From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "Mr. Laswell grew up in Detroit, and played with a number of disco-funk bands before arriving in New York City in 1978, where he met Michael Beinhorn, who plays synthesizer and manipulates pre-recorded tapes, and the drummer Fred Maher. These three first played together in a group called the Zu Band, but by summer '79 they were working as Material, with Cliff Cultreri, as the first of several guitarists to pass through the ranks."
Laswell ranks among the most prolific of musicians, being involved in hundreds of recordings with many musicians from all over the world. Laswell draws upon many musical genres, most notably funk, various world musics, dub and ambient, but also hardcore and jazz. Writes 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."
Laswell's earliest professional experience came as a bassist with funk groups in and around Detroit, Michigan. Laswell's first recording appearance was in 1978, playing bass for Michael Blaise and Cheater on a track titled "Scoring Power".
Moving to New York City in 1978, and soon founding a recording studio with producer/engineer Martin Bisi (of later indie rock renown), Laswell quickly fell into the thriving music scene. Among his earliest efforts was the avant-funk group Material, and the spastic punk-experimentation of Massacre. As a collaborator or session player, Laswell appeared with John Zorn, Fred Frith, Elliott Sharp, the Golden Palominos, and notably on Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. His solo debut, Baselines, was issued in 1982.
His artistic and commercial breakthrough came via Herbie Hancock's Future Shock album (1983); Laswell produced the album, played bass on all the songs, and co-wrote most of the material. Notable was the song "Rockit", often cited as influencing the explosion of hip hop and turntablism (via Grand Mixer D.ST).
Coaxing Ginger Baker out of semi-retirement, Laswell gave the drummer's career a boost. Rescuing Sonny Sharrock from semi-retirement and obscurity, Laswell produced some of the guitarists most acclaimed recordings. Laswell and Sharrock went on to cofound the metal and hardcore punk-flavored free jazz supergroup Last Exit.
Though some Laswell produced albums have feautured dozens of musicians, he tends to work with a small core of collaborators who appear on most of his efforts. Such musicians include bassists Jah Wobble and Bootsy Collins, guitarists Buckethead and Nicky Skopelitis, and keyboardist Bernie Worrell. Laswell has also frequently worked with musicians from the sprawling P-funk camp.
1992 saw the recording debut of another Laswell group, Praxis, featuring enigmatic guitarist Buckethead. Laswell continues to hybridize music styles of disparate world cultures. Tabla Beat Science is one such fusion, joining classical Indian instrumentation with modern electronic production.
Laswell has remixed the works of Bob Marley (album Dreams of Freedom), Miles Davis (album Panthalassa, 1998 ), and Carlos Santana. He has also produced such artist as Jah Wobble, Matisyahu, Ramones, Motorhead, Public Image Limited and Angelique Kidjo. He also contributed to French producer Hector Zazou's album Chansons des mers froides. He produced Yoko Ono's Starpeace album, including the hit single 'Hell in Paradise', and also collaborated with ex-Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles member Nona Hendryx.
Laswell has also participated on a collaboration with Sony Media Software on a new box set Loop Library: The Bill Laswell Collection. A link of all Bill's work with Sony Media software is available here.