Tag: DJ

As many of you probably already know, I got my start DJing on turntables. Obviously, this is how most DJs above a certain age started, so this is not uncommon. I still use turntables occasionally, because I don’t want to lose the touch and I just enjoy it, to be honest. I still prefer it over the modern technologies, but I do realize that those modern technologies are simply better. That’s why I’ve switched, like so many other DJs as well.

All that said, I recently bought a new record player. That’s right, even though I barely use my turntable to spin records anymore I bought a player. So why did I do that? Well, I did it just for listening. This has nothing to do with DJing.

a quality record playerYou’d have to be dead to not know that vinyl is making a big comeback. Most of this is due to the hipsters, among whom old-fashioned technologies have become cool. I’ll be honest, this annoys me a little bit and kind of makes me not want to listen to vinyl. But I grew up on the stuff, so I feel I have a right to do it, despite the hipsters trying to steal my generation’s thunder.

I actually have a large record collection that I never used for spinning. It was just for listening to. Much of it I inherited from my dad, but I added to it over the years. I also had a cheap record player to play it on. The record player we had growing up broke a long time ago and I replaced it with a cheap one because I didn’t have much money at the time. I was in college then and you know how that goes.

Over the years I considered buying a new one several times, but in the end I never did, since I rarely found myself listening to vinyl anymore. Recently I decided to change that. I decided to go out and buy a record player so that I could listen to vinyl whenever I wanted to.

I’ve been keeping up with the technology, but I wasn’t prepared for just how many options are out there. Most of the record players out there have a ton of features that I just don’t want. They have built-in speakers, they have cassette decks, they have CD players, they play radio, etc. I don’t want any of that.

I already have separate components that do all of those things. I also have an amplifier and speakers, so I don’t need those in my record player either. But it seems like most of the record players that don’t have these things are turntables specifically geared towards DJs. I didn’t want one of those.

Luckily I found a great article that detailed some of the highest quality record players on the market. These are players that do nothing but play vinyl, but they do it at the absolute highest level. They look incredible, they sound incredible, they are extremely high quality. In short, they are amazing. They are also very expensive, but they are worth it to me.

In the end I decided on the Pro-Ject Audio – Perspex. It cost me almost $2000, but I’ve never heard sound quality like this before. The build quality is incredible too. I would never DJ with this thing, but for listening to records, you can’t do much better.

It’s definitely overkill for the casual fan, and probably for me too, but I just don’t care. It is nice knowing I have something that no hipster will ever buy. Mainly, because they can afford it, but also because they’re interest in vinyl is simply to keep up with their hipster friends. Once the fad passes, they will be over it.

But I’ll never be over it and with this record player I’ll be able to listen to my collection for the rest of my life and my children will be able to do so after me and then their children and their children and their children. This thing is solid and will last forever.

Trends

I have had the good fortune to watch live DJs spin music at raves in over five different countries. The rave scenes in these different countries varied greatly, but part of that is also due to the time difference. The raves I am going to mention here took place over a period of 15 years. During that time, rave culture changed in each one of these countries. I only partied at a certain time in each country, so I don’t know what they were like during the other times. This makes it difficult to compare one country to the other directly. But I will try.

The first raves I ever saw were in Seattle, Washington in the United States. They were simply amazing. I’m sure some of this has to do with the fact that they were my first raves, but back then it was the height of the rave culture in the US. The DJs were amazing and so were the venues. They took place in warehouses, but also large public venues. People took ecstasy and danced all night while wearing crazy clothes. The atmosphere was simply wonderful and it has never been beat by any rave or EDM festival I have attended since.

Outdoor rave in Europe
Crowds at an outdoor rave in Europe

Next I’ll quickly mention a rave I went to in Las Vegas in the desert. It was similar to the Seattle ones, but I did not know anyone there, so I didn’t have quite as great of a time. I also did not have any party favors and let’s face it, that does make a difference. The music at that desert rave was great, too, but I have to admit it was very cold at night in the desert and I was not dressed for the occasion. I had a few beers before I went, but there was no alcohol being sold at the venue, because there were people under 21 there and it was in the US. I got tired quickly because of this.

The next rave I went to was in Tokyo, Japan. This was in a gigantic venue right on the waterfront. The music was incredible, perhaps the best out of any of the raves, but the atmosphere just wasn’t there. The whole thing was much too commercial and that definitely took away from the feeling. We did have some party favors this night and I was there with a girl I really liked. This all made for a great night, but I did miss the underground feel of the raves back in the US.

