311 – Explosive, Ethnic Band From Chaos to Universal Pulse
311 is an explosive, eclectic band that blends hard rock with funk and rap. The group hails from Omaha, Nebraska — where vocalist Nick Hexum and guitarist Jim Watson grew up together. Bassist Chad Sexton and drummer P-Nut went to school together, and singer/rapper Doug “SA” Martinez came along a few years later.
The band 311 blends hard rock with funk, rap and reggae to create a potent musical cocktail. The Omaha, Nebraska, quartet formed in the late ’80s and defy easy categorization. They’ve toured with ska icons The English Beat, rap kings Snoop Dogg and feel-good vibe merchants Sublime With Rome.
The band grew after the release of their 1992 album Unity, with drummer Tim Mahoney and guitarist Nick Hexum adding rapper Doug “SA” Martinez to the mix. That combo helped propel the group to fame, and their 1998 effort Transistor put them on the map.
A fractious relationship with Capricorn Records ended with the band leaving for Volcano in time for 2001’s successful From Chaos. The band released crowdfunded Stereolithic three years later, and in 2017 topped the charts with the energetic Voyager.
Originally appearing in Caribbean carnival celebrations and dancehall parties, sound systems became famous for their big speakers and heavy bass. Competition led to the birth of the ‘soundclash’, where two systems would battle for attention and approval of the crowd throughout the night.
Unlike regular DJs, early sound system selectors/deejays opted to talk over their records and add atmosphere. This eventually lead to the distinction between MCs and Selectors/Deejays in the world of Hip hop.
Kamala’s first act of the night was a set by Sisters in Dub, who are the UK’s first and still only female-led sound system. Their funky and future-facing selections leaned heavy on the bass and stood them out amongst a sea of male-run systems at Notting Hill Carnival. The pair later discussed the importance of having diverse sounds in this scene.
From Chaos demonstrates the Nebraska-bred quintet’s ability to rock hard and roll smoother than ever before. They deftly juggle jungle beats, surf guitar, and punk riffage with Hexum’s super-charged vocals on the brash “Wake Your Mind Up” and amorous “Amber.” 311 aren’t lyrical rocket scientists, but they do demonstrate musical ambition and sonic flexibility that many of their pigeonholed contemporaries can’t match.
This was the first album 311 recorded in their band-owned studio, The Hive. An enhanced CD edition holds interviews with the group and a preview of their Enlarged to Show Detail tour video. The album also features their first signature love song, Amber. This is 311’s most popular single to date. This was their last release on Capricorn Records and their first album on Volcano Records.
Uplifter is the first album 311 released with producer Bob Rock. It shows a matured and more sophisticated side of the band, especially in the vocals from Nick Hexum and SA Martinez. Some of the tracks, such as “Golden Sunlight” and “India Ink,” are softer songs that showcase 311’s ability to sing beautifully. While others, such as “Jackpot” are rap-rockers that show old-school fans that the gang can still rap and rhyme about corny things.
While there are some weak points, this is an enjoyable album. Especially for 311 fans who want an album that is different from their previous albums and doesn’t contain too many rap songs. The deluxe edition of this album contains an 83 minute DVD with behind the scene footage and live performances.
Universal Pulse is 311’s shortest album and tenth studio release. It’s also one of their most rock-oriented albums, and features an excellent bass solo by Aaron “P-Nut” Wills.
Unfortunately, this is also the album that features the most dated and formulaic songwriting of any of their albums. Songs like ‘Wild Nights’ try to overcompensate for their lack of fresh ideas by riding on the coattails of their classic sound, but they end up sounding mind-numbingly transparent and robotic.
Despite these flaws, Universal Pulse is an album worth listening to. It’s a perfect reminder of the quality that 311 is capable of, and the power they have to connect with their fans. They are still touring two to three times a year and filling amphitheaters, so they know what their fans want and how to deliver it.