“In his quest for new sounds and directions, in 1981 Hancock hired Tony Meilandt, who handled the production coordination for Magic Windows, and later went on to be an associate producer, keeping abreast of the newest underground music. Meilandt had been following the pioneering avant-garde funk of the band Material and encouraged Hancock to let them produce some tracks for him. Hancock approved, and after hearing scratching for the first time on Malcolm McLaren’s track, “Buffalo Gals,” he found his curiosity about this radical innovation mirrored in the demo tapes that Material’s prime members, Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, played for Hancock. The trio subsequently formed a production team and started fleshing out the demo tracks for what would become Future Shock.
The basic tracks were recorded in New York by Material, with contributions from Grand Mixer D.ST, Daniel Ponce, Pete Cosey, Sly Dunbar, and Bernard Fowler, while Hancock recorded the synthesizer parts in his home studio in Los Angeles.
The result confounded jazz critics, but the combination of scratching, drum machines, and synthesized keyboards set the blueprint for rap and much of pop music for the coming years. The album sold more than 1.5 million copies, and the music video of the hit single “Rockit,” directed by duo Kevin Godley & Lol Crème, not only garnered five MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, but went on to become one of the most successful music videos ever.” – 2013 Sony Box Set Liner Notes
“The music industry was suffering financial and esthetic woes as the seventies turned to the eighties. The Chicago Disco Riot in 1979 was a signal that things were changing in the public’s perception of what kind of music they wanted; a demand to segregate (or categorize by specific genres) music according to specific tastes, thereby limiting music and musicians intellectually from the ability to develop a broad, general audience for their music. Punk rock became new wave, tamed and commercialized. R&B and soul music slowly became hip-hop and then rap music. Music Television (MTV), a new video jukebox channel, began using promotional videos to create a successful cable broadcast company that had a profound effect on the music industry, replacing radio as the prime driver for a successful single or new artist. And MTV was dominated by pop music and had no R&B or jazz artists in their performance rotation. As for the state of jazz, the harder edges of fusion morphed into funk and then disco and then into an emerging concept that eventually became known as smooth jazz. With the success of V.S.O.P. and the recent trend of former fusion artists returning to acoustic jazz, many younger musicians began to look back to the past as inspiration for the future.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so kids in New York’s South Bronx in the late seventies, following closely the revolution in sound and music that had exploded in Jamaica, largely in Kingston, and lacking funds for fancy instruments and sound systems, turned to indigenous devices close at hand to create new songs, forms, and textures. As with the DJs in Kingston, the turntable became an essential instrument. The cheap microphone being broadcast over a boom box. Mouth percussion. Dancing. No-holds-barred words and rhymes. The U.S. version of this music was at first called breakbeat (and eventually hip-hop), but one thing was clear: this music was developing in an urban setting and one in particular – the South Bronx. To capture the energy and excitement of this new sound and direction, you had best be a musician and producer living in New York City in 1981-1982 and have your ear to the street. One such person was producer/musician Bill Laswell.
Herbie met Laswell at a time when conjunction meant something. Herbie had been involved in every major development in modern jazz and pop music since 1962 and he was at a crossroads by the end of 1982. With Herbie’s immense intellectual curiosity and quick-to-comprehend sensibility when encountering new music concepts, the collaboration of Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell flourished. Credit is also due to the mutual respect of musicianship shared between Herbie and Laswell and his band Material, which was the springboard for this collaborative project. The musicians created a positive environment to move a conjunctive idea into a complete summation of an emerging art form. What Herbie was looking to find in Monster, a mix of funk and rock, he found with the LP Future Shock (1983), and the globally mold-shattering single “Rockit.”
As with his life philosophy of inclusive participation, “Rockit” desegregated and de-ghettoized pop music, if only for a brief moment. The composition reflected the emerging breakbeat sound with the use of actual rhythm breaks (spaces left open in the performance for improvisation, usually in between choruses and verses), the turntable, heavy metal crunch guitars, a Fairlight Synthesizer sequence, the Linn Drum, and a techno-driven groove. The composition reflected the mixing of an inclusive and collaborative urban culture but was produced with such elegance that the sound of urbanism was embraced worldwide. The music video for “Rockit” also broke vast new ground. MTV played the “Rockit” video in heavy rotation, and Herbie was seen picture-in-picture, among the very first African-Americans to actually be seen and featured on the historically all-white MTV.
