Ground breaking UK label ON-U Sound released Volume 6 of their Pay It All Back series in 1996. Twenty-three years later, they are poised to release Volume 7.
ON-U were born in the collision between Reggae and Punk. Driven by Dub`s limitless possibilities, and anti-establishment to the core. While the Pay It All Back compilations were on the one hand, low-priced samplers, intended on rewarding the imprint`s fanbase, they were also a comment on institutionalized economic inequality and corruption. Their title lifted from William S. Burroughs` Last Words Of Hassan Sabbah. A demand to rectify the fact that, in 1984, when the series began, 7% of the Earth’s population owned 84% of the wealth. Now, it`s more like 3% with 95%, and the outrage continues to be articulated on Volume 7, with songs such as One Law For The Rich (“another one for the poor”).
The Pay It All Back albums have always served as showcases for the talents of the ON-U collective. Presenting highlights from individual artist LPs. Hopefully piquing listeners` interest to the point of investigating further. Again, Volume 7 is no different. Since 2015, ON-U, in collaboration with WARP, have embarked on an extensive reissue program. Repressing the bulk of their 80s catalogue. Now that the World has finally caught up. More relevant today than it was yesterday, the sound of ON-U echoes in every bass-driven musical mutation this century has to offer. Proving how forward thinking the collective were / are. Volume 7 is a statement, demonstrating that the ON-U studios have been far from dormant while those reissues have been waking and shaking folks. The ranks of veteran singers and players, and survivors, bolstered by a crew of new recruits. New rhythms. New words. Still “disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed”. Rehab-ed. Regrouped. Revitalised. Ready for battle. Re-entering the fight.
Lee Scratch Perry opens proceedings. Reminding us that music is like a child. The value of both nature and nurture. This wisdom emerging from an “ambience” of stuttering machines, spinback feedback, and metallic disturbance.
Roots Manuva then leads a crooked Hip Hop march. Steering militant through inner city dread. “Digital voodoo.” Recounting a life lived on wits. In for the long haul, playing rope-a-dope, against steel gamelan fragments. Knocking you off your feet with one-inch punches, like Mr. Lee, while Doug Wimbish delivers some Tackhead class Rock.
Dub vacuum traps melodica in a soundscape, somehow spare, stripped, and yet dense, claustrophobic. As if each element were exploded, and the listener placed at the eye of the resulting storm. Where rhythms seem subtracted. Present as spectres, and threat. The sub-bass genetic. Part of urban DNA.
Horace Andy steps up with a new take on his Mr. Bassie. A timeless eulogy to the escape afforded in maternal, womb-like bottom end. Originally produced by Everton Da Silva for Coxsone Dodd`s Studio One in the late 70s. Discomix-ed I think by the then “Prince” Jammy. Versioned by Augustus Pablo. The ON-U update twisting rimshots into lightning, and thunder, claps.
The tune War is sung in Arabic, and Japanese. Encouraging you to check the situation. Flip it, and view it from another’s perspective. Asking you to be open to the idea that you might be mis-informed. Asking you to be open to the idea that you might be wrong. As the jet-fighters roar, and automatic weapons fire, and you watch it all on LiveLeak.
Lee “Scratch” Perry captains an African Starship. His tired but sweet sage-ness dodging bass detonations. Taking calm, confident footsteps through a minefield (an asteroid belt?). Meditating on mankind’s path. His loyal machines, weary but steadfast, assisting his ascendance. The Black Ark, Kingston, JA, just a memory, a story, as he repatriates to the stars.
Ghost Heart borrows the physical heft of Dubstep, while reigning in any showy excess. Its melancholy Satie-esque piano, its angelic vocal, and earthquake rumble, recalling the classic “Bristol Sound”. A Hymn Of The Big Wheel. Kinda bringing the ON-U story full circle. From Mark Stewart to Smith & Mighty to Massive Attack to current co-conspirator, Pinch.
Neptune Version runs backwards. Referencing Creation Rebel`s seminal Sci-Fi dancehall. Distortion ringing into the infinite. Sampled modern corporate babble accompanied by Blues harp.
LSK`s Fake Days, a successor to Gary Clail`s End Of The Century Party, draws a line in the asphalt. Demands “Which side are you on?” Replacing Clail`s enemy, corrupt City bankers and privatized air, with an epidemic. A populace hooked on SNS. A drug that dilutes information. Rendering it worthless. Making truth impossible to find. History reduced to a Wikipedia entry. Knowledge swapped for a smart phone. Where “believe half of what you see, and none of what you read” has become, only trust what you can touch.
Congo Natty heads a rude boy charge against Babylon. Set to Rave sirens and Jungle time-stretch. Fellow veteran, Mark Stewart, by contrast sounds beaten. Favour finding him wasted, blasted, high out in inner space. “Enjoying” an after hours lap dance. Submitting to the 21st Century’s black-light lit, numbing excess.
African Head Charge change the mood with a Highlife lilt. The woodwinds and horns of Colombia`s Los Gaiteros De San Jacinto, Little Axe`s harmonica and bottleneck guitar, are blown into haunting Americana dust. Ex-Beefheart / Magic Band member Gary Lucas` Hawaiian slide submitted to Dub-Syndicated-SFX. Japan’s Nisenenmondai`s A is a brain-bending, trance-inducing, frantic Motorik itch that can’t be scratched. Cymbals flying like unidentified objects sucked towards the velocity of a runaway bullet train. An audio vortex of notes trapped and refracted. Squeezed and smashed.
2 Bad Card, Daddy Freddy, Junior Delgado, Dubiterian, Ghetto Priest, and LSK, all comment on the Capitalist slave circus, in which we are expected to perform. But in answer to this dark documentation, the album closes with a plea for positivity. Coldcut & Roots Manuva`s rousing, sing-a-long, Beat Your Chest.
“When you live your life with decency, you live your life with no regret.”
You know what’s right and wrong.
“Invest in betterness.”
Pay It All Back Volume 7 can be purchased in all formats from Bleep.