Herstory 24: How Daytime Raves Re-Shaped Desi Identity
A Brief Note On Bhangra
When the first generation of South Asian immigrants got to Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, Punjabi folk songs accompanied them. By the time the 1980s rolled around, folk songs began to fuse with Western pop music, leading to the genre of Bhangra music. Fast forward to 2019 and there are plenty of Bhangra nights held in major cities like London, New York City, and Toronto. Before these Bhangra nights gained a foothold in international nightlife, desi youth would go to “Daytime Raves” (AKA “Daytime Discos” or “Daytimers”) to hear the new sounds they had to offer. For Herstory 24, we take a deep dive into desi identity and the musical spaces that shaped it in the UK.
The term “desi” is used to define the South Asian diaspora.
It’s hard to define “desi” into a neatly packaged sentence — it’s actually a highly contested word.
Desi communities in North America will use the word differently from their UK counterparts, which makes it difficult to offer a universal explanation. Communities with North Indian and Pakistani roots (particularly Punjabi) are more likely to identify as Desi. It is less common among communities outside that region, and especially rare within communities from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc. Technically speaking, all of these areas constitute the South Asian region, so they could identify as Desi.
Third Culture Kid (TCK)
Third Culture Kid (TCK) are people raised in a culture other than their parents' for a significant portion of their early development.
The concept of Third Culture Kids (TCK) isn’t restricted to the experiences of immigrant families — the phenomenon also relates to children of refugees, children that are adopted by families outside their country/culture, and children raised in a country that is not named on their passport (where they are legally considered native to).
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to grow up in a household where everyone communicates exclusively in one language, where your elders find your pop culture references relatable, and the majority of your relatives live in the same timezone. I’m happy with how I grew up, but I do wonder what that alternative reality would look like — because it’s almost impossible for me to imagine it.
For Desi families (and any TCK really), this unavoidable culture clash forces everyone to re-examine their expectations. 10 years ago, my parents would have had a hard time accepting that their daughters would be dating outside their race. But when they were (inevitably) faced with this situation, they had to recognize that there are 36 million people in Canada and the percentage of young men with Sri Lankan roots is slim. In this case, they maintained their desire for happy daughters and let go of an expectation that was getting in the way of that. Keep in mind that children have to re-examine their expectations too — which is what led to the inception of daytime raves.
We Can Thank Desi Youth for Daytime Raves
Like many things that we write about for the Herstory series, daytime raves were born out of necessity. It’s hard to pinpoint a single factor that led to its creation — instead we offer a glimpse into some of the contributing factors:
The audience for bhangra shows were too young to attend nightclub events
Venue owners wouldn’t give up their coveted night and weekend slots to Desi promoters and talent
Desi youth (particularly young womxn) would have to sneak out of their family homes if they wanted to go out at typical nightclub hours
Daytime Raves took place in London and several university towns across the UK. Based on the composition of the region (Desi family homes vs. Desi students on a campus), different factors contributed that those specific club cultures. However they came about, it created a space for desi youth to explore their identity outside the parameters of home, work, and school.
Fader Magazine perfectly breaks down the the significance of daytime raves in their 2017 article:
The events debunked the idea of sexless young Asians working studiously, dancing to vintage Bollywood classics at weddings, with girls trapped in the kitchen. These were people having the best of both worlds, expressing themselves away from the family home with music and culture they had created on their own terms. Crucially, they were asserting their ownership of an Asian culture that didn’t need a ‘white’ co-sign.
“Citizen of Nowhere, A Visa to Everywhere”
A few years ago, Riz Ahmed released a short film called “Daytimer” , set in the late 90s. The UK film was Inspired by the Daytime Raves of his own youth, reflecting on the idea of code-switching, and similar experiences that are familiar to desi youth.
To learn more about daytime raves, watch Riz Ahmed’s award winning short film, BBC Four’s “Pump Up the Bhangra: Sound of Asian Britain” or read Helen Kim’s thesis ‘Desis Doing it Like This’: Diaspora and the Spaces of the London Urban Asian Music Scene.
Thanks for reading! This blog series is brought to you by Solidarity in Sound, an educational platform for the global, music community.
For our Herstory Lessons blog series —we're retelling the stories of womxn in music that have been misheard, mislabeled, or erased completely from our history books.
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