Charged was an indo-electro-punk band, founded by Harvinder Sangha, signed to Nation Records. You can listen to the album here. It originated in Birmingham and ended up touring most of Europe with me as a front-man. We got some great fans and made it into The NME across a two page spread written by the late Steven Wells. I’m the massive head on the left hand side of the picture:
Indian Gangsta :: BRITS ABROAD
Feature taken from NME, 4th August 2001 – Words: Steven Wells – Photos: Ian Jennings
In Europe, Indo-Brit punks CHARGED are ambassadors for alternative Britain. In the UK, they’re still the invisible band. Why?
A pair of drummers batter traditional dholaks like they’re auditioning for Sepultura. In the pit a motley collection of Sikh, Moslem and Hindu Brits dressed as pirates, punks, ravers, bodypoppers and jihad-frenzied Hamas militants, gesticulate theatrically and scream “Jaldi kaylo khutiyo” – which is Urdu/Punjabi for “Play faster you dogs!” – and laugh their sex organs off. And all around them French interpretative mime artists are making the shapes of trees and dying swans. And all is madness.
This is the Southern French port of Toulon. Until recently Toulon had a mayor who was a member of the Front Nationale (that’s French for Nazi). Gigs by non-white performers (or performers playing non-white music) were blacklisted, banned or discouraged. Culturally, as you might guess, Toulon died.
This is Nation Records’ Global Chaos roadshow. Two bands – Fun-Da-Mental and Charged. Two dates in two cities – Paris and Toulon. And 30 individuals (including teenagers and the middle-aged), a dozen accents, four religions, three races, two genders and fuck knows how many sexualities. On the Eurostar train going under the Channel, the smoking carriage is taken over by the Nation Records debating society. Charged bass-player Bilal Wilson (massively muscled, beautifully tatooed, ex-tuba player, ex-rugger bugger and recent convert to Islam) is discussing sexual orientation with a couple of chaps who – how shall we put this? – play cricket for Yorkshire AND Lancashire. And all is madness.
This tour is part-sponsored by the British Council. The idea is “to show the French a different side to British culture”. Which is fucking cool because the merits of British holidays and British produce are currently being flogged to the French via a cartoon character called Monsieur Britannia. Mr B sports a red handlebar moustache and is middle-aged, pink-skinned, drinks tea, drives a sports car and wears Pringle sweaters and plus-fours. Who the fuck’s that? It’s us, apparently.
Based in Walsall, Charged are not so much a band as a hardcore political and musical car crash. In Paris, playing on a quayside beside a flower-decked disco ship moored by an unfashionable stretch of the Seine, they go through the motions in front of a small and politely applauding audience of white liberals and pipe-smoking lesbian intellectuals lounging in deckchairs. And they pretty much bomb. But in Toulon the next night, they burn. They are utterly intense. With jihad-scarved (and otherwise superbly laconic) Brummie DJ Marvin C on the decks, Charged ram bad, mad, hammer-rhythmed and skippy Indo-Brit hip-hop backed rants like ‘Suffocate’ and ‘Korta Boy’ down the audience’s disbelieving throats. And then it’s time for ‘Elektro Punjabi Dakoo’. Which is when things really start to go mental.
Get this; Charged founder and singer Harvinder ‘Harvey’ Sangha is screaming “Elektro Punjabi! Electro Punjabi dakoo!” (dakoo means bandit) at the skinny, safety-pinned and robo-shaded form of Nerm. And then Nerm explodes into a dance that is part body-popping and partly the death-writhings of a king cobra being fried alive on a barbecue grill. It’s crazy. It’s Metropolis meets Frankenstein meets Blade Runner. Ridiculously cute 21-year-old guitarist Asif Gillani whirls like a dervish on E. And the crowd go beserk. The interpretative mime artists (the venue is one of France’s leading centres of modern dance) respond by imitating the distressing thrashings of swans caught in the sparking wreckage of hi-tension electricity cables. And the intellectuals in the seats at the back stroke their chins vigorously and wonder: is this English? Is it Indian? It is modern? Is it traditional? Is it European? Asian? North African? Punk? Hip-hop? Or is it some dementedly eclectic post-postmodern mish-mash of all of the above while also being an exhilaratingly sardonic comment on late-imperialism, globalisation and the concept of Orientalism. To which the answers are – yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and, uh, what was the question again?
Fun-Da-Mental finish the insanity in Toulon with a scrubbed-down and fucked-up transglobal mass-murder of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and the stage is creaking under the weight of scores of savagely grinning and dementedly moonstomping frogs and Ros-Bifs (or Les Fuck-Offs as we are now more generally known) of assorted shades of pink and brown. And all is madness.
“It’s not fusion,” says Nerm after the gig. “It’s in us. It’s what we are, being second generation Asians or blacks or whatever in England. The politics are there because we’ll always have shit to deal with. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I live in Islington now, that’s a really nice area. I’ve had no racism there at all. And after the riots in the North, me and a friend went for a drink and she’s called a “black bitch”! And this is Islington! Like – what!?”
We’re on the train going home. Earlier – as we hung around the Gare Du Nord railway station and studied the pictures of the anti-globalisation protester shot dead by police in Genoa – armed CRS riot police marched straight past the smoking NME hack (white) and straight up to Fun-Da-Mental’s Aki Nawaz (brown).
“Put your cigarette out!” they barked.