From that point on I didn’t go to any raves for a while. In Europe I just went to clubs, because they did not seem to have real raves. They didn’t need them. You could do anything you wanted in the club. The next actual outdoor music festival with electronic music was in Seoul, South Korea. It was an electronic dance music festival with some large DJs. Some of the biggest name DJs in the world actually. Unfortunately, this being Korea, there were absolutely no party favors whatsoever. There was a lot of alcohol and everyone got very drunk, but it didn’t feel like a rave at all. It felt like a big party. It was a ton of fun, but I would not call it a rave. It was missing everything that makes a rave a rave.

EDM festival type rave in US
Ravers partying at an EDM festival in the US

Finally, I went to a few raves in Shenzhen, China. Being China, there was some weed, but nothing else. They also sold alcohol. I didn’t know anyone there and the parties were very small, so I got bored quickly. The music was fine, but nothing special. It was a nice try, especially for China. This is a country where you really do not have any good clubs at all and the nightlife generally sucks. The fact that someone tried to put on a rave is really incredible. They did a good job, too, but that’s not enough in this country. When you are in China, no matter how good you are at promoting parties and events, you just can’t compete with raves in the US or even Japan.

I just realized I forgot to mention the biggest rave of them all: the full moon party in Thailand. Yes I’ve been there and it was incredible. It also did not really feel like a rave, since most people were getting drunk. I was always against the US policy of not selling alcohol at these things, but now that I see what happens when you do, I actually like it. Raves are about drugs, not alcohol. The drugs fuel the enjoyment of the music and the general atmosphere of love and peace. Alcohol does the exact opposite of that. This is why the best raves I have been to were in the United States. That is probably surprising to you. It definitely is to me.

You’ll find info on raves on the Badass Raves FB page.

raves

A few years ago I spent two months traveling through China. I spent all of my time in the south and the west. I began in Shenzhen, then went to Guiling and Yunnan provinces. I spent the first month there, then headed back to Guangzhou. From there I traveled to Chongqing and then to Sichuan. I spent most of the second month there, with 10 days or so in Lanzhou and Urumqi.

Night club in Shenzhen China
A KTV style Chinese night club in Shenzhen

During my travels, I made it a point to go to a club or two in every major city, to see some local DJs. I came away with one major impression. Chinese clubs absolutely suck. Most of the Chinese DJs are terrible, too, but even if they managed to spin a good set, I doubt I would even notice given how horrible the clubs are. I swear some of them just use regular old record players.

I’ll start in Shenzhen, since it’s the most western city. Located just north of Hong Kong, it gets a lot of international DJs as well as a bunch from Hong Kong and Macau and of course local ones. Many foreign DJs live in Shenzhen, too, since it is the best place in China for them to find work apart from Shanghai and Beijing. It is known as a very progressive city with great nightlife.

While it is progressive, the nightlife is far from great. In fact, the only Chinese city with decent clubs where you can have a good time is Shanghai. And the clubs are only decent, not great. Nothing like Tokyo or even Seoul.

Basically, in China there are two types of clubs: those catering to Chinese people and those catering to foreigners. In all of China, there are maybe 5 of the latter. In Shenzhen, there are none. The city does get some big name DJs, but they end up spinning in the Chinese style clubs, which is absolutely ridiculous. Here’s why:

Pepper Club, located in the Coco Park area of Shenzhen, is the most western club and the one that attracts the most big name DJs. The dance floor is the size of a medium-sized table. It is the biggest you’ll find in a club in the city. Instead, every inch of floor space in the club is filled with tables that customers can sit at for a large fee. This way, the club can make money and Chinese people can sit around in their little groups and not mingle with anyone they didn’t already know.

For some reason they love this. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to a nice bar or pub and talking to my friends, too, but I don’t want to do it in a place with a DJ and pounding music being piped into every inch of the club through hundreds of speakers in every corner. The only time you would want music that loud and that all-present is if you’re in a dance club where everyone is dancing. Not in a place full of tables.

But in China, the clubs are all made for sitting, but the noise level is made for dancing. It makes for the most useless nights out, where you can’t dance, can’t walk around and meet new people and can’t talk to your friends since you can’t hear anything they say. So you end up with a bunch of people getting drunk in small groups but not really talking, everyone just staring into their smartphones. Off to the side, a DJ plays music that no one can dance to and no one can talk over.

I have no idea if the club owners here have simply tried to copy the western club environment and failed miserably, or if they created this horrible clubbing experience on purpose. I imagine they make far more money this way, since people pay for all the tables. Obviously if they were trying to attract foreign customers, they would fail and go bankrupt, but since they get plenty of young Chinese customers, they don’t really need to worry about the rest of us. They can safely ignore us and just do whatever makes them the most money and whatever appeals most to Chinese clubgoers.

