TThe dance floor is filled with people of all colors and creeds looking for space as the rhythm of the Carnatic drum begins. On bridges, turbaned Sikh men and others in kurtas dance alongside the outstretched hands of women wearing salwars, lehengas, bangles and sneakers reaching for the fingers of guns. A wheel-up is pulled in seconds.

That wild reaction was for a DJ set in early August by Yung Singh, who hosted a lineup on the digital music platform Boiler Room with other members of Daytimers, a new British designer collective from South Asia. To kick off, he played a montage made for the occasion. The sweet vocals of Panjabi MC and Sarvjeet Kaur’s Kori, a modern take on an old giddha – a type of Punjabi folk song performed by women on auspicious occasions – came first. Then came Benga and Coki’s dubstep classic, Night, which has one of the most recognizable main melodies in contemporary electronic music. A clip of gout instantly went viral.

“People were going crazy,” Singh told me on a video call a week later. He’s humble and reserved, but remembering the euphoria, he can’t wipe the smile off his face. In less than 48 hours, Coki and Panjabi MC had reposted it on their Instagram stories. Dance music site Resident Advisor awarded him the mix of the day – for the second time, after his Punjabi garage mix in October 2020 – while Brit Asia TV shared it on their social media channels. It connected the musical echo chambers, connecting native but distant strangers.

“It’s people who don’t know South Asian culture who discover it, and South Asian people who discover underground music,” Singh continues. “Nowhere else could I have done this set. We grew up listening to these two worlds.

The Daytimers’ takeover of Boiler Room could be a turning point in British youth culture, where a new generation of British South Asians are tired of being overlooked by the keepers – whether promoters, journalists or warriors of the keyboard – underground music. “It was like an erupting volcano,” says Riva, another DJ and lead member. “It was that feeling of relief. We are dying of it.

Over the past decades, the South Asian diaspora has helped create DIY sounds such as the jungle and the garage while also spurring pioneering movements such as the ‘Asian underground’ and the British bhangra. DJ Bally Sagoo gained popularity by merging dub reggae and hip-hop with Indian music during the 1990s, producer Talvin Singh won the Mercury Prize in 1999, and Panjabi MC’s 2003 hit, Mundian To Bach Ke (Jay-Z jumped on a remix of it). But despite these achievements and societal advancements elsewhere, many young children of immigrants from countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh still struggle to fully represent their roots while navigating the most forward-thinking parts. of British musical culture. Daytime people want to change that.

“If South Asian culture is on display, it’s often very stereotypical or gentrified,” says Yung Singh, who grew up in the Midlands. For decades, popular TV shows from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum to Citizen Khan have rehashed damaging centuries-old tales of South Asian immigrants being particularly docile or well-behaved, which Singh describes as a “cultural hangover.” of British colonialism.

“It’s hard to be genuinely South Asian, or in my case Sikh and Punjabi, without being seen as ‘other’ or labeled; too often we are portrayed as hard working people. And if we ever break with that norm – whether it’s making music or rebelling against societal pressures – it will be seen as problematic. So this idea of ​​navigating the creative industries for dark people is a balancing act: being authentic and running the risk of being frozen, or giving in to blank gaze and then not being authentic. “

“We challenge this notion of the studious and soulless Southeast Asian sitting at home listening to Bollywood tapes,” said Rohan Rakhit, an actor and DJ who was selected by Singh to perform at the event. Boiler Room. “Everything we’ve done so far is a form of protest, it’s the only way to be on an equal footing. “

Daytimers was born into the long introspective pause of Covid’s first lockdown last year. “I felt like I was alone, that nobody looked like me,” says Provhat Rahman, a DJ and producer from east London, who founded the group. “Knowing that we all come from such a rich culture in the arts that spans thousands of years, it seemed ridiculous.”

At the end of 2020, the collective released a music compilation, DT001; in june, they released DT002, lifting thousands of pounds for Covid relief in India. In addition to promoting on Instagram, the team manages its rapid growth through the social media platform Discord and is growing weekly, with over 200 members from all over the world. Fans are mostly in their early to mid-20s, drawn from a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as creative disciplines.