Following Future Shock were two more Laswell produced projects, Sound-System (1984) and Perfect Machine (1988). Each LP/CD (as Columbia moved into full time CD production) was shaped around the basic sound of the “Rockit” band – turntable, samplers, drum machines, sequencers – but with subtle differences. Sound-System was more Afro-Centric and Perfect Machine tends towards real techno-metal and is intently computer driven.
Future Shock re-aligned the balance between electronic and acoustic music, street music and pop music, in favor of the electronic. Herbie’s “vocal” LPs and Future Shock opened doors for composing music that was created electronically first, using sequencers. In 1973 Head Hunters and the single “Chameleon” caused a revolution in which jazz and funk merged perfectly. Future Shock and “Rockit” from 1983 caused a similar revolution. While the effects were not felt as strongly in the jazz community at the time, they were embraced wholeheartedly in the global electronica and digital arts communities and on the streets and dance clubs of the world.” – Bob Belden, 2013 Sony Box Set Liner Notes
1999 Sony Legacy Remastered Compact Disc Edition Liner Notes: Bill Laswell Interview
Bob Belden: So we’re putting out the three records that you put together for Herbie – Perfect Machine, Sound System, and Future Shock. What was the music scene like a few years before that record came out?
Bill Laswell: Well, I mean the first record was Future Shock so the music scene was changing pretty drastically as we did those three records. But the first one being Future Shock was sort of the beginning, a little bit the initiation of hip-hop culture into the mainstream and that influence was quite strong in the concept of Future Shock. The other records a lot of electronic music and hip hop had begun to evolve so it was becoming sort of part of the flow.
Bob Belden: I remember when I first got here, there were breakdancers and there were these guys who were making drum sounds with their mouths.
Bill Laswell. Human beatboxes.
Bob Belden: And I always thought that was very hip.
Bill Laswell: Absolutely. And I did too. Right after Herbie and did a record for Sly and Robbie where we hired a guy who was then unknown who became known later as Doug E. Fresh. So I thought that was always a great rhythm idea.
Bob Belden: Were there places to play? I mean in New York at the time?
Bill Laswell: Not really. When we put those records together, we used to go a lot at that time to the Roxy which was I think was on 18th Or 19th Street on the West Side. So I would go there a lot and the head DJ there was Afrika Bambaataa and he had a disciple called Africa Islam. And inside of that crew was also a person called DST and Grand Master Flash and everybody would work there, and do their thing. And we would go there every night and just absorb what was happening with that particular culture. I remember even before we did the track, the initial two tracks with Herbie, we took Herbie to the Roxy. And Bambaataa was DJing and I don’t think he pays a lot of attention to what was going on with the music, but he was in the environment where it was all sort of happening.
Bob Belden: It was a social scene.
Bill Laswell: Yeah, that’s right. And a lot of people were gravitating towards it. It seemed like something new was happening again in music.
Bob Belden: Because the ’70s were kind of – the fusion era peaked in about ’75 or ’76.
Bill Laswell: ’75, yeah.
Bob Belden: And then it got predictable. Everybody was playing sambas.
Bill Laswell:. Yeah, it got really dull.
Bob Belden: Tell me your early history.
Bill Laswell: I was born in Illinois and grew up in Michigan, and came to New York from Michigan. I really came from smaller towns. I was in and out of Detroit for the experience, but lived in Ann Arbor and Lansing and different small towns. I never spent a great deal of time living in Detroit.
Bob Belden: So what part of Illinois are you from?
Bill Laswell: Salem, Illinois. It’s south of Chicago and in Michigan I lived in Albion and Jackson and Ann Arbor and Lansing.
Bob Belden: Ann Arbor is a hip toWn.
Bill Laswell: That’s where learned a lot of stuff. And then came from Lansing, which was a college town, to New York in 76 or ’77… and that’s when I first arrived in New York – from Michigan.
Bob Belden: So you started hanging out with a circle of players that have sort of become famous now.
Bill Laswell: In New York. Yeah, gradually. I mean I came to New York and I wanted to meet musicians to play with and I would just basically – we had a loft on 30th Street which we didn’t realize at the time when moved in. I was with a guitar player and a roadie. And we kind of moved in and we didn’t even know that that was a rehearsal block. So everybody was there. So in our building was Steve Gadd and the Ramones and all kinds of different music – Crown Heights Affair. There was even a night when Tony Williams’ “Lifetime” rehearsed there. And we started to meet people by being on the street. And gradually that developed into meeting people that managed bands and booked clubs and they just all sort of evolved into the experience that is still going on. I met people like Arto Lindsay and James Chance and gradually from different connections met Ornette Coleman and Blood Ulmer and people. And it all just evolved very quickly.
