Hey Mr. DJ, STOP playing that song!

Hong_Kong_DJ_suck_HK_club

I’m not sure who’s worse, Hong Kong’s d.j.s who play the same Top 40 music over and over again, or the crowd that expects to hear only songs they know. This isn’t the way nightlife should work.

Think of it this way – do you eat the same food every night for dinner? No? Why not? Because it gets boring! Then why do you want the music to be the same every time you go out, everywhere you go?

Things weren’t always like this. Let’s take a trip back in time and see how clubs and d.j.s are supposed to function.

Not so long ago, people went out specifically for music. You went to a club based on the kind of music they played. Rock people went to one club, Hip Hop fans to another, and Techno lovers someplace else. (Perhaps music once played a much larger role in defining the individual in society?)

In the past, when you went out to a club, you expected the d.j. to introduce you to NEW songs. You’d think the d.j. was terrible if he only played songs you’d know. Think about it – shouldn’t a professional, someone who devotes their life to playing music, have a better knowledge than the average person?

In the old days, a d.j. became a d.j. as an outgrowth of their love of music. They were driven by their passion for discovering new songs and sharing them with others. D.J.s were expected to have their own taste and unique style. Whatever genre they played, they were expected to convey their distinct personality through music.

Unfortunately, most club d.j.s in Hong Kong are exactly the opposite. They stick to the same songs and don’t exhibit any personal taste. Just reflecting the crowds choices they are essentially a juke-box, rather than a d.j.

Because of this lack of individuality, there’s not much that separates one d.j. from another, or more importantly, one club from another. That’s right, Hong Kong’s so called exclusive clubs aren’t any different musically from any lowly establishment.

Music, one of the most important differentiating factors between clubs, is currently being overlooked.

Why go to someplace supposedly more sophisticated if you’re just going to get the same old thing? It stands to reason that a high-end club should feature music of a higher caliber for discerning tastes, and not be pandering to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Though exclusive clubs do occasionally bring top name d.j.s, they fail miserably at playing interesting music 75% of the time. (By interesting I mean not playing strictly top 40.) It’s pathetic that the playlist of an average ten-year old in suburban America is the same as Hong Kong’s more exclusive clubs.

It’s true that Hong Kong’s high property prices make it difficult for anything beyond mass-market to thrive. However, d.j.s need to begin thinking of d.j.ing less as an hourly job, and more as something they can put their personality into. For their part, club owners can capitalize on their status and stimulate changes with a little more courage and vision. Crowds will fall in line.

Let’s hope for a turnaround in 2010!

(This situation isn’t just blighting Hong Kong’s clubs, but occurring in major nightlife and music capitals around the world. It’s strange that we now find ourselves dominated by a homogenized music culture despite the widespread popularity of the Internet, which in theory should open up a whole new realm of choice.)

The artwork at top is by Matthew Rodriguez. You can read more about it here.

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36 Comments

  • J says:

    Very well said! Most of the time Dragon-i plays the worst music. I think Volar leads the way in playing non top 40 music

  • Eugene Kan says:

    Creativity rarely thrives in Hong Kong based on that one factor you outlined. Due to such a large investment required in running any sort of business, there leaves little room for creativity whether it be music or art.

    This as I see it is an unfortunate flaw to the way Hong Kong works. Getting away from it is virtually impossible seeing as you have so many established things that are difficult to circumvent. Rent won’t get cheaper that’s for sure.

    Good post though, music is probably the biggest factor in going out yet it sorely lacks in HK.

  • Glbrt says:

    cant agree anymore.. HK crowd is not ready to some audacity and tend to stick to comfort zone… thats what disappointing in HK.

    hope this would eventually change and we’ll get a real HK scene

  • chung says:

    Great post. I think Racks consistently have the best music in HK, even when it’s not with a live DJ.

  • Tedman says:

    Totally agree. How sad.
    Thank god we have the BASSMENT here in Hong Kong!

  • yomama says:

    i think it’s also because of club owners hiring cheap local djs..

