Children of immigrants
know the struggle
of being a book
opened to a random page
and told to understand
Feeling seen as a South Asian is a complex one, especially if you are female. We are constantly told to uphold certain social and cultural standards – outdated standards which our parents or grandparents brought with them in their humble suitcases from a time we never belonged to. The cultural displacement in our community still plays a significant role in our lives now - two, even three, generations later. Our motherlands have progressed with time, yet we still seem to cling to old cultural and social “norms”. Because of the strict conservativeness of our elders, going to gigs or clubbing was out of the question. The solution? Daytime parties. Hundreds of young South Asians would bunk school and gather to freely express themselves at these underground raves. British Pakistani actor and recent Oscar winner Riz Ahmed told FADER back in 2017 about his experiences at ‘90s daytime raves:
“So, you’d turn up for assembly and registration and bounce, get on the train, change your clothes. Coaches and busloads of people would come in from Manchester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes. People would be in their Adidas drill tops [thin, thermal sports T-shirts and sweaters] which said ‘East to West,’ and the Sikhs would wear the orange ones with the black stripes, with Khalsas on them. The Pakistanis would wear the green Adidas tracksuits with the white stripes with the moon and the star on the back. We took a lot from garage culture. The girls were in Moschino, sportswear, Versace, Tommy, and Nautica, with big hair and big earrings.”
In an article for Azeema Magazine, Safiya Bashirwrote that the movement was a “pivotal part of our recent history: it gave way to new identities, it helped us claim a space, and produced a new generation of world-class DJs.” Unlike our Caribbean brothers and sisters, our underground scene was largely undocumented, likely because ravers did not want their family members to find out what exactly was happening while they were supposed to be at school, and most definitely for the safety of South Asian family ‘honour’. Of course this was before social media days, and so getting baited out to your parents with picture evidence wasn’t really heard of. It was a safe space for young people to grow into their identities peacefully and music became a key force for discovery.
Prolific DJ and broadcaster DJ Ritu has been in the scene for over 20 years and spoke to FADER about the parties significance for LGBTQ+ South Asians, saying, “…it was the abundance of young women being allowed to wear what they like and ‘grind in the corner in their dungarees’ that illustrated a significant moment in girls feeling liberated on the dancefloor.” Daytimers gave a vision of what it was like to be British Asian in the ‘90s: it was a declaration of being seen – but by each other. It debunked the whole ‘sexless young Asians’ working studiously with girls trapped in the kitchen narrative. The scene came to an end in the late 90s as Safiya explained: “The need for a solely South Asian space became less necessary because, by the ‘00s, many felt more accepted into mainstream British society.”
Fast forward two decades and we have the rebirth of the British South Asian rave scene. This time we aren’t being so hush hush about it. Having evolved past some of the cultural expectations our elders held onto so tightly in the past and aided by the need to reclaim our roots, we had our first ever Daytimers event at the Dialled In Festival in September 2021. Bursting with iconic fits, colourful expressions, and a pool of diverse young people, it was the first time we felt seen in Britain. VICE described it as “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.” The garments people sported were also boundary-blending. “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, “Its 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.”
Call it a culture clash or a desi remix, but the fits were an authentic expression of what it truly is to be British South Asian. You could see women in colourful bindis, sparkling statement earrings and tikka headpieces with oversized shirts and Nike cross body bags. Traditional sewed sari blouses contrasted with baggy jeans with a matching dupatta scarf and some with their hair braided into traditional Punjabi parandis being waved around the dance floor as they danced away in the latest creps. I think this generation is more about reclaiming their heritage through their expression of fashion and it’s something we are all here for. Growing up it felt like a slap in the face to see our fashion first ridiculed in comedy skits, TV shows and films to then being appropriated by big brands and young people at festivals. It’s about time we reclaimed it all back and decolonised our wardrobes. Speaking of decolonisation, the expression of fluid identity is something that was crushed out of our culture by the shame of the British Empire. It was refreshing to see men, trans and non-binary folk wear traditional Nath nose rings, vibrant Payal anklets and have their make-up done beautifully. Can’t miss all the Singhs in their loud patterned turbans, contrasting them with fisherman jackets and waving their gun fingers in the air with their Kara bangles shining in the lights.
After smashing his first-ever Boiler Room set back in summer 2021, DJ Yung Singh shut down Fabric in October 2021. Another unforgettable night brought hundreds of South Asian Youth to the venue sporting their identity loud and clear. This time I saw a woman in a complete red sari – no remixes - who later told me it was her mum's
wedding dress. That night I encountered a white male on the stairs of the venue inside who, unprovoked, told me to “leave all that Aladdin shit at home”. I was wearing a blue bindi with jeans, a crop top and a sequenced dupatta. Despite most of the people dressed similar to me, he still felt the need to comment. It was an eye-opener for my friends and I to see someone in the modern day feel comfortable making a racist comment whilst beaming with confidence. It just reminds us to keep doing what we are doing and express ourselves until we create a space where there is no room for ignorant racially motivated remarks. Not only is it a chance to express ourselves, but it is also a chance for South Asian fashion to be seen globally through a different lens.
I attended one of the Daytimer DJ Your Boy Kiran’s joint birthday rave recently in Dalston and hoped to capture some of the fits the girls had on at the party. The dress code said ‘Drip’ and had a Pinterest mood board attached which essentially was Desi/Euphoria vibes. As I approached partygoers to let them know how sick they looked and snap a quick picture, they thanked me and explained the vision, but as soon as I asked if the photograph could be used in this article, they seemed worried and reluctant. I was reminded of how complicated it is to be a young brown woman. They explained that although they were allowed to come to a party like this, their parents would disapprove of their outfits as ‘it is not covering my shoulders’ or ‘my mum would freak out if any of my uncles saw this!’. It took me back to the OG Daytimer generation of young South Asians secretly raving all day, coming out at the end of the day drenched in sweat and quickly changing before going home. I guess things haven’t changed that much! Regardless, these were still people having the best time living the best of both worlds, expressing themselves in any way that they could.
I guess what we are saying through our fashion is that we are owning our culture. It doesn’t need a white person’s nod to be seen as fashionable. By accepting ourselves, we are ultimately putting South Asian fashion on the map – and I am excited to see what comes of this. Our generation needs to break boundaries for the next, following in the footsteps of other immigrant communities who have always found a way to stand out and be seen in new worlds.