Lee Perry and The Orb? That’s a match made in psychedelic dub heaven!
Taken from the forthcoming collaboration album The Observer In The Star House, which is out in September, ‘Hold Me Upsetter’ is a neat little slice of bass-heavy shuffle-house. You can download it for free below, and if this is a good example of the rest of the album, then both electronica and dub aficionados have a lot to be excited about.
There’s more info on the album (and some funny pictures of a very young Dr Alex Patterson) over at theorb.com.
So there I was, casually browsing through some Johnny Marr-plays-guitar videos on YouTube, when the thought struck me that remixing the Smiths in a dub style (essentially stripping Morrissey’s warbling right back and pushing Marr and the rhythm section up to the front) would be a wonderful thing.
You see, I may rag on the Smiths a lot (to me they represent everything that can be deemed wrong about “indie” or “alternative” music) but there’s a niggly wee corner of my teenage heart that will always belong to them. Those years we spent together were beautiful indeed, around the age of thirteen or fourteen, but then I grew up a bit and discovered sex and drugs. And a whole bunch of other music that was way more exciting, dramatic and sexy.
As the years have gone by, on the odd occasions that I feel brave enough to confront my embarrassing teenage angst and revisit the Smiths, I have fallen more and more in love with Johnny Marr’s incredible playing (in direct relation to falling further and further out of love with Morrissey’s “unique” vocal style.) Hence the idea of the Smiths in dub - a silly, facetious notion for sure, taking one of the whitest bands of all time and daring to process them through a hash-clogged Black Ark desk.
You can imagine my surprise then to find out that this actually once happened.
The acclaimed New York-based dj and producer Francois Kevorkian produced two dub remixes of “This Charming Man” for a limited edition release at the tail end of 1983. Unsurprisingly Morrissey hated the mixes (“hang the dj” and all that) and apparently so did Marr (though I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: after all he later went on to form the dance supergroup “Electronic.”)
Thanks to that miracle of the modern age, the Internet, once this was brought to my attention I was able to go online and track these elusive remixes down straight away. Both have been uploaded to YouTube by TheStaticAirwaves, who adds some more info in the description box:
In December 1983, DJ François Kevorkian released a “New York” mix of the single on Megadisc records. Kevorkian geared the song for nightclub dancefloors, and the track was intended to be pressed in limited numbers for New York club DJs.
However, Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis liked the mix and gave the release wide distribution in the UK. Morrissey publicly disowned the mix, and urged fans not to purchase copies. Travis later claimed, “it was my idea, but they agreed. They said ‘Go ahead’, then didn’t like it so it was withdrawn.” He also said, “Nothing that ever happened in The Smiths occurred without Morrissey’s guidance; there’s not one Smiths record that went out that Morrissey didn’t ask to do, so there’s nothing on my conscience.”
How exactly this record escaped my notice I don’t know. Francois Kevorkian (aka Francois K) is a legend in disco and deep house circles, both for his early remix work for the classic Prelude label, but also for his own tech -and-house productions for his own label Wave. That’s not even mentioning his legendary all-night dj sets that are a fixture of clubs around the world.
While I can’t really imagine what clubs this would have been played in at the time, I can easily see the “New York Instrumental” remix of “This Charming Man” closing a classic John Hughes 80s-teen movie that never was.
Apparently John Peel once played this version of the song at the end of his Festive Fifty (a show where the public voted on their favourite songs, and “This Charming Man” had been voted number one song of the year.) Needless to say the Smiths fans were not amused.
But then, are they ever?
The Smiths “This Charming Man (Francois Kevorkian New York Instrumental Mix)”
The Smiths “This Charming Man (Francois Kevorkian New York Vocal Mix)”
Dub fans and post-punks take note: Glasgow’s Optimo dj team/production unit have just put out another of their excellent podcasts, and this time it’s a whole hundred minutes of the best and most spaced out dub productions by Adrian Sherwood.
According to JD Twitch, who compiled the mix and skillfully blended the tracks together, it “covers music from the years 1979 - 88 and focuses on Adrian Sherwood’s dubwise productions, most of which were released on his ON U Sound label.”
Twitch also interviewed Sherwood after a recent gig in Glasgow, and the dub maestro talks at length about his introduction to reggae and dub music, and to djing, production and running labels:
How old were you when you were working for and running labels, Carib Gems and Hit Run?
I used to go to a reggae club in the town where I lived called the Newlands Club or the Twilight Club. I think Dave Rodigan did his first ever gig there. I was DJing there when I was really young. The owner of the club, a Jamaican guy, was like my dad. He looked after me. My dad had died when I was very young and I had a step-dad but I wasn’t close to him so this guy took me under his wing and I started DJing in there when I was at school, on Saturday afternoons… Then eventually Sunday afternoons and then moved up to doing the early evening stints. I worked there with Emperor Rosco a couple of times and lots of other Radio 1 DJs and Judge Dread, who came down and did a PA in the club. I used to play early evenings before the sound systems. It had been a funk a soul club… Then in around 72 or 73 or something, it was a really, really hot summer and no-one was going to the club for months. The only people going were the reggae fans. It suddenly just turned into this reggae club whereas it had been a lot of soul drinkers prior to 72 or 73… So it went from a group of people who drank a lot and listened to soul to a group of reggae fans who would only want to drink one beer and smoke lots of weed. So it was only a matter of time before the club went bust. I was doing it from the age of 13 – 15, then the club went under. I had became good friends with the owner and his wife so when the club went under the owner, who had previously ran Pama Records, restarted the label and I got a little job doing promotions for them. Then we started our own distribution company out of the Pama office. That pre-dates Jet Star, Jet Star started after we had left. They basically copied the model we had created.