Conversations about racial equality and the decolonization of the public sphere have intensified since the death of George Floyd last year. These have motivated many young British South Asians to support black protest movements, but also to be inspired by them to advance our own progress as a people, ”says Provhat. This cross-pollination between the efforts of ethnic minority groups to defend themselves is comparable to that where black communities in the Caribbean and South Asia united in the 1970s and 1980s, in the face of hostility from skinheads of the National Front. and state violence backed by police. The era gave rise to strong collaborative anti-racism campaigns as well as shared musical and artistic subcultures that still endure today: Punjabi vintage car collectors in the diaspora center of Southall, to the West London, where race riots broke out in 1979, still do reggae dub. from their loudspeakers like a sonorous nod to the protests supported by their ancestors alongside black communities.

Saachi, Roop, Riva and Rohan from the Daytimers collective. Photograph: © Hark1karan, 2021

The name of the Daytimers refers to the daytime raves held in the 1980s and 1990s in cities such as London, Birmingham and Bradford: a new social realm created by and for British South Asian music fans trying to escape the strict traditions of their parents and discriminatory door policies. nightclubs, where new identities could be freely explored. Many Millennials and Gen Zers now have older siblings and cousins ​​who dated them. They have a pure and nostalgic, even folkloric, meaning in Desi homes.

“They were a form of protest,” continues Provhat. “It’s about fighting against a space that has never really given us the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Farmer protests against the new farm laws exploded across India in November, with around 250 million people participating across the world – the largest protest in human history. Started by families in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, it gave an additional international boost to the revolutionary spirit of Daytimers. In March, with no budget and only a few weeks of coordination, they organized a 24-hour live DJ set to raise funds for Khalsa Aid, a farmer support organization in India. It was listened to by members of the diaspora around the world, who gathered in the comments section to share outbursts of appreciation and relevant stories.

“There is a level of questioning and questioning of the status quo that is not only external, about the underground music scene or the western world we live in, but also internal,” says Riva. “The cultures we come from are mostly conservative. Women are told to sit in a corner and not be celebrated; if you’re queer, you don’t belong in our society. So there is an element in looking at ourselves introspectively and saying, right, what are the best parts of our culture that we are going to continue? How are we going to create a space for the rejected people? “

Acclaimed composer Nitin Sawhney, whose 1999 album Beyond Skin was from an era when rave-driven electronic genres like drum’n’bass and classical Indian instrumentation merged with pre-millennium British multiculturalism , dismissed the “Asian underground” label as a lazy deletion. of diverse art being made. The Daytimers team is also determined not to let their momentum be slowed down by a music industry that has historically tried to lock up artists like them.

Rakhit and Singh both point out that, in the days leading up to it, even the Boiler Room lineup was misrepresented as a “British Garage Revivalist” night. “It was the music industry that was trying to classify Yung Singh, once again, as this British garage god, but musically he’s everywhere,” says Rakhit.

On Saturday August 28, the team celebrated its first anniversary. Then they joined in series of events No ID and media organization Chalo – who also exist to defend British South Asians – to organize a day and night festival on September 11 called Called. “We don’t want it to be a phase,” concludes Provhat. “We understand how this industry works, they’ll jump on whatever’s a little hot right now and play with it while it’s fun, then throw it out afterwards.” Whereas you can’t do that with an identity. Brownness isn’t hype, it’s who we are. He has to reach out to the community as a whole – that’s the only way he can stay. “

Yung Singh completed his Boiler Room set playing the 2003 hit of Dr Zeus, MC Shortie and Master Rakesh Kangna – a fusion of garage, hip-hop and bhangra, with a Punjabi singer and a Jamaican MC from the Midlands working side by side. Watching the live stream, you can see Singh wiping tears of joy from his eyes, curling his mustache, and kissing other Daytimers.

“It really means a lot to a lot of people,” Singh reflects proudly. “We’ve changed perceptions, and it’s… I can’t express how powerful it is. “

Dialed In takes place on September 11, Uplands Business Park, London E17.