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The Asia Diaries

The Asia Diaries with Lawrence Lee: “20 days in China and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface!”

The Berlin-based DJ shares stories from his shows in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu & Changsha

  • Words: Lawrence Lee | Image: Clara Tatjana
  • 12 May 2023

Lawrence Lee is known for his emotive approach when activating the dancefloor crowds. With a sonic arsenal ranging acid to bass and euphoric rave, he’s quickly becoming a standout figure in Berlin’s burgeoning scene of fresh faces.

It’s no wonder Lee has become a household name in the European scene. In addition to local stalwart, he also adds A7A Records founder, Rinse France resident and co-founder of LUSH onto his list of accolades. Yes, that LUSH club night that’s now flourished into a Friday staple at Panorama Bar.

You’ll be able to find several of his break-out releases via Berlin's beloved queer party and label Radiant Love, E-Missions and Steel City Dance Discs.

Last month, Lee headed to China which was just emerging from a three-year travel lockdown. His six-stop tour began in Hong Kong and took him across mainland China, with gigs in Hong Kong, Chengdu, Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Changsha.

Packed with great clubs, lots of new friends and no shortage of amazing food along the way, Lee’s travels across Eastern Asia were definitely memorable; even with those many nights of little sleep!

Day 1-3

I arrived in Hong Kong on a warm and misty afternoon, which felt a world away from Berlin’s freezing cold weather.

Hong Kong is bustling and fast-paced with three main districts; Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and The New Territories. It's dotted with tiny islands all around, surrounded by waterways and a lot of beautiful subtropical greenery and mountains.

I’m met at the airport by MC from the Abyss crew organizing the party I'm playing the next day. From there, we checked into the hotel and headed for a quick lunch at a local style of cafe called a Cha chaan teng, which I really loved as it reminded me of diners in America where I grew up eating!

After a nap, I wandered around for a few hours before meeting the rest of the crew for dinner. Abyss consists of MC, Shanda and Angel; Daniel (a filmmaker-slash-DJ who also runs the warehouse venue) joins us as well.

The next day, I met Daniel at the iconic Victoria Harbor in Kowloon and we ride an old, charming ferry to Hong Kong Island to meet Adriana, a Hong Kong-based DJ. The island is tightly packed with cars, people and trams, all in a hurry. It’s Hong Kong as I might have imagined! We have a delicious Cantonese lunch on the second floor of a market. Lunch includes braised eggplant, fried rice with scrambled eggs and roasted nuts and toasted fried pork sandwiches, accompanied by their famous milk tea.

Daniel and I spend the day after lunch walking through the streets of Kowloon. We duck into densely packed buildings with low hung ceilings selling all kinds of things including manga, toys, electronics and food. They have kind of a cyberpunk feel and are bustling with locals buying various things and kids shopping with their friends and parents after school.

By the time I got to Abyss that night, it’s in full swing with Shanda and Angel playing b2b. The space is smokey and the sound system is banging. The crowd was super energetic. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in and left my set pretty open ended but I felt that the crowd was open to follow me in whatever direction I wanted to take the set so it was a pleasure to play. After my set, I stayed for another hour or so and got to meet a few more local DJs including Jeremy Cheung.

With little sleep, the next morning I quickly pack and got another great lunch with MC. Then it was off to the airport with Chengdu as my next stop.

Day 3-8

I arrived in Chengdu and after a bit of drama at the Hong Kong airport due to travel regulations. Thankfully I managed to make it for that night's party where I'm set to play the closing on Saturday for the 9-year .TAG anniversary weekender!

My first impressions of Chengdu are hard to describe. At night the city is a hazy buzz with brightly lit buildings covered in signs blinking across the city skyline on the main road. You’re flooded with the smells of food and the sound of music coming out of bars and restaurants. I drop my stuff off and meet Ellen to grab a delicious bowl of spicy beef soup noodles. Ellen is the proprietor of .TAG, Hakka Bar, YITONG Records and by now a close friend of mine.

The bar, record store and my Airbnb are all on the same floor of the same building and it feels very much like .TAG HQ. We run into some club regulars while having dinner. Off the main streets, the neighborhoods are surprisingly green with quiet, tree-lined streets — as if a world away from the next block over on the main roads.

After dinner and a quick shower, I head to .TAG which is located on the top floor of a twenty-one-storey office building. The hallway leading to the club is packed with Chengdu ravers smoking and chatting. There's a main room and an upstairs “hidden bar” with DJs playing everything from acid house to electro. The club is dark and smokey. It's a great crowd and largely queer. I end up playing for around six hours.

The space, sound, drinks, and even temperature in the venue — everything was well thought out and put together wonderfully, while still maintaining a certain edge and grittiness which I welcome in a club space. People are super laid back and open-minded. Also, all of the local DJs I saw playing throughout the three-day anniversary party were fantastic.

During the next few days in Chengdu, we walked the small streets, saw some sights and ate amazing food with the .TAG extended family. Some highlights include a Tibetan restaurant, Sichuan Hot Pot and a Yakitori restaurant next to .TAG and housed in a tiny brutalist two-floor building, with really futuristic lighting.

Food in the city is insanely good and cheap across all different kinds of restaurants, from streetside noodle shops to more traditional sit-down restaurants. I would suggest you walk around and get lost in the Yulin neighbourhood if you have some extra time!

Day 8-10
BEIJING & Wigwam

Ellen flies with me to Beijing and has a .TAG takeover in the club Zhao Dai the day after my Wigwam gig. We land late at night and immediately head to eat Beijing hot pot at a late-night restaurant. Beijing hotpot consists of mostly lamb and vegetables in a clear broth with a sesame sauce for dipping, typically without chillies.

