Frontline 1993-97: Rarities and Remixes
Asian Dub Foundation
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Wednesday, February 20 2002, 11:32 AM
For most of the past decade, Asian Dub Foundation has embodied and emblematized the furious energies that pour out of London's increasingly multicultural underground music community as it slashes through the remnants of ethnic genre. Indeed, Asian Dub have been absolutely crucial in reinvigorating the idea that popular music still has something to teach its audiences about issues of progressive political concern which transcend the warn-out liberal hand-wringing of big-selling 'fundraiser' bands, like U2. ADF's politics have been up-front support for immigrant communities of color that have endured British racism, and problematized the unfair treatment of muslim communities in Europe too. But politics are meaningless unless the music is good, and over the past five years, ADF has consistently been at the top of its musical game.
This album may be disturbing for ADF admirers. It consists largely of re-mixes done by other artists -- Juttlan, Charged, Wayward Soul, Panicstepper, DJ Scud and Dry & Heavy -- working with original ADF material, much of it B-side tracks. The label has packaged all this as a tribute album. ADF's aural lushness begs for such a re-interpretive project. Frontline, however, is not the same exciting treat that Community Music and Rafi's Revenge provided. Nor does Frontline take advantage of the immense possibilities for reinterpreting ADF that the band's punk agit-dub and qawali-jungle suggest. Instead, Frontline, appears more in the line of profiting from back-stock by laying down some new bass synth lines and extending drum loops far too long for dosed-out ravers.
The album has an egg salad sandwich-type structure: strong and tasty tracks top and bottom, with mediocre mush in the middle, without much attention placed to production, tastefully-applied effects or well-placed breaks. However, there are notable exceptions. DJ Send's re-mix of 'Witness' leads off and listeners are bouncing into that world of pounding South Asian electronica that ADF has made their signature sound. These are rhythms to climb inside and enjoy. A following original ADF song, "Change a Gonna Come," is bright with lyrics on freedom denied and beckoning.
Then a precipitous decline sets in, with second and third-rate re-mixes droning on track after track. Grimness settles in as duds scatter across the album. "Strong Culture", a Juttla/Charged re-mix, runs back and forth over an ADF song with a monotonal electronic hum. "Tu Meri" is an unpersuasive hash from Wayward Soul; "Nazrul Dub", "Jericho" and "C.A.G.E." are plain repetitious and boring. This is a product of an disinterested and careless screwing around with mixers and sequencers, lacking in either subtlety or gaiety. Even anger, which ADF music has captured so powerfully, has bleached away here in favor of an empty music that even apolitical house music fans would find amateur.
Sometimes music and message begin to cohere tentatively, as with a track like "P.K.N.B.", a fast-moving attack on the official racism of British immigration policy that features voice snippets embedded in heavy percussion effects. Finally, the spirit returns with the too-short final track, "Operation Eagle Lie," a rap on bobby violence "when the black meets the blue."
ADF has spent a great deal of recent time and energy taking its music on global tour to Brazil, Cuba, and throughout the entirety of Europe. There's pleasant irony to noting that a group known for its musical attacks on political shape-shifter Tony 'Blur' will be appearing next month in Havana at the Anti-Imperialista Tribune, sponsored by the British Council.
Asian Dub Foundation recently parted ways with Warner-owned London Records, which will delay their newly recorded album's release for some time to come. That's a pity, since Frontline, leaves so much of ADF's unbelievable fire out of the re-mix. Having cool and admiring underground DJ friends in London doesn't always guarantee success.
Frontline is available from Nations Records