As a producer Adrian Sherwood deserves to be a household name. After all his template of heavy bass – dub inspired – pop music inspired a generation of musicians making their voices heard throughout the last decade and a half. For every !!!, LCD Soundsystem and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there was a Slits, Maximum Joy, or even the Fall – all enjoying the fruit’s of Mr. Sherwood’s sonic madness. As an artist, now in his 50s, Sherwood continues to make bass heavy dub music with various solo endeavors. But without question Sherwood’s greatest achievement comes as a producer at the center of several influential movements.
Even a superficial look into his resume will showcase a producer blending post-punk (when the term had meaning), industrial and Jamacian inspired sounds to something very identifiably “his”; most identifiably with his work while releasing music on his own On-U Sound label. More than three decades into his career, Sherwood is positioning himself to have the general public reassess his career by releasing music from his On-U Sound back catalog.
Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. I: 1979-1984 explores a period in music history where genre rules were collectively and actively dismissed, a body of work that and makes a compelling point that Sherwood’s continued influence on contemporary music remains as vital today as 1984.
Scattered among the album’s 14 selections, Jamaican music, and dub in particular, is a consistent sonic element. It cannot be understated how influential dub music was In the London music scene of the late 1970s, the sonic touchstones not only found its way into mainstream music, but found far more footing with the punk musicians and their heir apparents. By the late 1970s Sherwood had cultivated a reputation beyond his early work with Jamaican expats by working with bands breaking out of the newly minted “punk orthodox” like the Fall, the Slits and the Pop Group, all well represented on this album.
Sherwood was able to recast bands in a new light. He took The Slits “punky reggae stylee” and gave them a real bottom end. With “Man Next Door” The Slits are less of a punk or post-punk act, and more of a dub reggae group. Similarly he was able to give The Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart‘s “Learning to Cope with Cowardice” a level of ragga, digi-dub tools that would help push the singer to a level of songwriting that out-paced his more experimental sentiments.
What Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. I: 1979-1984 illustrates beautifully is that Sherwood was not a one trick producer. Highlighting his work with groups like Shriekback, Sherwood and co. were pushing the limits of a LinnDrum machine on industrial songs like “Mistah Linn He Head”.
Clearly a career overview of this sort is making one case or another. But with Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. I: 1979-1984, it is hard imaging Sherwood in any other light other than the ideological link between the Jamaican underground to the predominantly white avant-garde that would eventually be into the mainstream.
This is not to say that Sherwood is mainstream, quite the opposite. The second half of the compilation pushes to the more extreme end of dub experimentalism. With tracks from the sadly under-recognized, yet genius African Head Charge, and more well know Jamaican music luminaries like producer Prince Far I and vocalist Bim Sherman recasting their personas under the a more experimental mold.
It cannot be understated that the breadth of Sherwood at the Controls is vast and stunning with songs that serve as a proper contextualization of Sherwood’s work. Sadly, thirty years on, it will take a compilation of this magnitude to present Sherwood to a more mainstream audience already adjusted to the sonic qualities that he had pioneered over the last three plus decades of producing.
This article originally ran in SSGMusic on April 27, 2015.