Between the two huge Radio One banners that formed the backdrop of Asian Dub Foundation's stage (the show was being broadcast by the station) hung a third banner that rather troubled me. It bore the face of an emaciated looking Asian man and the legend "Satpal Ram E94164". Would my ignorance of Indian politics, freedom fighters or legendary musicians be exposed and rob me of the authority to review this band, I wondered? As it happens, I suspect I wasn't the only member of the audience who didn't know that Ram was the victim of a racist attack during which he defended himself, and then an unfair trial in which he was given a life sentence for murder for which he has already served 13 years. Although I probably won't be writing to Ram to cheer him up, as ADF's frontman Deedar suggested, I did find out more and sign an online petition to Ram's parole board at www.asiandubfoundation.com. A fairly insignificant and empty gesture, I know. But nevertheless, one that no other British band I can think of would be likely to inspire. This is why, in a music scene still dominated by a hedonistic dance culture and retro-guitar music, ADF's fusion of rap, punk, dub, drum'n'bass, traditional Indian music, and, above all, politicised lyrics, is really standing out.
If it bothered ADF that they were preaching to an already converted, predominately white and mainly student audience, they didn't show it. Deedar is small in stature and looks even younger than his 21 years, but as he gives it his all, leaping around the stage, and then hopping from foot to foot like Prince Naseem on E, he has a truly commanding stage presence. As he frequently tells us, ADF were born of the Community Music workshops he attended and bassist Dr Das ran, and as a result they are an uncommonly egalitarian band. Their music has long, looping, instrumental breaks in which the spotlight leaves Deedar, and yet the audience's excitement only slightly subsides. Each band member provides their fair share of vocals and on-stage energy. Dr Das, who reminded me of the bloke from Aqua (only in looks, of course) manages to keep his bassline rocksteady throughout, even while striking the strangest rock star poses. Sun-J comes out from behind his bank of samplers and sequencers to show off what he learnt as a dancer on the rave scene (a cross between the dancing styles of "Vogue"-era Madonna and James's Tim Booth, if you can imagine such a thing). And guitarist Chandrasonic has a frankly hilarious Bez-learning-body-popping set of moves. More importantly, all five of them are very obviously enjoying themselves.
This cohesive group dynamic, so rare outside the world of hip-hop or girl groups and boy bands, makes ADF an uncommonly exciting live act. On a CD, with higher production values and the earnest (but often witty) lyrics printed out to pore over and ponder, the limitations of rock music as a tool for social and political advancement are laid bare. But in a crowded room where five men are jumping up and down, shouting very loud and encouraging us to slag off the government, just throwing one's fist in the air when asked can feel like a potent symbol of unified protest.
If I was asked to name the concert I'd been to that was most unlike the ADF one, it would be the showcasing of three hopeful new pop acts at the culmination of the Radio Academy's annual music festival. The Radio Academy is "dedicated to the encouragement and recognition of excellence in UK radio" and so it threw a party for industry insiders, where three record companies introduced them to Kick Angel, Daisy Hicks and Madasun. Between videoed acceptance speeches from Pete Tong (Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music Radio) and Robbie Williams (Award for the Most-Played Artist on British Radio), the girls all fought hard for the attention of a crowd that were more cynical, but surely no more demanding, than the young pop fans they hope await them.
Actually, Madasun have already played Wembley as support for Boyzone and had a Top 20 single ("Don't You Worry"). Originally manufactured to be the next Spice Girls, they've certainly got the looks, moves, sassy attitude and major label backing (Virgin's V2) to overcome any deficiencies they may have in the singing department. Meanwhile the forthcoming debut single from 23-year-old soul singer Daisy Hicks will probably make the charts thanks to a catchy title ("Don't Even Go There") and house remixes by Blacksmith and Drizabone that have already been picked up in a few clubs.
Lastly, my guess is that Kick Angel are being targeted at whatever tiny niche gap in the market is left between Bewitched and All Saints. The Angels had a good All Saints-style dance routine worked out for their catchy forthcoming first single, but unfortunately looked utterly lost on their two other songs. When Gabrielle made a "special unannounced guest appearance", she told us we'd have to excuse any mistakes because she couldn't hear herself singing. Perhaps the Kick Angels had the same problem but not the confidence to tell us about it. But then again, Gabrielle sounded really good.