Mutant dub experiments from Vladislav Delay and the legendary Jamaican rhythm section.
The collaboration began when the Norwegian trumpet player Nils-Petter Molvaer invited Ripatti to participate in sessions with Sly & Robbie and the guitarist Eivind Aarset, which would eventually result in 2018's Ripatti-produced Nordub album and a series of live dates. The Finnish producer then asked if he could come to Kingston to record with Sly & Robbie. "I think he is a great, imaginative person," Dunbar told Tone Glow. "He said he wanted to come and do an album, and we said, 'OK, no problem! It could be done!'" After a couple days at The Anchor Studios in Kingston, Ripatti returned home to the island of Hailuoto in Northern Finland and like Lee Perry, King Jammy or Adrian Sherwood before him, got to work dubbing the sessions out.
The results feel loose yet alien. Sly & Robbie have been playing music damn near every day since the early '70s and their takes here give us a window into the telepathic banter between the two musicians. On the opener, "513," Shakespeare shouts, "Kill 'em with riddim today," before Dunbar locks into his patented one drop. If you've heard any reggae record from the last half-century, you'll immediately identify Sly & Robbie's foundational groove, which leaves Ripatti to take on the role of the mad scientist behind the board.
On highlights like the outro for "514," Ripatti extrapolates an evil, abstract groove from Sly & Robbie's eternal riddim. There are times, however, when Ripatti's production style leaves the listener searching for a feel-good foothold amidst the rapidfire vocals and synth drums, the sheets of noise and echo. Towards the end of the record, a series of instrumentals—"522" and the digital bonus tracks "516" and "528"—reveal the full, startling potential of the project. On "512," Shakespeare's bass line acts as the anchor for Dunbar's syndrum madness and Ripatti's studio techniques. For the first time, Ripatti posits an ethereal techno groove that feels like classic Vladislav Delay. Each player is in form, either keeping the rhythm or sending us to outer space.
For Sly & Robbie and Ripatti, 500 Push-Up is another milestone in their respective careers. Sometimes, the jams cohere and sometimes they drift off in the original, spliffed-out spirit of dub. Despite inconsistencies, the decidedly casual approach makes 500 Push-Up an idiosyncratic delight, feeling like the result of a jam session between friends who just happen to be studio visionaries.