“House is our pop music”: Exploring the hybrid sounds of South Africa’s electronic scene
Adrian Sherwood should by now be a figure in late 20th Century music that needs no introduction. Significantly influential in genres of music as varied as dub, reggae, post-punk, and industrial music, Sherwood was born in London in 1958 and came to appreciate Jamaican music early in his youth. Sometime later between 1979 and 1980, he founded the record label On-U Sound, which specialized in dub – the genre for which Sherwood is most closely associated with, and rightly so considering his many and notable projects and collaborations.
Everyone will have their own story about how they stumbled into the vast world of Sherwood-style production. Like many other young people growing up in the ’90s in the United States, my first introduction was through his work with Nine Inch Nails. From this I came to his prior work with Ministry, before discovering he’d been deeply involved within the electronic music and dub scenes long before. Indeed, Sherwood has had a long and diverse career as a producer – enough to surprise even some of the most attentive music aficionados.
And this is where ‘Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-1984’ comes in. A compilation of some of the producer’s earliest work, ranging from the late ’70s into the early ’80s, the compilation also collects – amongst its other selections in reggae and dub – some notable tracks belonging to the general post-punk aesthetic, a period and style of music for which Sherwood isn’t necessarily associated with as frequently as his dub roots. Inspired by this compilation, here are some key tracks featured, as well as a few tracks and albums not represented that paint a fuller picture of the producer’s work in post-punk.
New Age Steppers & Creation Rebel ‘Threat to Creation’ (1981)
As underappreciated and underrated as albums go, ‘Threat to Creation’ was released the same year as the Sherwood-founded collective’s debut self-titled, but it was weirder, darker, and more adventurous, as it was a collaborative album with fellow On-U Sound cohorts Creation Rebel, the former backing band for Prince Far I. Of course, Sherwood had his hands all over this one to begin with – he was one of the founding and main members of New Age Steppers, and it was originally his idea to put the two acts together for a collaboration album.
Medium Medium Hungry, So Angry (1981)
Although the dance-inspired Medium Medium only released one proper album, ‘The Glitterhouse’ in 1981, their influence has since far surpassed their modest output. One of their most notable singles from that album, Hungry, So Angry, is famed for reportedly being one of the first to borrow the slap-bass technique from funk music, and was produced by Sherwood.
The Slits Man Next Door (1979)
One of the singles off ‘Cut’, the debut album by The Slits, Man Next Door is actually a cover of one of famed reggae songwriter John Holt’s most well-known songs, and was reportedly initiated by Sherwood’s touring and then friendship with The Slits’ Ari Up over a mutual appreciation of reggae music.
Chantage It’s Only Money (1982)
Apart from working with Vivien Goldman on the dub mix of Private Armies from her ‘Dirty Washing’ EP, Sherwood also produced some of Goldman’s work as part of the post-punk duo Chantage, including this quirky, Carib-inspired track called It’s Only Money.
Judy Nylon ‘Pal Judy’ (1982)
The American artist and songwriter Judy Nylon’s album titled ‘Pal Judy’ was co-produced by her with Sherwood and adhered to the minimalistic aesthetic of early post-punk, yet was somehow still also heavy on atmosphere.
Shriekback Mistah Linn He Dead (1984)
Anyone who didn’t become aware of Shriekback directly probably happened upon them as part of the ambient and atmospherically creepy Manhunter original soundtrack, which has long been a collector’s item for record collectors. But I digress: Mistah Linn He Dead is, in actuality, Sherwood’s own dub-heavy remix – or transformation – of the Shriekback single Hand On My Heart.
Voice of Authority ‘Very Big in America Right Now’ (1984)
Voice of Authority is actually a moniker of Sherwood’s, among others, that he’s used throughout his career to put out different material. Released in 1984, its harsher, and more abrasive aesthetic probably prefigured Sherwood’s producing and collaborating with industrial acts a few years later, but its especially indicative of what he would do as a member of the group Tackhead.
Robert Wyatt ‘Work in Progess’ EP (1984)
Soft Machine-founding member and prog-rock icon Robert Wyatt had two tracks from his ‘Work in Progress’ EP in the mid-’80s produced by Sherwood – Biko and Amber And The Amberines – and both are about ready for a second look and appreciation.
Einstürzende Neubauten Yü-Gung (1985)
The experimental outfit Einstürzende Neubauten had already written Yü-Gung as a more dance-oriented track, but Sherwood’s remix arguably makes the percussion and beats more focused and exacting, increasing its potential for inspiring body movement of all kinds – recognizable or not.
The Enemy Within Support The Miners (1984)
As can probably be inferred from the artist’s name and the track’s title, this electro/industrial-tinged song was written and released in support of the miner’s strike which took place in the UK from 1984 to 1985. Keith LeBlanc handled the production duties alongside Sherwood.
On-U Sound released ‘Sherwood At The Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-1984’ on April 6th 2015 (buy).