REVIEW | ACCESS DENIED BY ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION

I dis­covered Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion in 2006 as an A‑Level arts stu­dent look­ing for real Asi­an influ­enced dance beats in the cli­mate of com­mer­cial “Wan­nabe R&B” Bhangra that plagued the UK charts in the early to mid 2000s.

Tracks such as ‘Rebel War­ri­or’, ‘Tu Meri’, and ‘Scal­ing New Heights’ were refresh­ingly dif­fer­ent and the mix of break­beats with Indi­an samples appealed to both the dance music fan and in me and to my Asi­an her­it­age. ADF soundtracked my youth and opened the floodgates for my explor­a­tion of the Asi­an Under­ground music scene, a label which ADF are often placed under but which they utterly reject.

Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion are a band of two halves, one half being dub influ­enced, elec­tron­ic beat­s­miths using Indi­an samples and instru­ment­a­tion and the oth­er half being a pop­u­lar live rock band. Whilst this was finely bal­anced in the punk sen­ti­ment of early ADF albums, Enemy of the Enemy with its lead single ‘Fort­ress Europe’ in 2003 seemed to sig­nal the birth of a more pol­ished sta­di­um rock ori­ent­ated Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion, which has been the main mod­us operandi of the band since.

This is illus­trated by not­ing that ADF CDs used to appear in the Dance and Elec­tron­ic sec­tion of all good record stores and now they appear in the Rock and Pop sec­tion.

This new album is also one of two halves and expresses this inher­ent ten­sion and iden­tity crisis with­in the band.

Ori­gin­ally announced for a release around June 2017, the new album did not appear then. Instead ADF fans were treated to Core Four, a live pro­ject made up of ADF mem­bers, which seemed to dis­pense with Asi­an samples and instru­ments entirely and fea­tured ADF tak­ing on the guise of a four piece jazz band. 2019 then saw the 21st anniversary re-issue of their Mer­cury nom­in­ated album Rafi’s revenge from 1998.

Access Denied, the 9th album from Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion is due for release on 19th Septem­ber 2020. ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’, The first offi­cial single from the album has a refrain that harks back to the Poll Tax riots. ADF were formed in that milieu of polit­ic­al activ­ity and gov­ern­ment fun­ded youth work­shops of the late 80s/early 90s, with early live per­form­ances spe­cific­ally organ­ised to protest the elec­tion of BNP coun­cil­lor Derek Beack­on in Tower Ham­lets. ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’ is a sta­di­um stom­per in the same vein as ADF’s out­put post ‘Fort­ress Europe’. With the chor­us sung by Ghetto Priest and rap by Aktarv8r.

‘Steal­ing The Future’, The second single is drum and bass influ­enced but the beat seems flat when com­pared to the earli­er jungle inspired ADF tracks on Rafi’s Revenge. The main prob­lem is that this track is very sim­il­ar to the pre­ced­ing one. Aktarv8r vocals with Ghetto Priest offer­ing the refrain cov­er pretty much the same ter­rit­ory of ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’ in lyr­ic­al con­tent and deliv­ery, “Hands up if you’re a cit­izen of nowhere” andThey stole the future”. The track also seems unsure of wheth­er it is D&B or sta­di­um rock and plays it safe in the middle of the road.

In ‘Front­line’, The Flute­box an inven­tion of Nath­an ‘Flute­box’ Lee, fea­tures prom­in­ently. It is a hard cut on the album. The Flutebox’s del­ic­acy jux­ta­posed with the bass and gui­tar. Aktarv8r is also on the fore­front here, pump­ing out lyr­ics such as “I’m on the front­line fight­ing for what’s mine”. The com­bin­a­tion of Nath­an Flute­box Lee and Aktarv8r is really smooth, the track seems more like an Aktav8r solo joint than an ADF track. The Gui­tars remin­is­cent of Rage Against the Machine and provide a raw instru­ment­al but where is the Bass?

‘Access Denied’, is the album’s title track, Ghetto Priest takes on the main vocal duties on this more sombre roots influ­enced track, “Rain drops from the sky//the tear drops from my eye”. Themes of oppres­sion and isol­a­tion which are prom­in­ent through­out the album come home in this track. The racial sub­text of “Is it skin deep?” hits hard and has been a con­stant mes­sage through­out ADF’s work.

The polit­ics on these tracks seem some­what gen­er­ic how­ever, where are the expli­cit ref­er­ences to Brexit, UKIP and the cur­rent gov­ern­ment? What happened to the ADF who had no qualms about read­ing out immig­ra­tion stat­ist­ics and call­ing out cur­rent prime min­is­ters on their albums?

