It’s the first summery day in Berlin, when I meet Abeera, Imad and Arnav outside of the radio station Refuge Worldwide in-studio bar Oona, where their collective hosts a regular radio show. It is also one week before their first event in Berlin. The three of them are all well experienced in throwing parties and behind the decks, now they are preparing their first dance as part of the Daytimers Berlin branch.

Arnav, Abeera & Imad outside of Refuge Worldwide

Daytimers is a UK-based collective aiming to uplift the South Asian diaspora and its creative talents. Starting off with a focus on dance music their activities now go far and beyond including poetry nights, running clubs and food events. Perhaps it was good timing, perhaps such a movement was long overdue, but the collective quickly gained a lot of media attention and reach. The idea was developed in 2020 alongside a 24-hour live stream to raise funds for the farmers’ protest in India, quickly followed by the release of the two compilations DT001 and DT002. It all escalated in a Boiler Room event curated by Yung Singh in August 2021 that flooded every dance music lover’s TikTok feed with his blends of bhangra tracks and Punjabi folk songs with UK dance music classics. This marked a turning point for many members of the community: “It was really big, I mean you can see the energy in that video, but the actual energy in the space, not just at the decks but around the whole thing,” Rosh, also known as the DJ and producer Works Of Intent and part of the UK team, tells me over video call.

Events like the one at Boiler Room created spaces and contexts for him to connect with other South Asian artists he had only known from afar: “There wasn’t a sense of solidarity or a connection that brought us together. It felt disparate and disconnected and you would see each other doing things but you would never really feel like you could reach out. And now we are so much more connected through physical spaces and you get this sense of a real community, a real genuine community.” Nearly four years in, their community and popularity have grown to the point where they sell out renowned venues like the London Jazz Cafe and have a calendar full of bookings well into next year. 

The Ones That Came Before

The Daytimers team is well aware that they are following in the footsteps of other collectives gathering South Asian diaspora in the UK. The name “Daytimers” refers to daytime raves, which took place in the 80s and 90s. There, young British Asians gathered to dance to bhangra, garage, and jungle creating their own social realm. These spaces were particularly important because of the marginalisation and racism experienced by People of Colour in mainstream club culture. The narrative often goes that it was their strict parents who forbade all-nighters associated with drugs and letting loose but that’s only part of the story. Clubs would not give them the space to curate their own DJ line-ups, nor would they provide a comfortable and safe space for a South Asian crowd to dance and party. So, these kids went on to skip school and create their own raves in the afternoons only to slip back into their uniforms and return home before curfew.

Daytimers at the Jazz Cafe London April 2024 (Photo by India Bharadwaj)

More than forty years later, a new generation of British South Asians builds on these achievements. With other collectives like the festival Dialled In and HUNGAMA, which focuses on queer culture, Daytimers is in good company. “There would be no Daytimers if it weren’t for those who came before us,” Rosh tells me. The collective called in key players from back in the day, such as DJ Ritu, who was already a major figure in the British Asian underground in the nineties and noughties, or Steve Chandra Savale of the influential Asian Dub Foundation, and composer, producer and percussionist Talvin Singh, both merge classical Indian sounds and British music culture. But despite their notable groundwork and overall social progress, many British South Asians are still sidelined by gatekeepers – whether they are promoters, label owners, or music journalists – and face racism when navigating predominantly white dance music spaces. 

Taking Daytimers to Berlin

“We’re putting on this night in Berlin because we have seen first-hand what a catalyst Daytimers has been to the sense of solidarity between South Asians. That’s something we hope to spark through having a physical space in Berlin using Daytimers almost as a brand that is tried, tested, and proven in the UK,” Rosh tells me. On a small scale, this has already worked. “I already feel like I’ve gotten connected to a lot of people since we started this project,” says Arnav, referring to the group that formed to organise the Berlin event. 

How this translates to Berlin is yet to be seen. The history and present of the South Asian diaspora in Germany and Berlin are, of course, different. The UK has historical ties to South Asia because of British colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation in the region dating back to the 17th century. The long and violent colonial rule has led to the immigration of many South Asians to the UK and, therefore, a larger local community today. The majority of the diaspora in Berlin has a more recent history rooted in labour migration and post-colonial politics. Many South Asians arrived in Berlin as students, political refugees, and workers during the late 19th and early 20th century. However, significant migration only began in the 1950s when Germany’s economic boom necessitated workers from abroad. Hired for their cheap labour, the German state did not intend for these workers to stay and exploited and further marginalised them. Today, the second and third-generation children of the “Gastarbeiter_innen” (guest workers) continue to fight for a bare minimum of recognition and rights in Germany, where the predominately white population still reproduces racist and harmful stereotypes and violence towards them. 

While UK-based South Asian art collectives are demanding space and recognition for their work, the scene in Berlin is still less visible. Some diasporic Asian and South Asian artist groups and projects exist, such as the spoken word events by Voicemail, the experimental music format by Soy Division, or last year’s Celestial Festival by YEOJA Mag. They all do important work at the intersection of art and activism but rarely receive the funding necessary for building larger cultural institutions. Especially, when it comes to dance music, there are very few spaces that center South Asian artists. One such event was the edition of Borderless in 2022, where some of the Daytimers Berlin crew played and met. There something clicked for Abeera: “I think we were all like, there are so many of us South Asians playing music. That’s wild.” After that, the idea for a radio show at Refuge Worldwide was born and eventually evolved into planning the “Daytimers #1” event. 

