Instigated, initiated, as a live performance back in July, The Pop Group`s Y In Dub is now coming at ya, albeit for the minute only digitally, today. The original Y, released in 1979 on small indie imprint, Radar, is one of those albums that you have to have heard, or ideally own. A defining statement in the “post-punk” canon, who’s only real counterpart is The Slits` debut, Cut. These are two impossibly influential pieces of vinyl. Cited by everyone from Big Black to Nirvana, Primal Scream, and Sonic Youth, as sources of inspiration. Nick Cave is quoted as saying that catching a Pop Group gig changed his life forever, and you can hear Y all over the incendiary Birthday Party and The Bad Seed`s From Her To Eternity. Y in particular is the embodiment of punk`s promise to not just to deconstruct, but destroy, rock.
Both Y and Cut were recorded during the same spring / summer at the Ridgefarm Studios, in Rusper, in Sussex. Industry legend, Richard “Dick” O`Dell, managed the two bands, and his role, his vision, can`t be understated, but more importantly both records were produced by Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell. Blackbeard without a doubt – there can be no argument about it – is the mage / maverick who created, gave form to, the whole concept of “post-punk-dub”. The only other person in with a shout is ON-U Sound`s Adrian Sherwood, who was also integral to those Slits` sessions. The Pop Group`s Mark Stewart, of course, went on to become Sherwood’s close friend and collaborator – a powerful, political voice deep within the ON-U family. His co-Pop Groupers – Gareth Sager, Bruce Smith, Simon Underwood, and John Waddington – certainly were no slouches either. When The PG split in 1981 they formed important bands of their own – Maximum Joy, Pig Bag, Rip, Rig, And Panic – nurtured new talent – Nena Cherry, Nelle Hooper – and helped shape “The Bristol Sound”. Paving the way for artists such as Tricky, Smith & Mighty, Portishead, and Massive Attack.
As important as it is, Y was never intended to be an easy listen, and trust me, it ain`t. This new reworking, once again with Bovell at the board, however is immeasurably more accessible. This may, in part, be due to the fact that in 1979 tracks like Thief Of Fire were totally unprecedented, while in 2021 the “dub aesthetic” is everywhere, and “abstract beats” are, well, just abstract beats. That said, Y In Dub is still far from common place. By focusing on the bass, giving it more space, Dennis forces the funk to the fore.
Mark still screams like a man possessed. Barking out Burroughs-ian slogans – sometimes recalling fellow urban shaman, John Balance, of Coil – to a soundtrack of slapped, and scratched, tortured, electric strings – his echoed outbursts now expanded into a wall of voodoo – while Bruce’s drum battery is doubled in delay. Untutored horns honk, a jazz skronk, circling, orbiting, set free of any kind of convention or gravity. Perhaps owing as much to Steve Mackay blowing The Stooges` Fun House down, as the raw, revolutionary playing of Albert Ayler. On Blood Money, they’re a ringer for The Master Musicians Of Joujouka`s ancient reeds.
By shaking the tracks down to their bare syncopation, the set`s still mad, angry, but more dynamic. The subverted surf theme of We Are Time now resembles Ruts DC colliding with the mighty Mad Professor. Having Bovell return to the mixing desk adds to the music’s improvisational edge. In beatless moments bringing out Satie-esque piano and pattering percussion, beatnik bongos, to accompany Mark`s poetry. For example the dark, tribal, Jon Hassell-esque Amazonian ambience of Boys From Brazil, which surrounds Stewart’s Tarzan hollers.
The new In Dub package also includes takes on The Pop Group`s seminal second single, She Is Beyond Good And Evil / 3`38, which originally preceded Y by a month, in March `79. Both songs finally get the extended “disco-mix” that they’ve always deserved. The former rings righteously as reverb feeds back on itself – spinning wonderful whirlpools of sound – while on the latter devastating dub-wise washes crash and corrupt its Liquid Liquid-esque, elemental combo of snares, triangle, cowbell – stick on skin, stick on stick, stick on metal. On these final two tracks Bovell certainly seems to be having fun. Pumping the rhythm, jumping on the mic, cutting in, and calling for the rewind. Honestly, if the OG was a genre-defining benchmark, a template that countless others continue to aspire to, well here it eclipses, surpasses, itself.
The Pop Group & Dennis Bovell`s Y In Dub is released, digitally, today on Mute. All physical formats can be pre-ordered here.