To say that the UK’s dance scene has been woefully lacking in South Asian talent would be an understatement, and it’s something that north London rapper Surya Sen knows well. Taking his name from the revolutionary who campaigned for the independence of India, Sen, who otherwise remains anonymous, chose the moniker to reflect his revolutionary approach to music. Having been signed to Skint Records, which is known for its roster of genre-defying dance names, the British Bengali producer’s debut mixtape At What Cost? dropped last month to much fanfare.
Sen’s sampling chops and deft mixing of genres make for deliciously infectious dance anthems that you’ll want to be playing all summer long. Indeed, his new EP was conceived around one big night out he had last year, and championing London’s nightlife scene — post-lockdown and in the midst of the governments’ clampdown on some of the capital’s most revered venues — remains at the core of his mission. Speaking about the tape, he says: “It details the feelings and emotions that arise throughout the night and a sonic and social commentary of London around me.” Here HUNGER catches up with the rising star about his new EP and beyond.
Could you define your sound in five words?
Genre-bending, groove inducing bounce.
Congrats on the new debut mixtape. You’ve said it’s set around one big night out in August of 2021 – can you tell me about that night and how you were able to convey that journey over sound?
The night is set in July/ August 2021, after the tube resumed, the return of clubs opening, and during the height of the party gate scandal. The night follows a group of people going from a house party, making their way to the club, the after-party, and then the comedown that takes place after. It ends with a sense of hope, concluding with the Yung Singh Boiler Room Party. Meanwhile, a fictitious businessman from the United States is doing a deal with the owner of the Truman brewery for his new shopping mall and hears about the parties in London, including government parties, so comes over here to experience it.
How did it feel to be able to enjoy London’s nightlife again post-lockdown?
It’s euphoric to have London’s nightlife back. To be able to experience all the things we missed, from just venturing out with friends to seeing my favourite DJs rock the place after enduring the pandemic. I think dancing is what I missed the most!
Your stage name, Surya Sen, comes from the key figure in India’s independence movement. Why did you choose that as your stage name, and what does it mean to you?
There was a time when I didn’t really know much about the independence movement in India, I spent some time trying to learn more about it, and that’s when I came across Surya Sen from Chittagong (current day Bangladesh). I was inspired by how he led the British Armoury Raid and tried to individually make an impact without much support, and I felt that that’s what I wanted to do in music, having understood that there weren’t many south Asians breaking through. His name also sounds like a comic book superhero.
Sadly, it’s still pretty unusual for South Asian people to be at the forefront of urban/club/dance music. How does it feel to be breaking down barriers in that sense?
Thank you very much! It feels strange when you say it like that, but on the whole, I’m extremely proud to be pushing the needle forward. However, there are a number of other acts who are also breaking them down too and they aren’t here to take any prisoners — so watch out now! In this last year, I’ve seen the work of some of the superheroes behind the scenes, writers, heads of creatives, curators trying to uplift Asian acts and DJs like myself, so I definitely have to shout them out, cos without their hard work this wouldn’t be possible.
Who are some of your favourite South Asian DJs right now?
There are so many. Here are a few: Darama, Works Of Intent, Mixtress, Manara, Mya Mehmi, Shivum Sharma, noudle, Rohan Rakhit, D-D-D-DJ ahadadream, jyoty, Manara, Suchi, Manuka Honey
What’s your earliest musical memory? Anything that really stands out?
Being obsessed with Mambo No. 5 and dancing to the music video in front of the TV when I was 5, thinking damn dawg he’s so fly.
If you could only listen to three artists for the rest of your life who would they be?
Fela Kuti, A Tribe Called Quest, Avalanches.
How do you want to be seen as an artist?
Unpredictable rule breaker.
What’s next for you?
Coolin out bruh, I’ve got some gigs lined up for the summer then I’ll be getting to work on da album.
Finally, what does music mean to you, and how does it enrich your life on a day to day basis?
The power of music is so crazy… how it can help you reflect on or change a mood, and that unspoken feeling where you are overcome with emotion and your hairs stand up. Ye. It gangsta.