DJ, broadcaster and writer Haseeb Iqbal talks music as medicine, seeking a higher spiritual force and tracing the origins of the Sun Ra Arkestra.

25-year-old, London-born DJ Haseeb Iqbal instructs you to bring it all to the dance floor and take your conversation elsewhere: “The club is one of the only sacred spaces to exist where people can process their emotions.” Unconcerned with crowd desires, Haseeb plays only for himself, prioritising authenticity above all else. The depth of sincerity at which he approaches his craft is best understood when in attendance of the DJ, broadcaster and writer’s monthly night, Studio Crumb, hosted at Deptford’s Bunker Club, or by tuning in to his weekly radio show,, where he explores a global terrain of jazz, roots and dub and shares his ruminations on the nuances of music as language, contemporary culture and history alike.  Noting Voices: Contemplating London’s Culture, a book Haseeb published in 2020, is the literal manifestation of Haseeb’s extensive knowledge and connection to the incendiary jazz scene in London while his residency, Studio Crumb Conversations, at the Tate Modern extends this further. 


I first met Haseeb on a bitterly cold, mist palled, January evening in Berlin after his city debut at the discreet Paloma Bar located in the heart of Kreuzberg.  Since then, he has played in seven countries, shot a documentary tracing the origin story of the Sun Ra Arkestra in New York and Philadelphia, performed his biggest gig yet opening for Cymande at Shepherds Bush Empire and continues to orchestrate music as an educational device. At the most prolific point of production in his career so far, we speak to Haseeb about what has been and what is yet to come.

What springs to mind when you think about your early life, and your first experiences with music?

I’ve got three older sisters and one of them, Tanya, would burn CDs for me. She’d put all types of music on them, from The Smiths and The Cure to So Solid Crew and Wookie. So, from a young age, I was exposed to a lot of different sounds. My parents are very supportive. We were all encouraged to engage in activities outside of the classroom, so different muscles were constantly exercised. By the time I was 13/14, I leapt out into London, and through my newfound independence, I saw the city in a new way. I was quite a naughty kid; I enjoyed breaking the rules. Me and my two best mates were the three wrong-uns. We would spend all night walking around until the sun rose. We had the most cinematic summer in 2014 and in many ways that was the beginning of seeing all the possibilities London had to offer, in terms of culture, magic, and adventure.

How did you come to be involved in the jazz scene?

Soundcloud was my entry point. On there, I discovered London jazz quintet Hester, who had just released their EP, Promise to Return. Another enlightening discovery was Tom and Laura Misch. I remember going to Tom’s first gig, it was on a Monday night at Oslo in Hackney. It cost seven quid to see him, Jordan Rakei, Alfa Mist, and Barney Artist. I used to go to venues like The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington, Urban Bar in Whitechapel, and Upstairs at the Ritzy in Brixton; they hosted an open mic cypher session called The Space Rhyme Continuum, I would mostly go there alone because none of my friends wanted to go south of the river.


A pivotal night for me was when I went to see Thidius and the lead singer of Hester, Luke [Williams], recognised me from other gigs. I was 16 and completely gassed. Luke introduced me to Steez, an evening at The Duke in Deptford, established by Luke Newman, where musicians, poets, and writers were able to explore without the pressure of formality or structure. Going to Steez was a transformative cultural moment in my life, seeing this community of south Londoners hanging out in a room with the most wonderful, non-hierarchical energy. One of the only people to be recognised outside of Steez at that point was King Krule but so many others are celebrated now, such as the SE Dub Collective, Joe Armon-Jones, Maxwell Owen, Femi Koleoso from Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Jake Long from Myesha, Sheila Maurice Gray from KOKOROKO, Axel from Levitation Orchestra and Yussef Dayes. Steez then led me to Brainchild Festival.

You recently interviewed Marina Blake, founder of Brainchild at your residency at Tate Modern.

She’s had a huge influence on me in terms of her programming and has been central to the UK music scene’s growth over the last 10 years. She is a visionary who boldly gives those a platform who haven’t had one before. I was 18 when I first went to Brainchild. It was the first festival I performed and read my poetry at. It was held in a small field with only five stages, and you could walk the whole circumference in 10 minutes. Everyone camped together, there was no backstage area, and people just danced and took their space. It was a thing of magic and the only festival that, when leaving, would have me in tears; I felt so connected to it. It was my launch pad from music being a form of leisure to it being my life.

In terms of platforms, radio has become extremely important in the wider circulation of more niche sounds with stations like NTS entering the mainstream. How do you feel the role of radio is evolving?

My first experience of radio was running a podcast called Mare Street Records. Gilles Peterson gave me a slot on Worldwide FM at 21, making me the youngest presenter on the channel. When Worldwide FM ended, I started my own show,, and since then I have broadcast 72 live shows in 75 weeks. Radio has taken my craft to a whole other level.

In what way?