  • Jaze says:

    LOL I posted about the same topic 4 years ago on HKClubbing.com’s forum about how badly the music selection sucked and how horrible the DJs were. I was crucified for it, but it’s all very true. Every time I go back to HK I hear the same tunes (Black Eyed Peas much?) and it drives me insane. But it is a common problem all over Asia. Even in Tokyo, I heard 3-4 songs several times at one time.

    At the end of the day, the club owners don’t care about the music. They care about alcohol sales. As long as club goers stick to wanting to hear songs they already know, it’s not going to change much.

  • Wayne says:

    Half the people who go out are people working in finance or some other non creative sector. Therefore they dont give a SHIT what they hear, they just wanna get f*cked and talk to some girls. HK is what it is… The financial capital of Asia. The DJ’s are crowd pleasers, any individuality gets pushed to the back im afraid.

  • Anon says:

    When you think about what defines a city/country’s club sound, you think of what the producers from that city/country have made (now electro from France, hip hop and funky house from NYC, dubstep from London, Tech house from Berlin). People from all over the world are dying to get into clubs in those cities because of the sounds the producers have made to define those cities.

    Hong Kong has virtually nothing locally produced for people to identify with – the local bands rarely record CDs, the very few house/hip hop producers don’t do a whole lot in the way of promotion… of course the market is saturated with pop – Western and Chinese – and of course that’s what’s familiar and therefore safe to play at clubs. The only reason people are dying to get into certain Hong Kong clubs is because everyone else is dying to get into them.

    I think if some of Hong Kong’s more creative DJs took the jump to becoming creative producers as well, the rest of the good DJs would benefit. There is obviously little following around the interesting DJs playing unique music alone, and bar managers know this. There is a lot more excitement seeing a DJ who has also produced club songs that you can own at home, especially if it’s someone you can proudly say is from your city. The “DJ = juke-box” mentality of clubbers and the distrusting/safe music policy of clubs isn’t going to change until some of Hong Kong’s DJs can define their own sound and prove they can make enough people happy to bring in enough money for the clubs to stay happy.

    Good club music here is a niche… here, “underground” simply means “not popular”. For the DJs that complain about this this, they need to make something different, new, and creative as an alternative. The solution to “not enough people respect my DJ sets” is not “I should play more DJ sets”. If you want people to go to a club for the records, make a record for people to get excited about, then go spin it at a club. Until then, I Gotta Feeling everyone’s still gonna be excited about Black Eyed Peas.

  • Administrator says:

    You bring up some interesting points, but I don’t agree with you.

    I don’t think the fact that music is produced locally or not matters to clubgoers. Most people have no clue where the music comes from – especially within dance music. The only example you mentioned that seems valid is Hip Hop, since traditionally, Hip Hop was very neighborhood / location based. (“Brooklyn’s in the house!”)

    If anything, Hong Kong’s more exclusive clubs would prefer the music NOT to be local. As far as your argument goes, how many times have you heard any Cantopop songs in the clubs in Central?

    Addressing your second point, it isn’t whether d.j.s have a specific following or not, it’s asking why doesn’t the d.j. play something interesting after The Black Eyed Peas when everyone is already dancing? As long as the music fits the mood and the beats are great, the people will continue dancing. Why then don’t they play something that shows a little research beyond downloading top 40 songs that are already neatly compiled for them?

    If, as you say, “The only reason people are dying to get into certain Hong Kong clubs is because everyone else is dying to get into them.” then it shouldn’t matter what the music is. My point then is that you might as well have someone who plays more sophisticated music if you are touting your venue as superior.

  • Rachel says:

    So true. Once talk to a dj. He doesn’t even know mgmt /passion pit. That’s probably as mainstream as it could get. It was simply unfortunate.

  • matt says:

    If there are this number of people pissed with the HK music scene I expect 2manydjs in macau at the end of the month to be packed….

