‘Day timers’: the club events that brought young British Asians together | UK news


For the influx of South Asian immigrants to Bradford in the 1950s and 1960s, a sense of home would have been difficult to come by. Asian cafe jukeboxes and Bollywood movies may have provided some cultural connection, but it was not until the late 1980s that this British Asian community found its own voice through a series of Wednesday afternoon club events.

These “day timers” brought together young British Asians from west Yorkshire to listen to homegrown bhangra records from the likes of Bally Sagoo and Apache Indian, away from the watchful gaze of their parents. A cultural haven, the word-of-mouth happenings took over some of the biggest venues in Bradford, such as the 3,000-capacity Maestro’s, and spawned a generation of Asian DJs. The story of this musical community now forms part of a new exhibition, Above the Noise, at National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

Young women dancing at one of the day timers.

Young women dancing at one of the day timers. Young people could let their hair down, away from the watchful eyes of their parents, at the events. Photograph: Tim Smith

Hardeep Sahota, also known as DJ Deepsta, speaks of the inclusive sense of community at the events. “I used to wear a turban when I was 16 and going to the day timers,” he says, “and I used to be very self-conscious of my identity, but by hearing my heritage reflected in the music, it felt special. I’d see other Sikhs with turbans and Muslim friends, we were all joined together in this space and we all wanted each other not to tell our parents.”

Photographer Tim Smith’s black and white images of the dancefloors and their dancers tell the day timers’ story in Above the Noise. “This exhibition is an insider’s view,” he says, “we want to reflect stories back to the people who created them. It’s about British Asians using their own media to create their own cultural spaces, and to challenge stereotypical ideas about Bradford.”

The exhibition’s organiser, Helen Graham, added: “The day timers were about taking agency and allowing for self-expression. This has always been a key part of Bradford’s identity and it is showcased in different forms in the exhibition – from post-second world war Polish and Ukranian exiles building communities to the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit which documented these lesser-known stories. There’s a really positive creative energy about this city.”

Crowds at Britain’s first outdoor mela, or gathering, on the Shearbridge Road playing fields in Bradford, September 1988.

Crowds at Britain’s first outdoor
mela, or gathering, on the Shearbridge Road playing fields in Bradford, September 1988. Photograph: Tim Smith

The lead image for the exhibition is a striking one, showing Rani Kaur, aka DJ Radical Sister, in a traditional Punjabi suit while mixing vinyl records at a day timer. Kaur began playing the events in 1990 at the age of 21. “I was the only female DJ there and it could be pretty isolating,” she says, “some of the guys could get intense, but they didn’t mess around with me because I didn’t take any crap. I wasn’t going to dress up and play a role and I guess that was something new – that’s how I got my DJ name.”

Ultimately, Kaur believes that if it wasn’t for the day timers, there would be no mainstream British Asian culture now. “The scene died out in the mid-90s because we had become more accepted then, we could be more visible,” she says, “we had to take some shit, like National Front protests and disapproving older generations, but we made it in the end and established ourselves.”

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