Spaces of Belonging 

Berlin is known for its abundance of clubs and overpopulation of wanna-be DJs. But for new collectives and emerging artists, it is difficult to get a foot in the door. “People don’t realise how hard it is to organise parties in Berlin when you have like 50 events happening a night. For a Person of Colour, a Brown person, who isn’t well connected it is even harder.” Abeera continues: “I would like to give emerging DJs a platform and help others to enter the club scene.” Adding the name tag Daytimers, which already appears on posters of the most well-known clubs in London, could give the Berlin team a jump start. Part of Daytimers‘ success might be their community approach. With many people involved, their mission is bigger than the individual. The goal is to connect the South Asian diaspora and build community. 

In the predominantly white and male-dominated music industry, the team recognises that there is a fine line between being respected and tokenised. The mainstream club culture in Berlin still reproduces a racist, stereotyping, fetishising and limiting lens on South Asians and Black and Brown people. How do Daytimers play the industry game without catering to the white gaze? Maybe by not caring at all about what the white dance scene thinks. Daytimers are not about about being represented as part of the existing structures. Instead, they create spaces of belonging by and for South Asians. The collective embraces diversity within and grants themselves and their members the freedom to define their identities as they see fit. Abeera tells me how important it is for them not to be seen as a collective that only plays Bollywood edits and Punjabi garage:

Daytimers at the Jazz Cafe London April 2024, (Photo by India Bharadwaj)

Daytimers at the Jazz Cafe London April 2024 (Photo by India Bharadwaj)

”It’s about showing the diversity of everyone’s journey engaging with music. There are no expectations. This variety of styles has always been there, that’s why a party that celebrates that is so important. If you are expecting Bollywood hits all night, that’s not gonna happen.”  

Or as Rosh puts it: “At our events you can play whatever you want to play because the thing that unifies Daytimers has nothing to do with sound. It has nothing to do with how many Bollywood movies you’ve seen or if you speak Punjabi. The experience that we share and that unifies us is how we exist as South Asians, as Brown people, in a white society. We are always perceived, and looked at, in a certain way.” For Abeera, the experience of being objectified by the white gaze makes many feel even more excluded from the club scene:

“I want to make sure we attract a Brown crowd because we are left out by the scene – especially men. As a woman and a light-skinned one, I get away with a lot, but I see it happening in front of me. Racism at the door, people exoticising them [her darker-skinned friends] and all this shit.”

Contrary to the image of openness the Berliner club scene likes to pride itself on these experiences tell a different story. “If the mentality is from a young age that techno is not for us, Brown and Arab people, then obviously people will not think of going there. We need to change that.” Imad hopes that Daytimers will help break down many barriers of Berlin’s nightlife: spending hours in queues, dress codes, and grim bouncers. “This is an event, where I could almost ask my parents to come,” Imad says with a cheeky smile.

Daytimers #1

One week after meeting Arnav, Abeera, Imad, and Rosh, I find myself en route to “Daytimers #1”. The event takes place at Fitzroy, an intimate club tucked under the S-Bahn railways next to the Spree. As promised, there was no rigid doorman but Arnav, who greeted me warmly at the entrance. He opened the night together with Abeera, who goes by the DJ-name Abibi, and later worked the door. Then the London crew took over starting with SHIR.IN, followed by Temujin and Sita Shah. Berlin-based artist yungfya got on next before triqi and Imad closed the night. The line-up made for a sometimes playful, sometimes hard-hitting genre mix with some cleverly placed nods to Bollywood or Pakistani pop hits. “It was an absolutely lovely experience! I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, so many beautiful and unfamiliar faces.” Imad later tells me via Email and Abeera added:

It felt like a coming together of a community that’s so disparate here. Thanks to everyone who pulled through to support us, and for giving us beautiful vibes. Shout out to the Brown folks who came through from different cities to come to the party. The diaspora is real!”

Daytimers #1 in BerlinIt felt like a coming together of a community that’s so disparate here. Thanks to everyone who pulled through to support us, and for giving us beautiful vibes. Shout out to the Brown folks who came through from different cities to come to the party. The diaspora is real!”

Daytimers’ first Berlin event left room on the dance floor for more people to join. Despite the fact I didn’t meet Imads parents, it did feel like a family affair with hopefully many more to come. And as if you needed any more convincing, let me end with Abeera’s highlight of the night: “Especially loved a moment during Immy and triqi’s closing set when they played Disco Deewane by Nazia Hassan. Rahema (our visual artist) had a clip of Nazia actually singing on a stage and decided to start doing live visuals again… the sun was filtering through the windows at Fitzroy, and the last dancers were swaying in the orange glow… it was super cute.”

You can follow Daytimers on Instagram and join their Telegram group to stay up to date.