Identity, home, community. Each of these words take on new meaning for people of a diaspora; their once reliably solid edges becoming blurred and enigmatic as the concept of origin becomes a multi-weighted balancing act that is increasingly reliant on connectivity. Music label, party-throwers, discussion-leaders, content-creators, playlist-makers, podcasters, radio hosts and professional hype-people Eastern Margins (EM) are fortifying those connections. Founded by friends Lumi and Anthony in 2018 after the pair struggled to find a motive for Lunar New Year, the now nine-strong collective aren’t waiting for the world to give them a space; they’re claiming it for themselves and sharing their handcrafted stage with other young voices from the fringes of the East and South-East Asian community.
When EM founders Lumi and Anthony arrive at LN-CC for a shoot after-dark, they’re accompanied by Designer/Art Director Khalisha, Socials Manager Cheri, and in-house Creative Patrick. While they wait to be snapped by photographer Sally He Xin, a creative from the EM network, it’s immediately evident why the group have become the epicentre of a movement, within minutes the studio is filled with laughter and a chorus of beatboxing that delivers in enthusiasm what it lacks in skill. Throughout the evening they break into belly-achingly funny unrehearsed skits, express earnest astonishment at how good they look in favourite aspirational brands, and debate the state of the world economy, all to the sound of an emphatically chosen playlist that reads like a who’s who of East Asian superstars punctuated with TikTok remixes and Afrobeat anthems. They possess a familial bond and energy that invites you in. To celebrate their 5th anniversary and the 2023 Lunar New Year Eastern Margins are throwing a fantasy party right here on LN-CC and you’re all invited.
What are your memories of celebrating Lunar New year growing up and what traditions have you held onto?
Khalisha: I am Chinese–Indonesian, yet I never spoke Chinese, nor do my Chinese side of the family. Regardless, it was common for us to celebrate it when I was younger as my parents thought it was a good way to connect with our Chinese side by giving ang bao to the kids around the neighbourhood. We went to the mall and saw others celebrate it with such joy and the shops ‘bleeding’ a beautiful vibrant red colour. I suppose we celebrated it on behalf of a diverse community back at home and I really cherish how I get to connect with a tradition that was indirectly a part of me. This year’s Lunar New Year was incredibly memorable as I got to spend time with my dearest friends in the form of a potluck where the host made a Year of The Rabbit shrine and had decorations everywhere, with ambient traditional yangqin in the background.
Cheri: My mum would usually come into school and teach my class about Lunar New Year traditions and stories, which would follow with either a craft workshop where we made decorations or a Chinese calligraphy lesson. This would also translate into our home - as soon as the Christmas decorations came down, the Lunar New Year decorations went up.
Now, New Year’s Eve is often celebrated with just my immediate family; we eat dumplings and spring rolls which represent gold to bring in wealth for the year. New Year’s Day is when everyone - cousins, uncles, aunts, partners, kids and all - get together for a big buffet-like meal at my cousin’s house. As our family are Malaysian Chinese, we have a particular tradition called Lo Hei, which is a salad in which each component represents a different fortune. The whole family then stands around the table, and using chopsticks everyone tosses the salad into the air at the same time - the higher you toss, the more of each fortune. Everyone then eats it of course.
Oh, and NEVER wash your hair or spring clean on NYD - you’ll wash and clean all your luck away Patrick: I have fond memories of going back to my home town of Tianjin since I was a kid. We would always have the fattest fireworks and make dumplings as a big family. In the northern tradition, the big meal is a lunch on New Year’s Eve, we would then stay up watching the ChunWan which means the Spring Night show on TV, kind of a Chinese version of Got Talents but very nationalised. I have barely held onto my traditions due to me being a student in the UK for most Lunar New Year's although I would still invite my friends for a big meal on New Year’s Eve to honour being with my extended family of friends.
What makes or breaks a Lunar New Year celebration?
Cheri: Makes: The food and the people (and if you’re not married the red packets, I cannot lie).
Lumi: Catch me in the booth (the KTV kind not the DJ kind) belting out Faye Wong and looking up the lyrics in Mandarin on my phone because I can’t read the on-screen traditional Chinese.
