Artiste Feature: RSD

Rob Smith is a man with many tricks up his sleeves. Creating deep set ripples in the scenes he’s been involved with, going at it for over decades long. From a reggae guitarist to being an originator in his field and now a legend. Here’s a few good looks at RSD, written by Da Remedy (a well-tuned lawyer/music writer), posted by The Beats Saigon and also pinched off a now-defunct Smith & Mighty website.

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“RSD is the latest project of Rob Smith, a unique figure whose career spans 5 decades and several phases of the UK bass music scene.

After kicking off as the guitarist in late 70s reggae group Restriction, Rob Smith first began to really make a name for himself after hooking up with fellow Bristolian reggae identity Ray Mighty in the mid-eighties to form the production duo Smith & Mighty. With their roots firmly in both the reggae scene of Bristol’s St. Paul’s district and the early Bristol beat scene around the Dug Out club, Smith & Mighty were a bridge between the enraged Bristol post-punk sounds of the early 80s and the more downtempo Bristol sounds that emerged on the early albums of Massive Attack and Tricky.

Smith & Mighty were among the originators of what became two of the major musical trends of the 90s: trip-hop and jungle/drum’n’bass. In 1987 they sampled Erik Satie over a breakbeat to create “Stranger Than Love” for post-punk icon and former Pop Group vocalist Mark Stewart. Many now regard “Stranger Than Love” as one of the the first ever trip-hop tracks (years before the first releases by Massive Attack and Tricky), along with Smith & Mighty’s reworkings of Burt Bacharach on “Anyone who Had a Heart” and “Walk on By”. On the jungle side of things, Smith & Mighty’s blending of Jamaican production techniques with hip-hop breakbeats paved the way for future Bristol junglists like DJ Krust and Roni Size.

With characteristic Bristolian languor, Smith & Mighty did not rush  to cash in when jungle/drum’n’bass and trip-hop exploded, but in 1995  they did released the certified classic album “Bass is Maternal” on  their own More Rockers album.  Smith & Mighty remained a key name  for roots oriented drum’n’bass throughout the 90s, but their activities  seemed to wind down at the start of the last decade and Rob Smith’s  moody, cinematic solo album “Up on the Downs” seemed to signal a  temporary pause in activities.

Then the dubstep explosion occurred. With Bristol’s long history of Jamaican-influenced bass experimentation, it was well placed to become the second center of dubstep after Croydon in South London. Releases by exciting new producers like DJ Pinch and Peverelist were putting the South-west of England back on the bass music map.

Finally 2007 saw the return of Rob Smith, now releasing tracks under the RSD name. Many of his releases have come out on dubstep associated labels like Peverlist’s Punch Drunk, and RSD now DJs around the world for Dubstep audiences. But with the prominent breakbeats on many tracks, it’s not like Rob Smith suddenly started making “dubstep”. He’s just continuing the same vision of bass music that he came up with almost 30 years ago.”

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The story of SMITH & MIGHTY is closely bound up with the musical history of Bristol, their hometown. For a good decade Rob Smith and Ray Mighty (joined nowadays by third member Peter D. Rose) have featured among sound pioneers like Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead and Roni Size who have enjoyed worldwide success. However, despite their huge influence on the ‘Sound of Bristol’, whereas the aforementioned have been able to celebrate their well-deserved successes, SMITH & MIGHTY have always had to take a back seat due to a plethora of unfavourable circumstances. In spite of some excellent 12″ releases and their totally cool debut album ‘Bass Is Maternal’, an international breakthrough was not foreseeable for the time being. This only changed in 1998, with their self-compiled release for the DJ Kicks series, which firmly put them back on the map and earned them much respect internationally. But let’s start at the beginning:

In the mid-eighties a scene arose in the St. Paul’s district, based around DJs like Nellee Hooper (later founder of Soul II Soul), Miles Johnson, Grant and Mushroom, who soon dubbed themselves the Wild Bunch, going on to father the ‘Sound of Bristol’ by blasting a bassy melt-in-your-mouth mix of fusion, dub, reggae, soul and hip hop out of their soundsystems on to the streets of St. Paul’s. What was initially played through traditional soundsystems progressed into the production of their own tracks, and the ‘Wild Bunch’s first recording ‘Look of Love’ clinched them quite a local hit. Co-producing was a second Bristol team, namely Rob Smith & Ray Mighty, who had established their own soundsystem called ‘3 Stripe’ In 1987 SMITH & MIGHTY released a cover version of Burt Bacharch’s ‘Anyone (Who Had A Heart)’, shortly followed by ‘Walk On By’ on their label, also dubbed ‘3 Stripe’. With this brace of tracks and their mellow basslines, soulful vocals and deep arrangements SMITH & MIGHTY had set the precedent for successive releases in the British port. (Such as a certain Massive Attack’s debut single ‘Any Love’, which they produced.)

They were also producers of ‘Wishing On A Star’ by Fresh Four (a one hit wonder featuring the then 17 year old DJ Krust) at the end of 1989, marking the beginning of a five year odyssey through the lowlands of the (major) music industry. After the huge success of ‘Wishing On A Star’, record companies began to take an interest in the boys from Bristol. They refused a lucrative offer from Virgin’s Richard Branson, commenting ‘We just don’t like his style, and the way Margaret Thatcher portrayed him as the ideal business mogul. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that we used to be punks” (Ray Mighty). The deal signed with London Records proved to be disastrous. They still went ahead with producing Carlton’s album, ‘The Call Is Strong’, exposing a real source of inspiration, but the record company couldn’t handle their visionary downtempo beats when England was obsessed with fast house and techno beats. To this day the album is regarded as the ‘great lost album of the Bristol Sound’. Further SMITH & MIGHTY productions were greeted with the same lack of recognition by the record company and mostly weren’t even released.

After their deal with the major company had expired, the first album on their own label More Rockers was released in 1995 (a dub version of an LP originally recorded for London Records). Due to woeful distribution, this album only managed to make its way to hard core fans, yet rave reviews in the press consoled SMITH & MIGHTY. The next stage was to concentrate on the project and label More Rockers, run with third member Peter D. Rose. They started laying down tracks with groundbreaking breakbeat and Drum ‘n’ Bass again, which were picked up and reworked by producers like Roni Size and DJ Krust. Hence the arrival of ‘Bristol Jump-Up’.

Hip hop, reggae, soul and mainly a great love of dub make the songs on the new album somewhat of one of the most exciting records to appear out of Bristol. The album was recorded over a period of two years, with vocals by the likes of Tammy Payne, Alice Perera and Rudy Lee, who all also hail from Bristol, and SMITH & MIGHTY’s deeply-embedded roots in the city make the whole thing into rather a family affair.

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Don’t forget to catch the dub legend, RSD and Hong Kong’s 5-piece Live Reggae Band, Sensi Lion this Friday at Heavy Hongkong’s Sixth Anniversary Party! Plus, Limited Reggae Mix CD from heavy Hongkong’s master, BloodDunza to be given away at the door, come early!

Check the following links for more on the event.

Facebook Event: http://www.facebook.com/events/261590900583707
Douban Event Page: http://www.douban.com/event/15903467
Website Event Page: https://heavyhongkong.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/heavy-presents-original-bristol-sound-rsd-rob-smith-dub/