Following their emergence in the early eighties around members of the bands Creation Rebel and African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate spent the next 15 years as one of the mainstay acts on Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label, with Sherwood also producing most of their backcatalogue. While they’d incorporate more electronics into their sound on subsequent records, this 1982 debut album ‘The Pounding System’, recorded and produced during the ‘dead time’ between artist bookings at London’s Manor Studios sees Dub Syndicate working quickly to craft a classic roots dub set based around bass, drums and FX-treated melodies.
It’s precisely this absence of synthetic elements that’s made this album (which precedes the arrival of mainstay drummer Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott) date so well over the ensuing 35 years. What’s also particularly significant is just how much the ten tracks gathered here see Sherwood’s dub style maturing, at a point where he still wasn’t completely being accepted by many of his London peers. Throughout, there’s an emphasis upon good-natured vibes and warm grooves, though there’s certainly plenty of heavyweight flexing going on, with the rhythm section carving up some serious turf.
‘Pounding Systems’ opens this collection with a warm glide out into stepping bass grooves and airtight snare patterns, majestic horn melodies rising up in the mix around skanking guitar chords as Sherwood works his magic with the desk, sending sudden delay-treated flurries of keys floating like ghosts out of the undergrowth as he filters the hi-hats into chirping dub chatter. What’s beautiful about this album is just how much you can hear it breathing, as the echo-treated drum solos give way to ‘Hi-Fi Gets A Pounding’s headnod two-note bass line and swooping dub FX, the after-echo of the snare hits being sucked away into space as guitar plucks get looped into a blurred ripple and the aforementioned ghostly piano melodies make a reappearance sending fragments of light scattering through the track’s murky, subaquatic depths.
Elsewhere, ‘Fringe On Top Dub’ sees funky guitar licks getting filtered into liquid squelches against a wobbling King Tubby-esque bassline and spectral washes of delayed-treated melodic tones while vaguely unsettling deep chuckles echo through the mix, before ’10K At 0VU – 60 Hz – Mind Boggles!’ sets the controls for lovers rock in deep space. It’s great to see ‘The Pounding System’ getting a re-release this month from On-U Sound (amongst a slew of material from Dub Syndicate’s backcatalogue), as this represents crucial dub territory.