The story. . .
“people rather fear being swamped by an alien culture" - Margaret Thatcher 1979
"There is an Asian band in South London called Alien Kulture who take gangs of Asian youth with them wherever they play. Mark had said he thought ‘niggers are okay, I like the music.’ But he just shakes his head about Alien Kulture: ‘I don’t think they’ll last. I don’t think they’ll last five minutes. A Paki band? I never heard of such a thing." - Skinhead interviewed for an article in New Society – Skinheads – the cult of trouble by Ian Walker – June 1980
Alien Kulture was formed in South London in 1980 by Azhar (drums, from Morden), Jonesy (Huw) aka ‘the token white man’ (guitar, from Raynes Park). Pervez (vocals, from Balham) and Zaf (bass, from Wimbledon). Formed against the backdrop of a winter of discontent, riots in Southall and Asians being killed on the streets of England the group wanted to give the Great Britain of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s a positive image of Asians - an image where Asians were not seen as submissive, Asians who were able to stand up speak for themselves and ultimately that Asians had arrived and needed to be recognised as something more than just people who ran corner shops. It was a time when the Far Right in the UK were dangerously close to becoming an accepted norm in British Society and the Conservatives, with Margaret Thatcher at the helm, were taking away liberties at every opportunity. Feeling was also widespread that there needed to be a stop to immigration. The message that Alien Kulture wanted to convey was very much a militant and in your face ‘here to stay, here to fight’.
There was no great ability musically in the group (except for Jonesy) but there was passion to drive a message home particularly to the Far Right of the National Front and the British Movement. There was also a wish to communicate to the young Asians in the U.K. that they were not alone and, at last, they had a voice. The band did not want the left (predominantly white at the time) to speak for them at every given opportunity and the band wanted to let it be known they had arrived and more importantly that they had a face and a message. If there had to be a voice it had to be a brown voice (shouting at the top of its voice) with a brown message. The only thing remotely resembling an Asian band was Monsoon - an Asian girl stuck in front of a bunch of white musicians. Where Monsoon sang about loneliness Alien Kulture would sing about the street in a radical way never seen before coming out of an Asian voice.
The band was born out of love for the British punk movement of the time and of a support for the political movements of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism (the central committee of which 2 members of the group were voted onto eventually). They would forever be linked with these two organisations. It was not enough for the group merely to sing and talk about Asians fighting back; they actually lived it, going to demonstrations at every opportunity throughout the length and breadth of England. It was a time when there was a draconian Immigration Bill going through Parliament and, on a march to oppose the Bill, the group played on a truck at the head of the march (with 80,000 people following) to show their full support for the opposition. After one gig in Portsmouth they simply played their set, walked out of the door and straight onto a demo!
The songs broadly originated from their experiences and observations about being a second generation Asian in the UK. The songs had a political edge to them and themes ranged from cultural confusion to arranged marriages to colonialism to immigration. The songs were out rightly militant and were purposely intended to be so. No more mild and meek Asians for them, who would accept being spat on in the streets. For them the time had come to stand and then suffer the consequences. Some songs were outwardly political such as ‘Roots Rock Ratskank’ and some, such as ‘Siege and Turmoil’ had a more subtle message. The songs still have a resonance in today’s society and some lyrics would not seem out of place if written today. Musically the group wrote and played within their particular limitations. It is important to remember the songs were not simply a criticism of Asians but were written and sung so as to stimulate debate and discussion. After all if you want an arranged marriage then have one but think about it before you do it.
The first and only single released was a double A side (on their own label) ‘Asian Youth/Culture Crossover’. The record suffered from the group’s commitment to doing everything themselves and the record would probably have done better had it had a proper producer at the helm. The group went on to showcase these songs on television and radio but will always cite John Peel playing the record on his show as the major achievement. Known for saying very few words before and after playing records, John Peel actually introduced the record saying he could have played it because it was by Asians, which would have been ‘inherently racist in itself’ but was playing it because it was ultimately a good record. To the group this was the critical praise that they had craved. They accepted that the New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Sounds had all resolutely ignored them even though they knew of the existence of the band but John Peel playing them was enough. There were no more releases, simply a cassette of their songs recorded ‘live’ at an 8 track studio in a squat in Queensgate. Not perfect and full of mistakes (to those who are musically knowledgeable) but the cassette showed the group were not afraid to expose their shortfall in their musical abilities. The songs, however, speak for themselves and stand the test of time.
The gigs ranged from playing ‘proper venues’ with a proper sound system to playing on beer crates with hardboard as a stage. Audiences ranged from just two people to crowds numbering into the hundreds. Each gig was prefaced with the fear of some sort of reprisal form the far right as they had now learned of the existence of a militant Asian rebuttal to their lies. That fear was at times realised as in the 101 Club in Battersea where the gig had to be abandoned. At that gig, the band was greeted, after coming off the stage, by one of their friends with ‘you were great but do you know the National Front are out there.’ Most gigs had a smattering of people from the fascists but the Group always had the support of a stalwart of supporters such as Harrow RAR, S.L.A.G. (South London Anarchists Group - a bunch of colourful kids from all aspects of the youth movements of the day)) and other brave individuals who would always keep a watch out. The group were of course asking for this unwanted attention, otherwise what would have been the point. Most gigs were started with a headline from The Bulldog (the National Front paper of the day) which was turned into a rallying cry - ‘When was the last time you saw a Punk Pakistani, a Mod Muslim or a Bopping Bengali, well HERE WE ARE!’
No history about Alien Kulture can be written without the missed opportunities. Invited by The Specials to play Coventry Stadium with them, the group refused because two of the members had exams. They broke up a day before they were due to record the Oxford Road Show (the premier youth show at the time) which would have been a primetime exposure for them.
At the time the group broke up they were rehearsing two new songs ‘When the rains came’ about the birth of Zimbabwe and ‘The mask’ about the practice of women wearing the veil - it needs to be remembered this was a clear quarter of a century before the debate really started. There were two additional songs ‘Become Death’ (about the nuclear threat) and ‘Pakistani Girl’ (to the tune of Tom Petty’s American Girl), neither got as far as rehearsals. The music was also going into a different direction with the group planning to experiment with more Sub-continent musical themes such as Bhangra (yes Bhangra in 1980!).
It would be churlish to go into reason why the band broke up and the legacy of the group is for people to judge. The four individuals can not be faulted for trying to drag Asians from the dark days of the sixties and early-seventies into the light. Initially they were viewed with suspicion by the Asian community, after all the punk movement was a white movement. Towards the end, more and more Asians started turning up to gigs as the message started to filter through. The band looked up to the Clash and were seen very much as copying their heroes musically, little realising they had developed their own identity. By the end, when they performed ‘Garageland’ as an encore it was simply as a homage rather than wanting to be the Clash. They still have articles in books written about them, they are played on the internet when people can get hold of the songs. In the road map that is British Asian culture there should be a large sign on the day this band was formed and an even bigger sign when they disbanded; after all nothing like this would be seen until many years after with the breakthrough of the Asian Dub Foundation. They were the first of a kind and it took at least ten years to produce anything near to an Asian band that had this much energy, conviction and foresight.