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Since forming the seminal On-U Sound label in 1979, London’s Adrian Sherwood has been one of the dub world’s most storied figures. He’s worked with such seminal names as Lee “Scratch” Perry, helped bring dub to new audiences by producing or remixing everyone from Pop Will Eat Itself and Einstürzende Neubauten to Depeche Mode and Sinéad O’Connor, made several amazing solo albums and generally been one of dub’s leading agent provocateurs. Bristol, U.K.’s Rob “Pinch” Ellis hasn’t been around nearly as long as Sherwood—his first recordings date from the mid-’00s—but the Tectonic label honcho is one of the top producers and DJs to push dubstep (and bass music in general) into unexplored territories. The pair began working together this summer under the name Sherwood & Pinch, releasing the EP Bring Me Weed and performing at festivals in Europe and Asia. As part of the Dub Champions Festival, the duo is bringing its live set to Cielo on Monday, September 23 for an intimate, echo-heavy session at the Deep Space party. TONY recently caught up with the groundbreaking producers for separate interviews; to prep you for the big night, give a listen to an amazing Sherwood & Pinch set recorded live off the mixing desk at a recent rehearsal session.
Time Out New York: Had you known much about Pinch’s work before you started working together?
Adrian Sherwood: Well, he’s quite a bit younger than me, of course. He’s working in a very DJ-based world, playing off his vinyl dubplates. So to be honest with you, I just knew the name and I knew a couple of tracks. But I was aware of how important he was, and how people were citing him as such a big influence in this last decade. After we eventually met, I became much more exposed to what he was doing.
Time Out New York: And delving into his music a bit more is what led you to want to work with him?
Adrian Sherwood: Oh, yeah. Hearing someone’s music firsthand is a bit different than just getting a glimpse of something in a club.
Time Out New York: Had you generally been aware of what was going on in the dubstep and bass-music worlds?
Adrian Sherwood: I knew those couple of Pinch tunes, and I had a few Mala tunes. And there were a few things from Loefah, the Moody Boyz, Horsepower Productions and some of the other ones that came on early in that scene as well. But with Pinch, his brother had been a fan of mine—which I guess is how he knew about me—and I ended up playing at one of his gigs. We realized that we had a lot in common, and that’s how we ended up working together.
Time Out New York: You’ve said in the past that you see parallels between what you were doing back in the ’80s and what dubstep and bass-music producers were doing much later on.
Adrian Sherwood: Yeah, that’s true. A lot of these newer people are basically operating like sound systems. Like, if I play a show on my own, easily 50 percent of what I play will be my own productions, old and new; 25 percent will be classic roots or very rare cuts that will keep an elitist crowd happy, but which will work well alongside contemporary recordings; the other 25 percent will be stuff I’ve gotten off of other people, like Pinch, that I’ve worked with or have some connection with. That’s basically how the old Jamaican sound systems operated as well. And it’s just like that now with some of these newer artists.
Time Out New York: You’ve been involved with scores of collaborations over the years, and Pinch has done quite a few of them as well. What draws you to working with other artists?
Adrian Sherwood: It’s basically because I’m not a musician! [Laughs] Pinch is much more of a musician than I am, for instance. I’ve traditionally worked with six or seven musicians at a time, and served to steer the direction that I wanted the recordings to go. Collaborating for me is absolutely essential; I’m not someone like Mike Oldfield, who does absolutely everything. I like to bounce off of proper players. What I play is the mixing desk, and I do quite a bit of writing and producing.
Time Out New York: What do you and Pinch each bring to the table when you work together?
Adrian Sherwood: We complement each other really well, I think. He’s out deejaying pretty much every weekend, and I think he’s a lot more contemporary than I am, as far as grooves go. I’ve got the vintage thing going on, and I think it fits really well. Put together, it makes for a good cake.
Time Out New York: What do you think accounts for the enduring appeal of dub?
Adrian Sherwood: There’s more warmth and space in dub, more than in any other music. It’s uncluttered, yet if it’s a good production, people can hear things that aren’t even there. It’s perfect listening music, and it’s also perfect music for transporting yourself. It can take you on a little trip without being stoned. It almost paints a picture in your head. It works on so many levels. And it sounds really great on a big system.
Time Out New York: Pinch, I assume you were familiar with Adrian’s rather large body of work before entering into this venture, correct?
Pinch: I was first introduced to Adrian’s music by my brother, who’s 13 years older than me. When I was a little kid, I used to go sit in his room and listen to his records. When he went off to university, he got all these tapes of various bits and bobs that I enjoyed, music from [the Sherwood-led] Dub Syndicate and things like that. So I actually grew up listening to Adrian’s music as a result of my brother being a fan. It’s perhaps the only music that I can say that I’m still into from age ten up.
Time Out New York: So it must have been quite exciting to have the chance to work together.
Pinch: Definitely. The opportunity came about because of a regular Tectonic label night that I host at Fabric in London.
Time Out New York: You did a FabricLive mix-CD for the club a few years back, right?
