BASS IS MATERNAL: Rob Smith in the Sound Arena
BY ANDY G, Roots and Wires Sound Dimensional
“For me, dub is about the combinations and the omissions… hard and soft, rough and smooth, and also about the space in between sounds.”
Music on my sound system in the here and now:
Smith & Mighty’s first full-length album, BASS IS MATERNAL.
With each pulse, each hi-hat rewound and rerubbed, each sliver of keyboard omitted and reintroduced in between the constant heartbeat of a dubwise bassline, the boundary between me and the sub-frequencies entering my ears and body is diminished. I have entered an all-encompassing womb of sound…BASS IS MATERNAL. WHEN IT IS LOUD I FEEL SAFER…Believe…
In the realm of sounds and blues, Rob Smith, founding member of Bristol beat makers Smith & Mighty, Blue & Red, and More Rockers reigns supreme. Born out of the rich musical firmament of the early 1980s Bristol U.K. scene, Rob Smith cultivated his now distinctive sound through endless experimentation with old reel-to-reel tape recorders. Slowly but surely, Rob began making loops and playing sounds through echo pedals.
Given the dub reggae foundation on which his sound has been forged it is no surprise that Rob also cultivated his skills by playing rhythm guitar for early Bristol reggae band, Restriction. During this time his band shared the stage in support of many a roots reggae stalwart. He did the Rasta Serenade along side Aswad. He did the Herbsman Hustle on the same bill as Sugar Minott. He recorded for the mighty Mad Professor at Ariwa Studios.
All the while Rob soaked in the vibes of roots reggae sound systems: Jah Shaka, Jah Tubbys, too many to mention. Dub like dirt. Musical dispensation. Heartical revelation.
Around 1985 he met up with Ray Mighty. On discovering that they had a similar interest in synchronizing beat machines, synths and sound effects, the untrained pair began producing their own sound based on hip hop beats, dub reggae treatments and sixties melodies. Smith & Mighty was born.
In late 1987, on their own Three Stripe Records label, Smith & Mighty produced and released ‘Anyone,’ a bass driven cover version of Burt Bacharachs ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart.’ After their follow up underground hit ‘Walk On By,’ the pair took on a string of productions including Massive Attack’s debut single ’Any Love’, and top ten hit ’Wishing on a Star’ for The Fresh Four who’s members included the young DJ’s Krust and Suv. Since those heady days Smith & Mighty have released three albums, the aforementioned "Bass is Maternal," "Big World, Small World," and "Life is..." as well as contributing to K!7 record's longstanding "DJ Kicks" series.
I was first exposed to the revelatory sounds of Rob Smith’s productions via the foundational drum & bass junglist “Dubplate Selection: Volume 1.” Released on Smith and company’s very own MRR (More Rockers Records) imprint, “Dubplate Selection: Volume 1” represents one of the finest mixes of wicked ragga junglist basslines, atmospheric and soulful lyrics, and tough-like-lead dubwise reggae samples. When a tune like “Selector,” with its Jah Tubby’s sample hits one’s ears the debate need not continue. “Selector him good. Selector him Wise.” More Rockers runs proper junglist vibes. Unsurprisingly, Smith has carried the More Rockers sound far and wide with Volume 2 of the series coming on Select Cuts Records out of Germany and Volume 3 featured on Japanese imprint Rush Productions. Also not to be missed is the compilation "Select Cuts From More Rockers 12 Inch Selection," a set of dub, drum & bass cuts originally released as singles on the MRR label.
The next brick that the builders of pop culture refused but that caught my curious ear, the mid-1990s underground and shamelessly overlooked digital roots masterpiece from Rob Smith collaborators Henry & Louis entitled “Rudiments,” brought me deeper into Smith’s sonic fold. Whereas Smith & Mighty’s soul inflected, dub inspired breakbeats and More Rockers dubwise jungle meet somewhere between a Jah Shaka session at Digwall’s and a Soul II Soul dance at the Africa Centre, Henry & Louis is pure roots dub tailored for those that champion the next generation UK digital roots reggae sounds such as Manasseh, Iration Steppas, and Aba Shanti I. Seek this one out at all costs. One for the steppers crew.
Born out of the same collaboration, Rob Smith/Blue & Red and Henry & Louis released “Time Will Tell” on the now sadly defunct Portland based BSI records in the early 2000s. Once again, roots reggae was the sonic glue. Recorded in both Jamaica and the U.K., “Time Will Tell” was another digital roots scorcher replete with guest vocalists such as Johnny Clarke, Tony Tuff, Willi Williams, and Tippa Irie. Keeping up his strong connection to the Japanese dub/reggae/breakbeat scene Smith released the dub companion to “Time Will Tell” on the Japanese Rush Productions imprint.
More recently, Rob’s passion for bass and dub treatments has been evident on his solo album projects ’Up On The Downs’ and ’In One Way Or Another.’ Continuing in the same vein as Smith & Mighty, these two full-length sets represent a mix of breakbeat, dub, soul, and hip-hop.
Year 2007 has seen Rob unsurprisingly moving from strength to strength. So far this year Rob has released two breakbeat dub twelve inch singles on the Functional label entitled ‘Give Love’ and ‘Loveage.’ Likewise, he has entered the dubstep realm via the new Bristol dubstep label Punch Drunk. This time, working under the nom de beat, RSD, the tunes ‘Dub Corner’ and ‘Pretty Bright Light’ are serious entries into the “Best of 2007” category. Never one to rest long, Rob will also be releasing a new heavyweight dub track named ’Kingfisher’ on Earwax along with ‘Firewall’ on the Dub Related imprint. Rob is also busy making remixes for UK digital roots crew Zion Train, UB40, and Japanese outfits Antennasia and Rub-A-Dub Market.
Currently deejaying all over the globe from London’s ‘Fabric’ to Tokyo’s ’Club Yellow’, Rob drops a combination of reggae, breaks, dub step and drum and bass. He will also be playing guitar with Bristol ten-piece band Dub From Atlantis at this year's Glastonbury Festival. The long standing UK festival will also see him once again join with Ray Mighty as one-half of Smith & Mighty.
…But hold tight… Before you start booking your flights for Europe’s premiere summer music fest you can see the mighty Rob Smith live in his first San Francisco appearance in over five years.
The STATELESS crew (Michael K, Andy G, and Special Agent K) are proud to present Rob Smith at the Rickshaw Stop on June 8th. Featured along side Rob Smith will be The Worker and Roots and Wires Sound Dimensional dropping the very best in outernational beats. Check this link for more info. Reach early. Stay late. Miss it at your own peril.