What's (Re)New: Dub Syndicate Ambience In Dub 1982-1985

On November 10th, On U-Sound, the creative outlet and seminal dub label run by producer Adrian Sherwood, reissued some early releases and a compilation of unreleased tracks from Sherwood’s own project, Dub Syndicate.  Following the short-lived but seismic effect punk rock enjoyed in 1977, the need to expand upon the music’s creative and cultural reach bore a period of musical output that harnessed not only the primal aspects of punk rock music, but also pulled from many genres: funk, disco, jazz, and reggae.  Sherwood, himself a fanatical devotee of reggae music, acted as a small-time distributor of dub singles before growing into a curator of sorts, performing in multiple groups, producing acts, and eventually launching the On U-Sound label, through which he was able to not only pursue his own musical endeavors but to provide a platform for other artists.  With that said, Dub Syndicate, which would later develop into a creative partnership between Sherwood and drummer Style Scott, released four albums from 1981 to 1985:  The Pounding System, One Way System, North of the River Thames, and Tunes from the Missing Channel.  In addition to the reissues, which will be out on vinyl and as a CD collection called, Ambience In Dub 1982 – 1985, the aforementioned collection of unreleased tracks will be issued as an LP titled, Displaced Masters. 

As a newcomer to Dub Syndicate, I’ve navigated my way through these LPs over the last week or two and have attempted to distill as much of what’s unique track-by-track as I could.  Dub reggae has a resting pulse, a signature stride.  The rhythm is an anchor, though the floating sonic explorations enabled by both the group’s rotating lineup and advancements in studio technology grant this chronology context as far as how Sherwood and Scott both evolved artistically.  The performances sound refreshingly spontaneous, as if ideas were juggled and conversations never ceased.  Plus, Sherwood wasn’t shy about drawing elements from what was then a burgeoning post-punk scene into his brand of dub music.  The rambunctious sections of drum work scattered throughout “Pounding Systems,” which introduces 1982’s The Pounding System, were enough to convince me that post-punk’s notable inclusivity among genres, not to mention the way these genres seemed to be informing various offshoots at a time when studio capabilities were fueling musical possibilities, was beneficial and not in any way meant to appropriate a culture so much as to widen musical perspectives, potentially merge worlds, and engage artists.   

The fact that Style Scott, whose involvement with Dub Syndicate begins during the development of 1983’s One Way System, was a long-distance collaborator with Sherwood speaks to some level of respect and trust between artists.  For this series of reissues, One Way System will be available for the first time as a vinyl LP, having only ever been released as a cassette via ROIR, the label that’s probably best known for releasing Bad Brains’ self-titled debut.  Speaking to the level of experimentation and genre-bending of its predecessor, check out the staggering rhythm arrangement of “Drilling Equipment” and the saxophone-driven jazz lean of “Independence.”

For 1984’s North of the River Thames, Dub Syndicate shared credit with melodica player, Doctor Pablo (Peter Stroud), whose name was chosen as homage to the man who’d mastered his instrument, Augustus Pablo.  With his melodica providing the album its primary and unifying musical element, Doctor Pablo also contributed some of his own songs, two of which were apparently based on original works that Congo Ashanti Roy had performed with both The Congos and Singers & Players respectively.  These tracks were sequenced with dub-centric interpretations of The Shadows’ “Man of Mystery,” the theme from “Dr. Who,” and a melancholic rendition of the Ric Marlow and Bobby Scott composition, “A Taste of Honey,” which I know best as a Beatles cover.

As an early document on what was then-budding sample culture, 1985’s Tunes from the Missing Channel is a fascinating work and the most objectively modern release of this collection.  Featuring contributions from ex-Public Image Ltd. members Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, singer Bim Sherman, and composer Steve Beresford, (not to mention members of On-U Sound acts African Head Charge and Creation Rebel), Tunes from the Missing Channel was developed in conjunction with the availability of new studio technology, enabling Sherwood and keyboardist and On-U co-founder Kishi Yamamoto to craft and adorn the Dub Syndicate motif with new sounds.  The revving and echoing motor and beautifully rendered sitar melodies incorporated into the album’s opening track, “Ravi Shankar (Pt. 1),” offer evidence of this immediately with “The Show is Coming” following up with vocal loops/samples and chunky, cutting bass riffs performed by Evar Wellington juxtaposed with the track’s otherwise slick production.  Jah Wobble’s synthesizer-driven “Over Board” could have easily scored any horror or sci-fi film of the era, its sound seeming to nod in the direction of John Carpenter or Goblin.  Bim Sherman provides vocals for the only sung composition on the album “Forever More,” a playful array of filters applied to the track’s percussion. 

With Scott assuming more of a lead role in Dub Syndicate, the group continued to release albums well into the 2000s.  Scott was unfortunately murdered on October 9th, 2014. 

While every volume of this collection is worth investigating, Displaced Masters isn’t a bad place for a novice to begin.  Itself comprised of early takes and unreleased cuts, Displaced Masters offers enough of an overview to incentivize the need for further exploration.  It’s a worthwhile footnote.  It’s certainly not bad for the ears.  


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