Photography via Eastern Margins
Eastern Margins are quick to get in their shoutouts: “daikon* zine, The Bitten Peach, Indigo Magazine, Chinabot… we’re really inspired by these collectives and we all collaborate – like we’re building this rich ecosystem of East and South-East Asian space.” Over a crackly phone line, I’m speaking to Lumi, one of five members who make up the core Eastern Margins team. JEX, the newest member who joined in 2018, is on another line.
When you get to know Eastern Margins, it’s unsurprising that their priority is bigging up their community. The London-based party and music label have been around since 2017, founded when Lumi and Anthony Ko just wanted a party to go to on Lunar New Year. Starting as an event series, Eastern Margins has expanded as a platform for showcasing East and South-East Asian musicians on the fringes. They have a monthly show on NTS Radio and now they’re distributing music as a label, making their debut with Ill Japonia’s EP Ill, a trap, shoegaze and pop-inspired record.
A few days before they officially launch themselves into the world of distribution, Lumi, JEX and I have a chat about Eastern Margins’ origins, ethos and future.
gal-dem: Why did Eastern Margins decide to become a music label?
Lumi: Originally we created events for the East and South East Asian community and the idea was to create a space for people of that background and heritage to get together. Along the way we met really interesting artists and had the realisation to grow the community and showcase some of the best music coming out of that community. A few years ago, Ill Japonia DMed us wanting to perform at one of our parties and he’s been a constant presence at our parties since. He’s kept working on demos and we’ve been interested in him because he’s always been on the fringes of society and the music scene.
gal-dem: I love the track ‘MIZEL’ which sounds really futuristic and optimistic. Do you feel like there’s a correlation between the EP’s attitude and Eastern Margins?
Lumi: I guess our perspective as a collective is optimistic as well. The world is pretty shit at the moment, even just with the stuff that’s affecting our community, like coronavirus and what’s going on in Hong Kong. It’s not always easy to have a positive outlook but I think that’s what made Ill Japonia’s music resonate so strongly with us as well, this sense of hope.
“In the UK, the discourse around East Asian cultures is very surface level and very superficial. With the label we’re hoping to deepen that understanding and show perspective to all of those cultures”– Lumi, Eastern Margins
gal-dem: What does it mean to Eastern Margins to create space?
JEX: My experience of going out in Australia and running events there was feeling like a bit of a spectacle, like everyone was always looking at me and making me uncomfortable because I stood out. I first found Eastern Margins on Instagram and what stood out to me was their safe space policy. I’ve been in the music industry for about seven years now and not all my experiences have been great. So, I helped them change up their safe space policy a bit and part of my focus with events is to prioritise the feelings of women of colour and non-binary people of colour.
Lumi: And with the music and label, the idea of creating space is more abstract. For me, the label is about broadening the breadth and depth of discussions about our cultures because in the UK, the discourse around East Asian cultures is very surface level and very superficial. With the label, we’re hoping to deepen that understanding and show perspective to all of those cultures.
gal-dem: I wanted to ask about the statement you put out recently about coronavirus and Wuhan which I found very moving. Why was it important for you to release that statement?
Lumi: On a personal level, we all have family in China and one of our members, JD X, has family members quarantined in Wuhan right now so he’s very affected by what’s going on. And like we said, the idea of Eastern Margins is to create a space where people can feel comfortable talking about East and South-East Asian cultures and what’s going on in those communities. We have a lot of members of our community being affected by coronavirus as well as the Sinophobia that’s come with it, and we can’t say we’re a community space if we don’t protect our members at the most critical times.
JEX: I felt at Eastern Margins we needed to speak out to support those in China but also the diaspora. When it was first reported, my first thought was that JD X’s family is in Wuhan and they’re going to be quarantined and that’s horrible – and my second thought was that I’m going to have to deal with more racism, which I wrote about for gal-dem. I’ve had friends getting in touch saying they’re experiencing racism on public transport and I was anxious to leave the house, so we needed to speak up about this and protect the East Asian community.
gal-dem: What’s in your future?
Lumi: We have label releases pencilled in for the rest of the year and incredible talent coming up. I can’t say too much yet because we’re incubating them at the moment and getting them to the point where we’re ready to show them to the world. This year we want to do more physical connections, so hopefully you’ll see us appearing in some spaces outside of London, in the rest of the UK or in East and South East Asia. We want to do panel talks and anything to start a conversation, be that about music or about our cultures in some other way.