Push It To The Red

The Eastern Margins boys had just touched down in Bangkok, jumping off a flight from Manila and immediately making their way to Blaq Lyte Air as part of their whirlwind Southeast Asia tour. Their trip to the Philippines was only 12 hours long and they didn’t even check into their hotel while there, blasting through the city and on to Thailand at laser speed. Visiting six cities in ten days, it was a belated but breakneck trip to the region for the London crew, who last year released the Redline Legends compilation exploring local club mutations. “We’re kind of speed-running. It’s this constant theme, like redlining,” says co-founder Lumi, only half-jokingly referring to the relentless tempo and energy of the East and Southeast Asian styles that the label and collective explore. “Velocity is in the music, in the culture—it’s inherent.”

Eastern Margins began at the top of 2018 as a way for Asian kids in London to find some representation in the club scene, but has grown into a platform for the elevation of artists and sounds from the region and diaspora, and a means to tell their stories. “Representation can only take you so far,” explains Lumi as we sit on the roof deck before their party starts. “It’s about telling these stories to the world. It’s not about someone in the party looking like you, it’s about someone in the party understanding the context and history and background of the people and music.” (Although the crew is ten deep now, only three were able to make it on tour.)

Their Redline comp featured experimental club artists from the region reinterpreting local grassroots genres like manyao, vinahouse, budots, funkot, and more. When it dropped, travel restrictions were still difficult so they couldn’t meet the artists they worked with. But now that borders are wide open, they’ve made up for lost time and visited many of them on their home turf. “There’s been this energy here much like the music itself, it’s fast and DIY, the ‘let’s do it ourself,’ kinda thing,” says Arya.” Each party was wildly different from the next. Kuala Lumpur meshed together multiple scenes, drawing on the drain gang rap, techno, and hyperpop crowds; the Bandung party was held in a parking lot, drawing on the city’s squat party roots; and Manila was thrown at the Apotheka club, that city’s new home for experimental parties. “Even though the scenes and the vibes are very different, there’s a sense of solidarity and understanding that underground electronic music is financially and practically very difficult,” Lumi adds. “So genres and aesthetics don’t segregate people as much in many places here. Because they’re all trying to do the same thing.”

“We’re big fans of a lot of the music that’s made here,” Arya says. “It borrows elements of Western tradition but there’s a naivety to it. Like, ‘Oh, this sounds sick, so we’ll take bits of that and bits of this and come up with something new to call our own.'” This theme of naivety in a positive context comes up over and over again, and they use it to refer to themselves as well. “We want to bring an outsider’s naivety and be curious about everything. Ask lots of questions and use that as a way to connect the dots,” Lumi says. “If you’re in a local scene it can be quite easy to get tunnel vision. Sometimes having someone come with the love of an outsider’s perspective can influence people to try new things.” He hopes that they might bring some fresh energy and that others will pick up on their curiosity.

Arya moved to England was he was 18, so he was a little too young for the club where he grew up in Indonesia. But he was going to punk and metal gigs at school gymnasiums and would hear local electronic music like funkot and koplo on a daily basis—although he paid it no mind. “It was just there, always in the background.” British electronic music was what drew him to dance music, and once he found a place at Eastern Margins, he started to look back towards home to see what was going on there. The 10 year distance amplified by the pandemic gave him an interest in local sounds that he may not have leaned into if he had never left Asia.

Lumi’s background in British electronic music also informs his views on Asian dance music. He talks about how eye-opening it was to go to a dubstep party at Fabric and watch a crowd explode because a certain record dropped. “How sick would it be to create that same feeling, but instead of it just being on a sonic level, it was also on a cultural level,” he says wide-eyed. And they’ve started to figure out a way to carve that lane. They’ve discovered tracks that get crowds hype across borders, and they’ve created some anthems of their own. “Seeing the songs that have become staples to us in London get the same response in Bandung and Manila is a sick feeling,” Lumi grins. He also talks about the regional functionality of TikTok and how it creates trends that spread across South East Asia, where viral tracks will get different remixes in each regional style.

Some parties and cities are more receptive to local genres than others. DJ Love—often credited as the founder of Filipino powerhouse genre budots—played his first gig in Manila this year for Boiler Room, signaling the sound’s growing acceptance on more cosmopolitan dance floors there. And the Indonesian scenes actively embrace local sounds, attempting to bridge the divide between an underground that’s mainly middle to upper-class and local mainstream genres like koplo that are generally lower income (a fact common with many of these sounds).

Sometimes being relative foreigners gives them a viewpoint that locals might overlook. “In Jakarta, the local DJs were doing proper UK sets, but we were the ones playing local music,” Arya laughs. And even when there are local artists working with these sounds, their own regional and class backgrounds can make them something of outsiders as well. “What’s been surprising to me is that everyone has so much to learn about these sounds,” Lumi adds. “The genres go so deep.”

Distance can certainly create interest. For perspective, Lumi talks about hardcore, which is originally a British style from the 90s that’s currently seeing a popular resurgence, including here in Asia. “I listened to that stuff when I was younger and hated it,” he says. “But now because of funkot and its similarities, I’ve rediscovered it.” He posits that maybe one day there won’t be a need to categorize these sounds as “Asian” music. “In the future maybe we won’t have to rely on those types of crutches anymore. We can just say, ‘This is a language of honesty and emotional purity.'”