Asian Underground is a term associated with various British Asian and South Asian Canadian musicians (mostly Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan) who blend elements of Western underground dance music and the traditional Asian music of their home countries in South Asia. The first well-known mention was the compilation album Anokha - Soundz of the Asian Underground released in 1997 and masterminded by Talvin Singh and Sweety Kapoor. It is not a strict musical genre per se, since the specific sounds can vary wildly (from Cornershop's Bollywood-influenced Britpop to Panjabi MCs' bhangra-influenced jungle). Most of these artists are the children or grandchildren of immigrants and have grown up in Western culture, but still have a strong Asian background through their families.
In the 1980s, the Asian Underground scene gave rise to the bhangra music genre, which would later become more mainstream in the 1990s and 2000s. In the 1990s, Asian Underground was considered hip and broke through to the mainstream, with artists such as Apache Indian and Cornershop frequently entering the UK charts, with the former's "Boom Shack-A-Lak" (1993) appearing in many popular movies and the latter topping the charts with "Brimful of Asha" in 1998. The genre and other forms of South Asian music began to influence Europe's pop mainstream as acts like Björk, Bananarama, Erasure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees all released singles or remixes featuring South Asian instrumentation. Talvin Singh, known for his innovative fusion of Indian classical music with drum and bass, subsequently won a Mercury Music Prize for his album OK in 1999.
Asian Underground music initially had only little influence on popular Indian music on the sub-continent, where it is usually branded under world music. While several Asian underground artists such as Apache Indian, Trickbaby and Bally Sagoo gained fame in India, it was only after Panjabi MC's international hit "Mundian To Bach Ke" that British-Asian underground music could compete with domestic Indian artists like Shankar Mahadevan and Remo Fernandes, in addition to attracting worldwide audiences. It was followed by the globally successful Rishi Rich Project, consisting of producer Rishi Rich and artists Jay Sean, Mumzy Stranger, Juggy D and Veronica Mehta. They were one of the first groups to fuse Bhangra music with contemporary R&B and found tremendous success in India after their songs were featured in mainstream Bollywood soundtracks such as Boom, Kya Kool Hai Hum and Hum Tum. Since then, Asian underground music has exterted some influence on mainstream Indian pop music.
Asian underground music has also influenced mainstream American hip hop, R&B and urban music in the 2000s, including artists such as Timbaland, Truth Hurts, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliott and Britney Spears. According to DJ Green Lantern, "Indian beats have now become a fixture on the R&B scene". Music produced by the Asian Dub Foundation has also been featured on the soundtracks for popular video games such as Need For Speed Underground. Several former Asian Underground artists such as M.I.A. and Jay Sean have gone on to achieve mainstream success in the North American music industry, where they produced mainstream songs such as "Paper Planes" and "Down" that have charted highly on (and in the latter case, topped) the Billboard Hot 100.
Asian Underground uses many traditional and relatively new instruments. Its primary ones are sitar and tabla, and almost all artists use an electronic or acoustic drum kit and/or synthesizer. Some groups like Tabla Beat Science use an electric bass. Various other instruments, including the dholak, sarangi, and bansuri are also sometimes used. Vocals can be found as an instrument of emotional expression on many Asian Underground recordings.