‘Realign­ment’ – An instru­ment­al track with Indi­an instru­ment­a­tion is remin­is­cent of Speed of Light’ from the album Punk­ara of 2008 and also of the track ‘Scal­ing New Heights’ from Com­munity Music of 2000. This instru­ment­al provides the album with a beau­ti­ful moment of reflec­tion. Such del­ic­ate tracks are major high­lights in the ADF can­on, nos­tal­gic­ally ref­er­en­cing Indi­an clas­sic­al music and the things that 2nd gen­er­a­tion find in their par­ents record col­lec­tions, evok­ing home.

Com­ing Over Here’ fea­tur­ing Stew­art Lee, is an elec­tro col­lage in the style of ADF’s debut album Facts and Fic­tions from 1995 and the band Head­space (A pro­ject by Dr Das and fea­tur­ing Chandra­son­ic that was a pre­curs­or to ADF). The track fea­tures Ster­wart Lee’s fam­ous stand up com­edy mono­logue on the Anglo Sax­ons steal­ing Brit­ish Jobs. Whilst the polit­ics of the track is very much rel­ev­ant, I don’t think sampling a comedi­an cari­ca­tur­ing the far right has a much bite as when Fun Da Men­tal actu­ally sampled a voice­mail left at their offices by the Nation­al Front on the track ‘Dog Tribe’ from 1994. The instru­ment­al itself how­ever is a sol­id sound col­lage.

‘Human 47’, fea­tur­ing 47 Soul, is more of a 47 Soul track but it is a wel­come inclu­sion and looks set to be an anthem if released as a single. A very dance­able track with an infec­tious beat!

‘Mind­lock’ is anoth­er instru­ment­al track. This seems like a hark back to ADF as beat makers. Gui­tars come in mid­way turn­ing the beat into a mosh pit track. But again, where is the bass?

‘Swarm’- The third single form the album is a track about the hive mind it fea­tur­ing a pump­ing bass­line.

‘Lost in the Shad­ows’ has exist­en­tial pon­der­ing echoed in its instru­ment­a­tion but this goes nowhere and is a bit flat for my lik­ing. The flute is great to hear here and plays well with the gui­tar.

‘Youth­quake Pt 1 – Greta Speaks’ was released as a free down­load in May 2019 and was the first Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion single in a long time that made me stand up and take notice. Sampling Greta Thun­berg months before Fat­boy Slim gained much crit­ic­al acclaim for doing so. The track was engin­eered by Pan­dit G. A strong polit­ic­al mes­sage with tab­las and pos­sibly a bass­line by Dr Das, this is pure old skool Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion. Greta’s speech men­tions “Stolen future” which them­at­ic­ally con­nects it to the album’s second track. The sirens add a nice touch and sense of urgency to the track. Why couldn’t the whole album be like this? A polit­ic­al elec­tron­ic art col­lage, the track is amaz­ing yet it feels some­what out of place here.

The final three tracks of the album are remixes of ‘Re-align­ment’, ‘Front­line’ and ‘Steal­ing the Future’ respect­ively.

Hear­ing ‘New Align­ment’, brings to mind the instru­ment­al of the track ‘Strong Cul­ture’ from 1995. This could become as icon­ic as ‘Strong Cul­ture’ and I pre­dict that it will be a future ADF anthem.

ADF are no strangers to elec­tron­ic instru­ment­al tracks but it begs the ques­tion as to why there are no Dhang­sha mixes on this album? Dhang­sha being Dr Das’ new elec­tron­ic pro­ject which is much more pro­gress­ive and in the spir­it of the ori­gin­al Asi­an Dub Found­a­tion than any­thing that appears here.

 ‘Front­line San­ti­ago’ fea­tures Ana Tijoux of Mak­iza, an artist whose work does not shy away from the polit­ic­al. The vocals com­ple­ment the Flute­box nicely and I much prefer this mix of the track.

‘Smash and Grab the Future’ by DUB FX, is a hard hit­ting D&B remix which harks back to MC Nav­ig­at­or’s col­lab­or­a­tions with ADF.

It’s a massive prob­lem when the main high­lights of an album are on the tracks fea­tur­ing guest artists. The con­tri­bu­tions of 47 Soul and Ana Tijoux deserve to be released as singles in their own right. Whilst the instru­ment­al tracks and sound col­lages are good to hear, it appears the ADF are stuck in the mind­set of releas­ing ‘Fort­ress Europe’-esq, sta­di­um rock tracks over and over again.

A recent Face­book post men­tioned that Pan­dit G is in the On‑U Sound stu­dio work­ing on the offi­cial batch of remixes for the album with Adri­an Sher­wood. I look for­ward to hear­ing these and won­der what elec­tron­ic dub exper­i­ment­a­tion they will con­tain.

A short­er ver­sion of this art­icle appears in Rhythm Pass­port. Please check it out for more world music reviews.

DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground, the next party will be announced shortly by Pop­lar Uni­on.

www.djisuru.com

Ins­tagram — isuruper­sona

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DJ ISURU

DJ ISURU

DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground.

About DJ ISURU

DJ ISURU
DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series featuring the best in Asian Underground.