  • CC says:

    This is the best article I have read in a long long time. I recently moved to HK from the UK and I have been somewhat let down by any sort of “scene” happening over here. I hate to use the word “scene” but I am dying to go to a club and leave thinking, yeh, now that was good. There really seems to be a lack of uniqueness over here. Everything really does seem to be so money obsessed…where are the risk takers other than those playing on the stock market? If anyone can suggest to me a place to go where the DJs aren’t afraid, they dare to be different, playing to a room full of people that appreciate this, then please do share… thanks *

  • Anon says:

    I think I distracted myself about Hong Kong’s somewhat disappointing music scene and tried to channel a huge subject into your post about disappointing DJs. Again, I agree with most points in your reply, and I’m not at all disputing that DJs should slip in a bit of their own flavor inbetween their barrage of Black Eyed Peas hits.

    You still don’t have to agree with me, especially since it’s a bit off topic from your post, but maybe it would make more sense if I gave an example.

    I came here straight after being in Osaka for a while. I think Osaka has fewer clubs and they’re far more spread out than in Hong Kong, but the DJ culture and music scene there is surprisingly strong. There are dozens of clubs where DJs can play just about anything they want, and there are clubs that get pretty specific in what kind of non-pop the DJs can play (deep house, minimal, banging electro, etc). I think this has a lot to do with the fact that many of the most successful DJs in Osaka are also well-known as producers (Tomoki Tamura, Bach Logic, A Taut Line, A Hundred Birds, Lady Citizen, Takuya Kadoi, etc.) and have made their pretty specific brands of music known to the locals there by giving it to them in MP3 or CD form that they can get familiar with at home. People in Asia are far more likely to follow those they can get to know, people who have their photo on in a magazine, interviews they can go over… those who have made something people can own and experience over and over, rather than a DJ who gives you an experience for a couple hours at a given time, however great it was.

    To bar managers, DJs who are DJs alone are people who simply press play every three minutes and hopefully bring some of their friends in to buy drinks. DJs who are also producers, celebrities, band members, or something else on the side are visible personalities that are far more likely to bring in more of a crowd than whatever mates they managed to invite on Facebook, and these people have the opportunity to play just about whatever they want, which in turn opens the doors for other DJs. For local examples, look at DJ sets by someone like Miss Yellow or The Yours, they get a bigger and more effortless draw than some of the people who have been solely DJing here for years – otherwise look at just about every successful international DJ in the world… they all do something else (mostly producing) that got them attention and respect. This is definitely not something I like, it is just something I recognize, and I think DJs who are unhappy with either having to play pop or having to play to an empty room should recognize it as well.

    Osaka is by no means an international city, in fact, like Hong Kong it’s very finance- and business-oriented. With all the money and easy access to cheap technology in this city, and plenty of people who are passionate about our dance scene but upset by it’s shortcomings, I can’t see any reason why people aren’t doing something more than moaning to fix the situation. All that said, I have tremendous respect for the DJs sticking their necks out to play and introduce Hong Kong to unheard sounds that they love, usually risking not making a profit or playing to empty rooms — same respect for the couple of venues that allow it.

    I DJ as well, and to me, DJing or visiting the same two or so clubs, playing to the same people every month gets a bit tiresome. I would like to play to more people but playing a set of Black Eyed Peas isn’t an option. By the way, I’m also working on my club music at the moment (not necessarily because I want to change Hong Kong’s scene, but because I’ve always made music) and I’ll be happy to send it to you when it’s all finished and mastered a few months from now.

  • Administrator says:

    I’m not trying to pick on you, since we’re both music lovers, but I also disagree with a few of your new points! ;)

    I don’t think that you can generalize the music culture in different countries by saying “People in Asia…”. Japan, in particular has got a very different music culture than Hong Kong. Just think at the wide selection of music historically available there. I also disagree with your point here: “People in Asia are far more likely to follow those they can get to know, people who have their photo on in a magazine, interviews they can go over… those who have made something people can own and experience over and over, rather than a DJ who gives you an experience for a couple hours at a given time, however great it was.”

    I think people will go to anything if they think the person is famous. Most people go to a club when a foreign guest d.j. comes to town because they think that foreign things are better. They have no clue what their music is like most of the time. If you talk to club owners, there are many funny stories about this…

    I think that bar managers should stick to managing the bar, and not have anything to do with the music direction. A real club needs people who have an understanding of dance music, not someone with no musical background calling the shots.

