Asian Dub Foundation, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Up to a point, Asian Dub Foundation side-step criticism. Briefly embraced by the mainstream music press in the UK ("Look! Asians!") when they first appeared in the mid-1990s, they have moved past the quotidian clamour of the industry and are beginning to inhabit a space similar to that occupied by other politicised bands: Fun-da-mental, the Levellers, Chumbawumba.

Increasingly successful throughout Europe, they are no longer even signed to a UK-based label. Their comparatively radical politics and laudable community work with Asian Dub Foundation Education, which gives underprivileged young people the chance to study, bestow a sense of purpose that few bands can claim. Does it matter that they are slipping further from the mainstream? Does it matter, in fact, whether they are making good or bad art?

These seem like esoteric concerns in the face of their dizzyingly elastic, bass- heavy racket. Asian Dub Foundation have always made most sense as a live band, a blistering fusion of hedonism and empowerment. The rhetoric of Real Great Britain or current single Fortress Europe ("about all the fucking lies told about asylum seekers and immigrants") may not be particularly elegantly turned, but they are pleasurably thunderous reminders of the value of dissent.

Compare and contrast, however. Asian Dub Foundation's new, Adrian Sherwood-produced album (their fourth) makes the ponderous longueurs of Massive Attack's much-lauded experiments with guitars and dub seem risible. (ADF guitarist Chandrasonic plays exquisitely tonight, generating chimes and peals of unexpected beauty.) Moreover, think of the money thrown at So Solid Crew (another collective), a publicity-generating spectacle of black-on-black violence who, almost incidentally, make stunningly modern music but have little or nothing to say. Is it an idealist's dream to see ADF clogging up the colour supplements and dominating the charts? That is where they belong.

Certainly, I have rarely seen a crowd at the Empire so energised, but it would be a pity if ADF simply became one of those bands who can always be relied upon at a festival, preaching to an up-for-it, liberal but unchanging congregation. Pop music in the UK is an effete, castrated thing at the moment; I wish Asian Dub Foundation seemed less equivocal about leaving it behind.


David Peschek

The GuardianTramp

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