Cheeky Chaos and Bollywood Colour
IN THIS PHOTO: Revellers at Hungama/ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Iolo Lewis Edwards
Why the Club Night, Hungama, Should Be Taken to Heart in the Capital
I keep saying how tormented and fractured…
the world is right now – even the sunshine and summer heat cannot distract the mind from the fact there are unending horrors and bad news. Even when walking around a city like London; the perfection of the sunshine and calm weather dulls into insignificance when you have to bustle shoulders and get crammed onto a sweaty and cramped Tube. One can go to a park to get some escape but, for the most part, those of us who are drawn to the city and its adventurous spirit are stressed more often than we should be. I learn something new every week I am in this job and am always being made aware of cool club nights and events happening around the country. I was reading a piece in The Guardian – I shall come to later – that looked at a club night, Hungama, and what its aim is: diversity and true togetherness. I feel the country is becoming less together and unified by the day: political movements and deceit are balkanising our nation into tribes and political cliques. We are far less spirited and ‘one’ as we have been in some years! If you look at those in the country who are most alienated and overlooked – you could easily put the Asian community into that camp. Camp, in fact, is being celebrated and recognised at the East London club night! I know there is a big Asian community in East London but, for the most part, there are particular areas with a large Asian concentration. The graph below shows the dissemination and spread of Asian members in the London community – you can see there is a large spread in areas north of the River Thames…not a lot going on further down south.
IN THIS IMAGE: The 2011 census shows the Asian (or those who identified as Asian) population in London/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
The largest population of Pakistani and India residents is in the North East/West of the city: look further South and there are relatively few Indian/Pakistani Asians in boroughs to the south of the river. We know the white population of London is declining, as people move to quieter areas, but the total number of Asians in the city is very low – the 2011 census established around 18%. The Indian population is the largest representation of London Asians – knowing around one-fifth of a city’s population is Asian makes me wonder whether more should be done to assimilate Asian culture into London. There is a thriving and bustling Asian community in Brick Lane and the surrounding areas – I wonder whether we think too much as to why there is a larger Asian population in certain parts of London?! In any case; race and diversity are important areas we all need to address. I wonder, at a time when the nation is divided, the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. Asian population feels more divided and ignored than most. I wrote an article a few weeks back exploring alleged racism – against black patrons – happening around East and South London. There is a definite door policy, at some clubs, to exclude black people who, to them, do not seem to fit with their ‘ethos’ – the wealthier, cooler and more attractive club-goer. London is among the most embracing and respectively of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community but, with more clubs closing and others being gentrified, it makes Hungama a rarity that should spark the imagination.
I can only imagine the alienation felt in some parts of London. It is hard enough identifying as gay or bisexual – in terms of people’s reactions – but finding a space where you feel safe and understood is near-impossible for some. I will talk more about Hungama and why I think it should spread through London, and the nation, but I wanted to bring in an article that spoke with Hungama’s brainchild, Ryan Lanji.
“…The brainchild of London-based fashion and art curator Ryan Lanji, Hungama – which loosely translates to ‘chaos’ or ‘uproar’ in Urdu – was born after he noticed the lack of spaces and club nights allowing queer South Asian people the chance for their culture and sexuality to seamlessly co-exist. It’s also one of the only events in London to bring queer Asians together with the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, as they aren’t always one and the same.
“When I first moved to London eight years ago, I was very shaken in [LGBTQ+] spaces,” Ryan explains when I manage to grab a spare moment to chat with him by the bar. The club is heaving at this point, and we find ourselves having to shout over the music. “When you go to LGBTQ club nights, they can sometimes be fetishitic or kinky,” he continues. “The culture is very experiential and experimental. But this can be jarring for someone who’s grown up hiding who they are from their family, only to be thrust into a world where you can be anything you want”.
I am glad Lanji has recognised how difficult, even in 2018, it is for openly gay members of the Asian community have their voices heard and to find common ground in a busy and vast city. He is not gentrifying the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. experience or trying to fit in with the surrounding area – Hungama is explicitly a vivid, vivacious and authentic slice of Asia. The Indian experience, and Bollywood, plays a big role. When asked why to go with the Bollywood theme; Lanji recalls his past:
“I used to be obsessed with Bollywood music but I’d left it to the wayside,” Ryan tells me, speaking about how it often feels like queer South Asians have to leave their culture behind once they come out. Ultimately, he hopes that attendees – a significant proportion of whom have come with their significant others – can dance to the music they grew up with alongside throwback chart hits, only this time with “our boyfriends or girlfriends and not wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to be loved for ourselves.” But he’s also keen to stress that Hungama is just like any other night in that it’s a place to let loose. “The night itself has organically become a party that celebrates being you, who you are, who you love and who you want to be”.
