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Tariq Jazeel (UCL).

This paper reconstructs a recent historical geography of the late 1990s genre of British Asian dance music that became known ‘the New Asian Kool’ or ‘the Asian Underground’. Most synonymous with the musician Talvin Singh – whose album ‘OK’ won the Mercury Music Prize in 1999 – this dance music’s identity as a ‘genre’ was deeply contested from its very inception by an emergent seam of second generation British Asian musicians and bands, such as Joi, Nitin Sawhney, Fun>Da>Mental, and the Asian Dub Foundation. Central to their concerns around the term ‘Asian Underground’ were, first, a sense of its inadequacy to capture the diversity of dance and popular music being produced by British born South Asians in the late ‘90s, and second, a fear that a generic category that placed these musicians in the subterranean holding space of the ‘underground’ would prevent mainstream commercial success for those artists.

Taking this brief moment in late modern British popular culture seriously, and engaging with debates around generic classification and with the music itself, this paper argues that what was at stake in these fractal British Asian soundscapes were contested experiences of British Asian expression, belonging and the politics of representation, and ultimately the articulation of South Asianness with Britishness. The paper argues that understanding the almost immediate disavowal of the ‘Asian Underground’ as a music genre is key to understanding the emergence of new constitutions of Britishness and British public culture at the turn of the last millennium.

Event details

Saint Davids Room
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS