Various Artists
Two Culture Clash

By Masta G

 
The concept behind Wall of Sound's helpfully titled Two Culture Clash is that of collaboration and cross fertilisation between UK-based dance music producers and Jamaica's leading DJs (MCs) and singers. The producers involved visited the Caribbean to meet and work with the vocalists. This collaborative emphasis, involving genuine dialogue between different musical cultures, immediately sets the music apart from productions which simply sample or reference Jamaican music, appropriating it for their own ends. It also seems like a belated acknowledgement by the globally dominant UK dance culture that some of the most progressive and creative electronic dance music in the world originates in Jamaica (to say nothing of what club/rave culture generally owes to the precedent of reggae sound systems).

David Katz's slightly gushing liner notes do bring some much needed historical context to the project, drawing attention to the prevalence of Jamaican forms and practises in contemporary European music. He traces the dance remix back to the idea of the 'version' which is so fundamental to reggae music and locates the origin of modern studio techniques in the work of producers like Lee Perry and King Tubby. As he comments, 'there is ample room for creative exchange or cultural misunderstanding when two sonic worlds collide' – the album offers evidence of both.

Opening track and first single How Do You Love, produced by Jon Carter and featuring Patra and Danny English suffers from some house inflected production and the presence of the stereotypical ragga beat beloved of English producers. Yorkshireman Jacques Lu Cont, by contrast, fuels a Degree lyric (...And Dance) and a wicked Degree/Cecile combination (Na Na Na Na) with imaginative beats which approach the dancehall aesthetic in their pared down minimalism while never trying naively to reproduce Jamaican styles. The handclaps and tearing 303 line of Na Na Na Na give Cecile and Degree the chance to really set it off with their quick fire toasting. On Love Guide, up-and-coming star Ms Thing (of 'I wanna dude with the wickedest slam' fame) lends her harsh yet seductive tones to an imaginative effort from Switch, whose riddim seems to hint at ragga, house and breaks with only a minimum of effort. Again, it is a certain economy in the production which makes this stand out from the other dancehall-oriented tunes. Similarly, Ole sees producer City Hi-Fi (the Dub Pistols' Jason O'Bryan) combine with the criminally underrated Bling Dawg to good effect. City Hi-Fi has already proved his credentials with releases on UK bashment label Jamdown and his riddim for Two Culture Clash takes in a haunting steel drum sound and a warm, reverberating bass line which Bling Dawg rides fluently. Offerings which involve Tanya Stephens and Barrington Levy are surprisingly disappointing, given that both vocalists could carry almost any tune.

Of the reggae oriented tunes, the Horace Andy/Howie B collaboration is a let down, with Howie B producing a cold and unimaginative take on dub science, which sounds more like Massive Attack on an off day than any kind of worthwhile interaction. West London Deep, however, comes out with an exuberant, skanking reggae tune (Rudie No), featuring some catchy brass and an uplifting anti-bad man lyric from veteran toaster Big Youth. The final track is another rootsical reggae excursion (Save Me) which feels like a Jamaican production, featuring more brass, the legendary Ernest Ranglin on guitar and an anthemic vocal from singer Nadine Sutherland. This effort from producer Justin Robertson is more of a tribute to reggae music than a clash with it but is all the better for it and ends the album on an uplifting note.

The irritatingly smug video of the Wall Of Sound trip to Jamaica and the controversy surrounding the publication of Banksy's photograph by a Jamaican photographer who clearly wasn't feeling their approach either didn't seem to bode well for this ambitious project. But the results stand up well and the album successfully takes in everything from the most hardcore bashment sounds to the sweetest reggae, largely managing to tread the fine line between imitation and ignorance with some style. Forget the overblown 'culture clash' rhetoric – what the project really shows is the value of getting musicians from different disciplines face to face in the studio
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