Bill Laswell

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Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell performing at the Moers Festival in 2006
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Otis Laswell
Born (1955-02-12) February 12, 1955 (age 64)
Salem, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Avant-garde, electronic, jazz, pop, reggae, rock [1]
Occupation(s)Musician, record producer, label owner
InstrumentsBass guitar, guitar, keyboards
Years active1978–present
LabelsM.O.D. Technologies
Associated actsMethod of Defiance, The Golden Palominos, Praxis, Massacre, Material, Last Exit, Painkiller, Ashes, Deadline, Tabla Beat Science, Public Image Ltd

William Otis Laswell (born February 12, 1955) is an American bass guitarist, record producer, and record label owner. He has been involved in thousands of recordings with many collaborators from all over the world. His music draws from funk, world music, jazz, dub and ambient styles.

A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information. Within the mainstream music industry, recording artists have traditionally been reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on music streaming services, radio, and television. Record labels also provide publicists, who assist performers in gaining positive media coverage, and arrange for their merchandise to be available via stores and other media outlets.

Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when African-American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bass line played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a drummer, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that created a "hypnotic" and "danceable feel". Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.

World music is a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the globe. It includes many forms of ethnic music, indigenous music, folk music, neotraditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition, such as non-Western music and Western popular music, intermingle.


According to music critic Chris Brazier, "Laswell's pet concept is 'collision music' which involves bringing together musicians from wildly divergent but complementary spheres and seeing what comes out." [2] The credo of one record label run by Laswell which typifies much of his work is "Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted". Although his bands may be credited under the same name and often feature the same roster of musicians, the styles and themes explored on different albums can vary dramatically. Material began as a noisy dance music band, but later albums concentrated on hip hop, jazz, or spoken word readings by William S. Burroughs. Most versions of the band Praxis have included guitarist Buckethead, but they have explored different permutations on albums.

Material is a musical group formed in 1979 and led by bass guitarist Bill Laswell.

Dance music music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are the surviving medieval dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Hip hop subculture including music, dance and graffiti

Hip hop or hip-hop, is a culture and art movement that was created by African Americans, Latino Americans and Caribbean Americans in the Bronx, New York City. The origin of the name is often disputed. It is also argued as to whether hip hop started in the South or West Bronx. While the term hip hop is often used to refer exclusively to hip hop music, hip hop is characterized by nine elements, of which only four elements are considered essential to understand hip hop musically. The main elements of hip hop consist of four main pillars. Afrika Bambaataa of the hip hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the pillars of hip hop culture, coining the terms: "rapping", a rhythmic vocal rhyming style (orality); DJing, which is making music with record players and DJ mixers ; b-boying/b-girling/breakdancing (movement/dance); and graffiti. Other elements of hip hop subculture and arts movements beyond the main four are: hip hop culture and historical knowledge of the movement (intellectual/philosophical); beatboxing, a percussive vocal style; street entrepreneurship; hip hop language; and hip hop fashion and style, among others. The fifth element, although debated, is commonly considered either street knowledge, hip hop fashion, or beatboxing.


Early years

Laswell got his earliest professional experience as a bass guitarist in R&B and funk bands in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He saw shows that combined genres, such as Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, and Funkadelic. He was also influenced by jazz musicians John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Miles Davis.

MC5 American Garage Rock Band

MC5 was an American rock band from Lincoln Park, Michigan, formed in 1964. The original band line-up consisted of vocalist Rob Tyner, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson. "Crystallizing the counterculture movement at its most volatile and threatening", according to AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the MC5's leftist political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music positioned them as emerging innovators of the punk movement in the United States. Their loud, energetic style of back-to-basics rock and roll included elements of garage rock, hard rock, blues rock, and psychedelic rock.

Funkadelic was an American band that was most prominent during the 1970s. The band and its sister act Parliament, both led by George Clinton, pioneered the funk music culture of that decade. Relative to its sister act, Funkadelic pursued a heavier, psychedelic rock-oriented sound.

