DUBWISER RECORDS 17th February 2017
Dreadzone are a great British institution. An alternative dance institution, one loved across decades of festivals and sweaty venues. Latterly, the sight and sound of the band grooving deeply as their front-man leans on his cane is a burned-in image for ageing ravers. Around for twenty-something years, they picked up Roots music – which was a particularly British phenomenon of the eighties and mixed it up with the things that the nineties Rave scene loved. Taking it forward to today, they scoop in elements of other beats but remain in that timeless zone that reggae-based music lives in – there’s Dance, Dancehall, Breakbeat, Ragga, House, Chill-Out and Dub. Dub has a special place in any right-thinking person’s heart and here it is used to add tone and colour to the instrumental skanking sections of songs.
These are gentle songs, gently sung, yet songs of rebellion, survival and inspiration. Songs of oppression and the solidarity in standing together against it. Sadly, the need for these lyrics never go away. Here, on their eighth studio album, Dreadzone sing of justice denied, of solidarity, of the figureheads of resistance cut down. They quote Martin Luther King: “We know from painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor – it must be demanded.”
But what about the music? Hugely approachable, a tidied version of their powerfully unifying stageshow; the steady yet imaginative beat has you gently skanking or, at least, has your head bobbing. Is there a soul alive that isn’t moved in the soul by a reggae beat? The music rolls through different styles, touching on many points, even, in Black Deus, on the punky reggae style The Clash favoured. We open on distant campfire drumming before dancing bass and echoing dub melodica and a voice: “roots music can never die”. We roll deep through myriad bass lines and dub echoes into a swirling world and on to African or Indian-inflected pieces.
We hear a catalogue of personal misbehaviour and regret over dub beats. We hear about lost figureheads: “The flame that burns bright burns half as long”. “Nuff men die, nuff men go on; but the battle must go on”. Black Deus has soundbites: ”Justice too long delayed is justice denied”. More personal lyrics about love, loss and friendship appear as we move through the set. Music Army welds together North African beats, folk and four to the floor house in a minor tour de force. The set can seem a bit like a tour through different styles with, to these tastes, slightly too many electronic beats and it wouldn’t hurt to focus more but there’s no denying the ability to set you moving.
Recorded in West London, in Mick Jones’ studio, and featuring lyrical contributions from Don Letts, purveyor of reggae to the punks, this album ties punk attitude to roots love and a blend of great British dance genres. It isn’t anything new but it reinforces Dreadzone’s place in our pantheon of great festival acts.
All the band need to do is take the lyricist who rhymed “has he gone to meet his maker” with “or has he gone to Jamaica” out and shoot them and all will be perfect with this easy yet feisty album.