We meet the curator of Hungama, London’s kaleidoscopic queer Asian club night
Ryan Lanji arrived in London from Canada with a dollar and a dream (and some great shoes) and now he’s one of the most recognizable figures on East London’s sparklingly creative LGBTQ nightlife scene. Just while we were sitting chatting to him during this interview, DJ Hannah Holland and designer Max Allen came up to say hi – testament to the valuable links Ryan’s built in the community.
In a world where everyone’s got big ideas, big egos and even bigger warehouse art shows, it’s sometimes difficult to keep your head above the surface of the broiling creative soup. But Ryan’s managed it, and has birthed a burgeoning Bollywood blowout, Hungama!
But it’s a lot more than just a Bollywood party (we just wanted to say ‘burgeoning Bollywood blowout’), it’s an inclusive, kaleidoscopic LGBTQ club night for queer people of Asian descent, and their friends.
We did a brooding shoot with fetish photographer Matt Spike at world famous bastion of brutalist architecture, Alexandra Road Council Estate. A setting that perfectly reflects Ryan’s thirst for audacious creativity. Afterwards, Dylan B Jones had a pint with him at Superstore and talked all things nightlife.
So Ryan…tell me a bit about when you first moved to London, and how you got involved in the LGBTQ scene.
I moved to London eight years ago from Canada. I moved for love actually. I started working at a pizza place, and knew I wanted to go into fashion and art, but didn’t know how. I got a job as a curator by luck really. After getting mugged, I ended up going to my boyfriend’s interview at a gallery. He was just like ‘I can’t take this job, but Ryan can.’ So I managed this gallery on the weekends, and then one day they asked me to do a show. I went on to curate what’s now known as the world’s first nail art exhibition. Fingernail art from all the biggest fashion houses and icons. From like PJ Harvey to the Spice Girls, to Gaga. Then overnight I became a fashion curator.
And then how did Hungama come about?
Well, I had this really big show planned. It didn’t work out, I broke up with my boyfriend, had an existential crisis, a deep dark despair moment when I was like “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just drunk and high all the time.”
EVERYONE was a mess in 2014. Something weird happened to the gay scene that year.
Yeah! I lost everything. I lost my house, my partner, my biggest job…I was in London literally alone. And I was like ‘where do I go?’ I was looking for a place in the LGBT community and I couldn’t find it. I’d go to the clubs and stuff, but no-one would care about me or know about me. So I felt even more isolated. That was the first time I started to be aware of things like my colour and my accent, or my ability to stay out for three days…I’d have these deep dark binges and no-one would know about it. So I went to Bristol for three months, cleared my head, watched season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and literally just did absolutely nothing. Then when I came back, I was just like, ‘I need to start again from the bottom up.’ So that’s what I moved to Dalston with some amazing people, and while I was doing that, I realized I was just becoming a filler queen at all these parties.
It was ok! But I realized I had all this amazing music I wanted to listen to, and wasn’t hearing. I love Bollywood music, and I thought, I love this community but I don’t feel like a part of it. So as these questions started popping up, I was generating the idea of Hungama.
There’s a difference isn’t there, between being part of a community and actually FEELING like an important part of it.
Yeah, especially now with social media and stuff, you see who’s liking each other’s pictures and commenting on each other’s posts and there’ll be pictures with people at the same night you’re at, but you’re not a part of it. It can be tough!
So coming back to the present…how was the last Hungama?
It was really good! It was amazing to see the turnout. It was on a Thursday at Metropolis. It’s a really big venue, and it has a pre-conceived notion of the types of parties it throws. So it was really fun to come in there and re-jig it slightly. It was really busy until the end.
It must be quite daunting needing to fill a space.
Yeah, especially with something super-niche like that. A queer Asian night on a Thursday, with a cover charge. It was one of those things where you think ‘this could go sideways.’ You just have to know and remind yourself that people WILL come and support it.
The other nights that have been popping up of this nature seem to say…it’s fine to come even if you’re not a member of this community, but also you need to respect it. Is that accurate?
Absolutely. The last two we did at The Glory were very Asian-centric, and we were trying to bring as many Asian people as we could. With this one, we un-taped those boundaries that are sometimes put up with POC nights. We were just like ‘anyone can come, anyone can be a part of this.’ It’s about bridging all the gaps and intersecting the whole community. Rather than just isolating it as one niche.
Perhaps it’s not healthy to isolate yourself into one niche.
I do think it’s important for the people who have specifically come to that night, to know that it’s a space for them. And to give them their space. But it’s also a space for us to welcome people, and show people what it’s about. It’s a space for us to be like ‘come and enjoy our music’ instead of alienating them. So instead of just playing a Bollywood track you don’t know, we want to bring you in and be like ‘this is how you crunk to it.’
Yeah and we really felt it this time round. I had a lot of queer Asians coming up to me saying ‘thank you so much for running a Bollywood Asian night that feels edgy, and feels like East London. And not a Bollywood hip-hop night that feels like we’re all immigrants and we can’t integrate. We had The Witches hosting. They’re intensely crazy people, I love them so much.
They’re all from Poland – it’s comprised of Kate, Adrian, Sebastian and Mama. They dress like Leigh Bowery in the 80s. They looked amazing when they were hosting Hungama. As soon as they walked in, the whole place blew up. I really noticed what diversity meant when that happened. Kate loves Bollywood music and Bollywood movies, and Adrian and Sebastian and Mama just wanna dance, and support me. When they showed up I thought wow, this is a group of people who came from Poland, did not know English, and had to integrate themselves, and have managed to find their community in all these different club nights. They’re being the most liberated versions of themselves. And now they’re here supporting us, and our people. We can take note from that, and also show them that they can be a part of our community too. We’re all in it together.
Do you think that reflects what you want to do with Hungama?
Yeah. It’s not just about being Asian or queer, it’s about being everything you can be. And allowing other people to do that too.
The next Hungama is this Firday 20th July at Visions, 588 Kingsland Road. Hit attending at facebook.com/hungamaldn