Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: On-U Sound
Genre(s): Dub, Pop/Rock, Alternative Dance, Post-Punk, Roots Reggae
Following his phenomenal Metal Dance collections of industrial and post-punk tracks, DJ/producer/graphic designer Trevor Jackson was asked to compile an extensive retrospective of British producer Adrian Sherwood's influential On-U Sound label. The result, Science Fiction Dancehall Classics, is another spectacular audio document of an enormously creative period for underground music. While primarily known for dub reggae projects such as African Head Charge and Dub Syndicate, On-U brought together musicians from many different backgrounds; the rhythm section for pioneering hip-hop label Sugarhill Records also played on numerous On-U releases, and punk/post-punk musicians such as Mark Stewart (of the Pop Group) and Ari Up (of the Slits) played important parts in shaping the label's sound.
Behind each of the iconic British indie record labels is an iconic founder/figurehead. Rough Trade has Geoff Travis, Mute has Daniel Miller, Factory has Tony Wilson, and so on. For On-U Sound, that person is Adrian Sherwood. Much more than a label, On-U sound was a loose collective of musicians who reflected and enhanced Sherwood’s artistic vision.
When Adrian Sherwood formed the label in 1980 London, On-U Sound was as influenced by collectivist ideals as it was by the loose scene emerging from the wreckage of punk's first wave. Many of its flagship acts, such as New Age Steppers and Singers And Players, were less "bands" than ad-hoc alliances of musicians. It was a broad church, too, welcoming traditional roots artists like Bim Sherman, post-punk agitators like Ari Up from The Slits, jazz musicians, performance artists and—in Tackhead—members of Sugarhill Gang who moved on from hip-hop to industrial rock.Given that eclecticism, there was always more to On-U Sound than the dub it became synonymous with.
Dance music connoisseur Trevor Jackson here expands on his recent Metal Dance trawls through spiky industrial dub with a contribution to the burgeoning On-U Sound reissue programme. Unlike the often catchy Sherwood At The Controls compilation and the sweet vocals of the recent Singers & Players reissue, this compilation pulls no punches, offering up principally sparse, paranoid, drum’n’bass-centred experiments. Vocal and melodic colour are sometimes used only sparingly.
The press release that comes with Science Fiction Dancehall Classics, a new 2 CD/3LP, 27-track compilation of classic cuts, rarities and remixes curated by artist, re-mixer and producer Trevor Jackson, states that the compilation represents the more avant, electronic side of the On-U Sound label. What it actually means to say is that it showcases the more avant side of Adrian Sherwood. But if we're being honest, On-U Sound is Adrian Sherwood.
Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label has been excavating overlooked oddities from the British producer's experiments in dub reggae, first with the Sherwood At The Controls comp earlier this year and now with this collection, curated by artist Trevor Jackson, of dub-infused industrial, free jazz, punk and early hip-hop. As the title suggests, these 27 tracks share an otherworldliness; they are frequently jarring, sometimes noodling, but never far from earth thanks to clanging noises, choppy drum machines and firebrand politicking that evoke a kind of grimy proto-techno dystopia (à la early 80s London). Though minimalist, it's not all austere.