Opera North Blog

An interview with Asian Dub Foundation's Chandrasonic

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Ahead of Asian Dub Foundation's performance of their soundtrack to La Haine on Friday 12 February, we caught up with guitarist and founder member Steve Chandra Savale, aka Chandrasonic, to find out more about how the project came about.

You celebrated 20 years in music last year with a new album, More Signal More Noise. How do you manage to keep your work so fresh and inventive after two decades together?

Having your own way of doing things helps. It was pretty out on its own from the start, and to this day has never really fitted into "the biz". We've probably blown some short-term opportunities by stubbornly sticking to our guns, but the reward has been longevity.

You’ve performed the La Haine soundtrack all over the world, but most notably at the notorious Broadwater Farm in Tottenham on the eve of the London mayoral elections in 2012, and in Paris later that year on the eve of the French presidential elections. How did it feel to be on stage at these two events?

It's always a great feeling when whatever you're doing has a certain resonance with a time and place. The people we collaborated with, Secret Cinema, are masters of that!

The re-stagings of the soundtrack in 2012 brought original members Dr Das (Bass) and Rocky Singh (drums) back into the band. Why do you think that this piece in particular is so significant to you all?

The live soundtrack idea had not been done very much, and no one had done a film anything like La Haine before in this way. So for the second time in our career I felt we were really at the cutting edge. The first performance of La Haine at the Barbican in 2001 was attended by the creators of Secret Cinema who told me that it was an influence on their work.

How do you think your soundtrack changes the way the film might be received?

That's an interesting one, because we can't conceive of the film without it now. Some people who see it for the first time with our soundtrack say that when they watch it with the original it seems there's something missing! It depends on the individual really though.

Did you have any aims or objectives in particular when you began composing it?

Only that it should work! With projects like these, you instinctively know when something doesn't.

Director Mathieu Kassovitz introduced the Paris screening live via Skype – how did he react to your additions to his film?

He saw it in London in 2002 and was jumping on his chair. There were quite a few drinks consumed later too and I remember trying to quote the crudest bits of the script to him in broken-drunk French.

Cover illustration by Tony Wright for The Man Who Fell to Earth, Alpha Science Fiction, 1977

David Bowie asked you to perform La Haine when he curated Meltdown in 2002, having named Community Music as one of his favourite recent albums. Some of your influence can even be heard on his 1997 album Earthling. Was he an influence on you too?

Very, very little on the band. When you think about it the raw, direct street level collectivism has very little in common with the high concept individualism expressed through a series of very carefully constructed images that he so brilliantly purveyed. When he was expressing an interest in us two of the band didn't like him and two hadn't heard him (or even heard of him). I'd lost interest in him in the eighties myself though I was still a fan of the Low period.

However when he died I was shocked to find my inner 11-12 year old emerging within me and realised how important he had been for me. In 1975 I bought the re-released Space Oddity and Golden Years when they were in the charts. In 1976 I read 1984, discovered Philip K. Dick by accident and was obsessed with The Man Who Fell to Earth even though I was too young to see it at the cinema. I bought Walter Tevis' novel which had DB on the front cover. So for me as a pre-teen, Bowie was the link between sci fi literature, film and music and the cross-platform vibe has stayed with me since. So in a way he was relevant for La Haine and what an honour it was to play it at his Meltdown. In more direct guitar terms I loved the FX on Space Oddity most of which are done on guitar - and the utterly brilliant Carlos Alomar's rhythm playing must come through somewhere...

Asian Dub Foundation perform their live soundtrack to La Haine on Friday 12 February. The event is currently sold out - keep an eye on social media for updates on returns and availability.

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