Asian Dub Foundation present a special deluxe reissue of their cognizant Access Denied on Record Store Day.
Celebrating cultural diversity, Asian Dub Foundation adventurously mix various genres and create heterogenous music that can be compared to the melting pot of London. With the new tracks added, their updated ninth album sums up issues that have been affecting the world on the global and personal level – from addressing the climate change message to an ironic stance in response to Brexit. Although being provocative, Access Denied is much more than a rebellious rant. Embroidered with various elements, its inclusive texture is a patchwork of sounds alluding to different episodes in the history of music.
Originally released in September last year, the album brought a comical note to the baffling and uncomfortable Brexit reality. Featuring a sketch by the British comedian Stewart Lee, Coming Over Here took over the UK sales chart in the first weeks after the transition period. “Working on this track felt therapeutic”, admits Asian Dub Foundation’s Steve Chandra Savale. The remixed version of the song is one of the five new compositions on the deluxe reissue. It delves slightly deeper into the chronology of global migration presented in the sketch, poking fun at one of the speeches of Paul Nuttall, a former leader of the UK independence party.
LTW: The new version of Coming Over Here has a slightly darker, sinister sound. Was there any imagery behind it?
Steve Chandra Savale: I had this idea of neolithic people stomping around. Stewart Lee said to me when he heard the track: “This is like a stoner rock track with a Spinal Tap Stonehenge thing”. Nathan (Nathan Flutebox Lee – ed.) came and did a bespoke flute solo for that. It sounds really primitive.
LTW: Had you been following Stewart Lee before he and the band started collaborating on this track?
SCV: Not particularly, that’s another funny thing. I mean comedy, the British comedy has a huge audience in this country. But it is not something I had been that interested in over the last decade or so. And I don’t know people who followed that either. There were some second-hand, third-hand contacts – people who would say “My brother is a big fan of his” but not necessarily well familiar with his comedy. As a band, we didn’t have much contact with the comedy world anyway. But a lot of us knew that sketch. It’s a sketch that came into our world. I think Stewart even didn’t realize how powerful it was for people like us to hear that. Coming Over Here is something we grew up with. It is something that we remember. It’s more powerful than he thought it would be. It was a slight extension of the logic of Paul Nuttall, leader of the UK Independence Party. Just extend the logic of anti-immigration politicians and you get a brilliant comedy sketch. Now apart from this one, I know a lot more of Stewart Lee.
Where did the idea to work on this particular sketch come from?
There was a trigger. Because it went down to a festival for which Stewart Lee was doing a lot of stuff. He was making a documentary of one of John Peel’s most favourite groups called The Nightingales, funnily enough, I knew some members of when living in Birmingham, so he was presenting something on that. I saw him there and that reminded me of the sketch he had done. I listened to it while I was working on the music. I was literally just playing the sketch while working on the track. It was a moment of inspiration with no real aim other than to see what it would be like.
Both new versions of Coming Over Here and Kursk Down have this distinct sound as if the music was heard from the ocean bed.
Well, you are on the right track. When I did the drum loop for Kursk Down, it had this submarine sort of vibe. The melody was inspired by a choir singing that one might hear in a Russian Orthodox church. Eventually, we debuted this track during a gig at an old Soviet shipyard in Estonia two years ago. Kursk Down is very site-specific, I think, it’s something we’d never done before.
The new versions of Kursk Down and Hovering Shadows were produced by Adrian Sherwood, who, needless to say, has been a legend in the dub music scene. ADF has had a story of collaborating with Adrian. Was the working process organized in any specific way?
We did it in the style he used to do records and still does. He gets a set of live musicians and then dubs them live. And that would be an album. Basically, we did a special gig, just for that, at the Ramsgate Music Hall which has become quite a prestigious venue in Britain. It’s quite small but it’s an amazing little place. Adrian set out a sound system because he lives there. We went and did the whole instrumental set there. So Hovering Shadows and Kursk Down are live tracks that were mixed by Adrian, with a few little tweaks from me. There is not much drums and beats on them, almost classic live dub going on. We were pretty happy with the way that turned out.
It could have been expected that, among other serious issues, one of the bonus tracks would comment on the current pandemic situation, yet, this topic is not mentioned. Was it omitted deliberately?
There is a line on the track Stealing the Future which mentions spreading infection but it is unintentional. I just wonder how effective the comment on that would be. I’d probably write from personal experience – I haven’t really thought about it. We are actually writing a lot of new material at the moment but funnily enough, the pandemic theme hasn’t come into it at all. There is a new track called Polarizing, it might eventually end up with a different title, but it refers to the point of polarization of ideas. Society is not as homogenous as it was before. It’s defined by ideas. There is a complicated controversy around the pandemic issue too.
What do you think about the anti-lockdown protests that were taking place in Britain recently?
For many people, lockdown feels like something that the government uses in order to control them. Especially for those with the propensity to have a conspiracy mindset. I had a debate with a friend of mine and we both came to the conclusion that the lockdown protests are results of incompetence, inconsistency and disunity about the response to the pandemic. If the government were organized and actually cared about the population, then there would be nothing or fewer things like mixed messages and hypocrisy that caused people to march on the streets. Yet, although I’m sympathetic with the spirit, I think it’s also misguided. It’s better safe than sorry. I don’t think it’s a big deal to wear a mask.
Access Denied is available for purchase in record stores and online on the Rough Trade webpage.
All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.