Bob Belden: So when the opportunity came to work on the Herbie Hancock record, was it one of these things where he called you up and said, “Hey, let’s do it?”
Bill Laswell: No, it was a guy Called Tony Meilandt.
Bob Belden: Oh yes, the legend.
Bill Laswell: The legend of Tony Meilandt… and he’s still alive. But Tony knew that I had worked with Brian Eno and people like that. And he connected that with also the kind of street scene that I was working with. At the time, we had kind of a floating band that would play clubs and we would play in lofts. It was with like Philip Wilson and Olu Dara and Henry Threadgill, and we would just put together groups and play in clubs and in lofts. And Tony made the connection between that and the fact that I had just worked with Brian Eno and David Byrne on a record called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. And he thought that was very hip and he came into New York and I was working with a guy called Roger Trilling who at that time was managing Blood Ulmer. And Tony came in and he wanted to make Herbie’s next thing very radically hip and he thought that I could help. And he looked up the possibility of doing two tracks for Herbie’s next record. And he met us in a club and we said, “Okay, We agree.” It all happened very quickly.
Bob Belden: So around this particular time, it seemed like what they called the jazz community hated this kind of music.
Bill Laswell: I don’t know what is the jazz community, but I assume that everyone – the kind of music that we ended up doing was more based on influences from Kraftwerk and Mantronix and electronic music mixed with funk music. And I don’t imagine anyone with any respectable jazz background could possibly tolerate it. We knew that but we were trying to do what we thought -at the time, we thought it was just experimental. We had no idea of the commerciality of it.
Bob Belden: But do you believe that at the basic core of music is rhythm and soul?
Bill Laswell: Well, the basic core of a particular kind of a sensibility is that. And then there are other people who are here, more ethereal or melodic kind of textures. But yes, rhythm if it hits somebody in a certain way is undeniable. And we were dealing with a very stiff approach to rhythm coming out of – for lack of a better word – a black music concept. But we approached it much more in the way of sequencing and repetition in the way of Kraftwerk and later what Mantronix did. But it was contrast to the feel and then to the persistent repetition. But we were conscious of a feel. Like even in a track like “Rockit,” it’s a repetition of sequencers, but it’s also Daniel Poncé who plays the bata. It’s coming from a Cuban background and then the bassline that used was based on a melody from a record of Pharaoh Saunders named Tahaud. So it’s a big kind of fusion. It wasn’t just meant to be a stiff record. It was a conscious contrasting fusion.
Bob Belden: I’m from a hard core, straight ahead jazz background, but man, when first started hearing this, I said, “This is the sound of the future.” Because I also studied out of a Schoenberg and Berg and Henze school of modern classical composers. And they were really experimenting with sound.
Bill Laswell: Of course.
Bob Belden: It’s got to be interesting. And so to me, it had more interest than doing straightahead stuff.
Bill Laswell: Again, a lot went into it. It wasn’t just the manipulation of technology as in sequence. There was a lot of cross-referencing and there was a lot of contrast, as in the Daniel Poncé vs. a programmed con-go or the references that come from Pharaoh and different people. I mean when creating “Rockit,” the references were a couple of hip-hop tracks that existed with vocal phrases, using vocoders and a little bit of Manu Dibango in terms of phrasing.
Bob Belden: You told me an interesting story of how you realized that “Rockit” was on its way.
Bill Laswell: Right.
Bob Belden: Would you care to repeat that?
Bill Laswell: You mean when we were leaving California?
Bob Belden: You said you played it in a music store.
