A highly respected African-American DJ and producer, from the most influential city in the history of electronic music, has criticized the ranking system which is used by many clubs in China, particularly Shanghai, when deciding which DJs to bring to the country, as being useless.
Detroit’s DJ Bone, who will make his China debut in Shanghai on Saturday night with local promoters Void (of which this Shanghaiist is a member), says the Top-100 DJ list, compiled by prominent dance music industry publication DJ Magazine, is simply a “popularity contest and less about which DJs are good.”
Mainstream clubs in Shanghai regularly publish adverts which push their guest DJ’s inclusion in the list as the main selling point. But the list itself is shaped by commercial factors meaning that talented cult underground DJs who spend time honing their skills and abilities instead of their marketability, are not included, resulting in China missing out on some of the best electronic music talent the world has to offer.
DJ Bone said, “The top 100 DJ list reflects a very narrow view of what is supposedly good – those lists are only about marketing products and selling magazines. I don’t place any stock in those lists because it should be about the DJ connecting to the people through music, not fashion, hype or gimmicks. Popular does not equal good.”
Ironically, one Top-100 ranked DJ who will be performing in Shanghai at the same time as DJ Bone is UK stalwart Sasha. Bone said, “The difference between us is I look at him as more of a status DJ, due to popularity from press and marketing and I see myself more as the people’s DJ. I’ve never been about the fame and fortune DJing could bring me, just my love for the art of DJing and spreading new, soulful sounds across the globe,” adding, “I also think that my style of DJing is way more exciting than Sasha’s for real!”
Sasha’s computer-based setup has caused him problems in Shanghai in past appearances, but DJ Bone’s three-deck skills leave him immune to PC problems. He said “I developed my three turntable technique to specifically create two things that I think are missing in most DJ sets…excitement and the unknown. I felt that there was always a lack of action, that the DJ was just acting as a human jukebox or “record-player”. They drop the needle and start cheerleading to the crowd (see Top-100 DJ list leader Armin Van Buuren doing just that in Shanghai two weeks ago) to cover up the lack of excitement they could produce physically. There was / is also no anticipation at gigs anymore…no element of wondering what the DJ will do next. This inspired me to try and push things ahead of the curve as far as what people expect from a DJ.”
Having been pushing Detroit Techno for over ten years Bone has built an impressive discography on his own label, Subject Detroit, and prestigious record labels such as Juan Atkins’ Metroplex, and Belgium-based Music Man. Very much true to his roots, Bone maintains that Detroit is as relevant as ever to electronic music. He said of his label, “Subject Detroit started as an outlet for me to release music I felt I needed for my DJ sets, because I didn’t hear what I needed on most other labels. It was also a way to focus on the music itself and not just the marketing of the music,”
The automotive manufacturing heart of Detroit was ripped out years ago, creating a host of economic and social problems which still exist to this day. But the deprivation and urban decay which followed created an environment which spawned one of the most significant musical movements in recent history. Bone believes the city itself is a huge inspiration to him, just as it has been for other luminary DJs from Detroit such as Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Robert Hood (who played in Shanghai last June) and Carl Craig.
To get a feel for the connection between the city and the music, check out DJ Bone’s track “Change” on YouTube – a song about self-belief and staying true to one’s desired path in life, set against a montage of sepia-filtered photographs of Detroit and its various landmarks, such as the Renaissance Center. Bone said “Subject Detroit is about the future of sound expanded from its original inspiration (Detroit). It’s like a soundtrack for the city, its people and its places. Subject Detroit is all about the vibe and the essence of Detroit. It’s like the air that the city breathes in and out. We want to reach anyone with an open mind for sound, soul and melody. Subject Detroit is Advanced Black Music.”
The connection between location and music, and the influence environment can have on artists, has been important for many genres. In Shanghai, the electronic music scene is still developing, but in recent years, native Shanghainese producers such as B6 and MHP have emerged, thanks to the local focus of the Antidote crew. DJ Bone’s thinks the Shanghai scene can benefit from developing its own style. “My advice would be to develop your own sound and push it as far into the future funk as you can. Not just with technology but with soul and spirit. And the main thing is to NOT COPY ANYONE…be original and stay true to your own vibe!”
And it’s a lack of innovation in the scene which frustrates Bone, who criticizes artists who are living on past glories. “The funny thing is that all of the producers I used to admire are only DJs now because they don’t make music anymore. And somehow they still get booked based on very old releases. It’s almost like a greatest hits tour or just nostalgia. I only look forward nowadays so I really enjoy Stephen Brown, Trench, Mister X (Detroit), Mark Williams and a bunch of unknown guys from Detroit I’m mentoring right now. I call them my ‘Tru Warriors’.”
However, Bone said of his upcoming show in Shanghai, “I have wanted to play in China for quite some time now. From what I understand, the crowds at VOID are very open to new sounds and are not genre specific. If it’s good…it’s good kind of mindset. I like that a lot!”
Most of all for Bone, its about one thing only – the music. He concluded, “I’m on a mission to give people what they’ve been missing for so long. No magazines, no lights, no fights, no drugs….just soul….all soul. Thanks and get ready Shanghai!”
Void Presents: DJ Bone @ The Shelter, 5 Yongfu Lu near Fuxing Xi Lu. Saturday 10pm. 60rmb on the door.