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

Twit­ter — @persona_dj

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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, the next party will be on March 24th Ven­ue TBC. www.djisuru.com

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, the next party will be on March 24th Venue TBC. www.djisuru.com