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Guide to On-U Sound

Label manager Matthew Jones provides a guide to On-U Sound.

On-U Sound

  • New Age Steppers
    Artist
    New Age Steppers
    ReleaseProduct
    New Age Steppers
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL1016
    Release Date
    January 2011
    12 Tracks DL DL

    New Age Steppers – New Age Steppers

    The first album on the label and a release that very much set the stall out for the cross-genre pollination to come - various members of The Slits, The Pop Group, Flying Lizards, Raincoats and Roots Radics came together to produce an enduring mash-up of post-punk angularity, avant-garde dub production, and even sweet lovers rock.

  • Pay Attention!
    Artist
    The Mothmen
    ReleaseProduct
    Pay Attention!
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0002
    Release Date
    June 2015
    13 Tracks VL CD DL DL

    The Mothmen – Pay Attention!

    This was the second album release on the label, but in contrast to the way the New Age Steppers album has been rightly lauded over the years, this one is a somewhat buried gem. Emerging from the wreckage of the first Durutti Column line-up, and featuring one member who went on to help run acclaimed reggae reissue imprint Blood & Fire, this is a great document of Manchester’s fertile early-80s scene. One for fans of Can, Faust, the Messthetics series, and early Factory Records. There’s even a couple of tracks such as “Please Let Go” where they successfully veer into Soft Boys-esque psychedelic whimsy.

  • War Of Words
    Artist
    Singers & Players
    ReleaseProduct
    War Of Words
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0005
    Release Date
    January 1981
    7 Tracks VL DL DL

    Singers & Players – War Of Words

    Originally licensed to iconic NYC label 99 Records (home to ESG, Liquid Liquid and the Bush Tetras), this 1981 production sees roots reggae heaviness filtered through a raw and non-traditional UK approach to dub. Crack Jamaican vocalists and musicians (as alluded to in the band name!) such as Prince Far I and Bim Sherman are augmented by the spidery guitar lines of Public Image Limited’s Keith Levene, mining the same sonic seam he’d explored on Metal Box.

  • North Of The River Thames
    Artist
    Doctor Pablo & The Dub Syndicate
    ReleaseProduct
    North Of The River Thames
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0030
    Release Date
    January 1984
    10 Tracks DL DL

    Doctor Pablo & The Dub Syndicate – North Of The River Thames

    Whilst a lot of the On-U catalogue can be dark and intensely political in its subject matter, there has also been a rich vein of fun and subtle humour running through proceedings, perhaps best typified by this killer selection of melodica-led dub versions of TV themes and exotica, such as “Man Of Mystery” and “A Taste Of Honey”. The jewel in the crown is the masterful deconstruction of the “Dr. Who” theme, surely the best version of Ron Grainer’s evergreen composition beside the original Delia Derbyshire recording.

  • Tackhead Tape Time
    Artist
    Tackhead
    ReleaseProduct
    Tackhead Tape Time
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0111
    Release Date
    January 1987
    10 Tracks DL DL

    Tackhead – Tackhead Tape Time

    Tackhead was a collaboration between Adrian Sherwood and three American musicians (Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald & Keith LeBlanc) who had previously comprised one of the great studio bands of all-time, the Sugarhill Gang, laying down the backing tracks for hip-hop cornerstones such as “Rapper’s Delight”, “The Message” and “White Lines”. Blending cut-up TV news dialogue, noise, industrial sounds, and programmed drums, they were a huge influence on bands such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, both of whom subsequently hired Adrian to help them achieve a similar sound.

  • Songs Of Praise
    Artist
    African Head Charge
    ReleaseProduct
    Songs Of Praise
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL9013
    Release Date
    January 1990
    16 Tracks DL DL

    African Head Charge – Songs Of Praise

    African Head Charge is the long-running creative dialogue between Adrian Sherwood and master Jamaican percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah. Inspired by Eno’s “vision of a psychedelic Africa”, their early releases are well worth checking out for out-there studio exploration, but the acknowledged classic in the AHC canon is this 1990 release, in which they added layers of churchical chants to the already potent brew of found sounds and ricocheting rasta hand drums. A gospel record beamed from an alien radio station.

  • Stoned Immaculate
    Artist
    Dub Syndicate
    ReleaseProduct
    Stoned Immaculate
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0015
    Release Date
    January 1991
    13 Tracks DL DL

    Dub Syndicate – Stoned Immaculate

    In 1991 Primal Scream released Screamadelica, The Orb released Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, and On-U Sound released this, a cosmic dub opus as well suited to raving in a field off the M25 as spacing out to in a soundsystem dance. The title track in particular is an acknowledged On-U classic and features in Adrian Sherwood DJ sets to this day.

  • System Vertigo
    Artist
    Andy Fairley
    ReleaseProduct
    System Vertigo
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL0061
    Release Date
    January 1992
    12 Tracks DL DL

    Andy Fairley – System Vertigo

    An eccentric punk-poet well known on the Bristol Scene, Fairley was perhaps the closest that On-U had to a John Cooper Clarke figure, albeit with a delivery closer to William S. Burroughs’ gravelly spoken word recordings, and backed with the full force of the Sherwood soundsystem, his proclamations spat out over stuttering beats and warped electronic noises. There’s parallels in the modern day with someone like Chester Giles and his compelling collaboration with Vessel as Asda. Like too many of the On-U crew, Andy Fairley has sadly passed away but this album stands as a testament to his talent and personality.

  • Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
    Artist
    Various Artists
    ReleaseProduct
    Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL129
    Release Date
    October 2015
    27 Tracks VL CD DL DL

    Various Artists – Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics

    If you want an entry point to the maze-like On-U Sound catalogue, you could do a lot worse than this excellent selection of classics, unreleased rarities and deep cuts put together by producer and designer Trevor Jackson. Sequenced like a great DJ set, this is a proper journey through the weirdest and most wonderful corners of the label, with a particular fondness for saturated textures and primitive drum machine funk. Highlights include a pre-Massive Attack Shara Nelson laying down a stunningly assured teenage vocal performance on “Aiming At Your Heart”, and possibly the only example of Adrian doing disco with his remix of Atmosfear’s hi-nrg floorfiller “When Tonight Is Over”.

  • #N/A
    Artist
    Nisennenmondai
    ReleaseProduct
    #N/A
    Label
    On-U Sound
    Catalogue Number
    ONUDL131
    Release Date
    April 2016
    7 Tracks VL CD DL DL DL

    Nisennenmondai – #N/A

    Bringing things bang up to date, this recently released album sees the Japanese instrumental trio process their sprawling motorik jams through Adrian Sherwood’s mixing desk, showcasing his ability to employ FX tricks from the dub reggae world such as parametric EQ and triggered delays across the stereo spectrum to create a wonderfully immersive soundworld full of buried patterns and tiny details that reveal themselves with repeated listens.

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