“Hey! Mr Policeman! Monsewer le Gendarme! Oi! What about him! Look, a white man smoking!” shouted Aki before we managed to calm him down.
Now, as we re-enter the Channel Tunnel, Harvinder – shaven-headed, scarred, intense – is nursing a hangover, a roll-up and a can of lager. He’s an affable chap most of the time. But he’d scare the shit out of concrete when he gets mad.
“Who am I angry at? Everybody, man, I’m an angry man, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m angry about colonialism, I’m angry about what happened in India, I’m angry about the British coming over, I’m angry about what happened in Germany, I’m angry about sitting here and being judged – it’s a constant build-up of different things that you just carry around”.
He spent his teenage years as a bad boy. An urban dakoo. And then he spent years bumming around Wales, hanging out with the unreconstructed anarcho-commie zealots of the irredeemably unfashionable Welsh language punk rock scene. And then he saw Fun-Da-Mental, the groundbreaking rap-punk agit-prop brainchild of former Cult drummer Aki Nawaz. And he thought, “I could do that!” And Charged were born.
Harv’s got this sound in his head.
“I don’t know why! We had a black and white TV, OK?”
“I want to capture what I felt when my granny took me to the temple and I heard these traditional musicians that had come over from India, screaming into the mics, all distorted to fuck – they didn’t even understand what mics were! And then going home and watching Playschool. That’s the thing that I want to get.”
And in Harv’s head there’s also this mad beehive of bitterness, optimism, anger, love, tradition, rebellion, righteousness and disgust. He’ll talk about a lack of role models, about how, as a kid, he got dead excited because he thought Top Cat was Asian.
He’s been to modern MTV-fried India and he knows that the place his parents’ generation remember so fondly no longer actually exists. He’s tried the punk/crusty sad-rags of one-size-fits-all youth rebellion and found them lacking. And he passionately defends the traditions of his parents and grandparents – while banding together with others from a dozen different traditions to make music which both frightens and is despised by his traditional elders.
Don’t label the poor bastard as a spokesman for his generation. Don’t overload Charged with too much pop-sociological shite about them being the sound of second generation Asian immigrants torn between family values, Western consumerism and teenage rebellion. And please, please, please go easy with your cack-handed analogies and metaphors drawing on the recent riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley.
“I go back to India and it’s all fucked up. And I go, ‘Well, why is it so fucked up? Why is it so fucked?’ And then there’s some racist incident and you try and tell somebody in authority, they just tell you to fuck off. They don’t care. Nobody cares.
“And if you get representation, those people are coconuts. How do those people represent you? It’s a losing battle and you think – well the only way I’m going to do anything is smash that fucking window, nick that fucking TV, get on the TV myself, rip this fucking place apart. I don’t care what it’s going to do at the end of the day, I just wanna let this off so somebody can think about it and maybe deal with it in some way. I’m getting angry now!”
And, while we’re at it, let’s forget the ‘Asian Underground’ bollocks, too.
“That’s just a middle class London thing!” spits Harvey, “because the biggest ‘home-grown’ Asian-Brit phenomenon is the bhangra rave scene in the Midlands. The fact is the vast majority of Asian Brit-kids are split between Britney and Tupac – just like most Greek, Somali, Nigerian, Scottish or whatever Brit-kids. Charged sell fuck-all records and despite the fact they play all over Europe they hardly ever play in the UK – because they can hardly ever get gigs.”
“Promoters just aren’t interested in Asian bands,” says Fun-Da-Mental’s Aki (who also moonlights as head of Nation Records). “And to be honest, I just don’t think white indie kids are ready for Asian role models. Even Asian Dub Foundation didn’t sell half the records they should have, given the coverage they got. I mean, can you name a single alternative or indie band who are black? That’s the sad truth about the so-called alternative scene in Britain – women and blacks can forget it.”
Charged make marginalised fringe music. Mongrel Punk – for want of a better insulting cliche. They’ve been called (groan) “the Sex Patels” in an article headlined (wait for it) “Never Mind The Dholaks”. But don’t let that put you off. You should be paying attention. Because Charged are brilliant. And because this is noise and anger and ideas from people and places that have, until now, been ignored and excluded. And at a time when noise and anger are needed like never before. And there’s also the sad fact that the ‘alternative’ pop coming from the predominantly white suburbs has pretty much popped its clogs. It has curled up in a corner and shat itself. It’s a played-out, exhausted and bankrupt monoculture that has nothing to say and is saying it very, very quietly.
“We are a ball of confusion,” says Harvinder. “And that’s where our identity lies, in the chaos.”
We are experiencing cultural meltdown. Under the relentless hammering of globalisation, everything we have ever assumed about the concepts of ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ has been rendered meaningless or irrelevant. The confusion about identity felt by second generation immigrants is shared, to a greater or lesser extent, by pretty much everybody. From the kid chucking petrol bombs in Bradford to the poor sods beaten to a pulp in their sleeping bags in Genoa. You can create your own identity. Or you can accept the one being offered by Nike or Gap or Tommy Hilfiger. Or the BNP.
“The thing is, white people aren’t under the microscope – we are,” says Harvinder. “Things are fucked up. Things are mad. There are so many contradictions you just can’t count them. We’re just trying to make some kind of sense of it.”
All is madness. Everything is up for grabs. And Charged will have their say.