Friday, 3 October 2008

Asian Dub Foundation - Punkara (Naive 2008)

"You know, I like to think there's a reason why Asian Dub Foundation have toured with people like Primal Scream, Radiohead, The Beastie Boys," says ADF's guitarist Steve Savale, aka Chandrasonic. "We may have taken our rhythms from the club scene but over the top of that we've always been very guitar driven, very anthemic, lots of shouting. That's what always distinguished us, especially from the rest of the so-called "Asian Underground".
Back in 1997, I bought 'Rafi's Revenge' because I was into discovering British Asian bands and was flirting with politics. I took it home heard the fury of 'Naxalite' and ADF rightfully righteously blew me away, so tight were their rhythms and their basslines, so anthemic were their choruses, so righteous were their lyrics and so spidery and melodic were their guitars. They even got a 10 out of 10 review in everyone's favourite new musical express. Now where are they? Still respected and revered in Europe and Japan where hard work and polemic pay off a little more. Here in England, holding on to the 10 out of 10 review has proved harder due to a fickle music-buying public and fast-moving trends that seemed to leave this brilliant band behind. They were all about collective, about creating a global tribe all ready for their music, a community in sound and this is where the problem lies. The UK record-buying public don't want to be part of anything, least of all a scene, especially if it's unfashionable in 6 months time.

So, to the new album by ADF. By Chandrasonic's admission, this is a return to the heavier sound, more guitars more riotous discord. When I ran into him in Brick Lane, he impressed that they were rediscovering their punk roots, and that is exactly where this album picks up. Since Deeder Zaman, their amazing passionate and fierce vocalist left in 2000, they've struggled to recapture his electric energy, onstage and in the vocal booth. Spex failed them spectacularly with his monotone one-dimensional flow. They drafted in Ghetto Priest on their last album to contrast his single syllable inert presence. This time they've snagged one of the best punk-ska singers in the country, Al Rumjen from now-defunct ace band King Prawn. They've also got Aktarvata back, a much more interesting vocalist and someone more versatile and emotive than Spex ever was. The beats are still are furious and frenetic. There's playful bhangra punk (PUNK-ARA geddit?) with Iggy Pop reinventing his legendary 'No Fun' tune for the drunk Punjabi at a wedding generation, while Swami's Sups brings the bhangra vibes hard. Al Rumjen rocks and rolls all over single 'Burning Fence' and 'Living Under the Radar' as well as the ace ska tune, 'Ease Up Caesar.' There's even a new direction for ADF with 'Awake/Asleep' and 'Speed of Light' two slower more reflective sound that points to a future where they are more versatile with tempoes and the music is achingly beautiful. 'Speed of Light' contains a lovely guitar arpeggio mourn that slips in and out of drum and bass and slower percussive brushes while 'Awake/Asleep' hones in on a full harmonium drone that ebbs and flows like dreams. Imagine ADF rocking an acoustic set. It would be truly spectacular. Highlight is Cyber, the band's multi-percussionist who's intricate programming of his own fingers and wrists gives the bounce and shuffle that swings the band along above the programmed drums. While line-up changes have sullied their raw energy and power over the last few years, they still know how to rock a party, as evidenced on 'Burning Fence.' This is a band still capable of gaining 10 out of 10 reviews and awakening the sleeping masses to riot all over the shop. There's no golden scans here, no pavement-chasing. This is party polemic, dancing on the heads of bigots and oppressors. This is a band that is still as important and vital to 'multicultural' Britain as they were in 1998-2000. They are infinitely better than MIA live and celebrate rather than castigate, instigate rather than masturbate. If you have forgotten about the raw power and emotion of Asian Dub Foundation, you need to get ready for a new riot, get involved and get moving.
Go and see them at Electric Ballrooms on 28 October 2008.

Here is 'Burning Fence':

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