various artists,
The Rough Guide to the Asian Underground
(World Music Network, 2003)

The monstrously popular folks in charge of the Rough Guide series won't be satisfied until they've done a music compilation for every ethnicity on the planet, but I found it surprising that it took them this long to get to underground Asian techno. In the time that it took them to dig these tracks up, a host of excellent Asian-relative electronic music compilations have come down the pike, and that competition -- coupled with the actual song choices on this album -- are what kills it. There isn't a track on here that competes with half of the now-classic Anokha compilation put together by Talvin Singh, and Anokha is six years old. It's simply too little too late.

Not that there isn't any good stuff to be culled from a listen. They put the right artists on here -- Ananda Shankar, State of Bengal, Asian Dub Foundation -- but apparently they had their hands tied to only portions of their catalogues, because the representative songs on here aren't very representative of the better songs in their repertoire.

The thing this compilation does right is capture a wide stylistic range of material, firmly living up to the mission of the series. The smooth-yet-explosive "Is It Legal?" by T.J. Rhemi flies by you while the smoky, stomping edited version of "Yab Yum" by Uzma practically sneaks into the set.

All in all, a pretty good starting place for anyone interested in the catchy stuff in the soundtracks of some of the foreign films they've been seeing in the last few years from that part of the world (Monsoon Wedding leaps immediately to mind), but not the best compilation of this scene out there.

- Rambles
written by Scott Woods
published 23 August 2003

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