My Rules Records owner and regular on Golf Channel, ESP Institute, Warp, K7 and Running Back, Justin van der Volgen is a DJ and producer articulate in a kaleidoscope of moods and styles. Having recently remixed the dubwise sounds of Belize artist Bro David for Cultures of Soul, his Praise You mix continues that lineage with a focus on On-U Sound boss and UK dub godfather, Adrian Sherwood. Instead of tackling the interview in our usual format, Justin has expanded his admiration of Adrian into a mini essay, weaving a story of discovery, obsession and influence.
“Between 1996 and 2005 I played the mixing board in a band. To be clear, this was not a DJ mixer and I wasn’t adding scratches or playing accapellas. What I did was something completely different, I was onstage (or back behind the soundboard) manipulating the other musicians in the group (who were playing live, not sequenced) through a 24 channel desk with 6 fx sends and 4 busses doing fast hand dub mixing. It’s not something you often see in a live band, and I’ve never met anyone else who has done it, but I had heard that Adrian Sherwood did it so I thought I could too. Here’s my story in thanks to and praise of Adrian Sherwood.
From around the age of 13 I started playing guitar in all different styles of groups. Rock, Metal, Funk, Alternative (that was a name for a genre back then), Indie and Punk. It was through going to shows and participating in the underground punk scene in Sacramento, California where I grew up (quick shout to the homies!) that I was introduced to dub reggae. The first time I heard The Upsetters’ track Scratch The Dub Organizer it totally changed me. The phasing on the horns and the overall sound was so rough and trippy. It was music I hadn’t heard before but felt so familiar. I immediately started trying to learn about and listen to as much dub music as I could. Fast forward about a year and a half or so and a friend gave me a tape with New Age Steppers’ first record on side one and second on side two. They instantly became my new favorite band and I repeatedly flipped the tape over and over. Other than Wu Tang, it was all I listened to one summer.
“At about the same time I got that tape I was becoming interested in recording and wanted to learn to do my own dub mixes. A friend lent me a four track tape machine, gave me some basic knowledge (thanks Justin!) and I set up some instruments and pressed record. As I was trying to learn this new skill I’d spend hours staring at my stereo listening to the bands Creation Rebel, African Head Charge, London Underground, Singers and Players, Dub Syndicate, Mark Stewart and the Mafia, and of course my favorites New Age Steppers. All of which are mixed and produced by Adrian Sherwood and released on his On-U Sound Records label. I’d sit there and picture in my mind a guy behind a mixing board with a specific set of tools and try to imagine how he built up and then totally mangled the mix. The questions I had were unending – how were all the tracks routed so certain drop outs could be done? How many channels and sends were on the desk? How many tracks on the tape machine? What was the number of different delays with different timings? Were there two different reverbs – a spring and a digital? Which fx were stereo and which were mono? It would go on and on and on. This all may sound quite technical and nerdy but the music is the furthest thing from that. The feel and vibe of his productions are the most dynamic and exciting I’ve ever heard. Super raw, aggressive, noisy and rhythmic but also with lots of space which allows the bass and drums to breathe and lead instruments to speak clearly.
“During this early study period I found out that all of the “bands” on the On U-Sound label weren’t really bands at all in the traditional sense and that they were in fact a varying mix of musicians which all revolved around the producer. I learned that the players would come into the studio, lay down rhythms and vocals and then the tracks would be mixed, produced and packaged into a “band” for a record. All of this done completely by Mr. Sherwood! This concept blew my eighteen year old brain apart, and was the freshest thing about the process of creating music and records I’d ever heard. I was so psyched on this idea that I then began to have a rotating cast of people come over to my bedroom studio and lay down tracks with me which I would then finish during mix down. Basically just trying to create my own On-U Sound style situation.
“After a year of doing these sessions at my place a core unit of people started forming and the logical next step for all of us seemed to be creating an actual band with solid members and perform live the music we were recording. In order for me to do my part in the group though I’d need to take the studio techniques and the instrument I was playing which was the mixing board and play it live. It wasn’t something I had seen anyone do in a live band before, but I did hear a story that the New Age Steppers went on a tour and that’s exactly what Adrian Sherwood did. At this point, I have to say that I still don’t really know if he did do that or not – or even if New Age Steppers ever went on tour. It doesn’t really matter though as the story was enough encouragement for me! So we did form a band, it was called Out Hud. We made 3 7”s, 2 12”s, and 2 albums. I mixed and produced it, totally screwing up – making very loud mistakes in public and having tons of fun along the way. I was extremely lucky to work with the people in the group and the music we made took me all around the world. I had some crazy experiences, was exposed to different ideas, music and culture which all eventually led me to where I am today and the inspiration I got from Adrian Sherwood is a huge part of that.”
Mark Stewart and the Mafia – Blessed Are Those Who Struggle
Judy Nylon – Information Rain
London Underground – Fall In
Singers and Players – Reaching The Bad Man
Creation Rebel – Space Movement Section 6
New Age Steppers – Observe Life
New Age Steppers – Fade Away
Dub Syndicate – Pounding Systems
Prince Far I – Bedward The Flying Preacher
Bim Sherman – Revolution
Singers and Players – World of Dispensation
Mark Stewart And The Mafia – Blessed Are Those Who Struggle
Mark Stewart And The Mafia – None Dare Call It Conspiracy
African Head Charge – Stebeni’s Theme
Missing Brazilians – Savanna Prance
Playgroup – Going Overdrawn
Chantage – It’s Only Money
African Head Charge – Beri Beri
Lee Perry – Music Shall Echo
New Age Steppers – My Love