Lee "Scratch" Perry's time has finally come.
In light of the huge influence Perry's pioneering production work
has had on techno, punk, dancehall and drum 'n' bass, it is no
surprise that Perry anthologies have been coming down the pike
as of late.
The most impressive of the recent collections is Island Records
three-CD Arkology, which focuses on Perry's work as a
producer for scores of top Jamaican artists in the 1970s, artists who
were stamped with Perry's imprint once he got them into his Black
Arc studios. It is the first collection to truly capture The Mighty
Upsetter in all his musical, maniacal glory.
Since Perry was acquitted on arson charges in 1980, he's made
attempts to make more music, and is on the verge of opening a
(purported to be called the Blue Arc) to be his once and future
base of operations. Shuttling between Switzerland (his new home),
and Jamaica, he remains as confident and as outspoken as ever.
And he doesn't seem in the least bit surprised by all the sudden
interest (which came to a breaking point, perhaps, when he was
featured on the "Wheaties cover" issue of the Beastie Boys zine
He need not be.
Beginning with his groundbreaking production work in the '70s,
immediately began to have an influence on punk rockers such as
the Clash (Perry produced "Complete Control" for them and they
covered "Police and Thieves," a song he produced for Junior
Blondie, the Police, and Talking Heads; the grinding, churning,
rhythms coming out of Kingston and the raw obscenities chanted
working-class, British punks were both born out of the rage of
While at first they seemed to share little in common musically, Perry
ever the (r)evolutionary - immediately recognized the bond
between the two,
and throughout the late-1970s and 1980s, he mixed with perhaps
most eclectic, racially and musically diverse group of musicians of
anyone around... and yes, that includes Sting and Peter Gabriel.
Perry's early experiments with mixing, cutting and overdubbing
demonstrate an almost uncanny affinity with today's synth-driven
trip-dub. That is part of what makes Arkology a must for any
techno record collection. Remember, Perry was working with four
tracks and, if lucky, two turntables -- a far cry from the equipment
today's artists are blessed with.
The Phil Spector of Jamaica, he produced an astonishing number
of revolutionary tracks for an astounding number of artists. But his
signature is especially apparent in the Upsetters' (Perry's own
band) versions of
many songs featured on Arkology, a sound that was
unique and had an enormous effect on music. It was at Black Arc
that Perry began experimenting with his unique dub versions of
Starting with track such as Junior Marvin's (a star in his own right)
"Police and Theives," Perry and the Upsetters would systematically
rework the song by pulling out particularly stunning or jarring riffs
and looping them through the song. Then they would insert the
best bits and pieces throughout the Upsetters new "dub" version.
By pulling out bits of the choruses, repeated high notes, and
blasts, he would create what was essentially an entirely new track -
all over-dubbed with whatever else was in the studio at the time, be
it a guitar or two big pieces of wood and a car door.
Arkology demonstrates the power of this groundbreaking
technique by setting the original versions of songs next to Perry
and the Upsetters' dub versions.
Meanwhile, Upsetter in Dub a one-CD set put out by
contains a healthy collection of out-takes and rare tracks; but by
itself, doesn't offer as clear a picture of Perry's genius. While it does
offer some damn good dance tunes that sound as fresh today as
they must have
sounded when first released 20 years ago, it's Arkology
that comes closer to getting to the heart of Perry's work -- taking
upsetting songs and re-working them into a creation all its own.
Arkology also offers a comprehensive history of Perry,
known to be
at least as eccentric as Spector. This in itself is worth some of the
price of admission...nevermind the three CDs and over three-hours
blissed-out, deep-down hole-in-your-soul groovy bassed-loops that
His is a story worth noting. Perry began working in the music
industry in his teens, and before long was apprenticing with the
famous producer Coxsone Dobbs, rising from errand and "fu-kung"
muscle boy to sometimes producer in a matter of months. In
Jamaica in the late '60s and '70s, as in America in the
"Doo-Wop" era, music was as often known because it was
associated with a
particular producer and his sound as it was known because of the
performers. Perry, self-proclaimed "center of the universe," felt of
Dobbs that "I was just giving him my service and him give me a
sometimes, until I see like maybe him take advantage, and don't
me, so I decide to leave him."
Instead of striking out on his own, in 1967 Perry began work for
well-known producers such as Prince Buster and Joe Gibbs. Still
constrained, he began working on his own in 1968. By this time,
washing, jerky organ lines and backbeat guitar riffs were more
incorporated into Jamaican music; Perry sites spaghetti westerns
at the time as large influences, and indeed, it is not difficult
to hear artists such as Ennio Morricone (or, perhaps more
Booker T. and the M.G.'s version of Morricone's "Hang 'Em High")
Perry's late-1960s output. The rest of the '70s were spent at Perry's
own studio - Black Arc - which he, somewhat characteristically,
burnt down in 1979.
Arkology captures the crazy, wild, spirit of these times. While
many of these songs are featured directly before the Perry-dub
version, it is on the dub tracks that you hear Scratch show his shit;
here he is free to cut up, distort, echo, fade out, and pan in with an
ease and a plain rightness of it all that you can't help
grinning along as Perry conducts his perpetual party. "It wasn't my
work," says Perry in an unusually modest statement. "I'm just an
instrument working for the master computer X-I-X," he continues in
a more typical semi-nonsensical tone. "It wasn't I who create the
sound, I was just the engineer. I'm the music dolly -- it's the music
who do it."
However it happened, it was channeled through Perry, and he
mistake when he called himself "the Dub Shepherd." Somehow
four-track recordings sound like 10, 12, perhaps 24 stereo tracks,
simply made magic.
Upsetter in Dub is a treat for collectors and diehards, and
for those curious about the fuss who don't want to buy a three-disc
Although focusing on (mainly non-Island) B-sides and other more
songs, it only contains work done while Perry was recording in the
Arc, and his dubs are just as breathtakingly vital here as anywhere
else. Containing 18 songs, it offers up a pretty-good variety and
said to do almost as good a job at presenting some of Perry's most
pioneering '70s work.
But only Arkology really lets you soak it in.
Perhaps the sudden Perry craze can best be summed up by one of
The Mighty Upsetter's own pearls of wisdom during one of his
"outerviews" (needless to say, he won't do "interviews"...): "I am an
alien from the other world, from outer space, I don't have no land,
no estate, no property, no house. Not on this earth. I live in space --
I'm only a visitor here. Some people are only here to collect the
property. I am here with my suitcase to collect only the good
Certainly Perry knows what he knows, that's for sure. And it's best
to cross his path... "When I shit my enemies cry, when I speak they