Pinch: That’s correct. The opportunity for Adrian to play one of the Tectonic nights came about. That’s where we met, though we didn’t really get the chance to talk very much. But Adrian kindly invited me to an On-U Sound show in Paris, where we spent a bit more time chatting. That’s when we kind of decided to join forces and put together some dubplates, mashing together some of my tunes with some of the bits and pieces from his catalog. I went up to Ramsgate, which is where he’s based now, spent a few days working with him, and halfway through the second day, we had already advanced far beyond what we had planned on doing. We had started to put together new things. I said, “So what’s going on now, then?” He just turned to me and said, “I think we’re doing an album.” [Laughs] Everything has just progressed from those couple of days, really.
Time Out New York: Wasn’t the first fruit of your collaboration on his Recovery Time EP, which came out earlier this year?
Pinch: Yeah, I reworked one of the tracks on that release. But really, even though that was the first thing that came out, we had actually done a lot together before that happened. Recovery Time was music taken from his Survival & Resistance record, which I thought was a great album. I was very honored to put my hand to it.
Time Out New York: You said before that you listened to a lot of Adrian’s music when you were quite young. Do you think that had much influence on the music you create on your own?
Pinch: Absolutely. I think anything you listen to ends up being either an overt influence or a subtle one. You can’t get away from the influence of what you hear growing up; it’s always going to be prevalent in your formative stages. And I think On-U Sound and Adrian’s other work has had a big influence. I always liked the way that he always kind of sat outside everything. His music was left-field; it wasn’t some ultrapurist, orthodox form of dub. I loved the way he would often mash in radio interference and samples from random-seeming things. I liked the space he was in and the kind of energy his music had. His sound is very thought-provoking, in a way.
Time Out New York: That might be something you have in common. Adrian has always seemed willing to ignore the constraints of the dub-reggae genre and do his own thing; it seems like you were doing the same thing with dubstep back when you started in the mid-’00s, when you were releasing tracks like “Qawwali” and “One Blood, Once Source.”
Time Out New York: Well, the way I see it is a bit flipped. [Laughs] In those early days, I think dubstep actually was a very free and experimental kind of scene to be a part of. Since then, of course, that scene has become a lot more rigid, with greater adherence to a template. But I do appreciate them saying that, and at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that the most important person you should seek to impress is yourself. And it’s also important to keep moving. If you stick to the same thing for too long, you’ll know it inside out, but where’s the excitement in that? Where’s the surprise?
Time Out New York: Both you and Adrian are known for your collaborations. What is it about working with others that excites you?
Pinch: Traditionally, music has been made by more than one person; in a group, people kind of vibe off each other. There is something very special about carving a sound on your own and it being your own thing. But there is a lot to be said about working with people you connect with. If you’ve got two sets of finely tuned ears picking out potential problems in a track or whatever it may be, chances are the track will end up being twice as sturdy. Also, I just love working with people. A lot of the people I work with are friends of mine, and it’s nice to just hang out in a studio and make some music with them. It’s not a bad life.
Time Out New York: By all accounts, Adrian is a good guy to be hanging out with.
Pinch: Oh, he’s great company. He’s got an absolutely twisted and sick sense of humor.
Time Out New York: Can you tell me what your live set consists of?
Pinch: Adrian likes to describe it as essentially building a studio onstage. Specifically, I’m running tracks, loops and sounds from Ableton, using a controller. That’s then broken up into separate parts and sent through a sound card to Adrian’s desk, so he’s got all these separate channels: kick, snare, hi-hat and so forth, all the way up. He then has all the sends and returns set up with all of his favorite toys—delays and reverbs units, mainly. We both have MIDI drum pads, loaded up with various different sounds, things like percussive hits, vocal samples and drum loops. Adrian also has a CDJ with a two-minute phasing sound effect, which he uses to flash in and out with the delays, which creates a nice effect.
Time Out New York: Sounds pretty complicated!
Pinch: There is a lot going on, a lot of resources to draw from.
Time Out New York: Do you think the sound of Sherwood & Pinch fall somewhere in the middle of your individual styles, or is the sum more than the parts?
Pinch: I think the latter. The outcome of us working together is quite energized, and I would say that there’s something quite psychedelic that comes from it. There’s a real rich texture of my sounds and Adrian’s sounds. Obviously, Adrian’s got the ear of a master, so it’s all tweaked for punishing bass. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: What do you think accounts for the enduring appeal of dub?
Pinch: There are multiple levels of engagement with dub, and it varies from person to person. But I was actually thinking about an aspect of this recently, and I think that the use of reverb in a creative way, as it was first done with dub, creates an imaginary sonic space. It’s because of the way our brains understands reverb. It’s sort of a mythical place. It’s a comfortable place to visit; it lives in its own room in a parallel universe. Personally, I think one of the most remarkable things about dub, as a style and an approach to music, is that it strips things back to their most essential parts. It really encourages the listener to listen. With so many forms of music, the production is so busy and there’s so much going on. For your average listener, to pick out any one sound is quite an effort. But dub is a way of giving it to you on a plate, and saying, “Hey, this snare is just great on its own. Don’t you get something from listening to this alone? Have you ever really listened to a snare?” It teaches you to listen.
Deep Space: Dub Champions Festival with Sherwood & Pinch is at Cielo Monday, September 23.
Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum