Daytimers: The new kids on the block
Words: Dhruva Balram
In spite of global political, industrial and technological significance, South Asian cultural status is hidden in the margins, often pigeonholed into Bhangra, Bollywood and Citizen Khan. Provhat Rahman, a producer and DJ from east London, is set on changing the narrative.
As the co-founder of art collective Daytimers, he has found himself in the midst of a groundswell of creativity emerging from the UK’s South Asian diaspora. “Our brownness isn’t a phase,” Rahman says defiantly. “We ultimately want to take control of how our heritage and culture are displayed in public spaces.”
With the recent rise of South Asian-aligned underground parties like No ID, helmed by More Time label head Ahadadream, Rahman had a strong foundation to build upon. But while these smaller, more localised steps built momentum for this current movement, the idea of coming together as a collective feels long overdue. “The scenes that have come before us, they’ve been conveyed by white journalists, people that don’t really know how to tell our story,” he says. “We need to grab a hold of that and be like, ‘No, this is who we are, this is how you represent us.’’’
The idea for Daytimers was hatched in early 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic. Rahman and Sherwyn Appadu – aka King Monday – were messaging each other, discussing how there seemed to be an abundance of artists from their diaspora making a mark in the UK’s creative scenes. How could they platform this new generation, on their own terms? Taking their name from the daytime parties of the 80s and 90s where young British Asians gathered to dance to bhangra, garage and jungle, Rahman and Appadu first approached fellow DJs and producers Nirav Chandé, Gracey T, yourboykiran and Yung Singh. Word spread and by August 2020 they were ready to launch the collective officially. By December, they’d garnered enough traction to release their first compilation and within two weeks, it had raised over £2,200 for the international human rights charity Restless Beings.
“Everyone in Daytimers believes in the message of empowerment, and making sure that we showcase talent from everyone and not just for the sake of representation”
“Daytimers is like a family,” states Amad Ilyas, the collective’s art director. Since the compilation, Ilyas has been responsible for the “desi-futuristic” visual identity of the collective, paying homage to the past while nodding towards a utopian future. “Everyone believes in the message of empowerment, and making sure that we showcase talent from everyone, and not just for the sake of representation,” he says.
Ilyas is talking to Crack Magazine not from his home in London, or even the UK, but in New Jersey. He’s one of the only core members who isn’t based this side of the pond, but as he explains himself, the Daytimers ethos is one of inclusion, which means artists and creators both local and beyond can come together, united by perspective and shared understanding, as opposed to a postcode. This wider Daytimers ‘family’ – which numbers over a hundred – mainly meets and communicates via Discord with the core team of 12. We speak to eight of them on Zoom one Thursday evening, and even here their sense of affection for one another is palpable: they finish each other’s thoughts, constantly interrupting to praise one another. It can be hard to engage naturally on a video call, but for a collective raised on the internet and born from a pandemic-induced lockdown, it’s their natural habitat.
For many involved, it’s precisely this close-knit quality that makes Daytimers special. “I tried lots of other groups, and it didn’t work,” says Yung Singh, the in-demand DJ and producer as well as the self-proclaimed “meme support and critical analyst” of the collective. “I was getting people to support in warm-up slots for my gigs at packed-out London venues. It was hedonism. They were just there to have a good time whereas with Daytimers, we’re trying to make a wave and ultimately do something.”
In the new year, Daytimers focused their efforts on raising awareness and funds for the farmers’ protests which made international headlines and currently still envelop India. A 24-hour live stream in March surpassed all expectations, raising over £11,000 and gathering a global community via a digital space. It was a key moment, broadening their scope beyond the UK. “Yes, our foundations are rooted in UK bass and dance music, but our latest compilation featured artists in India [Arjun Vagale, Yung Raj and Oceantied] while [Atlanta-based] Nikki Nair is also found within the collective and our releases,” Rahman says. “We’re a UK collective in terms of core members but our mission doesn’t stop there.”
As a group of young and politically aware artists, they’ve begun to interrogate ideas around brownness itself: what is it, who defines it? A generation ago, South Asian artistry was mediated by a white British gaze. The collective makes space for diversity – subtly pushing past the confines of representation and asking questions surrounding community, all the while giving themselves, and each of their members, the autonomy to define themselves and their identities how they choose.
“I grew up in a very South Asian area [in Southall, west London] but I was the outcast at school, in the community,” DJ Priya, a new member of the internal team says. “I used to have red hair. I’ve got piercings in my face. It’s been really nice to find people who are into the same things that I am. It’s made me feel more connected with my identity.”
"I can’t be the only Singh who plays at clubs. We have to bring the others up"
Rohan Rakit, an actor, DJ and the co-instigator for the livestream (alongside London-based DJ and collective member Riva) grew up in a predominantly white world where his “experiences of brown faces were awful portrayals, making a mockery of the accent”. For Rakit, “it means everything to just be able to feel comfortable in my own skin and celebrate something. I don’t have to hide my brownness in any way because my experience isn’t isolated – we’ve all felt like that.”
Daytimers are also looking to address the London-centric focus of the dance music industry. Their self-titled “northern division” is a start. “When we get bookings, we’re always looking at [the North],” Manchester-based Nirav Chandé says. “It’s really important to see what people like Gracey T (from Sheffield) and babyschön (from Leeds) are doing because there are a lot of us up here.”
A week after the Zoom call, key members of the collective assemble in a studio in west London. They have come straight from full-time jobs or schooling across finance, law and medicine, and some are meeting one another for the first time with squeals of excitement and recognition. Heading to Nando’s afterwards, the crew discuss Punjabi history and share stories about growing up marginalised. Amidst it all, a question hangs in the air: how best to navigate an industry that has historically been hostile at worst, inconsistent at best?
“That is literally the single most thing that plays on my mind,” Rahman says with a laugh. “We need to make sure we play by our own rules. We know the industry we’re a part of, we know that they’ll see something that has a bit of clout, get their hands on it, then discard it when it gets cold.” The situation mirrors the one faced by their forebears and namesakes – the original innovators behind the daytime parties just a generation or so ago. “These mans went underground, they fizzled out,” Yung Singh reflects. “Whatever happened to DJ Radical Sista, who was the iconic image of that time? I can’t be the only Singh who plays at clubs. We have to bring the others up.”
In a bid to cement their place within cultural history, Daytimers are passionate about archiving everything themselves. They also want to ensure the stress is placed on collectivity rather than individuals. “There is a strong shared ethos within this collective,” Riva explains. “When you start allowing for divisions to enter and take away the importance of the collective, all our work will be undone.”
In short, strength in numbers – and right now, numbers are growing. The collective is expanding in other ways too, with a summer schedule revealing the extent of their ambitions. There’s a Boiler Room set Yung Singh is due to play in August, with plans to bring along other members of the collective, and a Daytimers Reprezent Radio residency, plus a number of festival appearances. To top it off, Daytimers, Chalo and No ID are hosting a brand-new contemporary underground festival, Dialled In, [full disclosure, this writer is involved] with a day-and-night event alongside a two-month mentorship scheme, a documentary which focuses on defining brownness today, and several roundtable discussions interrogating important questions within the community.
“A lot of it is making the most of the white gaze on us right now,” explains Rahman, cheekily. “We’re flipping that to our advantage and turning it into opportunities for everyone in the collective while controlling the narrative.” It’s a sentiment Yung Singh echoes: “We want a seat at the table. In fact, we want several seats at the table, but we want to build our own house as well.”
Dialled In takes place on 11 September at Uplands Business Park, London