John Coltrane American jazz saxophonist

John William Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes and was at the forefront of free jazz. He led at least fifty recording sessions and appeared on many albums by other musicians, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk. Over the course of his career, Coltrane's music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. He remains one of the most influential saxophonists in music history. He received many posthumous awards, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church and a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane and their son, Ravi Coltrane, is also a saxophonist.

New York and Material

In the late 1970s Laswell moved to New York City, [1] immersing himself in the thriving New York music scene. He moved into producer Giorgio Gomelsky's loft and became part of a group of musicians that would become the first version of Material. Material became the backing band for Daevid Allen [1] and New York Gong. The band consisted of Laswell, keyboardist Michael Beinhorn, and drummer Fred Maher. They were usually supplemented by guitarists Cliff Cultreri or Robert Quine.

Giorgio Gomelsky Georgian musician

Giorgio Sergio Alessando Gomelsky was a film maker, impresario, music manager, songwriter and record producer. He was born in Georgia, grew up in Switzerland, and later lived in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Daevid Allen Australian musician

Christopher David Allen, known as Daevid Allen, sometimes credited as Divided Alien, was an Australian poet, guitarist, singer, composer and performance artist. He was co-founder of the psychedelic rock groups Soft Machine and Gong.

Michael Beinhorn is an American musician and record producer. He works primarily with bands in the alternative rock and rock genres, having produced multiple albums for the bands Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, Violent Femmes and Marilyn Manson.

He worked with Brian Eno, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Daniel Ponce, Ginger Baker, Peter Brötzmann, Kip Hanrahan, Sonny Sharrock, and with musicians in no wave, a genre that combined avant-garde jazz, funk, and punk. [3]

Brian Eno English musician, composer, record producer and visual artist

Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI is an English musician, record producer, visual artist, and theorist best known for his pioneering work in ambient music and contributions to rock, pop, and electronica. A self-described "non-musician", Eno has helped introduce unique conceptual approaches and recording techniques to contemporary music. He has been described as one of popular music's most influential and innovative figures.

Fred Frith English musician, composer and improvisor

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John Zorn American composer, saxophonist and bandleader

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He started a recording studio with Martin Bisi and met Jean Karakos, owner of Celluloid Records. Under the Material name Laswell became the de facto house producer for Celluloid until the label was sold in the 1980s. He recorded music that was experimental, combining jazz, funk, pop, and R&B, by musicians such as Whitney Houston, Sonny Sharrock, Archie Shepp, Henry Threadgill, and the band Massacre with Fred Frith and Fred Maher. His association with Celluloid allowed his first forays into "collision music", a term coined by British writer Chris May of Black Music & Jazz Review. Recordings with the Golden Palominos and production on albums by Shango, Toure Kunda, and Fela Kuti appeared on the label. Celluloid was an early advocate of hip hop, producing albums by Fab 5 Freddy, GrandMixer D.ST, Phase II, and Afrika Bambaataa. The album World Destruction paired John Lydon with Afrika Bambaataa years before Aerosmith and Run–D.M.C. collaborated on their rock/hip hop version of "Walk This Way".

Martin Bisi American musician

Martin Bisi is an American producer and songwriter. He is known for recording important records by Sonic Youth, Swans, John Zorn, Material, Bill Laswell, Helmet, Unsane, The Dresden Dolls, Cop Shoot Cop, White Zombie, Boredoms, Angels of Light, J.G. Thirlwell, and Herbie Hancock's Grammy-winning song "Rockit".

Celluloid Records, a French/American record label, founded by Jean Georgakarakos operated from 1976 to 1989 in New York City, and produced a series of eclectic and ground-breaking releases, particularly in the early to late 1980s, largely under the auspices of de facto in-house producer Bill Laswell.

Whitney Houston American singer, actress, model, and record producer

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was an American singer and actress. She was cited as the most awarded female artist of all time by Guinness World Records and remains one of the best-selling music artists of all time with 200 million records sold worldwide. Houston released seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums, all of which have been certified diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Her crossover appeal on the popular music charts—as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for "How Will I Know"—influenced several African-American women artists who followed in her footsteps.

