This week’s mix exclusive mix is by one of England’s most versatile DJs, Yung Singh. With his sound firmly rooted in UK sound system culture and having grown up around Hip-Hop, Jungle, and Punjabi sounds, which were passed down to him by his siblings, his love for the Garage and Grime scene blossomed whilst clubbing and learning to mix at University. Since then, Yung Singh has become a resident DJ at some of London’s most admired clubs, released several critically-acclaimed mixes and stands at the forefront of the thriving new scene for the South Asian Diaspora as part of the underground crew Daytimers.
Listen to Yung Singh’s exclusive mix for Kaltblut below while reading our conversation about being pigeon-holed, representation in the industry and why he nearly retired from music.
KALTBLUT: What can you tell me about the mix you’ve recorded for us?
Yung Singh: I was thinking like an Amapiano, Afro House, UK Funky kind of mix, sort of summery stuff – that’s what I listen to when the sun is shining – and UKG. I just wanted to make sure that I get to show off the full range of genres that I play, which is something I’ve always done. My last UK Funky-ish mix came out in November 2020, so it’s been a while. In between them, I’ve done loads of UKG, Drill, Jungle and related genres. It’s nice to play some of the more chilled out stuff, which is still a vibe.
KALTBLUT: How do you prepare for a mix?
Yung Singh: Pretty much starts with an idea in my head that could revolve around mixing different genres together or just have a tune on repeat and wanting to record an entire mix with that same vibe. I find myself building mixes around a handful of tunes fairly often, maybe 5 or 6 tracks I know I want to play and then maybe 50/60 more in a crate on rekordbox to pick out for when I’m mixing. Each mix tailored for a particular vibe or energy or environment.
As a DJ, I want people to dance. That’s my main thing, and everything else is second to that. My ego, what I want to do, what the promoter wants, everything else is all secondary, as long as the crowd is moving. I won’t shy away from playing tunes that others might be afraid to touch, whether it’s completely unknown or mainstream or even a completely different genre or language/culture. I feel like I’ve earnt the right to do that now and have nothing to lose, so hopefully i can take that confidence and be a more fearless in my selections. It’s also a way for me to pay my respects to the people that provide that music; the producers, the cultures, all the marginalised communities that don’t get enough credit in dance music.
“I like the idea of using music to tell a story and using my platform to let people find out more about a scene or culture, without being condescending. I don’t know everything, so I won’t pretend to know everything but I hope I can spark some discussion.”
KALTBLUT: How would you say you pay your respects? By playing it, or by the way you mix?
Yung Singh Buying the music is the first step, giving credit to the producers, trying to learn a bit more about that scene in particular. Understanding where it comes from, I think that’s a big part of it. Whether it’s 90s UKG, coming out of South London and a black and/or working-class environment, the Sunday scene and the after-parties. Or even if it’s something like Punjabi Garage, which was big in the late 90s, early 2000s, which came from young working-class Punjabi people listening to what was on the radio, what was big around them and combining it with their cultural heritage, with influence from their parent’s generation, who listened to a lot of dub and reggae due to the confluence of black and south Asian anti-racist youth movements. Basically, paying homage and respect to the communities that gave us this music. I like the idea of using music to tell a story and using my platform to let people find out more about a scene or culture, without being condescending. I don’t know everything, so I won’t pretend to know everything but I hope I can spark some discussion. Ultimately, it’s being genuine, sincere in educating myself and making sure that people get their flowers whilst they’re still here. It’ll also mean saying no to opportunities that come my way and suggesting other people who are better suited for them or deserve them more.
KALTBLUT: So, you pretty much educate yourself for yourself and not for being “performative”?
Yung Singh: Yeah, I’m naturally curious! It’s also because I want to hear more good music, right? The producers need to make the music and they’re not going to make it if they don’t see any success – whether it’s financial or cultural – they need to see that appreciation. The job of the DJ is to platform them. I’ve put out two edits, but I don’t see myself as a producer just yet, I’m a DJ first and foremost and that’s where my skills lie right now. Especially in the last 18 months, I have built a platform where people appreciate what I have to offer and hopefully might make them want to learn more… I just want to spark conversations and make sure I shine a light on the people or stories that need a light shone on them
KALTBLUT: So in a way, you’re an activist, in a sense that you give a platform to other artists and people?
