British producer Adrian Sherwood was the only constant in the New Age Steppers, an ever-changing jam session that included members of the Slits, Public Image, Rip Rig + Panic, Raincoats and the Pop Group. The records are a wild melting pot of synthesized post-rock and reggae, transmuted through dub studio techniques. In practical terms, that amounts to variations on a theme or, more accurately, a rhythm. Everything is built on top of a slow, steady reggae pulse, but what’s heaped on varies from electronic no wave noise to pretty, melodic singing. It’s weird, but occasionally very nice, and consistently unpredictable.
New Age Steppers varies widely, from entrancing to repulsive, with lots of synthesizer babble and overlong dub mixes. A few of the songs stand out, but it’s an effect they’re reaching for, not hit singles, so you take the whole package, not bits and pieces. Intriguing, if not entirely successful.
Action Battlefield (repackaged, along with the first LP, on the cassette-only Crucial 90) is much better — more organized and song-oriented. Ari of the Slits sings lead on all the tracks; her voice, while not exactly pleasant, adds a comforting personality and continuity. Not as weird or chaotic as its predecessor, Action Battlefield is strange but appealing.
Which is not true of Threat to Creation, recorded jointly with reggae band Creation Rebel. The LP has almost no vocals, little structure and no discernible direction. When it doesn’t consist of understated meanderings, it’s self-indulgent art-noise that could please only the most indiscriminate fan. Keith Levine [sic] performs half of the guitar chores.
Between that chapter of his career and the launch of Tackhead, Sherwood ran/produced the loosely constituted Dub Syndicate. The ad hoc cast on the One Way System compilation cassette includes members of Aswad, Roots Radics and Creation Rebel; the languid, instrumental reggae is more repetitive and unnaturally elongated than invigorating. Tunes From the Missing Channel, released on Sherwood’s own On-U Sound label, has Levene and others providing fodder for his wild studio assemblies.