For many, the last year was a time for reflection, and SAYANG is no exception. Taking a break from organising and playing at parties, the Leeds-based DJ, sound artist, radio host and activist has used this period to introspect.
“There was a big moment of trying to refigure out who I was and where I stood without the physical element of ‘being together’,” they say. “That was tough.” The murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests also encouraged them to engage further with mutual aid and allyship. “I wanted to learn how I can be a better ally for Black members of the trans, queer and music community, and learn more about the abolishment of police and structural white supremacy within our industries,” they continue.
But this activist spirit is by no means new for SAYANG, who has been working to foster change in the music industry for many years. Questions of inclusivity and accessibility are at the centre of all that they do, from widening participation in electronic music through DJ workshops to designing safe spaces for marginalised groups to exist in.
As a resident at Love Muscle and co-founder of the techno fetish party Flesh In Tension, SAYANG is redefining what clubbing is, and whom it’s for. Run with friends and fellow DJs Kessie and Mandy and Friends, Flesh In Tension aims to de-centre white cis-men from a scene that is too often congested with them. Disability and access are key considerations, from organising taxi pools to creating rigid safer space policies and designated quiet rooms.
“Navigating parties, music, clubbing — and the world, really — as a disabled brown trans person, is exhausting, and I know I’m not alone in this,” SAYANG says. “In everything I’m part of, there’s a real focus on uplifting ourselves and marginalised folks, and finding strength through joy.
“Finding spaces where we, and our intersections, can love and hold each other as the brilliant folks we are is so liberating and freeing,” SAYANG continues, referring to the wealth of community-orientated parties and venues in Leeds. “Here, we can write our own narrative and take centre stage.” They find that these DIY spaces match the city well due to its size, inherent activist streak, and “sense of grittiness and freedom”.
The freeing aspect of music is central to what SAYANG plays and makes. While their sets, both live and monthly for Rinse FM, experiment with fervent techno, raw noise and dizzy textures, their production process has taken a move away from screens, which they can find stressful, and towards hardware and modular synths. Making music as a teenager and reconnecting with it after coming out as trans has cemented it as a balm for SAYANG, a release from a period in which it was “too hard to create”. Of the process, they say, “It’s always been an escape for me”.
The act of reclaiming is also of utmost importance to SAYANG as an artist. “I wouldn’t DJ if it wasn’t for celebrating the voices of the Black, brown and trans folks I stand on the shoulders of,” they say. “I’m playing the music I play for people like me, and I love being joyful and silly, playing music I know wasn’t meant for me, which I can share and give new meaning to.”
As club spaces open again, SAYANG hopes to see change that extends beyond optics and beyond their existing network, from more diverse line-ups and considered spaces, to collaborations with queer, POC and disabled partygoers, in which they are paid for their time. “I want to see people follow through with their actions or intent.”