l-r: Ray Mighty, Peter D. Rose, Rob Smith
OK… “the Bristol sound”, Wild Bunch soundsystem, the near chart hits with Bacharach covers ‘Walk On’ and ‘Anyone’, production of a real chart hit in Fresh 4′s “Wishing on a Star” (featuring future stars Krust and Suv), a disastrous major label deal, the dubwise Steppers Delight EP tracks which got played massively sped up by rave DJs, thus contributing to the birth of jungle… All of these parts of the Smith & Mighty story are well documented.
But Rob Smith, together with writing/production partners Ray Mighty and Peter D Rose, has never let up on his prolific musical output in over a quarter of a century, and neither has he stopped evolving. He could rightly claim to be the connecting factor in the Bristol bass scene over the years, having worked with pretty much every main player, up to and including his releases as RSD on the city’s key dubstep labels Tectonic and Punch Drunk. And in the years between the forging of the Bristol Sound in mid-80s soundsystem parties and the rise of dubstep, he forged a lot of connections and made a lot of fascinating sounds beyond the local scene to boot.
As the Bristol Archive imprint prepares to release The Three Stripe Collection 1985-1990, a CD/DL/2xLP set compiling the finest early output of Smith & Mighty’s seminal Three Stripe Records, Joe Muggs selects 10 lesser known tracks that cut to the quick of what made this production unit so special.
SMITH & MIGHTY
(DEMO, 1985; RE-RELEASED ANGEL’S EGG, 2003)
The elements are all here: hip hop, soul, dub reggae, and a particular industrial-psychedelic edge that has always saved S&M productions from over-slickness. Sonically this track resembles contemporaries like Cabaret Voltaire or Tackhead, but there’s none of that arch eighties rigidity that makes so much industrial/EBM sound dated. In its place is a reggae-inspired sense of rhythm that comes in waves, an interplay of programming and echo that rolls in a manner eerily prescient of rave and jungle that would follow many years later.
In that bouncing bass tone you can hear a strong influence from Mantronix which would come through again and again in S&M’s creative flowering in the late 80s – a sense that hip-hop and electro were about songs as much as about rhythm. Oddly for a band coming from soundsystems, and for what is essentially a dub track, the one thing lacking, something that would only gradually creep into S&M’s records, is sub-bass.