Q&A with Eastern Margins

We were lucky enough to sit down with Eastern Margins syndicate Jex Wang to discuss the platform fighting for representation for Eastern and South East Asians in the U.K. music scene

Photo: Jex Wang

For our readers who don't know already, what is Eastern Margins?

Eastern Margins is a platform for contemporary music from East and South-East Asia(ns). We try and find artists from the continent out East but also from the diaspora around the world. We started off as just a club night as the original co-founders just wanted a good Lunar New Year party to go to but there wasn't any in London. Two years later, we are now a platform, a label, a monthly radio show and have done over 20 events. Essentially we all saw a lack of E&SE representation in the Western music scene and wanted to change that. I actually discovered the collective on instagram and after 6 years of being involved in the club scene, it was the first time I ever saw anything where I could see myself represented. So for me, Eastern Margins actually gave me hope to continue my music pursuits because before I was constantly exhausted trying to battle a very white-washed music scene. 

Photo: Jex Wang

East Asian music isn't well represented in the U.K. mainstream. Does this frustrate you or is it nice that it's under wraps?

I mean, it always hurts to not see yourself represented. And then sometimes when you do see parts of your identity represented, it can be done in a really offensive and appropriative way so it's just more salt in the wound.  The lack of representation for East Asian music in the UK mainstream is also frustrating cause it reduces our identity to the select few artists that are in the limelight. If you look at what's been popular in the past, East Asian music is essentially reduced down to like Gangnam Style which don't get me wrong, it's an absolute banger but like within East Asia there is so many different cultures and identities all making their own unique music, it's not just K-Pop. Eastern Margins also pushes to represent South-East Asia as well. Within the politics between East and South East Asia, East Asia has a lot more privilege so if East Asia is already lacking in UK music, then when will South East Asia get the representation it also deserves? Especially when the UK has a lot of diaspora from those areas of the world who deserve to see themselves represented authentically in mainstream music. However I am not frustrated. I can see more and more representation as time has progressed so I'm hopeful about the future of East and South East Asian music in the U.K mainstream. 

Photo: Jex Wang

Hip-hop has a palpable influence  on some East Asian artists. How do you navigate the ethics of promoting East Asian artists with Hip-hop sounds when anti-blackness is so pervasive in pockets of East Asia?

As a collective, we have talked about this a lot, especially the issue of anti-blackness within our community. Hip hop is one of the best genres in music and I'm sure that's not just my personal opinion, I mean if it wasn't so great would it have had the world wide spread that it did? So naturally a lot of people around the world would be influenced by it and want to do something similar. Hip hop has evolved so much from the 1970's Bronx scene and there are now so many types of hip hop these days. As East Asians, it is important for us to think about the space we are taking up in the hip hop scene and what elements our artists are actually taking from hip hop culture. We also need to think about where the line is drawn between being influenced, cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. I mean there are obvious cases where it is blatant cultural appropriation that’s offensive but other times, it is a genuine appreciation. Because culture itself is ever evolving and exists in a vacuum, I think what’s important is to make sure there is discourse happening. It is important to listen to people within the scene on their feelings on what people are doing and to educate ourselves on the history of hip hop so we can genuinely show our appreciation and understand our positions as East Asians consuming the culture. 

Photo: Jex Wang

What have been some of Eastern Margins most successful nights to date and how you define success?

Our best night was definitely the Soundclash Margins event that we ran back in August last year. It was really awesome to be able to work with 3 other crews (Tobago Tracks, The Spectacular Empire, King Kami's Ángeles y Demonios) from London and all kind of battle each other in the music we put out. The energy from the crowd was amazing. The feedback we got was great too. People were actually talking about the event for a while afterwards. I've run maybe 50-60 events in my life and that one was the best one I was ever part of.Our 2nd birthday recently was also a hit. It sold out and reached capacity by midnight. It was just really good to see how  much we've grown over the years and humbling to see that people genuinely want to come to our events and support us with what we do. The 2nd birthday also really showed me that we are definitely building a community. Quiet often I get approached by familiar faces who thank me for providing a space in which they feel comfortable to be themselves which really warms my heart. A successful one for myself personally was the Mixer I put on at the end of last year. At Eastern Margins, we really care about building community and we want to give back to the people that support us. For me, organising that mixer was very special as not only was I able to give DJs who've always wanted to play our events a change but I was also able to give people opportunities to perform live with they really appreciated. I honestly didn't think so many people would come and the energy, again was electric. 

Photo: Jex Wang

We've seen that you've collaborated with other London music movements and artists such as NTS and M.I.C who we've actually featured before. Is collaborating with movements outside of the East Asian diaspora important for you going forward?

We got our monthly slot for NTS this year and honestly couldn't be more excited about it. NTS is great to be a part of because it means we are able to connect with a lot more musicians outside the Eastern Margins circle. We worked with M.I.C for our Soundclash event as he represented Tobago Tracks. With Eastern Margins, we don't ever feel that we are in competition with anyone else around the music scene. From our perspective, we see a lot of musicians/movements doing their thing and all we have for them is respect. Collaborations are a great way to expand our community whilst also exchanging music and offering our support. It is important to collaborate with more crews because whats the point in putting out all this music if you can't share it with others you know? Working with other crews is also great to learn new things from each other. If we see other people doing stuff in music that we fuck with, why not link and build? 

Photo: Jex Wang

If you could have anyone in the world as a lineup for a night, who would you pick? We'll give you 5 artists

Only 5? Damn. Okay, this is going to be a really interesting night of music but: I would open the night with Rainbow Chan from Australia, her pop music would be perfect to warm up the night and get everyone hyped. Then Balming Tiger - Alternative K-Pop band hot out of South Korea. Then LA based OHYUNG who is my favourite artist at the moment. Their music has such a large range and honestly I genuinely believe he is ahead of our time with his work. Then I would have Sonia Calico, one of Taipei's finest DJs/producers. Her pop edits are literally fire so would definitely get her to do a set. Lastly, Gabber Modus Operandi, closing the night with intense Indonesian gabber, their music is pretty wild. 

Photo: Jex Wang

What can we expect for the rest of 2020 from you guys?

We have a lot of big plans this year to be honest. More releases on our label, more events lined up, another Soundclash, more radio shows and members of the collective are also going on tour in Asia. We want to spend more time in Asia this year forming physical connections with the artists who's music we platform. Outside of music, I'm working on doing more work on making the club scene safer. Organising some panel talks with other music crews in London so we can get more discourse going in the club scene on how to enforce safer space policies and running more inclusive club nights. 

Photography by: Jex Wang

Keep up with Eastern Margins via their Instagram


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