With the music industry in turmoil, so-called ‘talent’ shows clogging up the airwaves and the singles charts and a dearth of real music outside of niche markets, the world needs acts such as Dreadzone more than ever. While they may not be to the taste of the more metal-minded of our readers, Dreadzone are important because back in the nineties, alongside acts such as Blur, Massive Attack, Portishead and Pulp, they successfully bought real music to a public more readily attracted by the fleeting charms of the Spice Girls whilst remaining true to their roots and ideals to the extent that no-one could ever begrudge them their popularity.
Importance in musical history aside, with current album ‘Eye on the horizon’ still very much on the stereo and a whole new generation of mud-encrusted festival goers dancing to the band’s eclectic mix of dub, reggae, rock and trip-hop as well as older fans flocking back to the Dreadzone banner, it seems high time to release a career retrospective reminding people exactly why Zen-like presenter John Peel rated them so highly.
And it’s summer. Dreadzone always work best in summer.
In fact, just like ‘Eye on the horizon’, this new best of does a great job of dragging the sun from behind its grey, cloudy prison and it is impossible not to be moved by the variety of the music on offer and the talent on display, particularly (and there is no disrespect towards the various musicians intended here) in the vocal department where the band’s soul truly shines through.
True to form, Dreadzone have gone that extra mile in compiling their best of, utilising alternate mixes and rare single edits rather than simply plumping for album versions that fans most likely possess and the track list is largely flawless, although I must confess to being slightly disappointed that dance-floor-destroying anthem ‘beyond a rock’ is conspicuous by its absence, but then maybe its more energetic vibe felt out of place amidst the more chilled out material on offer here. Whatever, while one personal favourite may be missing what we have here is a selection of 16 tracks, varying in style and genre and guaranteed to put a smile on the face of Dreadzone fans as well as those new to the Dread fold and the inclusion of the excellent ‘Gangster’ means that this compilation serves as a reminder that Dreadzone are no nostalgia act – they are as relevant now (if not more so) than they were back in the mid-nineties when there was at least some decent music for the band to contend with in contrast to the current, dross-filled scene.
What is most resonant, listening to these tracks now, is how little the band’s material has dated. Whereas some of the more electronic-based acts of the period have failed to translate into the current decade (the prodigy’s debut album sounds decidedly old hat now, while The Orb’s ‘little fluffy clouds’ also sounds near-impossibly twee in comparison to their other output) Dreadzone’s skill was to integrate elements of traditional music styles (reggae, funk and even folk via ‘Captain Dread’) into their beat-orientated music to make swirling musical journeys that appealed as freely to those who rarely saw light away from the dance-floor, to be-dreadlocked hippies who found the band’s flowing prose and sublime melodies to be the ideal backdrop for long, lazy days in the sun. With a similar musical approach to Leftfield (check out ‘Digital mastermind’) in places but a wider canvass to work from overall, Dreadzone’s music was made for the outdoors and even now is arguably best appreciated in the streaming sunshine and in beautiful surroundings.
The other element that makes Dreadzone so vital a band is their ability to appeal to and resonate with people of all musical backgrounds. Quite why this should be is open to debate, but to my mind Dreadzone appeal widely because they are committed to making positive, often beautiful, soulful music that sounds like nothing else on the market and which unites listeners in positivity. It’s rare to find such an act and impossible to ignore and for those of you who have witnessed the band’s remarkable live show, it is impossible to even consider that this is an act who go through the motions such are the energy levels on stage.
So the album itself. Well, there are no highlights as such because every track is a highlight. If you know Dreadzone already then you’ll know the majority of these tracks in one form or another. If you don’t know the band but regularly checked out John Peel shows or hit festivals such as Glastonbury back in the late nineties then you’ll know a whole host of the tracks without realising it and you’ll love them accordingly. If you’re younger and missed out completely, well where better then to start out here with this well-selected primer? Then go buy ‘eye on the horizon’ because it’s ace. But buy this first because it’s a piece of musical history – a time capsule that looks both back and forward; back to the days when Dreadzone looked set to take over the world, and forward to the days when the newly revitalised act actually will take over the world. Dreadzone are unique and truly special and if you still remain in doubt then check out Youtube and the video for recent single ‘Gangster’ which is a brilliant example of why Dreadzone are so special.
‘The good, the bad and the Dread’ – that pretty much sums it up: Dreadzone stand apart from their peers and from the music world at large. Never has a band inspired so much positivity with their albums and live shows and for that alone they remain a very special act indeed. Cherish this release and wait for the band’s next move.