This wasn’t just a Shenzhen  phenomenon. All cities are like this. Shanghai, and maybe Beijing, have some decent clubs in the western style where it’s possible to listen to good music and actually dance to it and meet new people, but the other cities don’t. They are far worse than Shenzhen even. In Shenzhen, the clubs are glitzy and at least look like posh clubs. In smaller cities, they look like they want to look like posh clubs, the kind that would attract a famous DJ, but it is obvious it’s just a facade. The clubs all look cheap and tacky.

And the DJs they get to spin music are locals and their skill level is that of someone just becoming a DJ, someone who is in the middle of learning to DJ. They play the same top 40 tunes, but not top 40 from today. The songs were top 40 five years ago. The music is always turned up too loud. If they do play electronic dance music, it’s far too fast and seems completely unnatural. Not that you could enjoy your EDM even if it was good, since again, there are no dance floors and only tables with Chinese people smoking and playing a game of dice.

I’m not the only one who hates the clubs in China. Every foreigner who has tried to go to a few feels the same. The phenomenon of filling every inch of available space with tables and leaving no room for a real dance floor has even made it into a question on Quora, which you can read here. As you can see from that, there have been plenty of huge DJs, some of the world’s most famous DJs, playing gigs in China, but outside of Beijing and Shanghai, you won;t find the venues to really enjoy those DJs. And even in those two cities, the Chinese style of club is taking over. I guess they are just more profitable and are thus squeezing out the clubs that are more traditional and actually enjoyable. Money wins every time. We lose every time. What a shame.

Clubs

I spent some time in Shanghai, China many years ago. While there, I went out clubbing a lot; pretty much every weekend. By far my favorite club in the city was a place called Bonbon. It was located a few hundred meters from my apartment, but that wasn’t the reason it was my favorite. Okay, it wasn’t the whole reason.

It had the best DJs in the city and for a price of $12 it offered an open bar until 4 AM. It was also filled with hot girls. It also had a great sound system and basically a selection of all the best DJ equipment for beginners. True, this club could never compare with the best clubs in other cities, like Tokyo or New York or Las Vegas or Berlin, etc.. But China—and in fact most of Asia except for Japan—does not really have all that many real clubs. Most places are actually pretty horrible, with annoying crowds and bad music that’s way too loud. That’s why a good club like bonbon, seems amazing while you’re there.

Despite the lack of great clubs, China does pull some of the world’s greatest DJs. And in Shanghai, bonbon got a lot of them. I saw quite a few big-name DJs while I was there, but the one that sticks out the most is Sven Vath. I had never seen him before, but had heard many good things, so when I saw that he was playing at my favorite club I was naturally really excited. But that’s not why he sticks out. I remember his performance, because it was so horrible.

DJ Sven Vath
DJ Sven Vath

Bonbon is a drinking club. With an open bar, everyone consumes a lot of alcohol and that makes for a certain mood. That mood is not conducive to long drawn out trance numbers. And unfortunately that’s exactly what Sven was playing. When he first took the stage, the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy by the previous DJ and the excitement only grew in anticipation of the night’s headliner.

But as the set went on and the endlessly droning beats monotonously continued for 10 long minutes after 10 long minutes after 10 long minutes, you could feel the energy being sapped out of the crowd. People who were dancing before were now just standing and watching and pretty soon everyone was looking forward to the moment when the regular club DJ would come in to finish up the night.

It was on this night that I realized that Sven Vath is a terrible DJ. True, it’s not his fault he was booked at the wrong kind of club for his music. There’s nothing he can do about that and the promoter should have done his homework and not brought in a trance DJ. Nevertheless, any good DJ should have the ability to read the crowd and adjust what they are playing accordingly. Sven clearly did not have that ability; or maybe he simply did not have the desire and he just stubbornly continue to play his set list. Either way, he ensured that I will never watch him spin music again and I’m sure many in the crowd left feeling exactly the same.

 

On a final note, if you are planning on traveling to China and more specifically to Shanghai and you want to go out at night, ask around before you head to Bonbon. It was great while I was there, but things change quickly when it comes to clubs and even just a new club DJ can completely change a place. Your best bet, is to simply ask someone when you’re there, like the staff at your hotel or just young people around the city. The one thing you should definitely do is go out clubbing if you’re in China, because even if the clubs aren’t that great, it will still be a unique experience. And if you’re lucky, or should I say unlucky, enough to see a Chinese DJ…well that can be an even more unusual experience.

European DJs