Bill Laswell: Yeah, it actually was a store that sold stereo equipment. We had mixed the record very quickly and we mixed “Rockit” in about an hour and a half, and we were leaving California and we stopped at some friend’s places on the way out. We had no conscious idea that we had done anything of any value. We were just doing what we did daily. We had a cassette and we did stop pn the way to the airport. We stopped at a store that sold sort of high-end stereo equipment. We were just at that point starting to make money. So we were looking to buy stereo equipment. I was very curious about speakers and amplifiers. And we had some time. So we stopped along the way. And in the store we said we were interested in these speakers. And the guy would play like a Kansas record, and I would say, “I can’t tell from that. We need to hear something that we know about.” So I said, “Play this cassette.” He played two tracks that we had just mixed. It was one called “Rockit” and one called “Earth Beat.” And they played them and as they were playing them, there was kind of a chilling experience and I turned around and there were like literally fifty kids in the store just demanding to know what that was. And then we had this feeling that we had done something. Something had happened. It was confirmed at that moment. We had no question at that moment that we had done something that would translate. Doesn’t mean it’s good, or innovative or whatever, just it would translate.
Bob Belden: It was, in a sense, innovative in that it shocked everybody who first heard it. And people loved the thing. Everybody talked about that record.
Bill Laswell: It was the timing. It was really good timing.
Bob Belden: Because I know rock ‘n roll had just passed through the demise of the punk era.
Bill Laswell: Right. That’s true.
Bob Belden: Had you heard Herbie’s R&B record prior to “Rockit”?
Bill Laswell: I had heard everything prior to that. Yeah.
Bob Belden: And do you know Light Me Up or Magic Window?
Bill Laswell: Magic Window, and I think they even tried a little bit on Magic Window to reach out – Tony Meilandt again – I think they had corralled Adrian Belew maybe, and some other people. It was based on probably Tony listening to Talking Heads or something. He was making an effort to reach out a little bit. The video helped a great deal to push it over.” – As interviewed by Bob Belden on July 29, 1999
Note: Grand Mixer D.ST is the professional name of Derek Showard
Produced by Material and Herbie Hancock.
Recorded 1983 by Martin Bisi at OAO Studios, Brooklyn and Dominic Maita at RPM Studios, N.Y.C.
Keyboard overdubs and additional recording by Dave Jerden, Billy Youdelman, and Bryan Bell at Garage Sale Recording, L.A.
Mixed by Dave Jerden at Eldorado Recording, L.A.
Originally released August 1983 as Columbia LP FC-38814 and Columbia CD CK 38814, except track 7, originally released 1984 as Columbia 12” single 44 04960
Billboard chart info: Pop 43, 65 wks; R&B 10, 60 wks; Jazz 2
R.I.A.A. Certified Platinum Album
The song “Rockit” earned Herbie a Grammy Award in 1983 for ‘Best R&B Instrumental Performance’.
Fairlight CMI – This digital sampling synthesizer, released in 1979, was the first digital sampler of its kind and offered complete synthesis and editing of sampled sounds. Herbie used this on the tune “Rockit”.
Fairlight Series II – Fairlight’s second version of the CMI included MIDI and other new technology as it was developed in the early 1980s.
Fairlight Series III – Fairlight’s third and final version of the CMI featured increased memory and double the polyphony of its earlier versions.
alphaSyntauri – A digital, polyphonic synthesizer released in 1980. It was the first electronic instrument to be based off a home computer and also resembled one. Herbie used this instrument on the 1983 album Future Shock for the tune “Rough.”
Memorymoog – This polyphonic synthesizer was first made in 1982 and offered greater preset storage capacity and better sound than its competitors. This instrument was used by Herbie on the tune “Future Shock”.
Prophet Pro-One – Produced in the early 1980s, this monophonic analog synthesizer was a more compact and cheaper version of the Prohpet 5. Michael Beinhorn used this instrument on the album Future Shock.
Rhodes Chroma – A rare polyphonic analog synthesizer released in 1982 which featured the ability to connect to a personal computer before MIDI had been invented. This was first used by Herbie on the album Future Shock and several more albums after it.
Yamaha CE-20 – A digital synthesizer released in 1982 that featured fourteen preset monophonic sounds and six preset polyphonic sounds. This was used by Herbie on the tune “Earth Beat”.
Oberheim DMX – A programmable, digital drum machine released in 1981 that featured 24 individual drum sounds and eight-sound polyphony. Michael Beinhorn used this instrument on Future Shock.
Yamaha GS-1 – Yamaha’s first digital polyphonic synthesizer, released in 1981, included features such as velocity sensitivity and three band equalizer. This was used by Herbie on the tune “Earth Beat”.
Synare Drum – The name Synare stands for synthetic snare. This drum pad allowed the user to drum rhythms onto it and then adjust the sound and tempo of those rhythms using knobs. Michael Beinhorn plays this instrument on “Rockit”.