A synth-laden, punk, rock and Indian folk-infused dub rendition of the French cult-classic, La Haine.
The SU was animated by an unusual atmosphere on the last Friday night of January. A muffled dub riddim seemed to be pulsing through the banister of the spiral staircase leading up to the Anson Rooms. Anticipation circulated amongst us as we vied to have our tickets scanned. Inside, the rising speed of a formidable bassline made the air thick with excitement. Suddenly, a thrilling emotion tore through the crowd as the Asian Dub Foundation strode on stage, the rough outline of their cargo pants silhouetted against the screen.
La Haine is a gritty commentary on the lives of immigrants, ghettoized in the Parisian banlieues défavorisées, “disadvantaged suburbs”, in the 1980s. French society is compared to a man falling from a fifty-story building. With each floor he passes he repeats to himself ‘so far, so good’, to caricature how France was increasingly resorting to police brutality and right-wing nationalism to scapegoat the immigrant underclass for the poverty that was proliferating in the banlieues.
Two particular events incited Mathieu Kassovitz to write, direct and produce La Haine. Firstly, a mass demonstration broke out in 1986, after a 22-year-old student Malik Oussekine was beaten and killed by riot police, though he had not even taken part in the protest. A second event took place in 1993, when a young man of Congolese descent, Makome M’Bowole, was handcuffed to a radiator and shot at point blank range whilst in police custody. The police officer had been verbally threatening M’Bowole in response to a “verbal provocation” from the latter when the officer’s gun went off accidentally. Hence Hubert’s famous line, from which the title La Haine derives: ‘La haine attire la haine!’, “hatred breeds hatred”.
Dub music was born out of roots reggae to critique social issues connected to violence and terror. Dub songs are instrumental remixes of existing recordings that significantly reshape or remove the vocals, emphasise the drum-and-bass parts and add extensive echo, reverb and panoramic delay. The word dub derives from duppy, a Jamaican Patois (an English-based creole language with West African roots) word for ghost. Dub can therefore represent the ghosts of victims of inter-racial violence and terror, if the swirling echoes and the disembodied vocals are interpreted as metaphors for loss and as the voices of ghosts respectively.
Unsurprisingly then, screening La Haine alongside Asian Dub Foundation’s reimagined soundtrack fuses the rebellious intentions of the film and this music genre into a new medium, which constitutes a bolder criticism of racially-motivated police brutality than either La Haine or dub instrumentals do alone. Performing their rescore could be a simple and unassuming way for ADF to make a bold political statement: whatever their intentions, they imparted riotous good fun to all of us who were in the Anson Rooms this Friday night.
The live-soundtrack medium really directs how La Haine is received. For instance, the dub-beat mimics one’s heartbeat while Vinz and Hubert are bickering about the gun in the men’s toilets. When a little old man wanders out from the cubicle with a satiated expression on his face and announces the quality of his recent defecation (which in most films would be the moment of comic relief), the adrenaline-fueling dub-beat continues. Because of this, bated tension reigns in the atmosphere, as it should, to reflect the sinister moral of the story about Grunwalski, who was too proud to be seen with his pants down. Vinz doesn’t get it: he is the Grunwalski character of La Haine. Just as Grunwalski’s vain pride was the cause of his pointless death in the lonely Siberian wasteland, so Vinz clings to romantic notions of shooting a police officer and becoming a martyr and just like Grunwalski, he will die in the cold. Perhaps the eerie dub reverb is metaphorical of the ghost of Vinz.
Similarly, the falsity of the reappearing slogan ‘Le Monde est á vous’, “The World is Yours”, when compared with the characters’ reality, might have elicited remorse and pity amongst the audience, had the scene been scored differently. As it was, the heavy dub-beat and fast techno whistles produced by ADF left no room for anything but unadulterated angst and frustration with the emptiness of those words.
First screened at London’s Barbican Art Centre in 2001, Asian Dub Foundation’s innovative live rescore of the French cult classic catalysed the popularisation of this live-soundtrack medium. It has since been performed across the world, including Australia and for David Bowie at his London Meltdown Festival.
In interview after Friday’s performance, frontman Steve Savale explained to me that back in 2001, ADF dubbed a French song to replace Bob Marley’s Burnin’ and Lootin’, which covers the scenes of demonstration on the original soundtrack. That French song had actually been written about riots which erupted on London’s Broadwater Farm Estate in protest against the poverty and racially-motivated police brutality that its residents perceived they were subjected to. In keeping with their La-Hainian philosophy of protest, the six-man fraternity of dubsters agreed to revive their rescore for a controversial performance at the Broadwater Farm Estate on the eve of the city’s 2012 Mayoral elections, in the aftermath of the London Riots.
Six years on from this symbolic performance, and seventeen years after ADF first reimagined the soundtrack to La Haine, discrepancies in wealth between the rich and the poor have increased. Right-wing parties scapegoat immigrants for the economic disarray of the Western world. Hubert’s warning, ‘la haine attire la haine’, hatred breads hatred, is ever more relevant.
Because Friday night in the Anson Rooms was ultimately about having fun, ADF turned off the big screen and invited Nathan “Flutebox” Lee on stage, to close the night with a stupendously skilful instrumental performance.
Flute beatboxing (fluteboxing) is the art of using the flute as a rhythmic instrument. The fluteboxer has to simultaneously: produce two distinct and stereoscopic flute tones, which he does by humming while blowing into the flute, and also beatbox at the same time, to maintain the rhythm.
Musicians have been gracing our ears with the sweet sounds of the flute for centuries so there is a very formalized system of notation for reading flute music. Beatboxing, on the other hand, is essentially an oral tradition, derived from mimicking drum breaks found in early hip-hop pieces. The original flute-beatboxers and innovators in the field, RadioActive and Tim Barksy, both rose out of the (San Francisco) Bay Area hip-hop scene. A lot of their genius is unrepeatable, since there has not been any clear way to translate the sounds that they were making into an intelligible musical notation, until Greg Pattillo. He has developed a system for visually representing flutebox music, whereby there is one staff for the flute (which follows traditional notation) and another for the percussive effects; since beatboxing is based on the three sounds of the hi-hat, snare rimshot and bass drum, it makes sense that the second staff uses similar notation to that for drum kits.
All of us in the Anson Rooms on that Friday night witnessed proper magic under the stage lights, which illuminated the sweat that leaped forth from Nathan’s tattooed arms as he hurled the rhythmic melody out from his convulsing body. By this point, most of the audience were on their feet, dancing uncontrollably. Who would have thought that the SU would be such an appropriate venue for a rave?
*If you are a fan of La Haine and would be interested in material that approaches similar issues from a feminist perspective, I recommend Bande de Filles, a 2014 production directed by Céline Sciamma.
**This coming March, Asian Dub Foundation are headlining Festival84, which is held in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Olympic Village.
Article by Ella Gryf-Lowczowska
Photos by Maximilian Fullerton