A survey from Stonewall found that over half of people of colour experience some form of racism in the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. (or +) community. There is massive Islamophobia and racism, as the article explores, and it seems progressiveness and true acceptance is not as established – in the community – as it should be.
IN THIS IMAGE: The 2011 census shows the Indian (or those who identified as such) population in London/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
There is discrimination and judgement from those alien to the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. experience…let alone the Asian dynamic and flavour. Asian culture, in a way, has been a part of the British experience for a very long time. We are all aware of the Bollywood scene and there is, for the most part, tolerance and love aimed at the Asian population. The graph above shows where the concentration of Indian populous is located. There are huge swathes of the population where the Asian population is thinner and less visible. I worry there are very few spaces in London where the Asian population feel truly integrated and accepted. Apply that to those in the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. scene and that experience is a lot lonelier and more fraught. The Guardian, when they reviewed the Hungama club night, gave their impressions:
“The night is held at Metropolis in Bethnal Green, London, which was recently converted from a strip club. It is set to run quarterly, with takeovers also planned for other clubs and bars across London. Having begun in a London pub in May 2017, then running a night in Shoreditch House, and now this, the growth is exponential. Lanji says the Metropolis booking is a personal milestone, as many of his formative clubbing experiences and explorations of queer nightlife were in east London.
A female clubber remarks that “there really isn’t anything else like this”. She has come to Hungama with a group of other South Asian friends, one of whom is having a dance off with a blue-faced drag queen (I suspect the reference point is Jadu, an alien from the Bollywood sci-fi movie Koi Mil Gaya). Chatting more, it turns out this was his first time at a queer night. To say he is as immersed as the performers is putting it lightly”.
The U.K. club scene has never really been mainstream – certainly not in recent memory. We all know about the big venues of London that cater to Rock, Pop and Alternative artists. What about those smaller clubs that host Dance music events or Techno nights?! The sphere and graph get smaller when we look at the Asian community and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. members who want to express themselves and feel true identity. The clash between the day-time experience and sensation to that of the Hungama night – a violent and revelatory gulf that should act as an impetus to keep Hungama fuelled and playing; other clubs need to react and realise there is a clear call for more of the same. The white L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. are not short of options in the city regarding nightlife – compared to the Asian communities – but it can be harder for those used to a different culture and sound to feel belonging and comfort in certain clubs. Hungama does not pander or exclude anyone: everyone is welcome and there are, like in some clubs, barriers and objections at the door.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
We are a long way off seeing the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community find true footing and balance in London. More is being done to ensure nights like Hungama are in the press and starting conversations. I worry the black population is being excluded from a lot of clubs and forced to go outside of London or ensconce themselves in clubs specifically set up for the black community. My anxiety extends to the Asian population and, to a larger sense, those who want somewhere like Hungama on their doorstep. It would be good to see the night franchised and licensed throughout the city – making its way to other cities and areas of the nation. In any case; greater visibility and acknowledgement of the Asian community in general needs to happen. I still feel there is too much tension and divide in the city. Instead of dwell on statistics and separation; the vitality and celebration Hungama has provoked – even for those outside the Asian L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community – has caught media imagination. The glamour and chaos; the cheekiness and reckless abandonment; bodies raptured and joyous in the sense there is freedom and no judgement – this is what we want to promote in London. Hungama is starting small but, already, it is recruiting those who feel, in normal life, they are not as assimilated into the city population as they’d like.
Hunagama’s true aim is to welcome anyone in the community. Look at the photos from the club night and you will see white faces alongside Asian; those new to this type of thing and those who feel like it is second nature! That message is vital: this is not a night where only certain people can attend! That openness and community-conscious initiative cannot be overlooked or ignored. I hope it leads to more events/nights: it will help London create greater togetherness, at a time when there are so many racial tensions and fears. Maybe it will not happen overnight but, for those who attended Hungama; you can see how much it meant and the impact it had on them. At a time when there is endless bad news and stress getting to all of us; it is great to hear about a celebration of an event that is trying to bring happiness and dance to London. I hope the momentum builds and, before long, Hungama (or an equivalent club night), finds a home in…
EVERY corner of the capital!