What is there to say about Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound? Groundbreaking, original, fearsome and many other things besides. Staying true to the roots and culture of the dub sound while never resting on his laurels. In the process of releasing music by the likes of Prince Far-I, Horace Andy, New Age Steppas, Mark Stewart, Bim Sherman and African Head Charge plus numerous more, the quality has remained sky high while the music stays as deep as possible. The path charted by this seminal label over the years has parallels with the progression of its own house band - Creation Rebel. It’s been 46 years since the release of Sherwood’s debut production work with the group but a timely reminder that some music just doesn’t age and can feel as vital and true as it did when first exposed to the world.

On-U have reissued the first five Creation Rebel albums, along with 2023’s ‘comeback’, ‘Hostile Environment’. There is a danger of over-analysing and complicating things - put simply these are six seminal pieces of work. Each clearly unique in their take on the dub sound, but showing a progression and variation with each successive release. Suffice to say there is a worthwhile investment in time and pleasure to be had from acquiring these albums if they don’t have a place in your dub armoury already.

‘Dub From Creation’ (1978) was the debut by Adrian Sherwood (19 at the time) with the band comprised of Crucial Tony Phillips, drummer Charlie Eskimo Fox and Ranking Magoo along with the engineering skills of the only Dennis Bovell. It’s raw, but demonstrates the nucleus of that sound especially on tracks like ‘Basic Principals’ with its driving rumble and the spacious ‘Creation Vibration’. Following up with ‘Close Encounters Of The Third World’ (1978), recorded at the legendary Channel One, and mixed by Prince Jammy (some combination) it provides a super accessible entry to the group. ‘Know Yourself’ is pure message music that hits deep. While ‘Joyful Noise’ is just that and shows a band finding their groove and honing their sound.

More notable names crop up on 1979’s ‘Rebel Vibrations’ with drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott of the Roots Radics. Not first released On-U record and going for serious penny now, as do most of these reissues, their original releases being on now long gone labels like Hitrun. It takes the melodica influences to its core with tracks like ‘Diverse Doctor’. It’s a simpler set compared to their later releases, more focused with its mostly instrumental dub stylings to the fore.

Starship Africa, from 1980, takes dub to a higher plane. Sound effects galore, and ethereal voices from outer space prevail. Plus, there’s more Roots Radics guests along with Misty In Roots and Prince Far I’s Arabs. As dub albums go it pushes to the envelope, take ‘Section 3’ and its otherworldly voices as an example. But it drives too, ‘Section 2’ has some serious groove behind it. Get lost in its entirety and not be disappointed.

‘Psychotic Jonkanoo’ (1981) could be the most experimental of these five early era records, Johnny Rotten even pops up to keep the cameo quotient ticking over. An album of vocal cuts that spans from the uplifting (‘Yuk up’) to the righteous (‘Independent Man’) and back to soulful (‘Mother Don’t Cry’).

Various events such as the death of Prince Far-I and the imprisonment of bassist Lizard Logan conspired to put the band on a prolonged hiatus throughout the time until 2017. That year reunited Tony and Adrian for Sherwood at the Controls performance. What followed was a reunion culminating in the release of ‘Hostile Environment’ updating their sound, giving it a contemporary edge while losing none of the vitality, inventiveness and organic soul of their early output. Tunes like ‘Swiftly (The Right One)’ and ‘Jubilee Clock’ shred the dub sound in a very modern way, while ‘The People’s Sound (Tribute to Vego)’ is a more traditional roots vibe, bridging the gap to those earlier recordings. A fitting reprise to the band’s journey and hopefully not its conclusion. As they say this is music to the ‘Highest Degree’.

Available now via On-U Sound directly and Dubwise Vinyl