    Your perspective is a little strange. It’s not the d.j.’s job to make sure the club is a success, or to be the one to solely draw the crowd. There are many factors that go into making a successful place. It’s about marketing the club, and the music is part of that process. That’s where we’re seeing a failure in Hong Kong. The marketing of the club is great, the interior design is world-class, but once you’re inside, and the music doesn’t match the image, then there’s a problem.

    The way you’re looking at it is wrong. Your scenario is as if there’s a struggling bar, not selling many drinks, and the owner or manager is desperate to get a crowd, so they hire a d.j., thinking that it’s the d.j.s responsibility to then draw in a crowd. Sure, that happens, but that’s not the standard situation.

  • Pierre says:

    Very good article, this is what I was talking with my friend who is living in Shanghai.
    Now HK sucks really a lot, it was not bad 5 years ago but maybe it was because I was new here and enjoy the city life.
    Anyway, I didnt find a good house or electro club in HKG, I heard about Yumla that play electro and not the top 40, but never been yet, maybe tomorrow…
    Anybody want to join saturday to a good club that doesnt play Top 40 music ? :) Let’s meet

  • PZT says:

    Well written, but keep dreaming. I’ve stopped playing parties in HK years ago for the same reasons you’ve illustrated above. Many years later, the HK music scene is still very much a two-note bore. I’ll play any tiny club in Tokyo packed with music lovers going off their heads to every brilliant mix/rare/new track before I’ll do any HK dates in its current state.

  • ivaniker says:

    ha ha here in Melbourne, AU its the same top 40 from 2006+ era playing in all the mainstream clubs, the crowd going awuuuu everytime ushers tyaaa tat tat tat tyaa taat taat… comes in. best thing to do is avoid going to venues like this and look for a more chilled out venue which plastic people havent invaded yet.

  • If you really are not happy about the music scene in HK then come and support all the promoters who are offering something different :) There are not a lot of us but someone is hosting one party or another each week, just went to MTR at the AshTray last night and had a fill of dancehall/electro and dubstep but there were not that many people there cause you all went to go see Sasha instead :( Support local talent!

    If you really want something a bit different then check out my new night Scream! at Dharma Den – every Friday from 12th Feb. Indie-Dance/Electro, Its a really small and cozy bar (the old evisu bar under new management and renovated into a tibetan theme… no chrome or glass in sight).

    http://www.asimfiction.com/2010/02/scream-fridays-opening-party-12th-feb-with-special-sauce-from-dj-enso/

    Quite a few different nights in HK all the time. If everyone who complains about the music scene here took a risk every now and again I think we would have one of the best music scenes in the world… there is certainly the talent in this country just need the fans to support it.

  • Most of the problem is the venue owners who only want to play the music that the club next door is playing. The number of times we’ve got into a brand new club and looked at the soundsystem and DJ setup only to find that they’ve used the lowest quality equipment and didn’t factor in space for the DJs or VJs is shocking. If the equipment isn’t right, the music that they want certainly isn’t going to be right.

    We’ve been doing local and International DJ events for almost 5 years now. We run a monthly night @ Yumla and have produced 20 to 30 events with International DJ events over the years.

    Some of the DJs in Magnetic Soul also DJ on a regular basis at several venues playing different styles of music.

    There is good music out there, but you can’t go to the same Lan Kwai Fong venues that pump out loudspeakers to the streets to get it.

    Ironically, Dragon-i and Volar probably have the best shows in town as far as International DJs. They have the money to pay the high DJ fees and the taste in the music to bring them.

    Hong Kong’s music seen is certainly not London, not Tokyo, not Paris, and not even Singapore, but it’s better than you portray in your article.

    If you want something different, do a little research and find the people that are making things happen.

    http://www.magneticsoul.co.uk for our monthly listings of events, or come to Yumla on any given night.

  • 3M says:

    Come on HKHSTLE now that we’re talking, wouldn’t you agree you should bring the discussion to the point???

    Name the clubs that have the shittest sound systems, and the laziest Djs.
    Then dig deep and name the ones that you would recommend.
    Please – do us this favor.

