William Otis Laswell (born February 12, 1955) is an American bass guitarist, record producer, and record label owner. He has been involved in thousands of recordings with many collaborators from all over the world. His music draws from funk, world music, jazz, dub and ambient styles.
According to music 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.” The credo of one record label run by Laswell which typifies much of his work is “Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted”. Although his bands may be credited under the same name and often feature the same roster of musicians, the styles and themes explored on different albums can vary dramatically. Material began as a noisy dance music band, but later albums concentrated on hip hop, jazz, or spoken word readings by William S. Burroughs. Most versions of the band Praxis have included guitarist Buckethead, but they have explored different permutations on albums.
Laswell got his earliest professional experience as a bass guitarist in R&B and funk bands in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He saw shows that combined genres, such as Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, and Funkadelic. He was also influenced by jazz musicians John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Miles Davis.
In the late 1970s Laswell moved to New York City, immersing himself in the thriving New York music scene. He moved into producer Giorgio Gomelsky‘s loft and became part of a group of musicians that would become the first version of Material. Material became the backing band for Daevid Allen and New York Gong. The band consisted of Laswell, keyboardist Michael Beinhorn, and drummer Fred Maher. They were usually supplemented by guitarists Cliff Cultreri or Robert Quine.
He worked with Brian Eno, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Daniel Ponce, Ginger Baker, Peter Brötzmann, Kip Hanrahan, Sonny Sharrock, and with musicians in no wave, a genre that combined avant-garde jazz, funk, and punk.