A longtime linchpin of the New York City underground music scene, Bill Laswell has been among the most prolific artists in contemporary music. As a performer, producer, and label chief, his imprint is on literally hundreds of albums, the majority of them characterized by a signature sound fusing the energy of punk with the bone-rattling rhythms of funk and dub. However, he's also known for immersive ambient explorations, as well as fusions of disparate genres, including traditional Indian music, opera, klezmer, hip-hop, jazz, and seemingly every other genre known to humanity. Laswell has been a staple of the downtown New York music scene since the late '70s, when he founded Material, a rotating ensemble whose output ranged from angular art-funk to more club-friendly, futuristic electro-pop, with 1982's One Down remaining a career highlight. Laswell's commercial breakthrough came when he co-wrote and produced Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking 1983 electro track "Rockit." Throughout the decade, he participated in projects such as Massacre, Deadline, and Last Exit, in addition to releasing the occasional solo effort such as 1983's Baselines. He also produced records for a wildly diverse array of artists, including Mick Jagger, Nona Hendryx, Laurie Anderson, Ramones, and Swans. During the '90s, Laswell ran the Island-affiliated Axiom label and co-founded the Subharmonic imprint, releasing ambient dub as Divination and Automaton and collaborating with electronic producers such as Pete Namlook and Jonah Sharp. Material remained active, venturing in more of an experimental hip-hop direction, while Laswell's avant-funk-metal group Praxis helped introduce the world to the unique stylings of guitarist Buckethead. During the 21st century, he remained eclectic as ever, but particularly explored Indian music (participating in Tabla Beat Science along with musicians like Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh, and Zakir Hussain) and drum'n'bass, co-founding Method of Defiance with Submerged. Throughout the 2010s, he ran M.O.D. Technologies, a genre-defying label in the spirit of the earlier Axiom, and released albums with avant-jazz artists like Milford Graves, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Evan Parker.
Born on February 12, 1955, in Salem, Illinois, he initially played guitar, but soon switched to bass. Raised primarily in the Detroit area, he honed his skills in local funk outfits before relocating to New York in 1978. There Laswell formed Material, an outlet for his experimental approach toward sounds ranging from jazz to hip-hop to worldbeat. Originally the backup unit for Daevid Allen, the group soon began working on its own, issuing its debut EP Temporary Music in 1979. While Material's early work was more esoteric, they soon released more accessible, pop-influenced music, including the club classic "Bustin' Out" (featuring Nona Hendryx) and the full-length One Down, which included one of Whitney Houston's first lead vocal performances.
In 2004, Laswell signed a multi-album label deal with the Sanctuary Records group. The deal spawned his new label, Nagual. He also began to collaborate on a series of drum'n'bass-styled recordings with Submerged (aka Kurt Gluck of the Ohm Resistance imprint), the first of these — attributed to Bill Laswell vs. Submerged — was entitled Brutal Calling and issued by Avant in 2004 with contributions from Toshinori Kondo and Guy Licata. Through the Sanctuary label's earlier acquisition of the seminal reggae label Trojan, Laswell now had access to the Jamaican label's sizable back catalog. Picking some of his favorite cuts and remixing them, Laswell issued the Trojan-sourced Dub Massive: Chapter One and Chapter Two in May 2005.