The next day we meet YKK and DJ B (who I’ll DJ with at Wigwam) for a coffee, a snack and lunch complete with some bubbly to boot. After lunch Ellen and I visit the small mountain across the Forbidden City where you can see the whole thing. Beijing traffic is a thing so make sure to give yourself enough time when traveling!

We head directly to dinner afterwards where we have the famous crispy Beijing Duck, wrapped in a flat pancake with spring onion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce. After dinner I do a quick music prep and head to the club early to see YKK play before my set.

Wigwam has a somewhat tropical tiki bar-esque vibe with quirky lighting hanging from the ceiling over the dancefloor. I hear that the general vibe of the crowd going to Wigwam is great and it doesn't disappoint — the party’s a lot of fun! The next day with little sleep (yet again) I’m off to Shenzhen where I’ll play the next night and spend the next four days or so.

Day 10-13

On my flight to Shenzhen, I meet Luci aka Warmchainss, a resident of Oil where I'm playing later that night. As soon as we land, we part ways and I head directly to the club for a sound check. Oil has a very modern and sleek feel, set in concrete with good lights and a stunning Danley sound system that sounds huge but also really warm and clean.

After heading to the hotel for a quick shower, I meet with the oil team and Yang Yang, one of the club owners and operators. Then we head to dinner with an impressive endless array of Cantonese seafood specialties including a really tasty oyster omelette and many others I don't know the name of. It's worth noting Shenzhen is kind of Hong Kong’s mainland sister city of sorts, connected by metro and very nearby although a visa or travel permit is still necessary.

It's the five-year anniversary of Silicon Kure, a label from Oil, and the club is packed by the time I arrived. The system was a dream to play on and the crowd was energetic, fun and very vocal. Two hours passed way too quickly!

One of my favorite things I’ve eaten on the trip came by recommendation of Luci. It was a very simple but delicious bowl of beef noodles with a sesame sauce. Hainafromchina and I also ate an absolutely lethal hot pot which is not typical of Shenzhen. It was by far the spiciest thing I ate on the trip!

Day 13-17

The next stop is Shanghai. I'm glad to see some friends from Chengdu while I’m there. Ellen, Darko, DJ B, Jana and Agu, who now lives in Shanghai and owns Heim where I’ll DJ over the weekend. They’re a close-knit family and I immediately feel at home with them and in the city which reminds me of New York. The neighborhoods have walkable streets with lots of things to see, do…and eat.

It's late by the time I arrive in Shanghai and I head straight to the hotel. The next morning, I meet Agu for breakfast and get some coffee.

Shanghai is lovely with a lot of parks and a big waterfront area. We tour some very pretty nearby parks and a quiet riverside promenade with a big group of Chengdu and Shanghai locals. For Lunch we have one of my favourite foods, Xiaolongbao aka soup dumplings with a side of tasty, slightly sweet and salty noodles on the side — a local specialty.

Later in the evening we take a ferry ride on the river off the Bund area. The locals take advantage of my visit, as many of them haven't taken the time to see or do this before. Afterwards, we head to dinner and stop at a bar called Yaang, which is an opium den-styled bar. Apparently, you're even welcome to sleep there after a few too many drinks.

In the next few days, there's more exploring and a lot more amazing food. Most of the places on the trip haven't had Western names and can’t be found on Google, but two of the Western-styled restaurants in Shanghai I can recommend are Bistro II and Pass Residence.

On my last night in Shanghai, I played at Heim. It’s packed and I'm happy to see a lot of the new friends I’ve made there. I'm on the upstairs floor with the DJ booth located in the centre of the room, with people dancing both in front and behind you. There's also a downstairs room and Agu shows me the third room they're building, in the adjacent building but shares a courtyard with the current space.

The club has great energy and it's so fun to play there because of how the booth is set up, you're really on the dance floor. I'm the last DJ for the night so I end up extending my set, playing into the morning with the sunlight peeking through a thin strip of glass blocks in the back wall.

Food the morning after the party is a ritual we can't miss on this occasion and we have a great breakfast at a nearby soup and dumpling spot.

Day 17-20

After sleeping for two hours, I woke up and headed to the airport. I landed in Changsha and meet Bambi and her partner at the club at the airport. Together they run River, which is a fitting name since the city straddles either side of the Xiang Jian river.

Traffic is bad and it takes a while before we get into the city centre so we head straight to dinner and have really some local Hunan food. The spicy crawfish was a favourite.

River is a subterranean club located underneath an office building. There's a main room with a bar and a sizable dancefloor with a side room and bar through a hallway. It has a good sound system and a well-laid-out booth –– without much sleep, I head to the club to play after a quick shower. The party was great and I'm happy with my set but head to my hotel soon after to catch up on some rest.

The next few days Bambi along with Min9 and Daniel, who are both local DJ’s, take me across the city to visit the various neighborhoods and sights. We visit the beautiful waterfront during the day to see a building dedicated to a Daoist thinker and at night for drinks.

We also hike up the backside of Yuelu Mountain with a stop at a tea house on the way up. In the newly rebuilt old town, we have a coffee and a stroll, visiting a tattoo shop Bambi used to work at where I pick up some gifts for friends and a bite to eat.

On my last day, Changsha is hit with a storm and I wake up to a call from the hotel with missed calls from Bambi and Ellen regarding a change in plans due to flight delays. After a change to an earlier flight, I head to the airport and make it in time for the new connecting flight in Beijing and back home afterwards.

Back in Berlin

Over 20 days in China and I feel I’ve only really scratched the surface! It's amazing to see club culture and music thriving there. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many amazing friends in my time on this trip and experience so many beautiful places and cities. Each had such a distinct vibe — from the food to the lifestyle and the venues…I really hope to be back soon!

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