UK-based producer / DJ / label owner Trevor Jackson should be familiar to most readers, having spent the last two decades releasing a genre-diverse selection of music under a seemingly ever-changing number of aliases. While his earlier tracks under monikers such as Skull and The Underdog saw him crafting moody hiphop-centred production and remixes for the likes of Massive Attack and Gravediggaz, his later explorations with his Playgroup collective saw him venturing further towards disco and punk-funk, a stylistic trajectory continued with his now inactive Output label, which saw the likes of LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture rubbing shoulders with Four Tet. While label boss Adrian Sherwood’s recent ‘At The Controls’ collection saw him focussing upon On-U Sound’s early years stretching from 1979 to 1984, this sprawling 27 track sees Jackson focusing on the stylistic shifts that would ensue from the late eighties into the early nineties.
A fair chunk of the first disc here picks up fairly smoothly from where Sherwood’s selection left off, with the predominant emphasis falling upon dub / dancehall influences with the occasional post-punky interjection, though there’s a noticeably increased presence of electronic trickery going on amongst the delays and edits. Missing Brazilians’ ‘Ace Of Wands’ kicks things off with a swaggering electro-dancehall wander that sees bright flashes of jittery synths peppered amongst the skittering drum programming and elastic bass pads, before Creation Rebel & New Age Steppers’ ‘Chemical Specialist’ offers up a more rootsy dubby wander that still carries a sleekly futurist edge as sharp cuts of processed guitar skronk get processed into jagged shards alongside some deft triplet delay action.
Elsewhere, Alan Pellay’s ‘Parasitic Machine’ does an excellent job of grafting distorted post-punk vocals and angular bass lines onto rolling tribal drum rhythms, the end result calling to mind some unholy fusion between Fela Kuti and Bauhaus, with the baton being smoothly picked up by The Chicken Granny’s ‘Quit The Body’ as a Killing Joke-esque bassline rolls against fluid disco snares, yelped vocals and chaotic free-jazz saxophone runs. As you’d expect, it’s with the second disc that the harder, more-industrial edged sound that would increasingly come to characterise On-U Sound’s aesthetic during the early nineties start to really emerge.
‘Dub Storm’ sees Tackhead’s Fats Comet alter-ego unleashing prowling steel-plated hip hop rhythms as hard-funk slap bass arcs against howling guitar solos and jackhammer snares, while Mark Stewart & The Maffia’s ‘The Wrong Name And The Wrong Number’ unveils the spring-loaded industrial-dance template that Trent Reznor would later borrow liberally for his ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ album. As a detailed overview of On-U Sound’s continually shifting explorations from the late eighties into the early nineties that also includes a smattering of unreleased tracks along the way, ‘Science Fiction Dancehall Classics’ does the business with style.