Who Is That Mad Band? - The Process (Temple Gong Recordings) & Dub World - The Process (Temple Gong Recordings)
You’d be right if you said reggae doesn’t get much of a look-in at the I-94 Bar. It's not that anyone’s allergic to it, but rock and roll is the staple beer on tap.
You can argue that the Clash turned out their own kind of rock-reggae with mixed results, but the genre remains at the margins around much of the world - like its distant punk rock cousin.
Bob Marley introduced the wider world to reggae in the ‘70s but it had been entrenched in Jamaica for generations. A generation of immigrants had already spread rocksteady and ska to the UK.
The music that Marley brought to stadiums and concert halls was a few steps away from the sound that pervaded the alleys of Trenchtown. Major labels provided th bread, not Jah, and their producers rubbed the rough edges off Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff to make them acceptable to mass market ears.
To be brutally honest, that Rastafarian patois that runs through the authentic stuff is impenetrable unless you’re staring down the business end of a two-metre spliff that's so potent you've convinced yourself that you’re the reincarnation of a dead African ruler. The social commentary that runs through the kyrics drifts over our heads like sacremental smoke.
Michigan band The Process isn’t a typical reggae act in most (white) peoples’ perception. They’r probably not even a typical Michigan band, whatever that is - half the world thinks of the Stooges but most Detroiters think of techno - also the area has a substantial reggae scene. The Process straddles turf of their own cultivation, where dub, syncopated rhythms, toasting and big grooves all merge with rock.
So some context: The Process have won innumerable awards in their home-town and have released a string of albums over 20 years. My curiosity from half a world away was piqued by the presence of Michigan guitar legend, the late Dick Wagner, as a guest on their 2016 album, “Who Is This Mad Band?”
Wagner (with Steve Hunter) was half of the flashy and fearsome guitar combo that made Lou’s “Rock and Roll Animal” a tour de force. He worked with Reed on the razor-blade-to-the-wrist classic that was “Berlin” and before that he was in The Frost, a local band that were contemporaries of the Stooges and the MC5 that never broke nationally. Dick played uncredited guitar on the early and great Alice Cooper group albums and went on to co-write songs on the Coop’s break-out opus, “Welcome To My Nightmare”.
The Process is based around founders David Asher (voc andals) and Garrick Owen (guitar), with Bill Heffelfinger (bassist and programmer) P-Funk All Star Gabe Gonzalez on drums. The Process has collaborated with t Gorge Clinton, Stones sideman Bernie Worrell and a pile of dub and reggae people - even HR from hardcore pathfinders Bad Brains. Their music is reggae without strict limitations. To these ears, it’s closer to the dancehall and rocksteady music that presaged Marley and Co’s commercial success. It's syncopation that “rocks” in its own way.
Producer Adrian Sherwood, who has worked with Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Ministry and KMFDM, had a hand in the sound of both albums. 2016's “Who Is That Mad Band?” has huge production and flows from track-to-track like, er, the River of Babylon. There's no denying the hypnotic pull in reggae rhythms. The requisite deep bass lines are there but so are horns, programming, high-energy rock guitar and lush keys.
Dick Wagner’s scorching guitar is all over “Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde”, a skanking attack on big pharma and cops, but there's plenty more to intrigue as the music morphs its way through a Baker's dozen of tracks.
“Dub World” (2017) is a companion to "Who Is That Mad Band?" comprising remixes and assistance from Sherwood, Skip McDonald aka Little Axe, Ghetto Priest and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Its big dub sounds are littered with treated vocals that wrestle with gritty fuzz guitar. Sax and layered keyboards weave in and out.
Wagner guests again on one track (“Interstellar Medium”) and there’s a cast of dozens augmenting the core band with additional instrumentation.
It's closer to "Maggot Brain" than "Metallic KO" but don't let that stop you.