Monday, March 19, 2012

The Return of Fashion Records

Trying to understand the evolution that Jamaican/reggae music has undergone over the past thirty years is often a mind-boggling challenge. In what other music, for instance, do you go from the organic warmth of seventies roots reggae to the digital “slackness” of dancehall in less then a decade? How do you follow the webs of influence that flow out of Kingston, as the ideas and tactics developed by dub producers jumped to both sides of the Atlantic, influencing hip-hop, jungle, and who knows how many other musical styles?

Some valuable pieces to this puzzle have recently reemerged thanks to the digital reissue of a number of long out of print classics from the Fashion Records catalogue. Collected on the compilation Fashion In High Style: Fashion Records Significant Hits Volume One, the label’s best known songs cast a fascinating light on this process of growth, detailing British reggae as it began its transition from more traditional forms such as lover’s rock to the increasingly digital dancehall and raga that would dominate the music’s future.

Founded in 1980 by John MacGillivray and Chris Lane as an expansion on Macgillvray’s famous Dub Vendor store, Fashion quickly grew to become one of the most important British reggae labels, releasing records featuring both homegrown talent and Jamaican luminaries visiting (or living in) England. Perhaps because of this, it was quick adapt to the digital revolution that swept through reggae in the wake of “Under Mi Sleng Teng” and the dancehall boom that it instigated, releasing records by seminal “fast-chat” and ragga artists such as MC Smiley Culture (Check out his awesome “Cockney Translation” video), Cutty Ranks, or Starkey Banton, while still continuing to find chart success with the lover’s rock on which it was initially based. Taken as a whole, the compilation is really a head-spinning journey, moving with unbelievable speed from the sweet harmonies and soul-style horns of Dee Sharp’s “Lets Dub It Up” to the machinegun toasting of Bunny General’s “Full Up A Class.” What’s really exciting is that all of this is just scratching the surface of the label’s catalogue, more of which should continue to surface in the coming months.

-Sam Backer

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