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What DJs in Asia did instead of DJing this year

6 DJs in Asia reflect on their careers & share their ventures outside of music in 2020

  • Cheryl Chow
  • 21 December 2020

There’s no need to regurgitate: 2020 sucked. No — 2020 was insufferable. Suffering scales differently for everyone, and privilege is a big factor in that equation. While we celebrate and envy the many countries in Asia that have seemingly resumed “normal” life and have been holding large scale festivals, we must also confront our privileged position to do so. Shelter, food, and access to healthcare shouldn’t be taken for granted. The nightlife and live music industry is one of the industries most heavily impacted by the coronavirus, with many artists, promoters, event organizers and other workers losing their jobs.

We reached out to six DJs from Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to chat about their respective 2020s, what they learnt and what they’re looking forward to next year.

Herbie Walton
Designed T-shirts

DJ: Herbie Walton
Location: Philippines

Tell us more about how you came to design T-shirts. Was it something you always dabbled in, or only in 2020?

Well, around April I came to realize that we will be on lockdown for a long time, so I decided to learn something new. I've always wanted to learn and improve my graphic design skills so I can make better flyers for my gigs. I could never find the time before.

What inspired those designs?

I was just playing around with the tools and effects and seeing what can do what. After a few hours, I came up with my first design, which I later called Mr Daub. I started playing around with it some more and came up with a formula on how to arrange regular objects to make a unique design... By the end of the week, I came up with about 10 designs. After a couple of months, without realizing it, I had over 300 designs. Some were music-related, and some were more on humour... I showed the designs to some of my closest friends and they said that I should pursue it. I started wondering what to call the line. Since my first design was an inkblot, I thought it would be proper to use that as an inspiration... So I came up with Daubwear. Kinda has a nice ring to it…

What do you miss the most about DJing before the pandemic or the music scene before the pandemic?

I miss the energy of the people dancing to the music. Taking them on a journey... and I’m the driver... That's my favourite part of DJing.

The best thing about 2020, if there is one?

The best thing about 2020 is that I got to spend a lot of time with my son. And of course, discovering Daubwear. Also, learning a lot about fabrics and different ways to print. I didn't know there was so much more to it!

What do you look forward to in 2021?

Really looking forward to playing for a live crowd again and feeling the energy of the people dancing and grooving with the music. Also, learning more about marketing.

Did a PhD on Hong Kong’s rave culture

DJ: Mengzy
Location: Hong Kong
Project: PhD

What have you gotten up to this year outside of music, with many live gigs being cancelled?

Apart from DJing, my life still revolves around music, whether it’s my PhD research on Hong Kong rave, my radio show on RTHK 3, or working on production / self-releasing music. Thankfully, those were all things I was able to continue working on this year even though gigs were cancelled.

Non-music related though, the most exciting thing has been getting into the planted aquarium hobby, meaning the tank is its own ecosystem with soil, plants, bio-organisms, and the fish, shrimp, etc. The aquarium hobby is actually quite a thriving subculture with lots of info available online. My own tank was inspired by the Japanese aquascaping aesthetic pioneered by the late master Takashi Amano.

Here’s a side-by-side of my tank at the beginning of September 2020 versus today.

Was there a cancelled gig that you really really wanted to play, but couldn’t?

Yes, I was booked for Shi Fu Miz to play at the Devil’s Forest stage again and I really was looking forward to that since I feel my mixing and aesthetic has developed a lot since I played there for their 2019 edition. That intimate stage is absolutely incredible and the whole festival is so much fun, although I completely understand their decision to postpone

Has the pandemic made you more aware of smaller, local gigs or music communities?

I think it’s made me acutely aware of just how precarious and fragile our industry is — and how everything revolves around the local venues that keep this scene going, they are like communities in their own way. It’s been really sad to see several iconic, long-standing venues having to close their doors recently. I’m also very aware now of how much artists have suffered financially and bookmark all the new music I want to buy and wait until Bandcamp Fridays to buy it because anything we can do to support each other even if it’s just a little bit more is so important.

