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Dialled In Presents Unbound Archives at the Southbank Centre: 'Education Is Just As Important As Entertainment'

Photo by Talia Andrea

Anyone even remotely dialled into the music industry nowadays will know that Dialled In is one of the latest and greatest initiatives to hit the live music scene. A platform which spotlights diasporic and native South Asian artistry, the event series has spanned four one-day festivals, stage curation at Glastonbury and the V&A, and the inauguration of Boiler Room Pakistan and an artistic residency in Nepal. And their core team is made up of just five people. (Ahadadream, Ahsan Elahi-Shujaat, Almass Badat, Dhruva Balram, and Provhat Rahman).

The next stop on this famous five’s star-studded journey was the Southbank Centre, for a three-day takeover of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room to celebrate South Asian culture, art and music. Before that, though, I caught up with Dialled In co-founder Provhat for a chat.

Since Dialled In has bounced all around South Asia over the last few years, I asked him what it feels like to be working on something in the UK. “I think the attitude and the legacy of South-Asian underground and dance music in the UK, and specifically in London, really allows us to look back to past generations [for inspiration with Dialled In]. There’s a lot of heritage for us to play off of.” 

Despite how forward-thinking the event series is, he reminds me that “it’s just as much about looking to the past, seeing what those before us have tried to do when creating movements in similar fields. That’s a privilege for us, and it’s a really important thing which we’re blessed to have here.”

Step into the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and that ethos immediately comes across. On the left of the room was a vinyl record installation, featuring classic South Asian tracks sourced from the True Form archive. As a short film screened in the Purcell Room near the beginning of the event informed viewers (Request Line, dir. True Form Projects), this expansive collection of records was rescued in 2017 after one of the oldest and most influential South Asian record shops in the UK, Oriental Star Agencies, was forced to close its doors after almost 50 years on the streets of Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

Photos by Talia Andrea

Southbank staff were dutifully stationed behind the archival records to assist interested guests in their crate-digging adventures, advising the young and old alike on how to load their desired records onto a vinyl turntable. Others in the room had already mastered this art, though - turn your eyes slightly to the right and you’d see an impressive roster of DJs taking the decks for a series of vinyl-only sets throughout the day, including Dialled In’s very own resident DJs; Faisal Hussain from True Form Projects; Social Records Society; The Mighty Zaf; Rizmi; Mera Bhai; and Vedic Roots Soundsystem to close the evening.

Photo by Talia Andrea

“Representing the South Asian community in the creative arts is a huge, huge task. There’s so much nuance to it,” Provhat had told me during our interview together. That nuance comes across in more than just the musical lineup, which already spans everything from dance to disco — it also comes across in the selection of short films available for viewing in the Purcell Room from early afternoon until evening.

The first film to grace the screen is Skater Uktis, described as a “joyous glimpse into skateboarding through the eyes of a global Muslim girls’ skate crew”, directed by Mehek Azmathulla. The girls’ story of finding their feet  on their skateboards and in society  through their bonds with each other set the tone for the series as one of community-building, and especially of courage. Other highlights included The Dandies of Albertopoli, a visually nostalgic 16mm masterpiece spanning just seven minutes, about three young men who steal objects from the V&A museum in an attempt to repatriate them to Pakistan - until a spanner’s thrown into the works when one of the trio mistakenly takes an artifact from India. Neelu Bhuman’s FH377 hits the same notes: this side-splittingly funny, but politically engaged short film, shot in stop-motion with wood and clay figurines, tracks the moving back-and-forth between a mother and her bisexual daughter, who has just been broken up with by her girlfriend. Their conversation is interspersed by real-life footage of news reports and protests as the Supreme Court of India continually refuses to overturn Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises gay sex. This spurs the two women to settle their differences and spring into action  and all of this is shown in just five minutes.

Photo of Ascending: Director's Q&A by Talia Andrea

The later half of the film programme features a selection of music-oriented films, including Catchall (dir. Pranav Krishnan), documenting the history and community of the New Asian Underground in the UK and its artists, and Ascending (dir. Zoe Malhotra and Meghna Chakraborty), which showcases the monumental significance of Coachella 2023 in the global representation of South Asian musical talent. While each of these short films is highly entertaining, as Krishnan aptly states in Catchall, “Education is just as important as entertainment” when it comes to portraying South Asian talent for global audiences.

This may as well have been the theme of Dialled In’s event, through which this motto clearly shone. Whether the movies moved you emotionally, or the vinyl sets got your body moving, it’s clear that moving forward with South Asian representation is clearly the name of the game for Dialled In  but not without looking back at the past. Their Saturday event at Southbank was the ideal way to bring their takeover of the Centre to a close: in its appreciation for everyone who paved the way for South Asian artistic communities around the world to walk  or skate, or march, or dance  forward from here, heads held high.


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