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V/A - Chainstore Massacre

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Artist: V/A

Album: Chainstore Massacre

Label: On-U Sound

Review date: Jan. 29, 2003

Post-Colonial Dance Party

The On-U label has been a fertile breeding ground for dubcentric innovations since its first album release, 1981's self-titled debut by post-punk "supergroup" the New Age Steppers. Featuring members of the Slits, the Roots Radics, the Pop Group, and Aswad, that record's cross-pollination of punk experimentation and dub mapped out the innovative, culturally exciting territory the label would cover in coming years. Indeed, subsequent On-U releases by artists like African Head Charge, Mark Stewart, and Dub Syndicate contributed a strikingly diverse soundtrack to post-punk, post-colonial Britain.

Label founder Adrian Sherwood has, of course, been crucial to the equation. His production wizardry with everyone from the toasting ex-scaffolder Gary Clail and heavyweight industrial funksters Tackhead to reggae legends like Lee "Scratch" Perry has expanded the already expanded horizons of dub. Sherwood's distinctive hybridizing approach across myriad On-U projects in the '80s alone influenced and inspired the burgeoning electronic dance musics of the '90s and beyond.

Still, things have been relatively quiet on the On-U Sound front since the late '90s as Sherwood has busied himself with live dub DJing and hired-gun production/remixing duties away from the label. In 2002, however, On-U issued its first new release in several years (Little Axe's Hard Grind) and, to coincide with the relaunching of the label, Sherwood decided to put out a near-giveaway-priced sampler in the tradition of the earlier Pay It All Back series. Chainstore Massacre is that album and it features largely new material by artists currently working with Sherwood.

No On-U sampler would be complete without the participation of some of the usual suspects. Chainstore Massacre doesn't disappoint on that count. Dub Syndicate's "It's Blessed" serves up a mellow, smoky groove and 2 Bad Card (a.k.a. Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie) contributes the hypnotic, sample-laced "Noise Polluters." On-U's resident axe-man Skip McDonald is also well-represented here by Hard Grind's "One Drop Blues," a dark, swampy instrumental woven through with haunting melodica.

Rock's last true dissident, Mark Stewart only seems to release a record every four years or so and, by the sound of the work in progress included here, his next album should be worth the wait. He's never been known for his subtlety and "The Lunatics Are Taking over the Asylum" is an epic, over-the-top soundclash in vintage Stewart style with heavy-metal guitar, ocean-trawling bass, punishing beats, and trademark bull-horn vocals.

Old stalwarts notwithstanding, Chainstore Massacre introduces several newer faces, as well as some higher profile, first-time On-U contributors. Driven by tablas and an earth-moving bassline, Asian Dub Foundation's mesmerizing, pulsing "Cyberabad" is one of the standouts on this album. Not far behind is Sinéad O'Connor's collaboration with Skip McDonald, a version of Pablo Moses' "My Love I Bring." Taken from the forthcoming Little Axe album, this track sets O'Connor's beautiful voice amid an atmospheric dub groove with Celtic nuances.

While Kiwi newcomers Salmonella Dub impress with the bass-heavy "Push on Thru," the odd-man-out on this collection is Irish rapper Rí Rá (formerly of Scary Eire). His gangsta-style "25 O'Clock" falls somewhere between the House of Pain and Manchester United's Roy Keane ranting after a red card. It's by no means a weak track, but it seems to draw more on novelty value than originality.

As an introduction to the On-U Sound roster or as a foretaste of some upcoming Adrian Sherwood-related releases – or if you're just an incorrigible On-U completist – Chainstore Massacre is well worth the price (under $10 US).

By Wilson Neate

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