In terms of the consistency. You can carve out a pre-recorded, hour-long monthly show in which you’ll have enough airtime to play 10 tracks and say some words here and there. Whereas my template, broadcasting live globally weekly, is far more instinctual. I bring context, culture, and stories. Radio doesn’t offer you hyperdigestible content or a quick dopamine hit like social media does. You must hold someone’s attention without them seeing you. I’ve had six years of experience in radio now, in which I have developed an ability to paint my canvas.



My principles have kept me anchored; I haven’t bent to the trends that distil the artistry of DJing such as the POV trend. I recently had a very unapologetic debate with Tim Garcia about it. For me, it is a shortcut to massing followers. At the end of the day, our role is to bring people together, it doesn’t matter how many people we touch but how deep that impression is. I’d rather do a DJ set to five people in a room, play my heart out and see its effects on them; it is in those spaces I feel the most joy and interconnection between myself, the audience and the music.

You were talking on the radio about excessive output, in terms of musicians like John Coltrane, Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse, and how they created a large body of work in a short lifetime. I feel like there are two ideas of excessiveness in contemporary society, with the physical and the digital. What are the terms of your publicity?

It comes down to the sincerity of creativity, about submerging yourself in a vision and expressing it unapologetically. I’m sure Coltrane, Marley and Winehouse were all called arrogant and criticised by those with delicate egos. People criticise me for that; they think I’m too confident, but confidence is the foundation of one’s expression. People are too conscious of what others think. I never play for the room, when I’m DJing I’m only reflecting my mood, and I’m giving it my absolute everything with the records I play. I don’t use CDJs because I don’t want to know how long is left of the track, the genre, or the BPM.  I don’t want to quantify my set on an algorithm — the point of DJing is to be human.


My output has been so prolific. Some agencies want DJs to play less so they can ration them, to achieve a higher demand and raise fees. I’m 25 years old; I’m in my prime and I love what I do, why would I want to play less? I want to play every single week, week in, week out, multiple times. This year I’ve played in seven different countries, and I’ve had some of the biggest gigs of my life, without a manager or agent. It’s been independent, and I really hope that young people realise that’s achievable. 

You refer to your spirit a lot, how would you describe your spirituality and how does it interact with music?

We’ve grown up in a generation that is quite anti-religious. Spiritual people tend to be the most contented on earth and spiritual music has a quality that no other can compare to. The people I look up to most, like Jah Shaka and the Chicago percussionist and vocalist, Kahil El Zubar, believe in a higher spiritual force and that they’re channelling something deeper. Through music, I’ve been surrounded by unbelievable energy which has levitated me to other dimensions. It’s almost indescribable, but when I’m playing for five hours at Bunker [Club] my body relaxes and my spirit becomes present. Recently Nicholas Collee and I spent time going between Philadelphia and New York shooting a documentary about the Sun Ra Arkestra. We went to the Sun Ra home, where they have lived since 1968, and spent time with Marshall Allen. I have never felt so incredibly moved as I did in the presence of a 99-year-old who loves music that much, seeing his approach to music and how it carries him through old age. 


Two years ago, when I met him in London, he said, “You’ve got to be sincere to the sound. Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m sad. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m peaceful, but the music. The music…” It came to me after I had played an emotional session in Zürich at Kasheme. Biannually, Tara [Mũmbi Kamĩri] hosts Serene Sundays — at which I played a four-hour meditative session, with the decks set up on the floor, to a silent room of people. People were crying, and laughing, some were sweating, others were channelling emotion differently. Afterwards, I went outside on my own, and had a fat cry, in that moment Marshall Allen’s words came back to me. That’s the power of music, sometimes you’re clubbing and you’re thinking about your deepest regrets, then you’re thinking about everything you’ve got going on in your life, how blessed you are, you’re bouncing around, excited for life. Then you’re transported to a festival you went to two years ago. Music gives you this space to feel. At a time where there’s so much distraction, how much space are we giving ourselves to feel?

What would be your guiding motivation sonically if you came to make your own music?

It’s going to be music that connects to my soul. When I think about the music that has touched me, it has tended to be humanly made. That’s what hits me so hard about dub, because you are hearing the bass, horns, keys and strings. When all that knits together, it is incredibly deep. My music will be aligned with how Studio Crumb functions, because I never know how those nights are going to play out.  When I think about myself creating an album, it is going to be an amalgamation of all the music that has entered me; there’s a lot of music waiting to come out and present itself in my expression. It will be spiritual music that takes me somewhere else, and if it takes me somewhere else it will take other people elsewhere too.

And what would you like people to learn from you?

No one can replicate your honest expression but if you try to replicate somebody else’s, time will tell. There is a lot of focus on the algorithm in art, but this isn’t art.  Submerge yourself into your art form and what you believe. Be patient and create something long-term. Value the process as much as the product, and find fulfilment in the solitude it can take to create. I have huge respect for those who can devote themselves completely to their craft, I struggle with that sometimes but the days where I do are the days I feel best. Ultimately, it is a journey that is going to end, so let’s just try and enjoy ourselves as best as we can.