Tag Archives: Bill Laswell

Bill Laswell Shares the Stories Behind Some of His Most Memorable Releases

Bill Laswell

With approximately 4,000 projects to his name since 1978, it’s fair to say that bassist-producer Bill Laswell has been around a block or two in his day. As house producer for Celluloid Records, he recombined New York’s rock, jazz, funk, reggae, and hip-hop scenes in the ‘80s with inspired abandon. In 1983, he struck gold with Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” which led to lucrative production gigs for Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Public Image Ltd., Motörhead, and Iggy Pop. In 1990, he bought Greenpoint Studio in Brooklyn and launched his own label, Axiom, which provided him with a home base for increasingly esoteric experiments in improvised fusion as he began reaching out to the sounds of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. At the same time, Laswell was laying down the sonic groundwork for aggressively avant-garde outfits like Last Exit, Praxis, and Painkiller while forging career-long relationships with looming figures like John Zorn and the late P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell.

Laswell’s currently moving forward with the combination musical collective and label Method of Defiance (M.O.D.), whose recent emergence on Bandcamp gives us the opportunity to check in on this free-ranging American original.

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The Roots of Dubstep Echo in the Haunting Sound of ’90s Label WordSound

Wordsound

In the early 1990s, without fanfare, a dark sound started seeping out of the sewers of then-desolate Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A chilling mix of dub, instrumental hip-hop, and dark ambient, the music was a pure product of its environment. “It was just an industrial wasteland with all these abandoned factories and warehouses and people living illegally, doing illegal things,” says S.H. “Skiz” Fernando. “It was this oasis in this city where so much stuff would happen.” A journalist turned producer, Fernando founded WordSound Recordings in 1994 as a way of capturing the music. Since then, he’s released over 50 albums, 10 of them as his primary alter ego, Spectre the Ill Saint.

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A Guide to Bill Laswell and Axiom

Bill Laswell

Bassist and producer Bill Laswell was pretty much a one-man industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He first came to prominence working on albums like Brian Eno’s On Land and Eno’s collaboration with David Byrne, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Working with small labels like Celluloid and Enemy, he made crazily eclectic albums with his musical collective Material, pulling tricks like putting free jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and a then-unsigned Whitney Houston together on a version of Soft Machine’s “Memories.” Beginning in the mid ‘80s, he came into his own, producing Herbie Hancock’s massive hit “Rockit,” Mick Jagger’s solo outing She’s the Boss, and PiL’s Album. He also worked with Motörhead, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and White Zombie as the decade continued, while forming the fearsome noise/jazz/metal improv quartet Last Exit with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson.

In the 1990s, Laswell’s cultural stock was at an all-time high, and he launched the Axiom label through Island Records. He put out albums by international artists (L. Shankar, Simon Shaheen, the Master Musicians of Jajouka), rock legends going in new directions (Ginger Baker), avant-garde jazz pioneers (Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock), and his own projects Material and Praxis, not to mention compilations that explored his interests in dub, hip-hop, and whatever else crossed his radar. Laswell has always been an evangelist for what he calls “collision music,” combining players from a variety of backgrounds and traditions and seeing what emerges. With Axiom releases, you might get something hypnotic and breathtakingly beautiful, or you might get dub with tablas and some underpowered saxophone on top. At the same time, though, he was able to spend Island’s money traveling internationally to record traditional music with modern equipment.

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