Back in 2018, founders Anthony Ko and Lumi were in search of a good party for the Lunar New Year in London. As they were tired of having such few options, they decided to organise their own party. From then on Eastern Margins was born and since then it has done nothing but grow and become a much-needed platform for representation of the East and Southeast Asian culture in the music and club scene. It’s a family that uplifts each other and shares their own experiences.
Club culture has always been a safe place for marginalised people. That’s why the racialised and LGBTQI+ community have always been so present in these types of events. But, of course, feeling loved and protected in these spaces doesn’t mean it’s the same in the streets. “If white people truly want to appreciate a person’s culture, then shouldn’t they start by fighting against the oppression that culture faces? So many white people are ready to wear our cultural garments, eat our cultural food, yet not actually stand up against their white peers when it comes to the racism we face,” says Jex, a DJ and writer from the platform.

We got the chance to talk with them and co-founder Lumi to get a deeper insight on racism, London’s music scene and the importance of spreading the voices of those who are often left on the margins.
First of all, could you tell us about the beginnings of Eastern Margins? How did it all start?
Lumi: I started Eastern Margins with my co-founder, Anthony, because we were bored of frequenting the same KTV (Karoke box) joints for Lunar New Year. And on a deeper level, we started it as a reaction to the lack of immediate representation for East and Southeast Asian culture in the London underground club scene at the time. Over time, we’ve evolved into something that hopefully goes beyond just representation, and seeks to more deeply explore the intersection of club sounds and the myriad strands of E&SE Asian culture.
And what is your main ethos?
Jex: We just want to authentically show the world as many E&SE Asian people: who they are, what they do and what they create. Give them a platform to truly be themselves. 
The initial idea evolved into a music collective and record label. Would you say that the London music scene is not supportive of Asian people? Or what made you decide to put the focus on music?
Lumi: I don’t think the London music is not supportive of Asian people, it’s more that there are so many rich, historical subcultures in London’s musical tapestry that our cultural identity tended to be subsumed within those wider scenes. Part of the goal behind Eastern Margins is to put our cultural identity more at the forefront of the music and create a community around it. To think how can we create a sound and scene where aspects of East & Southeast Asian culture drive it, rather than being peripheral.
Jex: I am from Melbourne and was working in the music scene there for a few years before I moved to London and was shocked to find there was a platform dedicated to E&SE Asians. I don’t think it’s necessarily the London music scene that isn’t supportive of Asian people but the West in general.
It’s not just a clubbing experience, it’s about building a community. In what ways is it necessary to get together and start up collectives like yours?
Jex: It’s really important to make a space for our community where people don’t feel singled out based on the colour of their skin. Our existence in Western countries as immigrants every day whether at work, school or on the street, means that we can be ‘othered’ as we are the minority, however, with spaces like Eastern Margins, our community doesn’t have to worry about that.
Lumi: I think at its core, community building is just about connecting with people who share some commonality with you. For me, music just happens to be that commonality. The relationships in our community nourish me mentally and emotionally every day – it’s a bulwark against the shit that life throws at you when you feel like you’re going it alone.
Although it’s a London-based platform, you also work with artists from overseas. What challenges do you have to face? Is it easy to spread the voice on an international level?
Jex: I don’t particularly think it’s that difficult to connect with artists overseas. Especially since Covid, where everyone is now more used to being online, it can actually be a really great way to connect and network with people that we geographically can’t access.
Lumi: One thing we’re conscious of when working with overseas artists is also Eastern Margins’ perspective/bias as outsiders. Let's say we’re working with Filipino artists – none of us are Filipino, we haven’t lived there, so even though we’re super interested in platforming and sharing their art, we have to be conscious of that dynamic and make sure we’re not eroding their space or forcing an outsider’s narrative. We try to platform, not to narrate.
“I don’t want Eastern Margins to be characterised by our struggle. This is the thing we’re trying to escape,” said David Zhou in another interview. I think it’s important to find a space not only to share tough experiences but to leave that behind and celebrate who you are. But how do you manage to portray yourselves in this sense?
Jex: I would say to just be myself as much as possible. I act how I want to act and say what I want to say without worrying about the white gaze. I just naturally portray who I am, whether it is talking about our struggles or celebrating our cultures.
Lumi: For me, it’s really important to centre projects around the positive act of creating – what can we celebrate? What can we share with people? What are we excited about? Struggle and challenge is just part of life. Ultimately, we want to overcome any challenges that we face in the music industry and wider society, so I don’t want to make my identity centre around those challenges.
“I act how I want to act and say what I want to say without worrying about the white gaze. I just naturally portray who I am, whether it is talking about our struggles or celebrating our cultures.”
