The most commonly associated word with UK producer Adrian Sherwood has got to be "dub." After setting up his On-U Sound label in 1980, Sherwood became known as a go-to guy for his own take on the dub reggae sound, and he worked with dozens of Jamaican artists throughout the '80s and '90s, including Lee 'Scratch' Perry. However, a new compilation, titled Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-84, brings together some of his earliest recordings and goes to show his adventurous approach to sound touched artists as diverse as pioneering punk act The Slits and post-punk band The Fall.
"It's about ideas, vibe, fragility, subtly, and little bits of mistakes and charm," Sherwood said of what makes good music in an interview that accompanied this heavy FADER Mix in 2012. Music has to be alive, to have a physicality, to really speak to us, and that's something that the legendary producer has spent the past 35 years putting into practice. Here, he shares three early tracks—two of which appear on the compilation and one that's a personal favorite—and gives us the lowdown on how they came to exist.
Recorded in 1984, previously unreleased.
ADRIAN SHERWOOD: "When we recorded this tune in 1984, for some reason it didn't get released. Congo left the UK, went to the States and then Jamaica and the track was forgotten about. We recorded this at John Loder's Southern Studios in North London. It was an amazing time at Southern—we all used to hang out in the kitchen and live room waiting for our turn to get in the studio. We'd be sat there with people like Crass, Björk (then in a band called Kukl), the Exploited, Minor Threat, and of course all the On-U posse. Very recently we discovered the tape of it again and thought it should definitely see the light of day."
Originally released as A-side of a 7” single on Y/Rough Trade in 1980.
"We became friends when I went on tour with The Slits in '79. Ari was getting into reggae and I introduced her to 'Man Next Door,' which we recorded this version of very late one night. Everything about it—the arrangement, changes in lyrics etc—were all last minute and spontaneous. It was a John Holt classic. We changed the lyrics to say that rather than being annoyed by the neighbour playing his music too loud, it was him being annoyed by us. This tune was also later covered by Massive Attack with Horace on vocals. They had rather more success with it than we did."
Originally released as part of the Staggering Heights album by Singers & Players on On-U Sound in 1983.
"This is one one of the last tracks I did with Far I before his murder in '83. It still makes me smile every time I hear it. The rhythm was recorded at The Manor Studio in Oxford and completed later at Southern very late one night. I had attempted to mix this several times but this version I am still very proud of. I think it has more than stood the test of time."
On-U Sound will release Sherwood At The Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-84 on April 7th. Lead photo credit: Sho Kikuchi.