In 1982, Laswell released Baselines, his solo debut album. A year later, he had a breakthrough with "Rockit", a song he co-wrote and produced for Herbie Hancock's album Future Shock . [1] He played bass guitar and co-wrote other songs on the album, leading to collaborations with Hancock through the 2000s. He won a Grammy Award for producing Hancock's next album, Sound-System. [1]

He became a member of the band Last Exit in 1986 with Peter Brötzmann, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Sonny Sharrock. [1] Aside from one album that Laswell cobbled together in the studio, the band was primarily a live one, showing up at gigs with no rehearsal. The first time the four members played together was on stage at their first show.

Laswell produced albums for Sly and Robbie, Mick Jagger, PiL, Motörhead, Ramones, Iggy Pop and Yoko Ono. Many of these bands afforded Laswell the opportunity to hire his working crew to record on more mainstream records. Sly and Robbie hired him to produce their 1985 album Language Barrier and 1987 album Rhythm Killers . [4]

Running Axiom

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, gave him the opportunity to begin a label with the backing of Island, and thus Axiom Records was started in 1990. In addition to albums by Material that included Sly and Robbie, William S. Burroughs, Bootsy Collins, Wayne Shorter, and Bernie Worrell, he produced and released albums by Ginger Baker, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Sonny Sharrock, Nicky Skopelitis, and Umar Bin Hassan. Among the studio-based albums, Palestinian oud and violinist Simon Shaheen recorded an album of music by Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Gambian virtuoso Foday Musa Suso recorded an album of dance music with his electric Kora, and Turkish saz master Talip Oezkan recorded an album. Master Musicians of Jajouka recorded an album in their village in the Rif Mountains. There were albums by Mandinka and Fulani recorded at Suso's family compound in Gambia and Gnawa music from Morocco.

Praxis featured guitarist Buckethead on Transmutation with Bootsy Collins, Bryan Mantia, Bernie Worrell, and Afrika Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers. The album blended funk grooves and heavy metal riffs with many tracks co-written by Laswell. The band spawned other releases, never with the same line-up, though consisting of the core trio of Laswell, Buckethead, and Mantia.

Funkcronomicon included previously released tracks by Praxis and Skopelitis and tracks with members of Parliament-Funkadelic. George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and the last recordings of Eddie Hazel are featured prominently. The album includes DXT, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole and Torture. [5] Laswell remixed the Axiom catalog for Axiom Ambient, blending seemingly disparate tracks, releasing some of the music for Sample Material – International Free Zone, a sample library for other musicians to use as material. [6] [7]

Other labels

Subharmonic, conceived by Laswell and ex-Celluloid A&R Robert Soares, though not owned by Laswell, was essentially a vehicle for his projects, most in the ambient or ambient-dub categories. The label licensed a few releases from European labels for American re-release, notably Psychonavigation with Pete Namlook and Cymatic Scan with Tetsu Inoue from Pete Namlook's FAX label; Somnific Flux with Mick Harris and Cold Summer by Lull from the Sentrax label. Other collaborators included Jonah Sharp and Terre Thaemlitz. The label also released albums by Painkiller, Praxis, and Divination, an ambient dub project by Laswell. A sub-label called Strata was created with five releases in a more experimental dub/noise/ambient vein. Each of these releases (Death Cube K, Cypher 7, Azonic, and two under his alias Automaton) came in a black jewel case with the name of the project and album title printed on the front.

Three other short-lived labels were created after the demise of the Subharmonic deal. One was Meta, which was intended to be a spoken word label. The second label, Submeta, managed four releases before folding. Meta, formed with Janet Rienstra, released only one album, Baptism of Solitude with novelist Paul Bowles reading excerpts from his work over soundscapes by Laswell. Meta would appear periodically, distributed by other labels, over the next few years until it returned as a spiritual/yogic label run by Rienstra. The third label, Black Arc, was an associated label of Rykodisc focusing on "Black Rock, Cyber Funk, and Future Blues", according to a sampler. The label featured members of P-Funk on most of the albums and released albums by Bootsy Collins (under the name "Zillatron"), Bernie Worrell (Japan-only), Mutiny (Jerome Brailey), and Billy Bass.