Yung Singh: I wouldn’t say so necessarily. I am politically motivated, yes, and that will always feed into every aspect of my personality and what I do. But as a DJ, the minimum we should be doing is sharing tracklists, giving feedback to the producers, or to anyone who sends you a promo, you retweet and repost stuff, listen, engage in stuff and leave comments, making sure you buy as much music as you can afford, right? Especially supporting the smaller artists! And when there are platforms like Bandcamp, you’ve got no excuse. All that stuff, especially in the social media age, is very important – I don’t see that as anything special or something that needs to be commended.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that you learn to do that with time and experience, a few years ago I probably wasn’t doing too much of that due diligence myself. It’s definitely something that I’m learning over the last couple of months, actually becoming a DJ, rather than just someone who does it as a hobby. Ben UFO is a good example for this; he’s always sharing tracklists, he’s always posting stuff that he enjoys – he’s not gatekeeping, he’s doing the opposite. If you have made a career, you are making money, you are making an income out of their hard work, the least you can do is share that and try to uplift the people around you.
KALTBLUT: In a way, it’s like a collaboration.
Yung Singh: Exactly. You’re never gonna lose out from uplifting other people. This is one thing I’ve learned in my years in music: if you see opportunities that are good for people, tell them. I wouldn’t say that that’s activism, but I get your point. Building a community, and the music itself is activism, it’s part of that counterculture, it’s politically motivated, always has been, a part of your role as someone within dance music is to make sure you do your bit.
KALTBLUT: And how do you feel in the industry? Because the industry isn’t like that, sadly.
Yung Singh: I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been a little bit insulated away from all of that stuff whilst being able to do quite a lot.
My first gig was at Corsica Studios in 2018 and that same promoter invited me back to XOYO and fabric. I used that platform, even though they were for student nights, for playing a whole range of genres, underground dance music, commercial stuff, stuff that I wanted to play, and most importantly, stuff that got the crowd moving – which kept the promoter happy, which is why I then became a monthly resident for them. It was like a balancing act but I enjoyed the challenge and used that experience and platform to get on radio to play more niche underground stuff. To an extent, that was me up until the beginning of lockdown. Just posting mixes, sharing tracklists, that kind of stuff. People would send me music, I would buy music, it was purely a hobby kind of thing.
With the Daytimers stuff kicking off and the Punjabi Garage mix blowing up out of nowhere, I started getting more exposure in the actual music industry, rather than the music scene. And those are two different things. I found within the industry there are lots of incompetent people and there are so many very privileged people who are laying down ill-informed narratives that are not theirs to tell – which then get taken for gospel. None of this is exclusive to the creative industries either.
Sometimes the complete lack of self awareness and competency is hard to understand, but the industry really perpetuates these systems of privilege and nepotism. Take for example that a lot of what we call dance music comes mostly from black and brown innovators, from working-class scenes, and very often from LGBT circles. A lot of the people at the top end of the music industry do not represent where that music comes from, or understand the culture. The result is that these innovators become increasingly frozen out and marginalised.
Then you’ve got some journalists trying to bridge a gap that they just simply don’t understand or even use the pains of a community to further their own station as if they’re doing them a favour…
“These communities need genuine representation, genuine spaces for them to be themselves rather than having to be conform to the system. It’s important to remember too that no one is perfect and has it all worked out, life is a constant learning experience so we shouldn’t be too harsh on each other, it’s all about the intent.”
KALTBLUT: It’s performative.
Yung Singh: Yeah, it’s performative. I’ll ask you a question. Within dance music specifically, what do you think has been the most important piece of journalism in the last couple of years?
Yung Singh: Exactly, and he’s not a journalist. Is that coincidence? I don’t think so, probably because he’s seeing it from a different viewpoint from a lot of these journalists and not being tied down by any of the industry baggage; he was fully autonomous.
There’s more to it than just that, but the point I’m trying to get at here is that the issue is the system rather than individuals… People have to conform to a particular standard or ‘gaze’ shall we say. Every other person that wants to then get involved ends up perpetuating that system and ideals, even if they don’t mean to, because that’s how they’re going to get commissioned or earn an income as well.