Do you think any of the music on your early labels will ever get re-issued?
There was a bootleg a couple of years ago of a Carol Kalphat record. That was a fucking character! I had to send a message asking not to bootleg any more of my tunes. The real problem with releasing that stuff is that if I start re-issuing it begins to bring people out of the woodwork which isn’t always worth it. I think it’s actually better that they are there and available as collector’s items and that’s it.
If you are new to Sherwood and ON U Sound, then that interview (on the Racket Racket site) is a good place to start, as is this mix. Even if you’re not it’s well worth checking out: just over 100 minutes of non-stop, heavy, psychedelic dub, the perfect soundtrack to an evening in relaxing. Or tripping out.
As usual, Optimo have withheld the tracklist, and have promised to follow up this podcast with another focusing on Sherwood’s more dance-based productions from the late 80s and the 90s. That will be called part one, and here, confusingly, is part two:
At the time of his death on April 4th 1992, Arthur Russell could barely get arrested. There’s a moving scene near the end of the Wild Combination documentary on his life, which was filmed at one of Russell’s last ever gigs before he passed away. It’s a beautiful performance made all the more moving by the short time he has left, but painfully sad as it is obvious from the weak cheers that not many people are there.
However, twenty years later things could not be more different. Today Arthur Russell is widely recognised as being one of the most important composers and performers of his generation, and one of the most influential artists of the past two decades. From house to hip-hop to folk, dub, ambient and jazz, there are not many acts about today who could claim not to have been touched by his skewed genius.
Buddhist, cellist, cruiser, prodigious pot smoker - Arthur Russell was a genuine outsider artist, but without the usual negative, cynical connotations that term brings to mind. He didn’t—couldn’t—play the industry game as his muse was too strong, and he was known to obsessively re-record his signature compositions and melodies, often in wildly different styles. His music was genuinely years ahead of the curve and accordingly it took the world a while to catch up to his unique talents.
Russell’s music touched on many genres, but he is still best known for his work in the field of disco (and later what would go on to be called “house”.) The man pretty much invented “alternative disco” (“post-disco” is perhaps a better phrase) and the Larry Levan remix of his Loose Joints track “Is It All Over My Face” is one of the most influential—and sampled—tracks of all time. If anyone one artist could be said to have given the maligned genre of disco some credibility and kudos, then it is Arthur Russell.
I vividly remember the first time I heard “Is It All Over My Face” and simply being blown away. After a couple of years of casually liking disco as a sunny, kitsch reaction to the overbearing, vapid gloom of 90s alternative rock and Britpop, I had started to pick up bits and bobs on vinyl to play around with on my newly-purchased turntables. The track was near the end of a disco compilation on Strut records called Jumpin’, that featured uptempo, funked-fuelled productions by the likes of Patrick Adams and August Darnell. Great tracks for sure but this was something else completely. It was breath-taking.
Here was a track as heavy and funky as anything by Daft Punk but whose bizarre vocal and chattering arrangement marked it as coming resolutely from the left field. It sounded like nothing else I had ever heard, yet felt like a record I had been waiting my whole life to hear. Instantly house music made a lot more sense, and disco became a real proposition, a serious genre that demanded more respect and closer inspection. To anyone who still insists on disco being plastic/shallow/conformist/blah blah blah, simply put this track on and warm yourselves up a nice big cup of STFU.
But there is a lot more to Arthur Russell than just four-to-the-floor avant funk. His music has a genuine other-worldiness that can only be a product of a singular imagination. Where his disco productions were propulsive and off-kilter, his folk and acoustic tracks have a delicate beauty to rival the tenderness of Nick Drake. The minimalist cello-and-vocal compositions on his World Of Echo album may have faint traces of Terry Riley and the Velvet Underground, but they still sound like nothing else. In a world where music seems to be going in ever more decreasing circles, and where careers are getting shorter and shorter, it’s not hard to see why Arthur Russell now commands such serious respect.
But for now here are two of my favourite Arthur Russell songs. Two to show the many sides of this incredible talent—the first is a short ballad, the second a full-blown psychedelic epic—and two to mark the two decades since this extraordinary artist left our sphere:
A Fistful Of Dub is video mix featuring new and old dub and reggae recordings with clips from Spaghetti Westerns—not a mashup but an imaginary soundtrack where cowboys meet engines of rhythm.
01. ‘Black Panta’ - Lee Scratch Perry
02. ‘A Ruffer Version’ - Johnny Clarke and The Aggrovators
03. ‘Dread Are The Controller’ - Linval Thompson
03. ‘Cool Rasta’ - The Heptones
04. ‘Tel Aviv Drums’ - Glen Brown
05. ‘Dubbing With The Observer’ - King Tubby
06. ‘Funky Ragga’ - Dave and The Supersonics
07. ‘A Useful Version’ - Prince Jammy
08. ‘Magnum Force’ - The Aggrovators
09. ‘Electro Agony In Dub’ - The Grynch featuring Tippa Irie
10. ‘President Mash Up The Resident’ - Shorty
11. ‘Steel Plate’ - Fat Eyes
12. ‘Diplo Rhythm’ - Diplo
13. ‘Streetsweeper’ - Steely and Clevie
14. ‘X- Perry-Ment’ - Lee Scratch Perry
Some of the best dub I’ve ever heard courtesy of my long time associate and genius about town, Mr. Eddie Ruscha who describes this beast of a platter thusly :“Yes man. Fatman Rhythm Section plays the most heavy heavy dubwise style. These are 200-300 lb. dudes playing here. Bass and drum TOUGHER than TOUGH. Jacob “The Killer” Miller was also larger than large and his voice slides through the dub like clouds of smoke. A well charged download!!!”