Khalisha: Makes: Food, the colour red, cheongsam. Breaks: not enough red, no invitations for a get-together 🙁
Eastern Margins spans a wide range of creative output, what have you got planned for 2023?
Lumi: In 2023 and beyond, we’re focussing on telling the stories from our community to the world. Stories from our cultures, the stories of our artists’ vision, the stories that will make the suburban kid with daydreams think - hey, if those weirdos can make it from some parties, so can I. We want to bring the Margins to the world
Right, when we restarted the brand and reworked its whole direction, we wanted to make something which truly demonstrated our commitment to design, longevity, timelessness, fabrics, and construction. When we developed the modular jacket system, we knew it was a hero piece. It was an incredibly complex pattern to make everything work together, with removable liners and collars, alongside the reinforcement details. One of the characteristics I love so much about the vintage pieces is that you have an old jacket, maybe a Ventile RAF Parka or something, which just looks so good for having 70 years worth of wear to it. So, one of our design principles is making garments that we just know will age beautifully. I'm excited to see how our jackets will look in five years, 20 years or whatever because there really is a focus on just timeless design, with a sense of modernity to the fits.
First song of the night and why?
Lumi: PRONTAXAN - This Is A Kenonx. If the party doesn’t want breakneck 180bpm Funkot straight from the off, I’m going home and grinding Starcraft.
Last song of the night and why?
Lumi: Either Snow Jiang - 爱河 (DJ版) or Lim Giong 林強 - A Pure Person.
If I’m not bawling my eyes out and feeling like I’m the antihero in a Jia Zhangke film, I’m probably still staying at the party. I would totally play Mr. Brightside as well - sorry Cheri!
Cheri: I love a cheesy cliché like ‘Gimme Gimme’ by ABBA or ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO.
Just please do not play ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ - hearing them on repeat for three years at university is three years too many.
Patrick: Xue Hua Piao Piao (Eurobeat edit) is definitely up there.
Khalisha: Anything from Fire-Toolz.
We’re going for dinner beforehand – where should we eat?
Lumi: Super Three in Poplar; Korean BBQ, Chinese Hotpot and a pub garden with astroturf. The holy trinity of culture.
Cheri: Anything cheap, cheerful and filling. Misato in Chinatown is a great place for portion size and price, although get there early to avoid the queues (it’s popular for a reason).
Khalisha: Please trust me when I say that Kung Fu noodles in Soho has by far THE best oil spill noodles I’ve ever had in my entire life…
What canapes are you serving up?
Cheri: DEEP-FRIED VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS WITH CHILLI SAUCE - it might seem basic but I’ve yet to meet a single person who dislikes these.
Lumi: Baijiu shots that I will definitely pretend to drink, but I will ‘Cheers!’ you with every five minutes.
Patrick: Xiaolongbao, I am pretty sure my personal record is 10+ steamers of Xiaolongbao. The variety is insane, you can literally put anything in them, and they would bang. My favourites are the crab ones from Din Tai Feng.
Khalisha: I can't think of a savoury canape since I have an insane sweet tooth, so if it were to be a sweet one… Black sesame chiffon.
Lumi: DJ Jerry 羅百吉. The Godfather of Asian electronic music.
If DJ Jerry has millions of fans, I am one of them.
If DJ Jerry has only one fan, that is me.
If DJ Jerry has no fans, that means I am no longer on earth.
If the world is against DJ Jerry, I am against the world.
Who’s on your guestlist?
Lumi: Triad God, Ann Hui, Hoàng Thùy Linh & Doinb (but he’s banned from playing League of Legends at the party).
Private party or open door?
Lumi: No doors. The party’s just a neighbourhood road with a Bluetooth speaker, the smell of engine oil and enough balloons to reach space.
IRL or virtual
What drinks, including signature cocktails and mocktails will you serve?
Lumi: Probably water, we’re weird enough already.
The entire crew including Jex, Arya, Elaine and AJ are hosting a decidedly real celebration of their anniversary on Saturday 4th February 2023.