Adrian Sherwood
"Dub Thunder," Sat Nov 17, EMP, $20/$24.

Great Britain is Europe's main pop music producer for two reasons: one, it shares a common language with America, the most powerful nation in the world; and two, it has close ties with the Caribbean world. Everything has been said about the impact of American blues on English pop, but not enough has been said about the influence of Caribbean music, which began in the '50s and '60s with the settlement of hundreds upon thousands of West Indian immigrants in England's industrial centers.

The most visible and immediate consequences of West India's (or, to be more precise, Jamaica's) collision with English life were ska, Island Records, the Police, UB40, and Smiley Culture, who was the first reggae star to toast (a Jamaican form of rapping) in cockney (an East London accent). The less noticeable but more profound consequence was the narcotic diffusion of dub music into the underground veins of Britain's club culture. It would take forever to describe the warm spell that dub has cast on English sensibilities, but just listen to "She's in Parties" by Bauhaus, the most gothic of British bands, and you'll find, particularly in the second half of the song, a dreamy dissolve into dub that seems to say it all.

Dub music arrived in England (or "Inglan," as dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson calls it) in the late '70s, and soon after gave birth to the On-U Sound record label. This label, which was started by then-22-year-old Adrian Sherwood and Kishi Yamamoto (Sherwood's wife at the time), produced, promoted, and distributed Jamaican dub in a country that reflected the very condition of dub music: the dispersed, unreal ruins of something once great and substantial.

Dub offered the perfect score to "Inglan's" deepening post-colonial dusk. Started, so legend goes, by Kingston's King Tubby in his studio on 18 Drumille Avenue, dub is basically this: a hit reggae song sunk into the cavernous depths of a mixing board, stripped of its secure pop substances, and returned to the world as an electrified monster or vampire. (It's no accident that vampires appear on the covers of numerous dub LPs.) With dub, what was once flesh and bone is transformed into vague melodies that suddenly appear and vanish, moans that rise and recede, and bass lines that move through the echo-haze like phantoms in a haunted house. Dub is the "ghost dimension" (Kodwo Eshun) of the real pop song; there is no body in dub, just a flickering afterimage of what was once a body.

Along with Mad Professor's Ariwa records, Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound was to produce a dub haze that clung over Britain like the enchanting mist in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. It's no exaggeration to say that Sherwood was, and still is, a genius. His first band, the New Age Steppers (which featured the scratchy vocals of Ari Up, who was a member of the late '70s all-girl punk band the Slits), released an amazing self-titled LP in 1980--amazing because it was world-weary from the very start. Despite all its newness (new band, new type of music, the very name of the band, and the youth of the musicians), the group was exhausted and burdened by song titles like "Fade Away," "Abderhamane's Demise," and "Crazy Dreams and High Ideals."

After successfully blending black dub with white avant-garde on the New Age Steppers' inaugural LP, Sherwood proceeded to produce a wide variety of British dub bands. He produced "cool, melodious triphop dub" for the band Dub Syndicate; a percussive tribal dub for African Head Charge; a digital and techno dub for Revolutionary Dub Warriors; and experimental art dub for London Underground. Sherwood also worked with original Jamaican dub masters like Lee "Scratch" Perry and the great Prince Far I.

It's not easy to describe dub in general, and it's even harder to describe Sherwood's dub in particular. Though it is as political as anything from the genre's founding fathers, Sherwood's dub is more aesthetic, in the art-for-art's sake sense. And that's saying a lot, because original Jamaican dub was driven by an all-consuming obsession with the mad mechanics of its own sound. Adrian Sherwood did the impossible, and pushed that obsession even further: His dub became the end of dub, a dub that was an abstraction of an abstraction. Sherwood's output in the '80s is so vast that it's impossible to pinpoint a center and select a "best" or "most important" period. You just have fall into it at any point and drift, phantom-wise, through his electronic dub maze.

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