Charged (1999) by Eraldo Bernocchi and Toshinori Kondo was released by Laswell's label Innerythmic. After a brief inactive period, the label restarted in 2001, releasing over the next few years and albums by Nicky Skopelitis, Raoul Björkenheim, James Blood Ulmer, Shin Terai, and Gonervill. Innerhythmic also released a live recording by Praxis and reissued Black Arc albums from the 1990, including Zillatron, The Last Poets' Holy Terror and Buddy Miles' Hell & Back. [8]

Laswell moved his studio to West Orange, New Jersey and called it Orange Music Sound Studios. Under Palm's umbrella, though, four albums and a DVD set were released, including a studio album and a live 2-disc set from Tabla Beat Science centered on tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, son of Alla Rakha. The album included Karsh Kale, Trilok Gurtu, Ustad Sultan Khan, and Talvin Singh. This group has performed in the US, Lebanon, and Japan. Laswell, Kale, Kahn, and Hussain are usually supplemented by other musicians, which have included Gigi, DJ Disk, Serj Tankian from System of a Down, Sussan Deyhim, and artist Petulia Mattioli. In 2001 Life Space Death was released with Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, Laswell on bass, guitar, and keyboards, and words by the 14th Dalai Lama [9] interviewed by Kondo. [10] At the request of Blackwell, Laswell oversaw the debut album by Ethiopian singer Gigi for Palm Pictures with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Laswell. He also produced Abyssinia Infinite and Gold & Wax.

Laswell has stated in interviews that he met with Miles Davis a number of times and discussed working together, but busy schedules kept them from arranging such a recording before Davis' death. [11] He remixed some of Davis's music for Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974 (Axiom, 1998). [3]

New century, new labels

He signed a contract with Sanctuary Records that led to the creation of his label Nagual. He worked in the drum and bass genre, starting with Brutal Calling credited to Bill Laswell vs. Submerged that was released by Avant in 2004. He and Submerged worked together again on The Only Way to Go is Down (2006) under the name Method of Defiance. After this album, they assembled producers in drum and bass to collaborate with musicians from jazz. Evol Intent, Future Prophecies, and SPL recorded with Buckethead, Herbie Hancock, and Pharoah Sanders. [1]

In 2010, Laswell created the label M.O.D. Technologies. Its first releases were the albums Jahbulon and Incunabula by Method of Defiance and Mesgana Ethiopia by Material with Gigi. [1]

Along with live dates around the world with Massacre, Material, Method of Defiance, and Painkiller, Laswell travels to Japan every year for recordings and live dates, including with Tokyo Rotation. [12]

In November 2018, he performed in Dave Douglas Uplift band at the London Jazz Festival. [13]


Laswell works frequently with a small group of collaborators. These include bassists Jah Wobble, Jonas Hellborg, and Bootsy Collins; guitarists Buckethead and Nicky Skopelitis; keyboardists Jeff Bova and Bernie Worrell; percussionists Aïyb Dieng and Karsh Kale, and musicians from P-Funk. Robert Musso has been his chief engineer for over twenty years. Oz Fritz has occasionally filled the role. Fritz is usually Laswell's live engineer of choice, known for live mixing technique. Remixes have been done for Sting, Nine Inch Nails, Almamegretta, Scorn, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tori Amos. He has done much work for John Zorn's Tzadik Records.

In 2005, Laswell was invited to appear on the PBS series Soundstage. The show featured musicians he has played with over the years, including members of Praxis and Tabla Beat Science, Pharoah Sanders, Foday Musa Suso, Bootsy Collins, and Catfish Collins.

Laswell worked with Sony Creative Software on a box set loop library called The Bill Laswell Collection. [14]


See also

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<i>Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis)</i> album by Praxis

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<i>Dissident</i> (album) 1991 studio album by Deadline

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