Album Review: Asian Dub Foundation – Access Denied [X-Ray Production; September 2020]

Access Denied, the ninth album from Asian Dub Foundation will be released on 19th September 2020. ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’, the first single from the album has a refrain that references the Poll Tax riots which was part of the late 80s/early 90s milieu of political activity and government-funded youth workshops that ADF was formed in. The track, with chorus sung by Ghetto Priest and rap by Aktarv8r, is a stadium stomper and therein lies the problem. 

ADF are a band in identity crisis, they are either electronic beatsmiths experimenting with Indian samples and instrumentation under a dub ethos, or a popular live rock band. Releases post Rafi’s Revenge (1998) have veered towards the rock direction.

‘Stealing The Future’, is drum and bass influenced but the beat seems flat when compared to the earlier jungle inspired ADF tracks on Rafi’s Revenge (1998). The track is unsure as to whether it is d’n’b or stadium rock and so plays it safe in the middle of the road.

‘Coming Over Here’ featuring Stewart Lee, is built around the comedian’s monologue on Anglo-Saxons stealing British jobs. The politics are relevant, but sampling a caricature of the far right is not as effective as when Fun’Da’Mental actually sampled an answering machine message left at their offices by the National Front on the track ‘Dog Tribe’ (1994). 

‘Youthquake Pt 1 – Great Speaks’ was engineered by Pandit G and is pure old skool ADF. Why couldn’t the whole album be like this: a political electronic art collage that sounds like ADF’s debut Facts and Fictions (1993) and their precursor group Headspace.

The electronic instrumentals on the album are nice to hear but pale in comparison to ADF’s earlier work. This begs the question as to why there are no Dhangsha mixes on this album. Dr Das new electronic project is much more progressive than anything that appears here.

It’s a massive problem when an album’s highlights are tracks that feature guest artists. The contributions of 47Soul (a very danceable track with an infectious beat!) and Ana Tijoux deserve to be released as singles in their own right. This album contains nothing new and is illustrative of the fact that ADF are stuck in the mindset of releasing ‘Fortress Europe’-esque, stadium rock tracks over and over again.


DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance concert series featuring the best in Asian Underground, the next party will be announced shortly by Poplar Union.
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