Photographer: Kishi Yamamoto.
Following his phenomenal Metal Dance collections of industrial and post-punk tracks, DJ/producer/graphic designer Trevor Jackson was asked to compile an extensive retrospective of British producer Adrian Sherwood's influential On-U Sound label. The result, Science Fiction Dancehall Classics, is another spectacular audio document of an enormously creative period for underground music. While primarily known for dub reggae projects such as African Head Charge and Dub Syndicate, On-U brought together musicians from many different backgrounds; the rhythm section for pioneering hip-hop label Sugarhill Records also played on numerous On-U releases, and punk/post-punk musicians such as Mark Stewart (of the Pop Group) and Ari Up (of the Slits) played important parts in shaping the label's sound. This double CD starts out by showcasing Sherwood's signature dub sound, which combined stripped-down, skeletal rhythms with booming echo bouncing off the walls and bizarre sound effects that seemed to come out of nowhere at random. The compilation eventually moves into more post-punk territory, with Public Image Ltd.-esque songs by the likes of Alan Pellay and the Chicken Granny. Tracks by Fats Comet and Keith LeBlanc point toward the label's more hip-hop/electro side (which is what initially attracted Jackson to the label), and one of the label's flagship acts, Tackhead, best represented its fusion of hip-hop, dub, post-punk, and early industrial. The collection includes a few early recordings by artists who would go on to find commercial success with more polished, radio-friendly material, such as Shara Nelson (best known for singing on Massive Attack's groundbreaking 1991 debut Blue Lines) and Neneh Cherry, whose minimal electro-disco cut "Dead Come Alive" sees its first ever release on this collection. Another surprising selection is a minimal, tabla-driven dub track by worldbeat collective Suns of Arqa, which is much more fiery and raw than their later recordings. The compilation provides a well-rounded mix of accessible and familiar-sounding selections (African Head Charge's "Stebeni's Theme" and Bim Sherman's "Melody Dub" are both excellent cuts for novices to start with) as well as far-beyond-leftfield oddities, such as Mark Stewart + the Maffia's abrasive nine-minute collage "The Wrong Name and the Wrong Number (DJ Battle)." A good way to sum up this extraordinary collection (as well as On-U Sound as a whole) would be the title of its penultimate track, Missing Brazilians' "Quicksand Beach Party," as it can be slippery and dangerous, but also fun and exciting. ~ Paul Simpson