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On-U Sound In The Area

Act Audio Active

Audio Active
Audio Active: (Left to right) 2DD, Masa, Nanao and Kasai

On-U Sound's following in Japan has been strong for many years, helped considerably by the success of Sherwood's early 1990's production work for the then recently-formed Audio Active. Here then is the story of the 'Japan connection':

Tokyo-based Audio Active, led by shinehead Masa, got together through a mutual appreciation of reggae. These guys, however, got further than playing Bob Marley covers. That they were drawn towards dub and roots reggae, and later sometimes fusing it with hard techno beats and screaming guitars is something for which we should be truly grateful.

United by a shared love of dub, vocalist Masa and keyboardist / programmer 2DD (pronounced "nee dee dee"), who got their start in a 10-piece ska band called Vital Connection, formed Audio Active with drummer Shigemoto Nanao and bassist Takeshi Akimoto in 1991, naming themselves after an album by Jamaican reggae star Dennis Bovell. Guitarist Kasai joined later after the departure of Akimoto from the collective.

The 'Free The Marijuana' single
The "Free The Marijuana" single

Their big break came when Adrian Sherwood took the band under his wing in 1992-3, producing some of their earliest recordings and releasing them in Britain via On-U Sound (such as ON-U LP 73). With Bim Sherman guesting on the subsequent single "Free The Marijuana" (ON-U DP 28) they were already in heady company indeed! An occasional musician himself, Sherwood also took them with him on a tour of the United States. The band has also toured in Europe, as headliners and with Asian Dub Foundation. On their own Beat Records label in Japan they released several singles that maybe never were heard of in Europe. They are also quite big in Australia how many can claim this for themselves?!

Using a mix of programming and live instrumentation Audio Active create a dense, dub-inspired world of sound. References to outer space and time travel-interests fostered by sci-fi films and animated TV shows like Taimu Bokan abound in their English lyrics. But it's their love of the 'erb that is impossible to ignore and sets them apart on the Japanese music scene, where controversy is anathema. Titles such as "Weed Specialist", "Kick The Bong Around", "Psycho Buds", and the "Hempire Strikes Back" are just some of the many tributes to their favourite medicine contained in their back catalogue.

The 'Kick The Bong Around' single
The "Kick The Bong Around" single

Other references are more obscure, in part because they involve wordplay with Japanese street slang. One release's release date (October 4th) was chosen because it can be rendered as "jushi no hi", which means "hashish day". But even when the references are blatant, the band members say writers tend to tiptoe around the issue. Said Masa once in an interview ahead of a tour:

"We're not encouraging people to commit crimes, though it pains me to hear people talk as if there's something inherently criminal about marijuana. The police, the media and the government perpetuate the notion that it's bad. We want people to make up their own minds."

Audio Active are fantastic live. Masa is aloof, but the crowd loves it. You are taken on a sonic roller-coaster ride, slow head bobbing tracks with cascading bass crashing all around on the one hand, and mad thrashing tracks like "Robot War" on the other.

Dry & Heavy
Dry & Heavy

Audio Active's alter ego are their Japanese Jamaican-influenced compatriots Dry & Heavy. While Audio Active are hard and are pushing dub into the next century, Dry & Heavy are soft and celebrate the Lovers Rock that got them into it in the first place. They might seem to be incompatible but they compliment each other perfectly. In fact the core of Dry & Heavy is Audio Active's former percussion and bass unit Nanao (Dry) and Takeshi Akimoto (Heavy).

Taking the name "Dry & Heavy" from a Burning Spear track, these two worked simultaneously with both bands for 7 years before releasing Dry & Heavy's eponymous first album which included the vocal talents of Likkle Mai and Ao Inoue to help make their sound altogether more rounded. The connection between the groups and Adrian Sherwood's liking of their sound has subsequently seen a number of albums and singles released in the UK on On-U's subsidiary label Green Tea.

More than a decade into a career that's earned them critical acclaim and an enthusiastic overseas following, Audio Active are not about to turn over a new leaf. Not when they're happy with the pointy, bright green one that's long been their symbol.

(Compiled from various articles at one time found on:, and

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