Dub Syndicate (On-U Sound)
The Pounding System
One Way System
North Of The River Thames
Tunes From The Missing Channel
Two questions dear readers... If you could magically own the entire discography of one label, which label would you choose? And similarly, if you could own all the recorded works by one producer, who would you choose? My answers would be the On-U Sound label, and Adrian Sherwood (head honcho / producer at On-U Sound). Now, I'm more than willing to admit that not everything on a label that started in 1980 has stood the tests of time BUT when On-U and Sherwood got things right, they did so in spectacular style and the first four Dub Syndicate albums are peerless examples of timeless, essential, world class dub releases.
Arguably the label's premier dub outfit (with the exception of African Head Charge?) and certainly one of their most popular acts, Dub Syndicate were more a collective centered around drummer Style Scott (rhythm force of the Roots Radics) than an actual band, with Sherwood a de facto member. Rising out of early Creation Rebel and New Age Steppers line-ups, Dub Syndicate employed a whole host of musicians over the years including Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Skip McDonald, U-Roy, Prince Far I, Congo Ashanti Roy, Public image Limited's Jah Wobble and Keith Levene plus a whole host of On-U singers and players. Dub Syndicate have been exploring ambient, electro and heavy dub since 1982, and the band (in various forms) are still active.
The Pounding System (subtitled Ambience In Dub) is the debut Dub Syndicate set from 1982 actually pre-dating the involvement of Style Scott. This features various members of Creation Rebel and African Head Charge turning out a wild dub set, with hard-hitting rhythms and FX-mutated melodies phasing in and out of the mix. It was recorded quickly with track titles cheekily poking fun at the contemporary series by The Scientist (“Crucial Tony Tries To Rescue The Space Invaders With Only 10p”). The tunes themselves however are deadly serious, with version excursions on some classic On-U vocal cuts such as “Bedward The Flying Preacher” and "Across The Red Sea", and a continuing commitment by Sherwood to take his love of reggae and filter it through his exploratory and uniquely English approach. Pounding in name and in nature.
One Way System from 1983 was originally released as a cassette on the ROIR label. Scott is now on-board, and it's an uncompromising collection of heavy dub manners and experimental studio soundscaping with dreader than dread roots rhythms sitting alongside delay-baked post-punk instrumentals such as “Drilling Equipment” and “Synchroniser.” This is the first ever international vinyl edition, re-cut as a double LP at 45rpm for improved frequency response. Inspired and inspiring.
North Of The River Thames from 1984 is one of the more curious entries in the always interesting On-U Sound catalog. Credited to Doctor Pablo & The Dub Syndicate, it's hauntological dub taking the mystical eastern melodica scales pioneered by Augustus Pablo and applying them to a unique mix of re-versioned cult themes (“Man Of Mystery” and “Doctor Who”) and roots rockers. It should be pointed out that Doctor Pablo (real name Pete Stroud) is no relation to Augustus Pablo but a member of Creation Rebel, and this more restrained set can be seen as a homage in many respects. Here the Far East' sound of Augustus gets a Sherwood perspective with the mighty Syndicate rhythm section as powerful as always.
Tunes From The Missing Channel is from 1985. Increasing access to new studio technology resulted in this splicing of dub reggae DNA with cut-and-paste sampledelia. Anticipating the later works of labels such as Def Jux and Anticon, this album paired Scott (by this point the instrumental leader of the group) and the Congos' Ashanti Roy with Public Image Limited's Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, not to mention the forward thinking, restless mixing desk melee of Sherwood. A more reggae-fied take on the industrial funk Sherwood was making with Tackhead during the same period, lovers of digidub, outernational sounds and even the wilder reaches of 80’s hip-hop will find much to get lost in here. To me, it's personified by the amazing “Ravi Shankar Pt. 1” where sitar, violins and chainsaw (!) mix it up dub-wise. Utterly essential.
Displaced Masters (2017) features unreleased archival tracks from the On-U vaults! Serving the same purpose as the recent Return Of The Crocodile set did for African Head Charge, this album illuminates the early development of one of the flagship acts on the label, allowing some truly magnificent versions to be heard for the first time. Mostly stripped-back raw takes, they highlight the rock solid rhythm section laid down by incredible players such as Scott and Charlie 'Eskimo' Fox, as well as three vital soul-in-the-echo-chamber interjections from the late, great Bim Sherman. Essential early 80s dub damage. The gold at the end of the rainbow. (Lee)
Check out this trailer / overview for the reissues