For local gigs, I can also speak personally because I’ve been trying to run a new monthly night called Wonton Bass, which thankfully was able to launch successfully on Halloween at Social Room after months of delays due to covid. Since then, however, all the follow-up Wonton Bass parties that were planned have been postponed, as well. That’s been really challenging and frustrating because it’s getting in the way of the momentum to continue building the brand.

What do you miss most about DJing pre-pandemic?

Just the simplicity and beauty of being able to connect and interact with other people without having fear in the back of your mind. It’s crazy to think about how we took the simple act of speaking to a friend or stranger for granted before. A big part of the experience of DJing for me (apart from the set itself, obviously) are the interactions I have before and after the set: catching up with other colleagues in the scene, chatting with regulars or new faces in the crowd… Even during your set, you’ll have friends come backstage or other DJs who pop behind to hype you up, dance or just say hey while you’re on. Now every interaction is a risk and the thought of a full club can make you feel nervous, which is ironic because every DJ and promoter’s dream is to have a full club…

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from 2020?

It’s been a mentally challenging year for everyone, myself included. My mood fluctuates a lot and that’s led to me procrastinating a lot this year feeling frustrated or sorry for myself, but there have also been times where I’ve been super productive and motivated. I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned (or trying to learn!) is that either way, it’s OK. This year has blindsided the whole world, so I think we can all give ourselves a break when it comes to how we’ve coped.

Has 2020 permanently changed your outlook on your music career?

Not really. My goals and dreams are still the same. When there’s a will, there’s a way… I know this will sound cliche, but it’s more than just a passion for me now, it’s a way of life. Music is everything to me and I can’t think of anything that would make me not want to do music for the rest of my life.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Seeing my family, who live in Singapore. I’ve been unable to travel there because I don’t have a Singaporean passport, and they can’t come here because they don’t have a Hong Kong ID card

Halim Ardie
Started the Bali Hospitality Movement

DJ: Halim Ardie
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Project: Bali Hospitality Movement, Club Conscious, Rainforest Pavillion

Much respect and love to the Bali Hospitality Movement. How and when did the Bali Hospitality Movement come about?

Thank you for shining some light on the hard work that we accomplished this year. The Bali Hospitality Movement came about this year as a reaction to the economic crisis brewing in Bali, Indonesia. As the island relies heavily on tourism, the shutdown of all global travel hit the hospitality industry extremely hard. It was such a confusing time for everyone, as we are all trying to make ends meet while trying to stay healthy from the onslaught of COVID19. BHM started when I and a few others were approached by Made Bagia, a prominent member of the Bali bar scene, who was looking to help fellow hospitality workers during this time. We came together as a group to think about how we could raise funds to help some of our industry peers who were starving after being let off of work with no back pay. Conceived out of love as an idea to help people instead of shame, our initiative quickly grew traction. Within a few weeks, we were able to start handing out sembako (food parcels) to those in need with the help of our sponsors. Most of our sponsorship comes from alcohol suppliers, it shows that the industry will help itself survive in desperate times. Another honourable mention of our other sponsors is Yoshizen fashion brand, which has donated a large sum every month from their sales of cactus leather face masks. As well as from Bali's number one events singer Lydia Rose, whose past clients donated to help the island that they love.

You also started Club Conscious. What was the process of starting that? What are your goals for it?

I actually started Club Conscious five years ago, and it is one of the main reasons why I was contacted to be one of the co-founders for the Bali Hospitality Movement. Club Conscious has created countless events over the years and helped in the construction of a school for low-income families and raise over 350 million Indonesian rupiahs with Omnia Day Club for disaster relief after the earthquakes in Lombok and Palu. Through Club Conscious and the Rainforest Pavilion, I found my calling of helping through the power of electronic music and using my influence as a DJ to raise funds and awareness for important causes.

What are the biggest challenges that these two programs face?

The biggest challenge we have faced is being able to continue to do charity work while being unemployed ourselves. It was a crazy moment at the beginning of this crisis to be completely out of work as a DJ and event organizer. Same with the other people in the group, we live paycheck to paycheck without a real safety net. Again the same as the other people in our industry, however being a high-profile DJ and the others being managers of venues or event companies we were more well off than the daily workers of venues, who truly had zero support as not being contracted to a venue and really lived day-to-day. Even with the hardest determination, we were susceptible to the woes of not having a paycheck coming in. Made Bagia and Dani Black, two of our founding members had to leave Bali in search of employment on other islands. We are survived by Alit, Arii, and myself as the core members to keep this initiative alive as the crisis isn't over yet.

