O is for…. On-U Sound
This is a fairly formal first posting, but this simply what I found myself writing when I wanted to convey why I thought Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound should be included – biographical information and all…It might be true to say that Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound System label lost its way in the very late 80s, and has not released anything genuinely essential since then. However, for about ten years, from 1978-1988, the On-U Sound label and all it’s offshoots were amongst the hottest, most experimental and perhaps, most influential outfits working in the musical underground during that time. Not bad for a geezer that got started by flogging reprinted Jamaican records up and down the country from the boot of his car.
It was by doing so, however, that Adrian Sherwood began to meet reggae hero Prince Far I, and became acquainted with his backing band, Roots Radics. Being a bit of a young upstart, and it being 1978 and all that, Sherwood wanted to start his own record label, and so agreed to produce a side by members of the band, calling themselves ‘Creation Rebel’ after a Burning Spear song.Two early releases ‘Dub from Creation’ and ‘Rebel Vibration’ were released on the Hitrun label, which soon went bust. These two LPs were well received by some critics, but dismissed by hardcore reggae fans as being too experimental. Now, they sound as fresh as anything Tubby, or Lee Perry produced from the 70s. The dubs were sharp and spacey, and made good use of all musicians. Despite Hitruns collapse, Sherwood persisted, however, establishing the On-U Sound label soon afterwards.
The well-documented punk connection with reggae saw Sherwood forging links with Dennis Bovell, ex-slits Ari-Up, ex-Pop Group members Steve Beresford and Mark Stewart, as well as some from the
Various studio-based projects prefigured
Records of note from this period include Dub Syndicate’s ‘Echomania’, and African Head Charge’s truly magnificent ‘Songs of Praise’.
Perhaps reliance upon a formula, perhaps the move of key players to other labels, perhaps the increasing competition of other labels, producers, and genres all resulted in On-U Sound becoming something of a spent force by the very late 80s. Only very few truly great releases have emerged. New artists have joined the label, some of whom have made good releases (notably Ghetto Priest, Japan’s Audio Active, and Sherwood’s own 2Badcard), but nothing has gained the same level of impact as those early ‘1992’ releases.
Sherwood himself has kept busy at the helm of On-U Sound, but also as a jobbing producer, having worked with Depeche Mode, The Fall, Skinny Puppy, Simply Red, Michael Franti amongst many other. He has also established the reggae re-issue label ‘Pressure Sounds’. His influence on the path of music remains considerable, if only for those historic releases. The
Some final personal notes: I first recall properly listening to an On-U Sound release under the influence of magic mushrooms (circa 1989), listening to the suitably trippy (and undoubted classic) collaboration between Creation Rebel and the New Age Steppers. More than simply changing the shape of that evening (which remains exceptionally memorable), it changed the shape of my musical listening, opening my mind to reggae, dub and dancehall. I also managed to see African Head Charge at
Essential releases include:
Creation Rebel - Starship
African Head Charge – Off the Beaten Track (1986) & Songs of Praise (1990)
New Age Steppers – New Age Steppers (1980)
Dub Syndicate – Pounding Systems (1981) & Echomania (1993)