Asian Dub Foundation was founded in 1993 with the intention of the fusion of musical styles. Ever since the release of their first album Facts and Fiction in 1996, the collective – a label that fits them more snugly than group- has been constantly evolving towards ever more ambitious projects, from giving rabble-rousing performances and drawing attention to sensitive issues, to adding new layers to its alloy of sounds.
Although Asian Dub Foundation’s early output failed to grab their public’s imagination, the midi warriors, as they call themselves, later generated widespread enthusiasm.
With the inaugural sound system line-up including bassist and teacher Dr Das, DJ and civil rights activist, Pandit G, and Deedar Zaman, a brilliant MC from a London music school, Asian Dub Foundation established the building blocks of its cross-cultural identity in 1993. Soon joined by guitarist Chandrasonic and programming prodigy Sun J, the group moved from playing at anti-racist gigs to becoming major challengers on a British music scene still gripped by Britpop fever.
ADF’s members were all born in England to immigrant parents and share an open-minded approach to musical culture, from the latest electronic vibes and traditional Eastern sounds, to rebellious rhythms of punk rock and hip hop that express their everyday struggle for respect and tolerance.
Their charisma and social conscience have won praise from a whole host of major names in the music industry: ADF toured with Primal Scream after the release of their second album R.A.F.I. (1997), before being invited to provide the warm-up act at a David Bowie concert. The campaign for the release of Satpal Ram, an immigrant worker convicted of murder after defending himself from a racist attack, thrust them into the spotlight.
ADF was asked to perform at the Fuki Rock Festival in Japan, where the group has always enjoyed an enthusiastic reception, before hitting the road with the Beastie Boys. After the release of their third album, Community Music (1999), the group was joined by drummer Rocky Singh and Pritpal Rajput (who plays the Dohl, a traditional Panjabi drum), securing their reputation for high energy live stage performances.
Struck by the social message of La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz’s film about the lives of three teenagers in the Paris suburbs (Ghotika), ADF re-wrote the soundtrack, which they performed live at screenings of the film. Their most moving performance was on 31 March 2001 at the Barbican in London when Satpal Ram, released just the day before, joined the band on stage.
When Deedar decided to call it a day, ADF invited two MCs (Aktar and Spex), graduates of the same music school as them, to join them on their latest adventure: the recording of their fourth album Enemy of the Enemy (2003). Heavily influenced by world events – the opening of Europe’s borders and September 11 ? the album also portrays the production skills of one of the pioneers of British dub, Adrian Sherwood, boss of the On-U Sound label. The album also featured an unexpected guest artist, Sinead O’Connor, who tackles the issue of domestic violence on the track 1,000 Mirrors. Radiohead guitarist Ed O?Brien cut in on the sessions and the two groups teamed up for a landmark European tour. ADF also joined French activist Jose Bove at an anti-globalization rally in the Larzac region of southern France, in August 2003. Keep Bangin’ on the Walls, their highly-charged live performance, was released in the heat of the moment as a CD and a DVD.
Reluctant to stick to the distinctive sound that had made their name, ADF chose to reinvent itself by inviting a number of new members to join the team. Ghetto Priest, an artist on the On-U Sound label, was the first to arrive on the scene, infusing the tracks on Tank with a whole new flavor. Priest’s steady flow recalls the great Jamaican vocalist Horace Andy, a stark contrast with the more hip-hop inclined Spex. By hooking up with Ben Watkins (composer of the soundtracks for the Matrix trilogy and member of Juno Reactor) and Adam Wren (Leftfield?s sound engineer), ADF has steered a more electronic course as revealed by the irresistible dance rhythm of the first track, Fly Over. It sums up ADF?s calling to make music that gets the mind and body moving by raising awareness on the dance floor.
As the title suggests, Tank is an album created in a world at war. Oil makes a stark reference to the economic interests at stake for the countries involved, Take Back the Power is an attack on the abuse of power by dictators, Warring Dohl focuses on the situation in Pakistan and Bangladesh, while The Round Up sounds a particularly grim warning: “When you hear the marching drum/You know your time soon come”. As in their previous albums, the lyrics are shot through with meaning, while the album’s enormous energy prevents it from sliding into dogma. ADF remains first and foremost a musical laboratory overflowing with ideas, drawing on sophisticated programming, deep bass sounds and searing riffs to create its one-of-a-kind kick.
The collective reveals once more that it is open to new sounds: Mad Mike from the Detroit Underground Resistance (founded with Jeff Mills), another great name in the realm of integrity, collaborated on Powerlines while Tomorrow Begins Today takes an original reggae stance. Melody 7, the album?s closing instrumental piece, recalls the group?s work on the soundtrack for La Haine, which they have taken up again with La Bataille d’Alger, a film banned in France on its release in 1965 because of its political stance. And it’s still hot stuff: the Pentagon viewed the film in 2003 as part of its fight against rebel groups in Iraq.
After a number of performances in England and just finishing the recording of Tank, ADF plunged head first into a new project. The English National Theatre commissioned the collective to compose and perform an opera on the life of Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi. The project posed a new challenge for which this inventive and ambitious group are particularly well suited.
Facts and Fictions (Rough Trade, 1995)
Rafi’s Revenge (1998)
Community Music (2000)
Enemy of the Enemy (2003)
Tank (Virgin, 2005)
Punkara (Beat Records, 2008)
A History of Now (Beat Records, 2011)
More Signal More Noise (ADF, 2015)