JAMAICA!! MEETS SLY & THE FAMILY DRONE – Celebrating The End Together In The Good Time Swamp

Posted: 14 August 2021 in Albums
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27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Who would have thought in the middle of March 2020, we would be living in such different – and fucked-up – times a full sixteen months later? Many of us who work in offices left thinking we’d be back in a few weeks, and surely no-one predicted the decimation of so much retail and hospitality. While the most unprecedented thing about the pandemic in the UK was the overuse of the word unprecedented, it is true that this is the first time in history that the healthy have been quarantined en masse alongside the sick and the vulnerable.

In many respects, the vulnerable have been the hidden sufferers and forgotten people during this time. As the band write, ‘People with learning disabilities in England are eight times more likely to die from Covid than the general population, according to research that highlights a “hidden calamity” of the coronavirus crisis. At a time where arts centres are critically underfunded, and the disabled community will be the last to come out of lockdown, we want to offer solidarity and support to our artists and friends.’

The communal and collaborative element of Sly’s work is integral to their ethos: anyone who’s seen them live is as likely to have been implicated in the set as simply spectated, with the band among the audience, the audience becoming part of the band and banging drums… and this is no corny, manufactured communal clap, a contrivance to mask government bullshit, this is a real in-the-moment collectivism that’s life-affirming and enriches the soul. Their music may be murky and weird, but Sly and the Family Drone very much do use music for the power of good. And so of all the bands who would perform at the ICA with Jamaica!!, they were always the most likely candidates. Jamaica!! is less a band than a group musical session operating out of The Gate, an arts centre for adults with learning disabilities located in Shepherds Bush, London. The Gate write, ‘out of efforts to make the music sessions we facilitate there as inclusive as possible which we found by necessity entailed abandoning notions of what makes sense musically; an extension of the central ethos at the gate of reshaping the round hole to allow the square peg to fit rather than the unfair expectations of the inverse’. Their sessions are entirely improvised, and the band is whoever turns up on the night.

Jamaica!! Meets Sly and the Family Drone is a document of this particular night, and it’s being released as a special art edition with the aim of raising money for The Gate. It’s clear from the two expended workouts that occupy a side each of this c46 cassette that the two units readily come together as one in their improvisational stylings

Side one of Celebrating The End Together In The Good Time Swamp is an immense exploratory piece: twenty-one minutes of wild, percussion-heavy, industrial jazz noise. What, that’s not a thing? Yes, yes it is: it’s precisely Sly & The Family Drone’s thing, and the joy of their live work is that the only thing you can predict is that will be percussion-heavy industrial jazz noise.

It begins quiet and atmospheric, picked notes ringing out over a misty murk, drones and croaks of horns groan and yawn like a slumbering beast in dream, perhaps on the brink of awakening… You feel you should tread carefully. But clattering percussion swells unevenly, and there’s a building tension as well as a building volume. It sounds ominous.

And then, off-key notes ring from every whichway. Is it free jazz or is it simply chaos? Perhaps it’s both. Rising up momentarily, a big-band swinging beat that dives some kind of shape and spine to the seemingly formless sonic mass that’s swirling all around.

Ten minutes in, there are some indecipherable vocals shouting, while whizzes and whooshes enter the mix and it’s like a space rock rendition of a Throbbing Gristle performance. And then it gets really fucking drummy. It’s a full-on barrage, a solid wall of percussion. The final few minutes are truly cathartic, as the pace picks up and we hear the sound of ALL THE DRUMS. EVER. ALL AT ONCE. It’s beyond thunderous – it’s positively volcanic.

Side two is, in many respects, more of the same, only it’s slower, denser, more undulating, dronier. It’s a swirling, seething mass of sound, a glorious twenty-three minutes of mayhem, a surging hammering on of drums and drums and drums and drums, battering out a loping march while horns, kitchen sink and cement mixer churn out a heavy grind of weighty discord. There’s a lull around the mid-point, where it delves into an almost shuffling beat, and there’s even a brief paise while there’s some kind of bass break. Then the rhythm shifts again, and things are almost funky for a while – but mostly, it’s noisy and drummy. I mean, this lot are drummier than Boredoms, and they actually lock into a mean groove near the end. As the track powers onwards to its climax, the energy radiates from the speakers and it makes you feel good – because music really is always the best therapy.

AA

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Comments
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