Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Gentle Genie

By Dave Chamberlain

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  If Jim O'Rourke reigns as the high priest of Chicago music production magic, then Adrian Sherwood is the god to which all the world's studio wizards should pray. He's best-known in the states for helping Al Jourgenesen radically change musical directions as the producer of Ministry's landmark "Twitch," and as part of Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System, a collective of musicians whose five recordings helped industrial music forge ahead in the mid- to late-eighties. Sherwood also gained name recognition in America as the only constant figure in the New Age Steppers, a synthetic, electronic mishmash of reggae, dub and No Wave that crunched out five records between 1980 and 1983.

On December 9 Sherwood will play Chicago, marking his first trip to the States in more than five years. Speaking from his home in England, Sherwood says the tour fulfills a long-time desire to "get back to the U.S., play some shows and see people whom I haven't seen in years." The Double Door appearance is one of only ten shows for Sherwood in the Lower 48, after which he will play a date in Honolulu and move on the Asia. "I had hoped to tour with Metelheadz some time ago," Sherwood explains, "but my family and obligations in England made it too difficult."

Sherwood rarely plays the part of musician, instead preferring to produce, mix and engineer bands he takes under his seasoned wings. This time, Sherwood brings along Audio Active, a Sherwood-produced, sound/dub experimental outfit from Japan. He met them when he was in Tokyo, where one of the AA members was working for a friend of his. "They're fucking great," Sherwood says. "Like Mickey Mouse on acid, but very dark and very heavy. Being Japanese, I think, held them back. Like, since they are from Japan they're supposed to be weird. But I think they're great. In fact, part of the reason I'm coming to the States is to help them find an American distributor."

Mickey Mouse on acid actually underestimates the bizarro world of Audio Active. The band's "Apollo Choco" (Massive/On-U Sound) integrates a circus-like sound with mixing-board madness. At times Audio Active runs an industrial course, as on the choppy "Robot War" -- but instead of a distortion box on top of the vocals, the band uses dub cadence. In fact, a strong dub/reggae/Caribbean influence permeates all the effects and electronic experimentation, raising the high-water mark for experimental mixes of dub, reggae and electronic sound manipulation. The slow Caribbeat of "Coolness in My Foolishness," mixed with echoes of dub-subtle sound effects in the background, has a soothing effect along the lines of ambient acid jazz.

Having spent so much time developing electronic music over the last twenty years, Sherwood is glad to see its popularity resurgent. "There are a lot of good acts out there, doing interesting things. Prodigy is fantastic live. They're so energetic, its like digital punk rock. Globally also, there are some good noise bands, like Atari Teenage Riot."

Although he helped build the foundations of electronic music, Sherwood has produced more reggae and dub records than any other kind. He's even worked with the forefather of dub, Lee "Scratch" Perry, on a number of occasions, producing the essential "Time Bomb." "Not to sound arrogant," he says, "but I'm an expert on reggae and dub."

Sherwood has been so prolific and has worked on so many records he's proud of, that he can't even name the single project he enjoyed the most. "Oh God," he starts. "I've made so many good records, I could never single out one. The Lee Perry records were all great, the work with Mark Stewart and Mafia. Some of the Tackhead stuff. Dub Syndicate put out some great work. Also the African Headcharge records. It's just too hard to narrow down."

Although Sherwood once said he'd never be a freelance producer, he admits, "At present, I'm a gun for hire." In addition to working with Audio Active, in the past year he's done engineering work with Simply Red, helped Blur cut its newest single, and worked with Primal Scream, a band he's as high on as Audio Active. During our half-hour conversation, he repeatedly mentions that Primal Scream's "Echodeck" is worth finding on import.

So what kind of stage presence can you expect from an artist who made his name behind the mixing board? "The show will consist of Audio Active playing a live set first," he says. "You Americans seem to like bands, so I thought we'd have a band. After that, the rest of the show will me and the boys DJing the rest of the night. I make no promises but one threat: I'm not going to hurt anyone, it'll be a gentle set."

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