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Hungama, east London’s gay bollywood hip-hop nightPhotography Lewis Edwards

Hungama: the queer Bollywood-inspired night dropping bhangra & club bangers

We check out east London’s on-the-rise party celebrating queer and Asian culture

There’s not that many nights you’ll hear pumping bhangra blended seamlessly with the latest Drake tune, trap juttering into acid house. At Hungama though, the London club night acts as a haven for South Asian culture and its homegrown music, as well as a riotous queer party.

The night started last year with a “big gay Indian wedding party” at The Glory in Dalston, when fashion and art curator Ryan Lanji decided he wanted to dress up his local like an Indian temple. The most recent installment at east London’s Metropolis saw a traditional Bollywood dancing-cum-drag performance with “gargantuanly dressed neo club kids from Poland” as the clientele. Hungama means “chaos” in Urdu, and reflects the colourful party goings-on. “It just perfectly sums up the feeling of being in London around people dancing with reckless abandon,” Lanji explains. Attendees of the night dress and dance without inhibitions, harnessing the strength of an inclusive space like Hungama – with London clubs shuttering up and racism rampant in the queer community, it’s all the more powerful.

“After summers back home, going to Indian weddings, and just spending time with my family, I realised how much bhangra and Bollywood was a part of my identity,” says Lanji. “So I decided to throw a party where I mixed it with music I usually listen to when I’m out partying.” What started as an ode to his many intersections (“I am Canadian, British, Hindu, Punjabi, and gay – and I work in fashion”), has quickly become a have-to-be-there underground event. We caught up with Lanji in the run up to his next party and talked about how this all came together.

What is the ethos behind Hungama?

Ryan Lanji: Hungama is unfiltered, unadulterated authenticity and should be a catalyst for people to connect with and understand Asian culture in a club context. There’s no dress code because I started to realise how cultureless fashion and art can be – this party isn’t a moodboard or a showcase.

How did the last party go down?

Ryan Lanji: We had underground hip-hop and R&B from Asia and the most forward thinking sounds from the UK from the likes of It Came From Swagistan, Shimmy Ahmed, me and our other resident DJ Lil India. Seasoning the room with music, Bollywood moved into trap and acid house and trance music. I also did a set and it was so amazing to stand at the DJ booth and watch all of the South Asians, and everyone else, jumping. We literally just destroyed the dance floor. We had performances by Raheem Mir, who is an amazing traditional dance – like an ‘item girl’ in Bollywood cinema because there’s always a song in the film where just a really beautiful woman dances and the partner doesn’t even dance, he’s just taking a break from the story to watch a beautiful Bollywood actress just go mental on stage.

It was hosted by a group – I call them the witches – Neo Club Kids from Poland. They work in London in quite simple jobs, but when they go out they’re on acid and they are insane. They’re dressed so gargantuanly, they’re intense people. I had them host the party because I really wanted to promote diversity and the fact that, in east London, a lot of people find themselves on their own. Here, they find themselves being introduced to a lot of different communities.

Why is it important to celebrate Asian culture and queerness at the same time?

Ryan Lanji: It’s paramount. Queer representation in Asian culture is almost non-existent, and if it is, it is extremely polarising. Those of us who embrace the queerness within us, almost carry more shame than the families. When I did my first night last year I’d only come out to maybe 10 or 15 people in my family. I decided to take the plunge and just promote it and publish it everywhere on Facebook – it was amazing to see how many of my relatives are liking it and supporting it. They don’t necessarily want to engage with the notion of me being queer or gay, they just love me. They’re like, ‘oh great, we’re proud of you!’ I just wanted to know that I was given the space to be a part of our culture and the queer community. I’ve been making these mixes that hark back to songs that my auntie played in her living room mixed with Diplo and Drake, I sent it to them and they love it. The exciting thing about the next one is my mum will be hosting the next party under the name Ms Lanji.

“Hungama is unfiltered, unadulterated authenticity and should be a catalyst for people to connect with and understand Asian culture in a club context” – Ryan Lanji

How do you find being in mainstream LGBT spaces?

Ryan Lanji: I like to take people on a journey through different parts of London that I’ve been in with Hungama because we haven’t got a fixed space. So we’ve been to Metropolis and The Glory, but when it comes to the parties in Soho I find it to be very commercial. When you’re there, people just want to hear the Top 40 have a tequila shot and a vodka soda and dance around and be seen. No one wants to connect, yet that should be the epicentre of our community. It sometimes feels vacuous when everyone just wants a nice Instagram post.

There have been nights that I have gone to that are very protective of their attendees. They don’t get much press, they don’t publicly showcase what they’re doing, or let people inside. I get that this is for protection so it remains a safe space, but it also becomes an obstacle to coming out. We’re not represented in mainstream culture because it’s so taboo. Some people who took a while to come to terms with who they are can find some of these spaces intimidating.

How has the community around you reacted to the night?

Ryan Lanji: One of the most powerful moments I had was when I heard this song that my mum and I used to listen to in the car. It hit me in a nightclub that I missed my family and this guy walked up to me and gave me a hug and said ‘thank you so much, but I have to catch a flight at 7 in the morning’. He had flown in from Germany. He said: ‘you don't realise what you’re doing for your community’, which was amazing. I think there are some people who feel really alone, even when in both communities, so that’s what this is all about.

Hungama next takes place at Visions, Dalston July 20