Trapped Here: Adrian Sherwood

"We’ve tried very hard not to bow down..."

Dub is a language, a culture.

Born in the labyrinthine studios of Jamaica in the early 70s, dub has spread its tentacles around the globe. Settling in the UK, Adrian Sherwood has led the charge for three decades, retaining a spiritual and political (with a small ‘p’) dimension throughout his pioneering diversions.

New album ‘Survival & Resistance’ is set to be released on August 20th, and the title seemingly comes from a book about the Palestinian people. “I thought it was quite appropriate for our history to be honest with you” he explains on the phone from his studio. “We’ve tried very hard not to bow down to doing rubbish and survival is the name of the game for everybody, isn’t it. It particularly fits in for the album, I think, without sounding to crass”.

Waiting for a new mixing desk to be delivered, one of dub’s pioneering spirits took 15 minutes out to chat about his upcoming album, his ever expanding live show and steady gentrification of East London.

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Do you continually adapt and embrace new technology or are you a retro gear head?
I’m afraid to say I’m a retro gear head, I love the analog stuff. I’m still one of the few people who mix with their fingers, doing what my early heroes did. I am afraid I’m a proverbial fan who’s got his hands on a mixing desk. I’ve got a desk coming today that I had 20 years ago, the same model. One thing after another I ended up getting a big studio, then getting a small studio and downsizing, basically coming right down to the bare bones and re-building bits and bits as I could. But I’ve got a very good collection of vintage analog stuff, and I always try and work with youngsters as well, to see if I could compete on the beats thing, because you’ve always got some 17 year old coming along with a maverick brilliant idea.

Have you ever tried working digitally?
I do, but I don’t touch the gear myself. I am lazy to be honest, I’ve not wanted to embrace the new stuff as I’ve got to learn this and spend hour and hours editing things. I did that when I was young to such a degree, I’d spend day after day and 48 hours non-stop cutting up bits of tape. I was kind of superseded, the kind of craft of making furniture or print, new machines came along. But I understand certain things that have gleamed from all that, but I still use the old gear because it does add a different kind of flavour when you’re putting something together.

Do you look at that original era of dub as a point for inspiration?
Completely. It’s not even dub though, the spirit of those records from the ‘70s is one where it was stand up for truths and rights, let’s change the world and let’s fight down the oppressors and all that stuff. At the same time the spiritual awareness in the case of a lot of people who had fuck all, really. The whole Back To Africa movement and the Rastafarian gave a much needed spiritual and conscious thing for lots of people. Like Bob Marley said, ‘Those who will need to know will know.’ True to that word, people from every corner of the earth have good guidance from that bulk of work from the ‘70s – Jamaican singer songwriters like Bob Andy, Joe Higgs, Gregory Isaacs, it’s fucking phenomenal. Then the approach to sound the sonic, was so different from anybody else on the planet. The bass now is taken for granted, but I could play any of those tunes from 1972/73 and it would stand-up next to any contemporary super sub tune. I’d like to think anyway.

But the culture which surrounds it is completely different.
It’s not very politicised any more, everyone’s so jaded with the lies and the bullshit that they don’t believe in anything any more. They don’t believe in the teachers, the teaching’s been dumbed down so much it’s ridiculous. They don’t believe they are going to get jobs, they can see the panic in their own parents. When I was young you could go do an apprenticeship in whatever, and you could afford to drop and out and breathe a little bit, now you’ve got your bollocks squeezed so much they want a £1000 for a bedsit in Dalston.

Have you noticed a lot of changes in East London?
They’ve gentrified everywhere. That’s just life – supply and demand. It bothers me more that people are allowed to own all these houses that are encouraged by a Labour government to do the buy to let thing. Now look where we are, it’s absolutely immoral. Why should people be allowed to have tens and tens of houses and be renting them back to the government at like ten times what they were when they were making them available before they sold them all off. People are going on about Thatcher like she’s some sort of great champion of free market economy and stuff, my God!

You’ve been working on your live show of late, do you still bring in your own engineers?
I did back in the day as they say, in the local grime scene. In recent years I’ve neglected it and I’m trying to rebuild my whole setup at the moment. I’m working with Pinch and a couple of other young producers at the moment, I’m trying to get a load of young blood on board, just be operating in healthy activities. Someone like me I’ve got to compete on a level where I’ve got a good live show, and I’m operating on the basis now of a sound system where I’m cutting things with the like of Digital Mystikz, Congo Nasty, Pinch, so I’ve got good rhythms that are suitable to drop in my set. So I’m playing 60% of my own tunes all night, and the other ones…you know like the old sound systems where someone plays something that they can’t play back to you, that’s how I’m trying to operate. I’m using reverbs, delays and samplers, I’m doing like a live dub show.

So you’ve been making beats with young producers?
Mala did some things for me, but he’s been off in Cuba, he did that really good EP, which I think is really good doing things like that. Pinch has been down a lot lately cutting tunes, we’ve been doing an album together that sounds…I’ll be dropping a load of that on Friday. He’s already great, I love Rob, he’s really talented.

His role in Bristol’s bass culture is undeniable.
It’s really funny because his brother was a big U-Sound fan, some of the first things he ever heard was like early U-Sound records. Rob’s really nice, he invited me on a night and we got on really well, and he’s been down here a couple of times. We’ve wrote something really fucking good to be honest, so we’re both very excited by it. If I’m working with someone of that calibre: young, really intelligent and open minded, that’s what I love. I’m getting older and I’ve got a lot to bring to the table and till the day I drop, unless I get even more dementia that I’ve already got, I’ll be pumping out good tunes. I still feel highly competitive in the level like I want to put something out that makes people go, ‘oh wow, what’s that? where did that come from?’ And I want to hear tunes that make me feel like that, so it’s not like I haven’t got the enthusiasm or love for things, I want to progress and embrace the new things. All the new stuff suits me down to the ground: bass heavy, minor-major-minor kind of stuff… wonderful.

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Adrian Sherwood is set to play a Rough Trade East instore on Thursday (August 16th, 7-8pm).

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