After a year hard at work on their podcast, the RepresentAsian team were back on Friday 17 Feb for a party at Crofter’s Rights.
Words: Fran Pope, @senfa_copper
In winter 2020, locked down at their parents’ home, Bristol siblings Safiya and Yusuf decided to launch a podcast as a way to learn more about their own South Asian culture and heritage. Both were already immersed in the music world – Yusuf as a DJ, promoter, and booking agent and Safiya as a DJ and writer – and, conscious of their own lack of awareness about other South Asian producers on the UK scene, they set out to learn and expand their knowledge, bringing listeners along with them. RepresentAsian was born.
Safiya opened the night with a set that skittered gleefully through UKG and house beats, with Bhangra melodies woven in. Although I remembered from the podcast that Safiya had only recently started DJing, she was so completely chilled and in the groove that I assumed she had already stacked up several events by now; I was blown away when, chatting to me after the set, she mentioned this was the first time she’d played live. And it wasn’t just me – the crowd were all-in. Yusuf followed up with a shift towards light-footed reggaeton, cranking out some real bangers and ratcheting up the heat. Finally, the enigmatic Mass Flux closed out the night with skilful and high-energy mix, as any remaining dancing space melted away into the tangle of elbows. A tiny enclave of committed dancers held out in the back corner, but by this time I was feeling the squish and admitted defeat. Surely a good sign for RepresentAsian: a room so rammed that you could barely move.
Across 12 episodes of the RepresentAsian podcast, Safiya and Yusuf have spoken with an impressive line-up of guests including Manuka Honey, DJ Rekha, Ryan Lanji, and several others. Through these and their own discussions, they dive into a fascinating mix of topics. I’ve already learned a huge amount from the podcast’s many insights into South Asian cultures and the individual experiences shared through the interviews and discussions, and it’s full of always-needed and always-valuable reminders of the many, major blind spots of the white Western narrative.
Take the Daytimers, for example: this underground movement, which spanned from the late 80s to the mid 90s, saw busloads of South Asian young people converging in secret at huge parties, especially in northern English cities. Often 3,000-strong, these events were held on Wednesday afternoons when colleges finished early. Why? To give teenagers from South Asian families a place to socialise and let loose without arousing the suspicion of their parents, who would have never let them go out to clubs or parties. And because the events took place in the afternoon, ravers were home in time for dinner – which, as Safiya and Yusuf emphasize, is of paramount importance in many South Asian families including their own. Their conversation with an original Daytimer sheds light on the enormous importance of the movement in shifting mindsets so that, by the time the next generation of South Asian kids were ready to go out on the town, parents were already thinking more progressively. As such, there was no longer any need for secret daytime raves, and the movement faded out. And yet, as their guest explains, the feeling of shame and guilt (for having gone behind their parents’ backs) is hard to shift and, all these years later, the guest chooses to remain anonymous.
DJs Yusuf Suave and Mass Flux. Image: @fussion.events
Clearly, Safiya and Yusuf haven’t been resting on their laurels this year. Early in the podcast’s third episode, the pair agreed that they hadn’t even envisaged getting that far; they both thought they’d probably do one episode and then give up. But come this far they did – alongside their day jobs, let’s not forget – and, with season three of RepresentAsian now on the horizon, this well-deserved birthday celebration at Crofter’s Rights marked a year of fantastic progress for the project, its founders, and their mission of raising the profile of South Asian people in the UK underground music scene. We’ve got our ears open, brains switched on, and dancing shoes at the ready – and we can’t wait to see what’s in store.
Safiya and Yusuf. Image: @representasian_uk
Following the event, we caught up with Safiya to get her insights on the night and on the RepresentAsian project.
Freestyle Bristol: You’ve said that you never expected the podcast to continue this long or achieve what it has done. What’s next for the RepresentAsian project?
Safiya: We’d really love to keep growing our community. Whether this is through our third podcast season with new guests, more collaborations with other platforms, or building our network with DJs based in Bristol. We just want to keep growing to be able to champion our favourite South Asian DJs! And on that note, we’re actually really excited to announce that we’ll be bringing our club night to Amsterdam in April… Watch this space.
FB: You’ve done some fantastic interviews. Have you had any stand-out guests or pinch-me moments?
S: We really loved talking to our guest who attended the original Daytimer parties in the late 80s. This movement in UK rave culture is massively undocumented – so to hear first hand and to capture someone’s experience of such an iconic moment in recent history felt really incredible.
FB: What are you currently working on outside RepresentAsian, in your own work and creative projects?
S: I’ve been freelance writing for a few years and have really enjoyed combining this with my passion for music, identity and their intersection. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Jyoty for gal-dem, talk to the organiser of Pakistan’s first Boiler Room for Shado mag and write about South Asian rave culture for Azeema.
FB: I had a brilliant time at the Crofter’s Rights party on Friday. How did you feel the night went? From your point of view as organisers, were there any changes since the launch party?
So glad you enjoyed it! We’ve always had a really good energy in the crowd and we love everyone who’s come through to support. What’s been really amazing is that we’re slowly but surely noticing more and more diverse crowds at every event.
FB: You mentioned this was your first DJ set. How did it feel? What was your favourite track from the set, or your favourite moment of the live experience?
S: I’m so glad that I finally took the plunge and played at one of our events. I forced Yusuf to stay next to me for the full hour in case anything went wrong (and there were definitely a couple of mistakes that hopefully went unnoticed) – but I would encourage anyone who’s learning to get on stage! And it was SO fun to play all my favourite tracks. Lots of afrobeats, UK garage and of course, lots of South Asian edits from Darama, yourboykiran, Jyoty, and Chande.
FB: What’s it like working with your sibling?
S: One of the main reasons I wanted to create RepresentAsian because I had just moved out of a house with Yusuf and wanted an excuse to talk to him more regularly. Working together has been super easy and our strengths really compliment each other.
FB: The RepresentAsian podcast has shone a light on many important issues about the lack of diversity in UK music. Since you started the project over a year ago (which is obviously not a long time for change to happen!), have you seen any green shoots or signs of hope on the horizon, in terms of line-ups, institutions, or any other part of the music landscape?
S: We’ve seen SO many changes since starting the podcast! By some luck, we started just as there was a wave and surge in similar platforms and events such as Daytimers, Dialled In, Eastern Margins, The Beatriarchy. There’s such a movement happening here in the UK and it’s incredible to be a part of it.
Having said that – there’s still so much more to be done. In 2022, only 28% of DJs on electronic music festival lineups were women, which is mad to think about. We need to continue diversifying lineups in every way possible – and hopefully we’re doing our bit!