“Mark Stewart, he’s my chaos.” – Tricky
Stewart started out in Bristol in 1978 as teenage front man and mastermind of seminal Bristol post-punk legends The Pop Group(1978-80), an out-there, genre-busting band. In an era that saw public opinion and perception tainted by Thatcher, Reagan and the Cold War, The Pop Group emerged as one of Britain’s most radical exponents of new music and quickly gained notoriety well beyond the British Isles. After the group’s dissolution in 1981, members of The Pop Group re-emerged in a flurry of new bands (such as Glaxo Babies, Maximum Joy and Rop, Rig & Panic). Stewart and two other members headed off to London to hook up with the emerging On-U Sound “conspiracy of outsiders”. The New Age Steppers included Mark Stewart, John Waddington and Bruce Smith from The Pop Group; as well as Style Scott, George Oban of Aswad, Bim Sherman, Ari Up from The Slits, and a young Neneh Cherry. On-U’s first ever release featured New Age Steppers on side 1, London Underground on side 2, of a split 7” single. The classic self-titled debut album by New Age Steppers was also the first long-player issued by the budding label.
On-U became a focal point for an absurdly diverse set of networks – punks, reggae players from both the UK and JA, free-jazzers, blaggers, nutters… you name it. After a short stint with the New Age Steppers, Mark Stewart decided to pursue a solo career as Mark Stewart + the Maffia. His friend, On-U sound owner Adrian Sherwood, took care of production and mixed the Maffia on their various tours.
The Maffia initially consisted of members of Creation Rebel, before a new line-up of Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald and drumming talent Keith LeBlanc (aka The Sugar Hill Gang aka Fats Comet aka Tackhead), became the longest running Maffia incarnation. In the US trio, Stewart had recruited a truly exceptional rhythm section. Considered seminal milestones by many of his peers and fans, the solo outings by this godfather of Bristol’s eclectic music scene blend the most diverse of genres in a unique and unconventional mix of dub, funk, punk, techno, electro, noise – spiced up with a generous dose of Stewart’s trademark political lyrics and slogans. Albums like Learning To Cope With Cowardice or As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade have left a lasting mark on the current music scene. Icons in their own right such as Massive Attack, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Carl Craig, Thurston Moore and Nick Cave call Mark Stewart’s work a decisive influence. In 2015, a reformed and re-energised version of The Pop Group released their third album Citizen Zombie.