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No Dancers Spared: Are Western DJs who say they love the underground just bleeding Asia dry?

DJs claim their appreciation for the underground yet their fees tell a completely different story

  • Arthur Kovacs
  • 4 June 2020

Mixmag Asia reluctantly welcomes Arthur Kovacs and his pessimistic, blunt and sardonic view of the modern dance floor and everyone in it. From dancers to DJs, no one is safe from his line of sight, not even himself. He’s a has-been DJ, a failed promoter, a long-time clubber and an armchair anarchist, and he’s also old, disgruntled, and bitter; constantly complaining at everything; an old man raver yelling at the sky. When he’s not moaning about something, he’s usually busy browsing through your social media posts, trying to find the next thing to complain about. So if you see him writing so much heat, and you start to cry each time you read… just scroll on by.

I get out of bed and open the curtains: coronavirus. I open the fridge for something to eat: coronavirus. I put my shoes on to go outside: well I can’t because of the corona fucking virus. It looks like the virus is here to stay with us for a while; a bit like that creep who keeps arguing with everyone at an afterparty and yet nobody knows who he is.

There is one thing that has been plaguing our fickle industry for longer than the virus could ever plague us. This one thing has pressured promoters to shut shop, pushed agents to argue with each other, and caused a tectonic rift between the DJs that have and the DJs that have-not: exorbitant DJ fees.

Let me not bore you with another article dissecting why and how the fees got to where they are, for I have seen our future; it’s bleak, it’s depressing, it’s your Tuesday comedown perpetuating. For almost three decades, international DJ fees have seen the same exponential growth the coronavirus has been enjoying. Such an amount is easier to justify in the European and American markets but when translated here in Asia, it is mind boggling.

Take for example Vietnam — a country with a robust economy and an emerging underground scene helmed by Savage to the North and The Observatory to the South. The country’s average salary is roughly $700 a month, so to even book an international DJ with a reasonable price tag, the average Vietnamese would have to work for four months to earn the same as the DJ working for three hours.

But my gripe isn’t with these so-called ‘reasonably priced’ international DJs — we all have to make a living, international DJ or not.It’s the ones who profess their love for the underground, make hand-hearts behind the decks, hashtag #Imsoblessed and then charge a fee which the average Vietnamese would only make in a year that get me all apoplectic.

No, I don’t expect anyone to work for free. No, I don’t expect any charity. But you can’t say you love something and then contribute to the very undoing of it. Blessed aren’t those whom charge the average yearly salary for half a night’s work.

Call me a Marxist, but I fail to see how any of this makes sense. Promoter takes risk on a big booking. Cost gets passed down to the clubbers. Door tax priced at nearly €30 to cover high costs and low returns. Only rich expats can afford to get in. Locals are ostracised from events held on their own doorstep. Scene lacks the much-needed support from locals and doesn’t grow because expats are always coming and going. And the local clubbers who do provide the support could probably live off the entrance fee for a week. Unchecked capitalism is deadlier than the fucking virus. So yes please call me a Marxist.

But I get it, those blessed DJs need to fund their globetrotting trips and another Balenciaga techno clutch is a very essential purchase. I mean, how else are they going to fund their pre-gig trip to Phú Quốc; those IG uploads don’t post themselves.

As governments around the world plan to release caged up citizens back into the wild, and as experts plan to kickstart the stomped-down economy, our industry needs to do the same. We need to realign our priorities. We need to focus on our home grown talent who were probably struggling before the virus. We need to stop contributing to the expensive lifestyle of a certain group of DJs. We need to ensure a friendlier entrance fee where possible. And right now, we need to be compassionate towards venues and their owners who are forced to carry out social-distancing measures in their clubs; measures that will no doubt hinder your clubbing experience. We need to support each other now more than ever.

And for the DJs in question, you need to ask yourself, how much do you really fucking love the underground or do you want to carry on bleeding this region dry?

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