You are also trying to step away from the one-dimensional perspective and make people aware of the huge diversity of people of East and Southeast Asian descent. Do the members have the freedom to express themselves as they desire? Are there any guidelines they must follow?
Jex: Of course, they do have the freedom to express themselves. However, we also acknowledge our privileges in a nuanced way. As E&SE Asian people, we have our privileges too, we don’t condone any anti-Black behaviour. For our cishet members of the community, they need to recognise their privileges amongst the queer members. Essentially be yourself, just don’t be racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist and other forms of problematic behaviour.
And how did the team form up? Who can join?
Jex: I stumbled across Eastern Margins on Instagram when I first moved to London and sent them a direct message asking to join. One meal of dim sum later, I was in. Anyone who is E&SE Asian can essentially be a part of what we do. We do have a large community of creatives who regularly contribute to what we do and they are our extended family.
Lumi: It’s a family more than a team. If you come to the shows, fuck with the label releases and are a part of the community in a meaningful way, we’ll end up working together in some way or another!
This pandemic has intensified racism towards Asian people not only in the United States but all around the world. The #StopAsianHate movement became a big statement and social media was flooded with news, protests and people sharing their own experiences. Have you seen any real, positive changes so far? Especially now that it isn’t ‘trending’ on social media anymore.
Jex: In my opinion, nothing has changed. People shared the Instagram infographics and typed out the hashtag but really haven’t done the important work. There is a lot that needs to be done when it comes to dismantling racism within oneself, and these things aren’t easy to do. People just use social media movements as a scapegoat to pretend to be doing the work but they aren’t critically thinking about how their actions can be considered a form of anti-Asian racism, whether it be blatant racism or a microaggression. Definitely, there is still a very long way to go.
The fashion and music industries are often criticised because of cultural appropriation. What are your thoughts on this topic? How can white people learn how to separate cultural appropriation from cultural appreciation?
Jex: This kind of relates to my previous answer. There are so many issues in the creative industries with appropriation.
On one hand, you have all these brands appropriating and stealing from Asian culture and then they didn’t use their voice at all to help fight against racism towards Asian people. On the other hand, you have all these brands, creatives who spoke up about anti-Asian racism, yet continue to appropriate the culture? It makes no sense to me sometimes.
I have always said that cultural appropriation exists because of the systems of racism and the oppression of people of colour by white supremacy. So, if white supremacy and systemic racism were completely abolished then I guess cultural appropriation also would no longer exist. If white people truly want to appreciate a person’s culture, then shouldn’t they start by fighting against the oppression that culture faces? So many white people are ready to wear our cultural garments, eat our cultural food, yet not actually stand up against their white peers when it comes to the racism we face.
In these times of lockdown when club culture has been taken away from us, the Livestream series Eastern Margins Ceremony began. Could you tell us more about this project?
Lumi: The Ceremonies were conceived to make something positive out of the challenges Covid presented. To recreate the ritual of communion that’s baked into club culture – that’s why we called it Eastern Margins Ceremony.
Although Covid closed clubs for a window of time, it also effectively nullified geographical distance during that window. There was nothing different between working with someone in South London, to working with someone in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was all digital in real life communications. That was an opportunity for us to collaborate with crews, artists and creators who we might not interact with in real life often.
A few weeks ago, you released Kawasaki, a song by PianWooo and Ill Japonia under the directorial vision of Lu Xiao Wei. It’s the first-ever music video by Eastern Margins and it was produced by an all-Asian cast and crew. How was the journey of creating this piece as a cooperative team?
Lumi: This was a super cool watershed moment for us – a moment to bring members of the Eastern Margin community (directors, editors, photographers, directors of photography) who don’t explicitly work in music more into the fold. The group dynamics were a real testament to how powerful a DIY project can be when everyone is aligned on the vision and come from common motivations. From Ty (from .WAV collective) calling up every Kawasaki dealership within a fifty mile radius of London to secure riders, to some camera stuntwork out of car trunks by Carlo Quicho – everyone really pitched in behind the creative vision of Lu Xiao Wei and the artists.
You have regular transmissions on NTS Radio, a music discovery platform with a strong focus on racialised people, and you’ve also presented a performance showcase at Boiler Room. Are collaborations a must for underrepresented communities?
Jex: Of course, if these platforms don’t work with people from marginalised communities, marginalised communities won’t see themselves represented and think these platforms aren’t for them. Marginalised people not being included is gatekeeping.
What’s next for Eastern Margins? Are there any projects coming up soon?
Jex: Lots of label releases, a big Balming Tiger event, building our editorial platform…
Lumi: We’re turning 5 years old next year, so watch this space for something big.