Have you learned anything about Bali (specifically, the music community) since starting these two initiatives?

I have learned a hard lesson about how unsustainable the industry is. From top to bottom everyone was hit hard by this, and this is something not in Bali only. The event industry was nearly decimated by this not yet finished disaster, and again the people who are not getting help are the creatives and lowly workers. This is not sustainable. Yet people are frothing to be able to have a safe space to dance and party again, which shows that this industry is essential for mental and spiritual wellbeing.

What do you miss the most about DJing pre-pandemic?

I truly miss the sweaty dancefloor days of a venue packed out grinding to a blaring sound system. Although, we have been lucky in Bali to still have some events and parties surviving. One of the best things brought on by this is that social media is no longer allowed inside the venues as a way to get past authorities. I hope this practice followed into the future and that there is a return to the glory days of partying where it wasn't all about the 'Gram.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from 2020?

The biggest lesson that I will take away from 2020 is the ability to adapt. I had to rely on teaching DJing to get through the hardships of this year and bring in an income. I also appreciate the lesson of adapting after your lifestyle has changed. I had been so focused on my daily routine that some of my other ideas were never realized, during this year I was able to spend the newfound time on developing ideas that I had on the backburner.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

The concept of time is irrelevant if we looking at the difference between 20 and 21. Things aren't going to be different if there is no change put in place. I am looking forward to change, I see a change in our industry, I see a change in how the world is reacting to the pandemic. I hope through the lessons learned as an industry and a society that more emphasis is placed on helping one another and taking care of our environment before the unregulated chase of profits.

On a development level with Bali Hospitality Movement, I am looking forward to the direction we will take the movement. We are looking towards the point when food parcels are not drastically needed, at this time we will shift our help into creating workshops for unemployed industry workers so that they can level up and be ready for better employment in the future. Such as bar management workshops for bartenders, or leadership certificates for floor workers so that they can be promoted into management.

DJ Deen
Started a miniature racecar shop

DJ: DJ Deen
Location: Singapore
Shop: Circuit Hobby

Tell me more about the how Circuit Hobby — when exactly did you start this? Have you had the concept for a long time?

The shop opened just about six weeks before Singapore went into lockdown earlier this year. Had the idea at the back of my head the whole time I started dabbling with the hobby last year. Slowly ideas for the shop brand slowly popped-up — I had them listed down on my phone, kept talking about it to my friends lol.

When did your interest in Mini4WD begin?

Here's the kicker — I was in Seoul visiting Marcus L and Damie at club Faust. It was a break from my then day job so it was kind of a holiday. So we were hanging out at the backroom taking a break (a guest was playing I can't remember who!). Then Marcus was like "hey do you guys play these cars in Singapore?" as he whipped out his phone to show me some pics of his car builds and I was like wow! So we chat, shared with him that we (kids) in Singapore used to play these in the 80s/90s, and there is still a big store here now. When I got back to Singapore the following weekend, I dropped by the store to get some parts/items Marcus asked to see if they had any. That was when I saw a group of guys (not kids!) running their mini4wd cars on the track. Bought a car for myself and the rest was history lol.

How has the response been for Circuit Hobby? Have you learnt anything about your community since starting it?

So far it had been good but it could be better if weren't for the pandemic. I've seen quite a number of new hobbyists coming in to start and I can safely say the community has grown. There are three other private/boutique mini4wd shops since Circuit Hobby opened indicating the hobby has been gaining traction. What I've learnt? The community is only big enough that everyone knows each other. We share tips/ideas here and there be it in the store or on Circuit Hobby's Mini4wd Technology group page where we share videos/tutorials for builds. Other than that, everyone is being supportive. Merchandise move as fast as their cars on a good day!

What do you miss the most about DJing/music before the pandemic?

Friends made in the club. Playing for a crowd. Seeing them move as you go about your set, and the reactions as you drop tracks. Mannnn :(

Has 2020 changed your mindset about your music career?

