Released by: ADF Communications
Release date: 10 July 2015
“We started recording the morning after a real mash-up, a mad, messy, insane Friday night gig at the Village Underground,” grins Asian Dub Foundation guitarist Steve Chandra Savale, of the group’s new album ‘More Signal More Noise’. “We woke up early on Saturday and trooped into the Red Bull Music studio in London. A few of us were even on time!”
The music currently wrecking your speakers was laid to tape in a mind-bending three days and mixed in another three, perhaps explaining the hectic but focused carnival-chaos of its ten songs. That pace was achieved in part because the group recorded as if they were playing onstage – no laying down the breakbeats before the band came in, everything was played live, with the minimum of overdubs. They were also tight as hell because they’d just come off the road. And it probably didn’t hurt that they’d already recorded the album once before, and had toured it for several months, beating those songs into fiendish shape.
Yes, the story of ‘More Signal More Noise’ began months before the ADF arkestra set foot in Red Bull. Indeed, the roots of the album can be traced as far back as 2012, and the group’s performance of their live soundtrack to Mathieu Kassovitz’ magnificent, brutal thriller La Haine. ADF had first rescored the movie at the Barbican in 2001; however, this latest screening (at the request of Secret Cinema’s Fabien Rigall) was particularly momentous, taking place on Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm Estate on the eve of the London Mayoral elections in May, less than a year after Broadwater Farm resident Mark Duggan was shot dead by police officers, the event that lit the touchpaper for the London riots of 2011.
The performance also witnessed a crucial reunion within the ADF ranks, as founder member Dr Das rejoined the group, six years after retiring from active ADF service. The success of the La Haine event led to further shows – a sell-out gig at London’s Troxy, a thrilling night at Paris’ La Trianon the night before Sarkozy was ejected from office – and fertile jam sessions at Community Music, the organisation from which ADF first sprang, where Savale was teaching a course in music that traced connections between Link Wray’s Rumble and Lethal Bizzle’s Pow.
“The group was still in flux,” remembers Savale, of these early jam sessions. Still, their Japanese label showed interest in a new album from the group, and they met up with dub legend Adrian Sherwood for the sessions that birthed the first version of the album. “We were still kicking the band back into shape when we did it,” Savale continues. “Then we took those songs on the road for a few months, and at the end of the tour, it was all sounding great. So we went into the studio, and whacked it out in three days. And I think you can hear that. It’s good to work fast.”
The new version of the album definitely feels like lightning caught in a bottle, the finest elements of the Sherwood sessions rubbing sweaty shoulders with the new recordings to deliver a punky, dubby party that’ll shake the floors and light a Molotov or two along the way. But while ‘More Signal More Noise’ perfectly preserves ADF’s native verve on wax, all that energy would count for nought without songs to back it up. And the new album offers forth some of the finest tuneage of the ‘Foundation’s storied career.
Radio Bubblegum is a classic in the making, deliciously tricky rhythms underpinning punk-funk riffage and pop hooks as Ghetto Priest takes a swing at anodyne radiowaves with a sunsplash anthem that would doubtless enjoy heavy rotation on a planet more just than this. “It’s sort-of-Afrobeat, sort-of-noise, with loads of mad flute,” smiles Savale. “It’s about cultural programming, about marketing music based on demographics and people’s spending habits. And that’s something that doesn’t work for us.” Indeed, ADF are more about breaking barriers than operating meekly within demographical boundaries.
Stand Up, which arrives intact from the original Sherwood takes, serves as a showcase for the newest member of ADF, Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, whose fevered blowing lends a fiery souljazz vibe to proceedings. “Nathan’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the flute,” says Savale. “He doesn’t look like you’d imagine a flute-player to look like, a former building-site labourer and boxer, all covered in tattoos. But he’s playing flute and beatboxing at the same time. He used to be a fan of ours back when he was fifteen!”
The futurist bustle of Blade Ragga has its roots in the group’s smash hit Community Music album from 2000. “Memory War was this high-speed ragga track with loads of sci-fi effects,” remembers Savale, “and we thought we’d invented a new genre, a futuristic ragga we called Blade Ragga. And this track taps into that. It’s also influenced by Miles Davis’ Dark Magus, taking that album’s sonic violence at high speed, and combining it with drum’n’bass.”
Fall Of The House Of Cards unites ADF with Calcutta group Gandu Circus and their vibrant, controversial frontman Q. “His band are like a cross between ADF and Devo,” grins Savale. “He made a movie called Gandu which is a bit like a Calcutta version of La Haine, a surrealist punk movie. And this track is from his next film, which is inspired by a poem by Bengali poet Rabrindranath Tagore, about a prince and a sailor who end up shipwrecked on an island run by life-sized playing cards, where the Kings and the Queens and the Jacks rule over the lower numbered cards. This track is from the scene where the lower cards rise up against the royalty. It’s mad, isn’t it? It’s a bit Utopia-meets-Alice In Wonderland, but it’s very Bengali.”
Get Lost Bashar, meanwhile, is one of ADF’s most powerful tracks to date, built around a chant led by poet Ibrahim Qashoush. “He was this fireman, who sang these chants against Assad during the early days of Arab Spring,” Savale explains, “accusing Assad of working with the Americans at the expense of the Syrian people. The Syrian security forces later murdered Ibrahim, they slit his throat, because he was a singer and a poet. The track’s not about the situation in Syria, which I don’t feel I can comment on, and which is depressing and very ugly. It’s about how, in some cultures and times in history, music has been a powerful, dangerous force. It isn’t in this country anymore, it’s been sidelined as an accessory, just for leisure-time. But music is truly important. There are places where being a musician is a threat to your life, a dangerous profession, and a powerful one too.”
It’s a truth Savale has understood for a long time, a belief he and his bandmates put into fierce practice on, an album that delivers both signal and noise in quotients that promise to annihilate any audience complacency. Have Asian Dub Foundation ever sounded this focused, this electric, this alive?
“It feels like a first album, in a way,” nods Savale. “I think we sound more alive here than on our previous records. We’re uniting stuff that are not often united, radical creativity with a raw primitivism, the primitive experimentalism of the best leftfield rock’n’roll, the best dirty, up-front bass music.”
It’s an album that’s more than the sum of its considerable parts. Tune into both the signal and the noise, and prepare to have your mind blown, and your dancefloor torn up.