It’s not all bad though, I’ve come across so many genuinely caring people going out of their way to do things right, open doors for others and so on. Those are the people that inspire me and many people around me to go that extra mile and make sure we follow their example. That definitely gives me hope and maybe in the future, [the industry] will change, but we cant be passive in that hope. We have to go an effect change and the only real way to do that is building community, it’s people coming together to unionise, forming collectives or supportive networks. You do all of these things to then overcome those barriers, overcome that gatekeeping. This is why you see Daytimers popping up and many other collectives. These communities need genuine representation, genuine spaces for them to be themselves rather than having to be conform to the system. It’s important to remember too that no one is perfect and has it all worked out, life is a constant learning experience so we shouldn’t be too harsh on each other, it’s all about the intent.
KALTBLUT: Don’t you think that having so many different collectives doesn’t “divide” the industry even more, though? I think diverse collectives are great, but the industry needs to change and allow them to have a safe space and be represented.
Yung Singh: Yeah, and that is the other end of the spectrum. You’ve got to find that balance right in the middle and try to avoid Othering or tokenising yourself, that’s the key point here. We have to be very careful that we don’t corner ourselves off. We’re here to platform South Asian talent in the creative industries, however that manifests. It’s so hard to get that right – made difficult by those in the industry that have made a career out of being tone deaf or ignorant.
“Tie in us shining a light on all the original Daytimers stuff in the 80s and the Asian underground in the 90s and early 2000s and decades of Asian Youth Movements and people are like wow, brown people had their own underground culture? They were rebellious? That seems to be the implicit thought in many ways.”
KALTBLUT: You’ve already said that you’ve been put on the global stage because of your Punjabi Garage mix. Do you feel that you’re being pigeon-holed?
Yung Singh: I was aware once that mix blew up I had to make sure that this isn’t all I’m known for, make sure people don’t just hear Punjabi Garage from me, or just Garage because that’s never been who I am and that would be doing me a disservice. I can’t express myself creatively if I only stick to one genre. I was aware of all that and I’m really lucky that I can speak to people like R.O.S.H on a fairly regular basis and bounce opinions off the Daytimers crew as well. A genuine support network is like that is a privilege I’m very thank full for, having people to turn to for advice, inspiration and most importantly to check me if I’m going awry and put me in my place.
But yeah, I was getting all these requests from people asking me to record a mix for them. I’ve done maybe two or three interviews since then with journalists and it’s a recurring theme and I understand why because it was one of the biggest mixes of last year, and one of the biggest Garage mixes of the last couple years. I don’t think anyone can argue with that. And it was something that no one has ever heard before, which I find hilarious because it’s stuff I grew up listening to.
People wanted to know, how the hell did we miss this? How has this happened? And then they’re seeing lots of South Asian, especially Punjabi, people saying the mix has taken them back to their childhood or veterans like Bobby Friction saying it reminds him of his early days as a DJ. That’s when people realise that there’s this whole scene they’ve just completely ignored. Tie in us shining a light on all the original Daytimers stuff in the 80s and the Asian underground in the 90s and early 2000s and decades of Asian Youth Movements and people are like wow, brown people had their own underground culture? They were rebellious? That seems to be the implicit thought in many ways.
It’s funny though – I said to myself that I’m just gonna put this mix out and then take a breather from music, take a step back from the solo stuff and work on Daytimers and try to make that a success. Use that as a kind of vehicle to overcome issues with the music industry to carve a space for us – I didn’t see my solo career as being part of that. Then the universe just dragged me back in, within a week the mix was on 10,000 plays and getting all these mix of the day/week/month/year accolades, then I get asked to do the Rinse FM’s legendary Garage Hour and soon after selected for DJ Mag’s One’s to Watch for 2021…
KALTBLUT: I completely see why it blew up, the industry needs some fresh new sounds and faces! Have you seen anyone follow in your footsteps?
Yung Singh: Not necessarily with the same impact or in the same vein as the Punjabi Garage mix but it’s happened so recently and was a bit of a perfect storm! I think it’s also important to remember that it’s less me doing anything special but rather a super talented community coming to the fore together, I just happened to be in the right place in the right time.
I have noticed a lot more people incorporating more of their cultural heritage into their dance music output as a whole and definitely within the South Asian creative community. Not sure how much of that is because of that mix but I love that to be honest. It’s wicked and the energy is so different and long long overdue. It’s finally being appreciated for just being really good music or good art. Perceptions are changing and I really hope it empowers someone to unabashedly showcase their culture or community, whatever it might be. I certainly feel more confident in doing so!
Buy Daytimer’s latest compilation on Bandcamp. All proceedings will go to trusted charities in India who are fighting the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.