Any fan of electronic music in China has heard of Antidote. Headed by DJ Ozone, aka Michael Ohlsson, Antidote is a crew of electronic musicians and DJs based in Shanghai. This Thursday April 17th at The Shelter, they’re introducing a new party-as-concept: City Sound Sessions. Michael explains.
What is City Sound Sessions?
City Sound Sessions is almost a nostalgic look at a vanishing music culture. At our events, the DJs will play music that represents the music history of a city, and a bit of contemporary tunes, just showcasing the “sound” of each city, keeping it together in one set, so you can really “feel” that city’s sound. Each DJ or crew will be knowledgeable about the city they select, and provide a bit of musical education while they rock the party. They are under strict orders to select music that is produced in their chosen city.
For example, on the first night, the music will be from the following cities: New York, USA (represented by DJ Melkman and me); Kingston, Jamaica (represented by DJ Drunk Monk); and Paris, France (represented by DJ Blaise Deville); and Copenhagen, Denmark (represented by Ladybox).
What was the inspiration behind the event?
I’ve always had a fascination with how cities inspire a style of music, how a “scene” or sub-genre of music reflects the environment of a certain city. Raw materials, religion, climate, economic situations, immigration, etc. A little knowledge about where a band or composer is coming from gives so much more meaning to the music.
Look at bands like The Fall or Joy Division, capturing the zeitgeist of Manchester in recession, countered later with the optimism during the birth of rave. Or Seattle, with Nirvana and grunge taking the glamor away from L.A.’s hair band hegemony in the late 1980s. And why has Detroit, of all places, played such a significant role? After all, it’s spawned Motown soul, funk, heavy metal, and techno.
But now we’re in a time when that’s finally becoming insignificant. You don’t have to be from Detroit to make “Detroit techno”. Some of the best samba is coming from Tokyo. Bogota, Colombia has a nu-electro scene that rivals Berlin.
This is largely due to the Internet. When I first used Napster in the late 90s, I was looking for songs by one of my favorite hometown (San Francisco) artists, Mark Eitzel. He was actually living in my neighborhood at the time. One of his songs even references a bar I frequented. But when I started chatting with the guy I was downloading the songs from on Napster — he turns out to be a kid in Indonesia. That really blew my mind. I realized geography was losing its influence rapidly.
Another factor is technology. Software like Ableton or Reason or Serato gives us the ability to produce or mix music that years ago would have required a warehouse full of gear or thousands of records.
When I first visited China years ago, I taught English for a semester. One of the lessons I did was about popular music from around the world, mostly English speaking countries. I explained how certain styles of music came from certain cities. The students had never thought about this and found it really interesting. They were fascinated with how punk music came from London and Manchester. They were all fans of Man United football team, but not fans of punk! It scared them.
That lesson was partly where the idea for City Sound Sessions came from. It’s almost a nostalgic look at a vanishing music culture. I’m being overly dramatic saying that, but you get the idea. Let’s not forget it’s a party really, another excuse to drink beer.
Do you see this trend as positive or negative?
Well, I don’t think it’s a negative trend. With any kind of change like this, there’s pros and cons, but as a music fan, especially one who’s always searching for what’s new, I think it’s a significant change, although we won’t see the ultimate effect for another generation. At the same time, we’ve also got the genre-smashing mash-up culture happening, and new technology like MP3s making it possible to compose songs unrestricted by conventional time limits. What we’re seeing now is that music communities are moving from geographic areas to Internet communities. So like I said, the whole concept is a bit nostalgic. I love bastard pop, but I also like to slow down and have a look at the roots and history once in a while.
Do you think these these Tokyo-based samba artists are aware of the politics, religion, social strata, etc. of Rio de Janeiro?
I think we all get deeper meaning from any work of art when we know a bit more about the source. What are the influences? What is the creator’s life and surrounding like? Why are they angry or happy in their music? The Sex Pistols or Nirvana or Nas makes so much more sense when you know where they’re coming from, what they’ve been through.
But we can also “connect” with music that comes from people and places we’re totally unfamiliar with, because music is mostly about emotion and we’re all human, having the same emotions. I often find myself humming along with songs in an unfamiliar language. It can still resonate with me.
As for Japanese musicians, whatever, they do Elvis better than Elvis himself.
So what qualifies a DJ/performer as “knowledgeable” about a certain city?
Anyone can study this stuff. Some of us just have more of a natural curiosity about it, so we’ve already done our homework. I once worked with a Russian Jewish academic who’d devoted his life to studying music from the Congo. It was his field recordings that got me to seek out more African music. Part of a DJ’s role is sharing music discoveries, we’re the ones who’ve sifted through the stacks to find the gems. But like a good documentary film, these sets won’t be just a random selection, they’ll be like a story. A story you can dance to.
Do you have any concerns about the integrity or appearance of, say, a Chinese DJ spinning tunes from Reykjavik?
Integrity is in the individual. I know a few Chinese guys who could rock a Reykjavik set!
What about how a city’s music fits with The Shelter’s crowd? Are you going to have a Salzburg, Austria night and spin some Mozart?
We program the night to best fit a party. Start with the slower stuff, while people are drinking and talking, then kick it up later when people are loosened up and want to dance. Austria, sure, we’re going to get someone to do a set of waltzes soon.
Please tell me you know of a DJ who will drop some Tuvan throat singing tunes.
Be careful what you wish for!
So you’re planning lots of world music then?
Unfortunately, for decades, we’ve been stuck with that term. “World Music” got such a bad name. It’s a stupid term to begin with, but what’s a better one? Part of what we’d like to do with City Sound Sessions is return some dignity to music from around the world, without being tacky and patronizing. After all, music from New York or London is just as much a part of the world of music, as that from Rio or Cairo or Bali — and they all have good and bad music. It takes some effort to sift through and find the gems from a region or style you’re not familiar with, but the challenge is rewarding and exciting when you do find some.
Anything else you’d like to add?
On May 8th, City Sound Sessions #2, we’ll have Berlin, Rio, Los Angeles. If anyone’s got some tips about a song they think best represents one of those cities, leave a comment below.
Thursday, 4/17: City Sound Sessions @ The Shelter, 5 Youngfu Lu near Fuxing Xi Lu. 10 RMB. 9 PM. DJ Melkman, DJ Ozone, DJ Drunk Monk, DJ Blaise Deville, and Ladybox play.
More information at http://antidoteasia.com.
Photo of Michael from antidoteasia.com. Photo of DJ Melkman from Michael.