Festival goers at Dialled In festival in London
Photos: Aiyush Pachnanda

'The New South Asian Underground' – Dialled In Festival Is a Historic Moment

"The only time I’ve ever seen this many brown people is either in India or at the temple.”
September 14, 2021, 8:30am

Last weekend in London, large groups of people milled around in kurtas and lenghas, as they took a break from dancing to eat jalebi and samosa chaat.

This wasn’t a mela or a family wedding, but a new London based music festival with a line-up entirely dedicated to South Asian musicians. 

Forget approaching South Asian artists as a monolith, or boxing them into blasting Bollywood songs. Instead, Dialled In ushered in what the organisers call “the new South Asian underground”. Think: dub and jungle mixed with fast tabla samples, Punjabi garage, rock with classical Indian sounds and several hours worth of boundary-blending, late-night-ready tunes.

Brought together by South Asian collectives No ID, Chalo and Daytimers, and featuring the likes of Manara, Anu, Nayana IZ and more on a well-curated bill, the festival represented the fullness of South Asia’s diaspora.

Nadia Javed. Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Nadia Javed. Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Nadia Javed, guitarist and lead singer of the Tuts couldn’t agree more with the opened-arms, genre-appreciative approach. When she chats with VICE, she’s just wrapped up a pop-punk set, where she told the crowd about how her problematic white therapist didn't know what a South Asian was. 

“Playing here was nerve-wracking because usually I just play to white people and there’s no pressure. You’re like, ‘Who cares what they fucking think anyway?’ But this time it’s like, ‘Shit, [these are] my own people, so I want to impress them.”

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Twenty-four-year-old Sophia, who just got here, shows off her sequenced kameez that she got in a car boot sale. “I’ve never had the guts to wear an outfit like this to a night out. Now that I have today, I will again,” she says, adding, “it’s mind blowing how white people are the minority here for the first time. The only time I’ve ever seen this many brown people is either in India or at the temple.”

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

At the heart of the festival were Daytimers – a collective founded during the lockdown in August last year by DJ and producer Provhat Rahman. Since then, they’ve grown to include core members such as Rohan Rakhit, Riva, yourboykiran and Yung Singh – who says the idea was to make “a space for young brown people to be brown and proud, however that manifests”.

Daytimers exploded over the past year, via a series of livestreams, radio mixes and a now iconic Boiler Room takeover back in August. Drawing influence from Punjabi UKG, Qawwali, Indian folk songs and dub and house, they tread a journey between South Asia and UK club (check “Pani Pura Pirates” from yourboykiran and fellow Daytimer Chandé for proof).

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Crucially, the Daytimers name is an ode to the the daytime parties that took place in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s across the UK. Major cities like London, Glasgow, Bradford and Birmingham had sizeable South Asian communities of first and second generation families, so for young people growing into their identities, music became a key force for discovery.

Because a lot of South Asian parents were often more conservative, kids going to gigs or clubbing was out of the question. Enter: the rise of daytime parties, where hundreds of young people geared up to freely express themselves at these raves, even if it meant they were taking place in a more unconventional way during the day.

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“I think what these daytime parties did was they gave a real sense of freedom for a lot of people who may never have felt that before, or they kind of felt like they were in a club without having been in a club,” says yourboykiran. 

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Most young British Asians have an older family member who regularly hit up daytime parties. In the 90s, you’d see a sibling stuff a second outfit into their bag, telling their parents they were going to school or college. But they would bunk off class instead, secretly spending the afternoon in dark venues, swaying to bass, garage and bhangra. Everyone would come out of the party drenched in sweat, change into their original morning outfit, then clean up and go home to dinner as if it’d just been a standard day. 

Daytimers now pay respect to their elders who started it all. See: Hustlers Convention, who helped start one of the first Asian club nights at Soho’s Wag Club in 1993; DJ Radical Sista, who made a career playing at daytime parties in Bradford in the early 90s; and DJ Ritu, DJ Deepsta and plenty of others who paved the way for generations to come.

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Diverse sounds sat at the forefront of the original daytimers raves. Here, bhangra bands sang melodic folk songs one minute; the next, a DJ would mix a Bally Sagoo track with reggae, dub, R&B and hip hop. It came from a time when people of colour sought inspiration from each other’s cultures.

“Us Punjabis grew up listening to dance music of all types,” says Yung Singh. “A lot of that is because of the influence our Jamaican peers had on our parents and grandparents in the 70s and 80s.”

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

The return to this cross-genre visibility is what makes a festival like Dialled In vital. When yourboykiran saw the sea of brown people jumping up and down as he dropped the Prodigy’s “Warrior’s Dance” in his mix, the festival leaped beyond representation and into the breaking down of cultural norms.

For him – and every South Asian you’d bump into at the festival – seeing Sikh guys waving flags of solidarity with Indian farmers, or hearing two girls at the bar speaking in Bengali about how much the tunes are going off, makes this generation of South Asians know that we make our own rules.

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

“I wanted people to see a bunch of turban-wearing Singhs going nuts to grime, jersey club and jungle and to see people from other backgrounds lose themselves to bhangra for specifically this reason,” says Yung Singh.

As Kiran puts it: “When you see a brown person on stage, you see a bit of yourself.”

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Ahadadream, featuring Skrillex, who turned up to the event. Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Still, there’s no doubt that gatekeeping and tokenism still plays a part in the lack of exposure and opportunities for British Asian artists in the predominantly white industry. Off the back of Dialled In, can we be hopeful?

Daytimers’ Riva hopes so. “In regards to the toxic-ness in the industry, there still needs to be change 100 percent,” she tells VICE, after finishing her set.

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

Photo: Aiyush Pachnanda

“I don’t know if that’ll happen. Coming back to the dance music scene after lockdown and seeing that all these venues with their diversity statements have done absolutely nothing to fulfil them has made me question whether things have really changed. It’s made me realise the importance of creating our counterculture. Being here, though, is what so many of us in our communities have dreamt of. I want to keep fighting for these spaces.”

Before Dialled In wraps up, a Sikh photographer sits to catch his breath after Yung Singh’s set. “We made history today, man,” he says, repeating himself. He’s right.

@ZabMustefa