Interview: Asian Dub Foundation & Stewart Lee aim for Brexit Number 1 with anti-racist track

After four years of negotiations and god knows how many years of divisive scaremongering, populist nationalist hyperbole, fake news and barely concealed racism, the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union at 11pm on Thursday. With a global pandemic, an ailing economy and thousands of lorries still stuck outside the port of Dover, there’s not been a moment in my lifetime that we’ve needed to pull together more, but instead we’ll find ourselves facing massive uncertainty, one step removed from our nearest neighbours come the midnight New Year’s bells.

Last week the UK charts saw the seemingly unthinkable – a largely unknown punk band reaching number 5 in the Christmas charts with a minute-long torrent of profanity aimed at the sitting UK prime minister, and whilst The Kunts ‘Boris Johnson Is a Fucking Cunt’ didn’t manage to topple festive juggernaut Ladbaby for the seasonal top spot, it placed higher than Christmas staples from The Pogues, Elton John and Shakin’ Stevens as well as tracks from current stars Justine Bieber, Michael Bublé and Ariana Grande, all this despite receiving no radio play.

That blunt message of discontent having been delivered loud and clear, it’s now time to shift focus to the bleak prospect of a Brexit new year, and who better to deconstruct the ugly undertones of this political landslide than world’s 41st best ever stand-up Stewart Lee and Mercury-nominated genre-blending veterans Asian Dub Foundation? They’ve teamed up for a stab at the Brexit Number One slot with ‘Comin’ Over Here’, blending ADF’s blistering melting pot of dub and punk with excerpts of a routine written by Lee for his Comedy Vehicle series, puncturing then UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s racist rhetoric by taking the “immigrants comin’ over here” racist trope back through the history of the many people from across the world who’ve made Britain their home over the centuries, bringing aspects of their culture with them as they did so and shaping what we now consider to be our national identity.

Taken from ADF’s latest album Access Denied, this astonishing track would be worth the top spot at any time, but the current political climate makes this an essential listen right now. ‘Comin’ Over Here’ is available on all of the usual streaming platforms, but the best way to propel it up the charts is to buy it here – there are four different versions available (or of course you could both stream and buy). All streams and purchases between now and 11.59pm on New Year’s Eve will count towards the chart placing, and all of the band’s profits will be donated to the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), a charity that supports young refugees striving to live independent and successful lives in the community.

We caught up with ADF’s Steve Chandra Savale to find out more about the track and the campaign for Brexit Number One. (Please note that this interview was conducted before the Christmas Eve announcement of an EU-UK agreement).

When did the idea to release a track for Brexit number one arise?  Did the track come first, or was it recorded with this specifically in mind?  
The idea came about 5 days after we’d released the video, we saw it on a Stewart Lee Facebook post. The track came long before, there was no plan whatsoever.

How did the idea to combine segments of this routine of Stewart’s with original music by ADF come about?
We had a good instrumental with no vocals on it. I went down to Seachange Festival in Devon last summer and Stewart was involved in a lot of activity there and that reminded me of the sketch. I did it in an afternoon purely for self-entertainment, not expecting that anyone would even listen to it. However our manager sent it to Stewart and he liked it!

If things continue the way that they’re looking we’ll be heading into the new year with no deal with the European Union.  What are your fears about the consequences of this situation?
In the short-term, huge price hikes and shortages of basic goods as part of a general economic destabilisation in an already covid-battered economy. And no doubt the government pinning the blame on the EU and their media backers whipping up xenophobia even more than they already have.

How is Brexit likely to affect you and other musicians from both sides of the channel?
All musicians have faced ever-mounting challenges for the past decade, with COVID being the worst so far with live work being pretty much eradicated for the time being. Brexit just makes the whole touring endeavour more time-consuming and expensive. But we must all believe that MUSIC WILL SURVIVE and keep pushing through.

You’ve been writing political music since the 90s – what has changed in that time, both in terms of the audience for political music and in the general political climate of the UK?
I don’t think our sound can be reduced to just “political music”, one listen to an ADF track and you’ll all kinds of influences. However a lot of people have talked about how some of the subjects we addressed 20 years ago seem more relevant now e.g., ‘Real Great Britain‘ and ‘Crash‘. One of our most well-known tracks ‘Fortress Europe‘ which was about the refugee issue in 2003 opens with the line “2022! A New European Order”.

In addition to this track with Stewart, your new album, Access Denied, also features a number of other collaborations, including with Greta Thunberg and 47 Soul, what do these different voices add to the project?
We’ve always done collaborations with all kinds of people from well-known artists like Chuck D, Sinead O’Connor and Iggy Pop, to lesser known ones like Audio Active from Japan and Yat-Kha from Siberia. The two you mention are definitely people that encapsulate the state of the world in this era.

Can you tell us a little about KRAN and why you’ve chosen to donate the proceeds from the release to them?
Kent Refugee Action Network provides help and support to young asylum seekers and refugees who have arrived in the United Kingdom unaccompanied by an adult. They do incredible work right at the frontline of the refugee crisis with very little resources and face a lot of hostility too.

What do you hope it would achieve if this track were to become number one on the day of Brexit? 
We hope it will be a rallying call for everyone who wants to prevent the UK from becoming a xenophobic, monocultural and isolated backwater.

‘Comin’ Over Here’ is out now – buy and stream here before 12.59pm on New Year’s Eve to help in its quest for Brexit Number One.

Interview by Paul Maps
asiandubfoundation.com / stewartlee.co.uk

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