Brian Offenther, aka DJ B.O., is mastermind of WKND, the new Sunday all-day brunch.booze.chillout event happening at the URBN Hotel’s BeerGrdn. He’s also “Shanghai’s No. 2 DJ”, the “first DJ in North Korea”, and a concert promoter. Shanghaiist asks him what’s shaking his floors these days.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. First tell us something about you?
I’m the hardest working man with no business, shameless in the gameness; I travel with savage company: to the church with saints and the bars with boozers; a peripatetic, omni-definitionally – a vegetarian, mostly; “Shanghai’s #2 DJ” and conjuror of Elvis; writer, editor, presenter, and preserver of juju spirits; I loathe shmooze and I net-work; a wearer of hats whilst connoisseur of the dollar stores; an atheist who worships Rev. Run and prays to Sun Ra; I take no shorts and don’t pay for haircuts; hip hop from the tip top, rock n roll to my shoe souls, and in the middle jazz for ass; no brags, just facts.
How did you come to be in Shanghai? Why Shanghai, of all places?
I was working as a dancer for Platinum Gold Entertainment back from where I’m from in the sub-urban hell of Coral Springs, Florida. I cursed during karaoke and my mic was cut off. An urbane gentleman shouldn’t take such treatment, so I decided I needed to move to a metropolis. I didn’t choose Shanghai specifically, but got accepted for a job here the quickest, so Shanghai chose me. I’ve lived almost 7 years in Asia and had never been a Sinophile, but there’s still time.
You spent some time in Mongolia. What the heck does one do in Mongolia?
One watches western eagle-hunters use their pets to hunt wolves; one learns the psychological effects of snow in September and -40 degree weather over a sustained basis (Celsius and Fahrenheit at that point: the same thing); one gets there by joining the Peace Corps and ends up managing a nightclub re-Christened The Cross-Eyed Gypsy; one directs the first ever Mongolian Elvis; one gets knives drawn on them by Smurf Nazis (Dayar Mongol), DJs at underground LGBTQ warehouse parties in Ulaanbaatar, hosts a bi-national radio show, and learns what deep appreciation is about.
And you claim to be the “first DJ in North Korea”. How did that gig come about?
Simon of Koryo Tours needed a favor, and so I obliged. In return, I said I wanted to DJ North Korea. I was told that’s impossible – repeatedly. I didn’t relent. Eventually, we worked it out, and with my music-tour addicted buddy “Beautiful” Abe Deyo, we went. It was part of a larger tour, and then we broke off to set up the event. I DJed in a hotel basement intended for karaoke use. The power went out repeatedly during my set. The North Koreans reported to me that they had never danced in an un-choreographed way before. Of course, any comparisons of Pyongyang to the town in Footloose is least among its problems, but if anyone wants to call me Kevin Bacon we’re simpatico. Other highlights to the trip including introducing children on the subway to the music of The Germs and sneaking away with Abe to get drunk from some local picnickers on moonshine soju from a gasoline canister. There’s a lot of nuance in perspective to this sort of tourism, and not enough space here, but I’ll say briefly that I think exposure promotes understanding, and hopefully I brought some new shade to the locals as to what an American is, as I learned a lot from them. Read more here.
What exactly are you trying to do with WKND?
WKND is pretty new for me, as it’s explicitly a chill event: you don’t have to dance, and you don’t have to cry through a Ruan Lingyu feature. Just come out and relax and recharge on a Sunday. The roasted pepper and cheese salad is delicious and the beer is cold, so bring out some friends and have a simple time.
The idea is to come down from Saturday night partying and get up for the working week ahead. Right now there’s FREE Vedett beer (until the keg runs out) and we have some special events planned for November as well.
You’re also in charge of the programming for the official opening of BEERGRDN this Friday. Is this going to be open to the public? What can one expect there?
It’s a private event so I can’t talk about it, but get ready for the pictures, because it’s going to be banana fruitcake.
You threw a “Fuck Cancer, Fuck City Weekend” party last year. Why, why, why?
Oh boy. I was part of a team that did that, and I’ll say that since then the coverage from and the underground music scene’s relations with City Weekend has improved greatly. This is a can of worms, but I’ll make just a few quick points:
-We ended up raising money for charity, with 100% donated talent from the music and comedy community, which is always a great thing
-Yes, it’s an outrageous title, and this was done deliberately
-Open discourse is always the way to go. This campaign was an effort to open up talks, and it succeeded. It was accused of disharmony, but music with discord is boring.
The (defunct) initial website is here and this was maybe the best article on the subject.
What keeps you busy in Shanghai these days?
Here’s what’s bustling my hustle these days.
-I’m the music and media director for the Shanghai International Beer Festival, happening October 30-November 2nd at Wharf 1846. With 30,000 people plus, dozens of food stands, now 2 music stages with Shanghai’s best DJs, and a perfect spot right on the river, it’s an awesome time whether you’re into beer or not.
–The Pearl is an amazing Japanese Buddhist Temple turned Cabaret theater, playhouse, and event space. The place was built in the 20s and has serious juju. Coming up is a French market in November that’s going to be magnifique.
–Limbo is Shanghai’s Caribbean vibes restaurant/live music venue. The City Shop on Panyu Lu is still my official Office, but this place is quickly taken over as my all-hours place. Order a Brian burrito combo – they’ll know what you’re talking about. Live music and good food: done and done.
-I have a bunch of brands I’ve created or done stuff for: Rock Naadam, Shanghai Shindig!, Kick the Gong Around, B.O Style, Trash A Go-Go, etc. Now I just put all my toys in the attic of Tou JAM. Think about it, darlin’. That goes for promoting ol’ rock shows, vaudeville events, corporate things, etc. That includes the new recently renamed “Silent (But Deadly)” film series featuring Thief of Bagdad, promoting Canada’s #1 BC/DC cover band in Shanghai, etc.
-Setting up a DJ tour to outdo the North Korea one.
-Going on awkward dates with girls out of my league. If that could be you, hit me up on on the WeChats or telephone at 13818937693.
How has the live music scene evolved in the time you’ve been here? What’s still lacking?
Hmmm…There’s some good things happening. XXYY is super fun, I like Limousine’s straight work, Alec Haavik is constantly reaching out, Noukilla has serious craftsmanship, Lotus Lo is China soul, Day Dreamer is a sleeper favorite, and when he feels like it, Misuzu of Banana Monkey and The Psyders is China’s best guitarist, full stop. My favorite thing going is Denise Mininfield, who sings, blues, R & B, and does an absolute revelatory cover of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet. I also strongly suggest seeing Frank Bray sing “Summertime” drunk on a stool at 4 am, too. So there’s definitely things going, and I’m missing a few for sure.
However, things are slow. There’s a few people like Chachy of Round Eye and Nate & F doing Rat-On Monthly, but overall people are mostly willing to be hobbyists. From my experience over the years and around the way, there needs to be a couple of stupid-dedicated assholes willing to put in long nights. Especially with somewhat limited media dialogue, things aren’t really gaining momentum. I’ve tossed some flops lately, and that happens. As an auxiliary to the scene and as someone who hasn’t been a proper musician for a while now, I can try to stoke things, but it’s really up for the ball to get rolling a bit before I can really help it gain momentum. So for now I’ve had my feet more in theater-type events and DJ stuff, but I’m always ready to get back in the pit.
The Shanghai International Beer Festival is back October 30 – November 2 at Wharf 1846.