I promised previously to continue to blog about the impact that Asians have had on rock n’ roll so…saw this recent article from the UK about the seminal British “Asian punk band” Alien Kulture. It’s safe to assume that most of our readers probably never heard of this group—they never achieved the level of fame of their “peers” like the Clash–but when they stormed onto the London music scene thirty years ago, they had an impact on the culture that’s still being felt today.
The band formed in the late ‘70s and consisted of three young Asian/Pakistanis (Azhar Rana, Pervez Bilgrami, Ausaf Abbas) and a “token white bloke” (Huw “Jonesy” Jones). None of them were trained musicians (with the “possible” exception of Jonesy), but like other punk bands, they had something to say and it was loud and angry. In this case, Alien Kulture was created in reaction against the then-new Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the country’s move toward the extreme right and an anti-immigrant xenophobia that was violently rearing its ugly head (the band’s name came from a speech Thatcher made where she said “people rather fear being swamped by an alien culture”).
At a time when Asians were all but invisible or made into the political/social scapegoat for the nation’s ills, the band came together based on their love of punk (especially the Sex Pistols) and politics to create music that was decidedly and intentionally pro-Asian.
“Our story of being second-generation Asians was not being heard,” according to Bilgrami. “There was no one else saying what we wanted to say.”
As a part of Rock Against Racism, they started playing gigs and met with resistance from both ends of the spectrum—racist skinheads and disapproving Asians alike; including their conservative parents who were less than supportive of their sons’ musical efforts. But they quickly built a following amongst their youthful peers—both Asian and non—who were drawn to the band’s energy and their angry political stance on songs like “Siege and Turmoil” and “Asian Youth/Crossover Culture” (their only released single).
In 1981, conflicts arose within the group about what direction Alien Kulture should take (mainstream vs. underground) and the band broke up on the day before they were to appear on the popular British TV program Oxford Road Show which would have most likely launched their careers to the next level (the show was the UK equivalent of American Bandstand).
But though the group was short-lived and their popularity was limited to a cult following, their status has grown over the years and everyone from fellow British Pakistani Hanif Kureishi (writer of films like My Beautiful Laundrette starring a then-unknown Daniel Day Lewis) to the rock band Oasis have acknowledged the influence of Alien Kulture’s pioneering efforts.
I first discovered the band in high school, years after they had disbanded, when a girl I liked gave me a bootleg cassette of one of their live performances. Listening to that tape was a watershed moment for me. I was just getting into “classic” punk acts like the Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, the Clash, Fear and Bad Brains and discovering this “Asian” punk band that had the energy and rawness of those acts, but were singing about issues that I could relate to as a young Asian American was empowering. I’ve since gotten rid of all my cassettes except that one and still listen to it on my old boom box.
One of the band members once described the purpose of Alien Kulture’s existence in this way: “White youth got rock, black youth got reggae and Asian youth got nothing. Now they got us.” And for many Asian kids like me, that made all the difference.
Here’s a special from back in the day on Alien Kulture that ran on BBC (the interview portion starts at 1:20 if you want to skip the non-subtitled intro):