At most live gigs, all eyes are on the band while the mixing desk is tucked out of sight with some guy in a T-shirt standing behind it simply making sure each instrument comes out at the right level.
But indicating how far our perception of music has changed in recent years, the focus of British producer Adrian Sherwood’s forthcoming four-date tour of Japan with Jamaican dub master Lee “Scratch” Perry will not be a group of musicians in the traditional sense, but rather the mixing desk, and how Sherwood and Perry mix and morph the sounds into new shapes.
Running the multitracks (of drums, bass, guitar and more) of previously recorded songs from a computer through the mixing desk, the two producers will be cutting sounds and instruments in and out, recombining them and adding delays, echoes and reverbs (“dubbing”), to create live remixes.
“What we will be doing is bringing Lee’s first hands-on mixing in 30 years,” says Sherwood. “I am helping him out, getting him to do it live again, getting him to express himself. Just having his presence is going to be great.”
The idea of using the recording studio as an instrument is integral to making dub records, but the mixing desk is rarely taken out of the studio and used as the focus of a live performance. “If at times it comes off, it’s going to be brilliant. But it could also collapse into disaster!” says Sherwood.
When it’s Sherwood’s turn to stand alone behind the desk, the producer and head honcho of the U.K.-based On-U Sound label, which he set up in the early 1980s, will be showcasing his second, recently released solo album, “Becoming A Cliche.” It’s all part of a renewed flurry of activity for Sherwood and On-U Sound. A posthumous release of new material is lined up from singer Junior Delgado and from one of the label’s earliest groups, New Age Steppers.
As for the ironic title, Sherwood says, “I was talking to Mark Stewart (Sherwood’s long-term collaborator who features on the album) who used the phrase ‘becoming a cliche,’ and I thought I would use that for the title as I’ve kind of been treading the same path all this time.”
This self-deprecating humor belies the fact that over his nearly 30-year recording history, the various projects Sherwood has instigated have constantly pushed dub in different directions, whether through the psychedelic ethno-dub mayhem of African Head Charge or the tech-heavy funk-meets-rock of Tackhead. On “Becoming A Cliche,” alongside spacey, feel-good dub, Sherwood follows earlier steps into drum ‘n’ bass, and develops his own idiosyncratic take on dancehall rhythms, peppered with exotic instruments, cheeky samples and an irreverent sense of humor.
Rather than recording with an established band in the traditional sense, Sherwood followed in the footsteps of Jamaican producers such as Perry and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, who assembled musicians for particular studio recordings. Sherwood has often collaborated with a select circle who make up the On-U posse, such as guitarist Skip McDonald, who plays on “Becoming a Cliche” and was formerly a member of the house band for the New York hip-hop label Sugar Hill.
In addition to a few other members of Sherwood’s musical family, the album features some members of Sherwood’s biological family — his young daughters share vocals with Perry on the opening track “Animal Magic.” Some old friends also make an appearance, such as Dennis Bovell, the main driving force behind the U.K.’s Lovers Rock movement in the ’70s.
As well as using the same musicians over the years, Sherwood also often returns to a familiar bank of samples and sounds, giving them a different context in new productions. On “Becoming A Cliche,” for example, students of On-U can trace the sitar sound on opening track “Animal Magic” and the Gregorian monks’ chants on “Monastery of Sound” all the way back to Sherwood’s ’80s productions.
“I try to have a trademark, a recognizable sound, that’s something [musician] Prince Far-I taught me, working with him,” Sherwood reflects. “If you listen to all the great masters, whether it’s King Tubby or Phil Spector or whoever, if you listen to their productions, you know it’s them. That’s what I aim for.”
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