it plays better that way.
On-U Sound 1989; ON-UCD02
A dose of superb otherworldly dub here from African Head Charge on Adrian Sherwood’s endlessly interesting On-U Sound label.
This is a compilation containing most of the tracks from AHC’s first and fourth albums, My Life In A Hole In The Ground (1981) and Off The Beaten Track (1986). The band has had a constantly shifting line-up but is essentially the Jamaican percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah with Adrian Sherwood providing studio trickery. The result is like nothing which had gone before. The usual dub effects are present, but instead of the Jamaican rhythms you’d expect, the inspiration comes from Africa which gives the album a completely different feel. Noah later moved to Ghana, so this mixing of the Jamaican and the African was more than skin deep.
This is really experimental stuff and sounds like music from another planet, but it’s surprisingly listenable for something so groundbreaking. For me the standout is Far Away Chant which sounds like we’re earwigging on a long forgotten religious ceremony.
On-U re-issues African Head Charge material from time to time. Best buy right now is the Japanese Triple CD which combines Off the Beaten Track, Songs of Praise and In Pursuit of Shashamane Land.
Touch, TO:23 1994
More Sheffield electronic goodness today, this time from Richard H Kirk’s most significant alias, Sandoz. Kirk is best known as a founder member of the mostly excellent Cabaret Voltaire (See this post for an early Cabs track), so his importance in electronic music is beyond question.
This album doesn’t have the hard edged industrial feel of much of Cabaret Voltaire’s best output; it has elements of dub which have been developed further in subsequent releases but it keeps the otherwordly quality which drew me to the Cabs in the first place.
More music? Well his new dub album on Soul Jazz is a storming realisation of ideas he’s been playing with for a while.