A cup of Earl Grey steams on a table, with a fat, mighty spliff crackling in an ashtray next to it. The intellectual and cultural symbols of empire -- tomes of South Asian philosophy, framed palm leaves, a bottle of Jamaican cane rum scattered throughout the room, not as trophies of victories, but as the symbolic capitulations of the invader to the invaded. Out of the speakers dominating this portrait streams blipping drums and thumping bass, the cut-up and remodeled vocals of some call to prayer, gruff grunts in homage to marijuana and other defiant twists of the white man's burden. The only signifier of time and place would be photos of Maggie and Ronnie taped to the dartboard: Welcome to the sights and sounds of Adrian Sherwood's world.
As a young man growing up in the horror-show industrial-suburban nightmare of Slough, England, it's easy to imagine how Sherwood first became entranced by the otherworldly sounds of dub and reggae. At 17, Sherwood founded Carib Gems, the first label to release Black Uhuru, the first to license Jamaican High-Note Records releases for Brit release, and home to radical reggae vocalist Prince Far-I. By 1980, five years later, Sherwood had founded On-U Sound, the label, sound system and general umbrella banner for his work ever since. Through On-U, Sherwood delved deeper into reggae's left-field son, dub, facilitating the post-punk reggae explosion with members of the Pop Group and the Slits, as well as producing for bands such as Creation Rebel and the popular Tackhead.
Recently, Sherwood's name has popped up all over -- producing for the likes of Sinead O'Connor and Shane MacGowan, and working with dub-blues artist Little Axe. But through his nearly 30-year music career, there's never been a release under the name Adrian Sherwood -- until now. Never Trust A Hippy is Sherwood's first "solo" release, and it brings together all of the styles and sounds he's raised us to expect: manic drum and bass loops, his ubiquitous barking-dog samples, gruff Jamaican deejays as well as Pakistani and Middle Eastern vocals, tracks that seamlessly go from techy over-stimulated bleeps to organic acoustic guitars and violins and back
Take "Hari Up Hari," the consummate Sherwood track. Hari Haran's Bollywood tenor loops over Sherwood's raved-up junglist tech-beat and bubbling synth bass, and then the whole thing gets titled in reference to an early '80s Oi/punk record by The Business. Or Sherwood's remix of "Paradise of Nada" by Pakistani vocalists Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, which turns mystical Sufi vocals into a deep-space sci-fi march of urban dub.
NTAH may be Sherwood's disc, produced from deep within his tea-and-ganja caverns, but the names in the notes are familiar from the producer's past. Reggae riddim-section supreme Sly and Robbie, Tackhead co-conspirator Keith LeBlanc, and guitarist Skip "Little Axe" McDonald (also of Tackhead and Sugar Hill Records fame) all appear. Ex-Pop Group-er, and constant Sherwood employer, Mark Stewart writes the anti-globalization rant that serves as liner notes.
Much of what we think of as the music of the late '90s and early 21st century -- deep-beat trip-hop from Tricky and Bjork, Kruder and Dorfmeister's ganja-laden downtempo, even Radiohead's studio suffocations and U.K. drum and bass -- traces itself back to Sherwood and On-U's disgust with pop music's dependence on its own insularity. Even deep house music's multi-culti dance-floor chiefs -- Three Generations Walking's dub-dance or Gotan Project's post-modern tango -- have secret roots in On-U. NTAH finds the master's studio prepared to do battle with the best of the new generation, triumphantly taking "world music" off the trainspotter's shelf and putting it back on the dance floor.