It's just on pause at the moment. It didn't change.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

The vaccine. Hopefully, everything recovers as fast as waking up from a nightmare. And another job would be sweet.

Mendy Indigo
Supported local fishermen in Thailand

DJ: Mendy Indigo
Location: Thailand
Venture: Phao Phangan, ShitMendyCooks

How did Phao Phangan come about?

During the pandemic, I moved to Koh Phangan where I now live with a local fisherman family. This showed me a completely different side of the island. The local Thai culture here is distinct and there is a strong local community, with many stories to tell.

This is how the idea of Phao Phangan came about. Phao Phangan literally translates to Phangan’s tribe and our goal is to shine a spotlight on Koh Phangan’s local Thai community and culture, which has been overshadowed by decades of full moon parties.

The local fisherman family I live with usually only eats what they catch and they cook local traditional dishes, that I never heard of before. This is how we got the idea to organize our first seafood dinner events on the fishermen beach, to share this experience with people and showcase the local food culture, while supporting the local community.

Was it something that you’ve wanted to do, even before the pandemic?

I’ve always been passionate about food and cooking, and I was looking for ways to get more involved in that field n addition to my DJ career.

On my next DJ tours, I also plan to offer Thai cooking classes and dinners before my set. I’ve had quite a few requests regarding that because people start to discover my cooking.

What other cooking ventures have you been involved with this year?

At the beginning of this year, I started my content channel Shit Mendy Cooks. This allowed me to reach more people through my cooking and eventually I ended up hosting private dinner events at my home and even catering homecooked food to people in Bangkok.

I also cooked with my DJ friends, with the concept to host a DJ cooking show. Just before the pandemic, I cooked with Thomas from Pan-Pot and Seth Troxler for the Circoloco team. The first show will be published at the end of this year.

How and when did your passion for food develop?

It started when I was a child and when I learned how to cook from my family. I then was known within my friends as the one who cooks, and then I started inviting and cooking for all my friends. Now I’m sharing my recipes and my cooking lifestyle with my friends around the world through my channel Shit Mendy Cooks.

Food is storytelling. It’s about history, culture, tradition and invention. What is the story you want to tell with your cooking?

I want to show people real Thai food and where our food comes from. If I travel to a place, I try to share the stories of the local food culture. Right now I’m on Koh Phangan, so I will share a lot of about the local seafood culture.

Besides that, I also like to experiment and cook what I love to eat. This could be Thai food, but also other cuisines. Every-time I toured to a new country, I would take a cooking class in that place to learn how to cook some local dishes.

What do you miss most about DJing pre-pandemic?

What I love about touring is that I get to see my friends from around the world on the dance floors. I definitely miss that and the energy I get when playing in front of different crowds.

I also miss having local food from the places that I visit.

And I miss rushing to the airport to catch the next flight or train. It’s always exciting.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from 2020?

I have learned so much this year, like the importance of being independent. I have also learned a lot about myself and what I truly love besides touring and DJing, like cooking.

Would you consider somehow combining your cooking with live music for future events?

Definitely, food and music go together! I’ve actually done a live-stream during the lockdown, where I played and cooked at the same time and people loved it.

In the future, I’d love to experiment with live music and dining experiences.

Started a Malaysian fine dining supper club

DJ: Jonnyvicious
Location: Malaysia
Venture: Super Secret Social

Does your supper club have a name and is it open to the public?

Yes, it’s called Super Secret Social and it is open to the public, as long as you’re in the know :)

How did the supper club come about? Was it something you had always wanted to do even pre-pandemic?

Well, it was actually an idea I had floating around for my retirement. I knew I needed a fall back someday because club life can be quite tiring. So when the pandemic hit, I almost had all the groundwork done to start it.

What do you miss most about DJing pre-pandemic?

The energy, the only thing I can’t handle about post-pandemic DJing is the fact that I don’t have a room of sweaty aliens, gurning for more.

What's the biggest thing you've learnt from 2020?

Gratitude, I had a pretty perfect year, adapting is something I do pretty easily, so I learnt to practice gratitude for all the blessings I received even though the world went on hold.

Would you consider somehow combining Malaysian fine dining with live music for future events?

Most definitely — music is a big part of our supper club, everyone constantly praises the tunes.

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