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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Village Underground, Shoreditch, London, April 28th 2010

Who says music and whisky don’t go together?  Certainly not the clever marketing guys from that bastion of the drinks business establishment, Berry Brothers & Rudd, who last year established an unlikely coalition between Cutty Sark and the “hard ragga-jungle rhythms, indo-dub bass-lines, searing sitar-inspired guitars and traditional sounds” of Asian Dub Foundation

Asian Dub Foundation

That, I have to say, takes a lot of balls from all parties concerned.   Cutty, as its advocates know it, is one of those orphan brands of  blended Scotch with a great heritage (for a brand born of prohibition, the image of the Cutty Sark clipper made a particularly compelling consumer proposition), good product but a declining franchise (that’s marketing speak for ‘dying old men’) in old markets like the US.   Elsewhere, it faces fierce competition from bigger and better-funded brands in markets such as Spain, which are anyway suffering hugely as a result of current economic conditions, and a high cost of entry in the glittering prizes of India and China.  Back in the UK, its brand equity must be similar to Lembit Opik’s.  Things haven’t gone too well for ADF of  late either, their highly politicised (strangely, I couldn’t find the word ‘political’ in any of the Cutty Sark press releases) and culturally diverse take on punk having become somewhat unfashionable, although along with similarly ‘committed’ bands such as the Levellers, they have soldiered on by delivering epic live performances (and might, of course, be about to find that  their day has returned under changed political conditions).   So I’m sure the offer of financial backing to write and record a new album, free from any interference from your sponsors, was almost irresistible.  For Cutty Sark, there is a clear commercial benefit from the musical collaborations involved in the album, notably (and coincidentally, I don’t doubt) with Spanish band Ojos de Brujo, which might help them mark out some clear ground from their competitors in Spain. The marketing guys have tried to tie this both into the brand’s “ethos of ‘creative blending’” (eh?), and the history of the Cutty Sark itself, “the journeys of the clipper … offered a broad roadmap for the selection of creative influences and guest artists working on the project”, but I put that down as baloney too.   In the UK, Cutty’s association with ADF might also bring them to the attention of a new demographic, free from the prejudices that so many younger consumers here have about blended Scotch.  So perhaps this project should be described as a marriage of convenience born of circumstance (which reminds me of something topical, but I just can’t think what …).  However, its destiny now lies in the hands of Cutty’s new owners, the Edrington Group, who have taken a nine-month collaboration to the stage of execution with a series of planned live performances of which this is the first.   And lest there be any doubt, your Reviewer and Photographer attended as guests of the sponsors.


So we’re at a ‘secret’ gig at an appropriately funky venue in Shoreditch at the heart of old London.  It’s Village Underground, a Victorian warehouse (at one time or other a coal store, music hall, theatre and car park) built under the Broad Street rail viaduct, atop of which sit salvaged London Underground carriages that have been converted into studios.  The entrance is through a sequence of claustrophobic vaulted areas, but the performance space is a vast high chamber, with a stage sufficiently large to accommodate both the ADF and their numerous guests.  The set is fast, powerful and uncompromising, featuring a selection of songs from the forthcoming album, The History of Now, closing with ‘Fortress Europe’ from their 2003 album Enemy of the Enemy.  The latest songs reflect a concern with the changing nature of the new global economy and society, “universal themes of dislocation, technological liberation and enslavement” said guitarist Steve Chandra Savale.  So the song titles say it all, ‘Urgency frequency’, ‘London to Shanghai’, ‘Future proof’ and ‘In another life’. There is of course a basic formula to the ADF sound; at its heart the mesmerising tabla and dhol of Prithpal Rajput , Yuval Gubay’s drums and the pounding bass of Martin Savale (who on ‘Future proof’ makes me fear for the stability of the venue’s nineteenth century brick work). 

Overlay on this the soaring guitar of Steve ‘Chandrasonic’ Savale, the vocals of Al Rumjen and electronics of Sanjay Tailor and you have it.  But what really brought this performance to life were the contributions of the collaborators, like Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, vocalist MC Ed Skrein, Chi 2 with a wailing mixture of traditional Chinese and electric violins, the dynamic yet joyful drumming of the Ministry of Dhol,  the percussion of Maxwell Wright from Ojos de Brujo and the fantastic (astonishing?) vocals of Shahla Karkouti, a last-minute stand-in for Marina "la Canillas".  The energy and enjoyment emanating from the stage as collaborators came and went was quite infectious and endowed the ear-numbing performance with a very special feel.


The History of Now is scheduled for release in June, and I seriously wonder how it can quite capture the sense of such a formidable live set.  So the recommendation would have to be, should you get a chance, try to see ADF with some or all of these outstanding performers.  I can assure you it would certainly be worth the price of the ticket. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Asian Dub Foundation on myspace - Ojos de Brujo on myspace

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