Interview: Steve ‘Chandrasonic’ Savale – Asian Dub Foundation (October 2015)

Few bands have influenced the course of a particular music scene as much as Asian Dub Foundation. Even fewer have done it throughout their twenty-year career, with a fan base all over the world. They are arguably the most socially conscious musical innovators, a mouthpiece for their community, transforming local issues into global messages.

We were lucky to meet Steve Savale (aka Chandrasonic), co-founder, composer and guitar player of the band a few minutes before their gig on the Electric Brixton stage in conjunction with the London release of their latest album More Signal, More Noise.

But their new album wasn’t the only reason to celebrate the event. Asian Dub Foundation had just started touring with their latest project inspired by setting George Lucas’ 1978 sci-fi movie THX 1138 to music. Only a few months earlier the London sextet toasted the 20th anniversary of their first release, Facts and Fictions.

So we began our interview talking about that achievement and asking Steve how his approach to music has changed during these last twenty years.

There was a time when I was bringing virtually complete songs to the studio. I was writing all the lyrics, arrangements and basic programs beforehand, and I did that a few times. Today I prefer to prepare and bring minimal stuff and develop ideas once we play live. For example, ‘The Signal and the Noise’ [the 2nd track on their new album] was a bit like that. It was mostly a live track without any programming.

Asian Dub Foundation came into being in 1993 thanks to the Farringdon Community Music House. They have constantly been driven by the London origins of the project. From there they spread their name and music all around the world. Not only that, due to the many young people amongst the audience at Electric Brixton it is apparent that the younger generation is still passionate about Asian Dub Foundation’s music. We wondered why they appeal to different generations of listeners.

That’s great, isn’t it? I think it’s because there’s enough energy in the music, and the fact that we are different from the music you can usually listen to. If you look at what the ‘British intelligentsia’ likes to listen to you’ll see that it’s really introspective music. I’ve nothing against those bands like the XX, Alt-J or even FKA Twigs who I personally like, but they are very intellectual and considered. They play very discerning music. Then you’ve got rap, which from its middle level to the main stream is entirely corrupted. I mean rap is a power block in America. It helped to get Obama elected, so it’s amazing when it embodies a political and economic block. Actually, rap was also the first music form to have so much cultural and political power, but today it’s become uniform. It’s all about accessories and lifestyle. It’s no longer about music. It’s kind of materialistic. Finally you got indie music, which is dominated by people whose parents have got hedge funds.

In a way, Asian Dub Foundation has a pretty unique sound – and not to everybody’s taste.

If people get to hear us, maybe they might don’t like us, but they would definitely realise that there’s something different. We’re also very direct, which is a kind of dirty word in Britain. Then we’re dynamic, dramatic and about maximum excitement. You might find these kinds of values in styles like dubstep or rave, but they are hard to find in live bands.

Asian Dub Foundation @ Electric Brixton (London)

Attracting such a diverse audience also has some unexpected consequences.

There’s one thing that has already occurred to us a couple of times and it is really weird every time it happens. When we play at festivals like Larmer Tree or Womad, where middle age people with their teenage children make up the audience, when we go on stage the parents suddenly move back while their kids come to the front. That’s because the kids know our stuff from video games. By the way, every time it happens, we absolutely freak out. We look at those parents standing there watching their kids going crazy and we realise that some of us are the same age as them. I don’t know, maybe it’s because we’re immature.

But being immature recently helped the musicians to find the courage to set music to George Lucas’ sci-fi masterpiece THX 1138.

It was weird! I reckon that it’s probably the most experimental thing we’ve ever done. That was such a challenge for us! Compared to other similar work we’ve done  this is more my street because it’s sci-fi and I’m a big sci-fi fan. [Asian Dub Foundation also set to music Kassovitz’s ‘La Haine’ and ‘The Battle of Algiers’ directed by Pontecorvo]. But it’s also more impenetrable, subtle, strange and weird all round. It was certainly an experience and the whole thing is really interesting – but it’s also been dangerous and full of madness.

So we wondered whether Steve and his band mates feel they’ve been successful making music for movies.

I think we’re really great doing soundtracks. We’re still playing ‘La Haine’ all over the world after 14 years! While ‘The Battle of Algiers’ is about eight years and ‘THX’ is already going well – we pulled it off!