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‘Our little secret’ … girls at a daytimer in 1986. Photograph: Boy Chana
It was the era of the nightclub, a time when dance music took hold in the UK. But the young British Asians who came of age during the 1980s and 1990s had, on the whole, conservative parents who disapproved of their children going to sweaty nightclubs, getting drunk and hooking up with the opposite sex.
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Against this repressive backdrop, something new emerged that passed largely unnoticed by the mainstream: club events where thousands of young Asians would listen to music – bhangra mainly – performed by bands and later played by DJs. These events took place not at night but during the afternoon, when those kids were thought to be at college, school or the library. And so they were christened daytimers.
"They were a national phenomenon," says Rajinder Dudrah, author of Bhangra: Birmingham and Beyond. "In Nottingham, Bradford, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton, kids were getting on buses to go to a club where there would be 2,000 Asians dancing away. The trick was to arrive back spotless, as if nothing had happened, so you'd live to tell the tale."
Rav, a DJ and radio broadcaster with music collective Punjabi Hit Squad, attended and later performed at daytimers in London. "You'd tell your parents you were staying late at school," he says. "Then you'd walk out with your uniform on, jump on a bus, pay £10, have a rave, and be home for 6pm."
Gursharanpal Singh Chana, better known today as the photographer and writer Boy Chana, was a teenager in Birmingham when he heard about daytimers. "They took place on Wednesday afternoons when colleges had free periods," he says. "We'd tell our parents we were off to class, but we were off to party." Ruby Begum, who grew up in London, would say she was heading to the library. "Asian girls had to keep their personalities hidden, but once we got inside that club we could be free."
This Saturday, the daytimer is back for one day only, at the Southbank Centre in London. The Radio 1 and BBC Asian Network DJ Nihal has curated the event as part of the centre's Alchemy festival, which celebrates art from the Indian subcontinent. The daytimer will be alcohol-free and boast halal food, with the focus on music, particularly the cream of what has been dubbed burban: brown urban music. Although the event will be attended by teenagers who may be unaware of the history of daytimers, it will perform a similar function: giving young Asians access to music they don't often get the opportunity to experience live. "It's a chance for them to see artists like Shizzio, Junai Kaden and Shide Boss," says Nihal. "They have a huge fanbase among young female Muslims who wouldn't ordinarily be able to go to gigs."
What caused the demise of the daytimer? Some say it was community disquiet, as elders realised what their children were up to. Others point to tensions between religious groups. According to Boy Chana, a Sikh group in Birmingham, unhappy with Sikh girls going to daytimers and dancing with Pakistani boys, would stand outside clubs filming those going in; the footage would be played inside local temples to warn them of what was happening.
Most of the boys and girls who attended daytimers are now married with children. They recall those days with affection – and guilt. "They were the best days of my life," says Rav. Yet Ruby Begum, now a successful married businesswoman, would only talk to me under that false name. "I don't want my parents to know that their nice Muslim daughter went to a daytimer," she says. "They were our little secret."