Jah himself would have been pleased by the gathering of the masses at the Ohm Friday night to experience the nu-skool dub reggae of Systemwide and Dr. Israel, proving once again the viability of cutting edge music in this oft-proclaimed indie rock heaven.
If you’ve lived in Portland for any period of time and still haven’t seen Systemwide, then you’re simply missing out on some of the best music this over-rocked town has to offer. It’s about time to check out some experimental electronic dub-influenced beat frenzy, which is the only way that one can describe Systemwide’s sound. Forget about the token reggae shows, the sonic trips that the mad doctor and our finest locals have to offer are the sound of the new century and beyond. They definitely represented in their rather brief but energetic performances.
Systemwide’s aptly named drummer Josh Skins spun a short set of roots reggae before the rest of the band took the stage and transported us with modern reggae interpretations. One felt enraptured in them from the first snare crack, which threw multiple dancers on the floor into an immediate frenzy. Mondell’s laid-back but ubiquitous basslines served as the grounding for the groove, and fared well compared with the heavy bass of classic dub sounds, while e.t.’s keys led the melodic charge, which maintained the energy for dancers throughout their set.
S-Dub added to the mood with sampling and even a bit of scratching, as lead singer Ezra also provided some effects and proved to be a virtuoso on the hand cymbals, much to the delight of the crowd. (The crowd was an eclectic mix of generic clubbers, pseudo b-boys, hipsters and even a couple of wannabe ravers. They need to be told there’s an age limit for the use of glow sticks.)
Systemwide is often labeled as “futuristic dub” or “dystopic dance music,” but perhaps the most appropriate term would simply be “genre dissolving.” One could make a case that their sound is equal parts dub, rock, breakbeat, and whatever else you can find nestled in between these categories. Or maybe it should just be referred to as the “Systemwide sound,” since it seems that nobody out there, never mind live musicians, have such a unique sound. At least there are some major players out there noticing the band and its label, Portland’s very own BSI Records, including the influential multimedia artist DJ Spooky, aka Paul Miller, and future music and culture mag XLR8R8.
Dr. Israel is a Brooklyn-based artist whose sound effectively blends dub and manic drum ‘n’ bass breaks, along with his own vocals (“toasts,” in dub terms). Primarily using a setup of sequencer, sampler, and mixer, the doctor created his own aural elixir that resulted in a “jump-up” energy, that unfortunately was not fully sustained as his beat faded out in short loops. Also, his set was surprisingly short, even though he did a couple songs with Systemwide, forming a super sound system of sorts. Nonetheless, Israel’s sublime production sensibilities were evident in his set, and he also provided a lively personality to the sometimes impersonal genre of electronic dance music, with his swinging dreadlocks and Star of David tattoos marking him as a chosen one to grace the stage with his presence.