I picked this up on a lark not realizing its connections to one of my favorite labels, On-U Sound. Raw is Keith LeBlanc, a percussionist and producer who’s had a remarkable career. You know, little stuff like being one of the core musicians that was part of Sugarhill and Tommy Boy, performing with artists like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, from there being a member of Fats Comet, Tackhead, and Mark Stewart‘s backing band Maffia, and later getting production credits with projects like NIN. No big deal, just a consistent track record of being on the cutting edge of music. Nothing to see here.
Raw was one of LeBlanc’s solo projects, one that only produced this single album in 1990 (he was also releasing solo material as DJ Spike during this period). The overall On-U vibe is all over this record, with Adrian Sherwood in the booth and performers like Gary Clail and African Head Charge‘s Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah joining in on some tracks. Man, this thing is right in my sonic wheelhouse – electronics, dub, vocals that are a cross of singing and rapping, and just a dash of industrial. Interestingly half the album’s eight tracks are remixes of songs from LeBlanc’s 1988 album Stranger Than Fiction, a record he put out under his own name.
I can’t get enough of Raw. This is going to make it into the Gary Clail / Tackhead / Fats Comet rotation that I sometimes find myself embracing, and I’m going to need to track down some of LeBlanc’s other projects as well.
If On-U Sound could be said to have had a house band, it was Dub Syndicate. That by itself should be enough reason to buy this record (it was for me) – talented reggae players plus Adrian Sherwood at the controls equals some of the spacey-ist, trippy-ist, and all around awesomiest dub you’ll ever lay your ears on. The only complaint I can utter is that at three songs and 16 minutes I’m left wanting more.
With elements of breaks, dub, hip hop, and even a dash of industrial, Hotalacio’s three-song 12″ Talkin’ Out The Side Of Your Neck is reminiscent of the On-U sound of the mid-to-late 1980s, though a bit more metallic in the percussion especially on “Don’t Kick Me”. It’s edginess is precise, like an impossibly sharp scalpel, a cutting of metal-on-metal that brings with it a certain sterility that differentiates it from it’s more dubby cousins. The other B side track, “Deconstruction”, introduces yet another element with some short heavy-metal-like guitar riffs that clash with the funky bass line and snappy electronic percussion, somehow blending these elements together into something that grooves. Definitely a cool 12″ and one worth picking up.
London Underground were on the very first release by the On-U label, a split 7″ with the New Age Steppers in 1980, though by 1983 they had reached the end of the line. They released a pair of albums that year, the eight-song At Home With The London Underground (March) and the six-song mini-album Current Affairs Session (October).
Current Affairs Session truly captures the dub sound that On-U became known for, aided in no small part by London Underground’s underlying style which included heavy reggae undertones. The songs have a quasi-relegiousness about them, the lyrics being sung by true believers trying to preach their message to the world. The studio effects are certainly heavily applied, but it all fits together in an organic way; the dub treatment simply fits the music.
Sometimes fate forces you to buy a record. A few weeks back we were in Hiroshima, Japan with plans of stopping at Dumb Records. When we got there they weren’t open yet so we decided to head back up to the main street and just wander around for a bit, but then right there on the corner we spotted the sign for Stereo Records and figured we’d just go check them out first. Stereo Records is a great shop – small like most record stores in Japan, but well organized and full of awesome stuff. I pulled a 12″ called Robot War out of the Japanese Pop/Rock section simply because it looked interesting, and imagine my surprise when I flipped it over and saw that it was recorded at On-U Sound and produced by none other than Adrian Sherwood. My love for all things On-U is not a secret, and this just seemed like the perfect conjunction of events, as if the universe was trying to tell me that I needed this record. And who am I to argue with the universe?
A blend of dub reggae and electronica, Sherwood’s fingerprints can be felt all over Robot War. And is that Gary Clail I hear repeated saying “Robot War” throughout the song? He isn’t credited, but it sure sounds like him and he would have been hanging out doing other stuff at On-U during this period. The B side track “Stiff Wheel” puts aside any notions of reggae and instead comes at you like a cosmic dub space jam, the strong bass line keeping the beat while everything else flares off all around like a fireworks display. Some classic On-U stuff.