    That’s the ONLY thing your readers will find truly helpful.
    Otherwise it’s just another random, superficial, generalistic moan about HK’s nightlife. (There’s nothing new and certainly nothing energising about that.)

    You’re one of the few platforms in HK with taste, an opinion and which also seems to be independent from advertisers so far. Voice out…
    (p.s. If your personal image is at stake, you could simply post an anonymous reply to your own post… how’s that?)

  • Administrator says:

    I don’t think it’s a question of the d.j.s being lazy, I just think that they approach d.j.ing from a very different point of view than I’m familiar with. I think that they think of d.j.ing as an hourly job, rather than an outgrowth of their love of music. That’s a huge philosophical difference, and accounts for why someone would be content just playing Top 40 hits, rather than digging deeper. They’re not bad people and I don’t feel the need to call them out.

    I’m not an expert on sound systems, and I don’t have any favorites in Hong Kong. I’ve heard that the systems are better in Shenzhen, but I haven’t had the chance to explore there much.

    I don’t think it’s correct to say that the post was ‘random’ or ‘superficial’ in any way.

  • Phil says:

    Amen brother. I love HK to death but the fact that HK society has become so superficial without much substance really pains me. However, I don’t know who’s more to blame, the DJs or the crowd who wants to hear what they think is popular cuz everyone else is bopping to it. This really ties back to your post regarding Why HK raves deserved to die.

    I probably can’t articulate it any better than you when you wrote:

    “In typical Hong Kong fashion, people got the style, but not the message. They understood the accessories, but not the substance.”

    Awesome piece man. Keep up the great work

  • Joel Lai says:

    Administrator,

    You are completely uninformed about the DJ industry in general, it is blatantly obvious.

    You do have a right to your opinion and obviously alot of people are reading this.

    The fact of the matter is that DJing is an hourly job and people play what they are asked to play. I guarantee you that Steve Yau (Drop, Solas), Roy Malig (Homebase and several other venues), Ivan Sit (Kee Club), Jonathan Chan (Yumla, FINDS, Homebase) don’t play exactly what they would like every night when they go out. They are the most senior and most experienced DJs in town.

    The people that do it for the love of the music are the independent event promoters of which there are very few left that are active. Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy (Enso, Kid Fresh), Magnetic Soul (Cookie, Foxy, Fat Demon), Heavy (Ah Fai/Blood Dunza), PyR2 (EpZ, Nomad/Yann), and Push/Foundation one (Frankie Lam, Luke, and AKW).

    Jason F and Lotion have done some large events but have largely been run out of town by the police. Robot/Clockenflap no longer do their regular nights to focus on other things in their life and their 2 day festival.

    The other event promoter left is Entertaining Asia (hkclubbing.com) who are doing 3 events, which are all very commercial brand oriented events. Ministry of Sound, Hed Kandi, and Soul Heaven. Each time they do one of these events, they are selling the brand, not the actual DJs that come out to support the brand…because no one has ever heard of the DJs that Ministry, Hed Kandi, or Soul Heaven sends out.

    I’m sorry, but you are completely uninformed on the issue and you have NOT done your homework.

    So yes, it was random and superficial.

  • Administrator says:

    Joel, I think we’re actually on the same side here.

    Before we go any further, I have a feeling you’re upset about the “Why Hong Kong Raves Had to Die” post. Your name was only associated with that post because it was from one of your events that the photos were taken. It definitely wasn’t directed at you or at that event in particular. (From what I remember it was fun party!) Obviously you’ve been an important figure in Hong Kong’s nightlife for over a decade, as a d.j., a promoter and a nightclub pioneer with Drop. Respect!

    As you state:

    “I guarantee you that Steve Yau (Drop, Solas), Roy Malig (Homebase and several other venues), Ivan Sit (Kee Club), Jonathan Chan (Yumla, FINDS, Homebase) don’t play exactly what they would like every night when they go out. They are the most senior and most experienced DJs in town.”

    This is exactly what is wrong and shameful about the current scene. Why are foreign d.j.s flown to Hong Kong and respected for playing their own style of music, when talented local d.j.s don’t even have the chance to play great music within the same venues? It’s hypocritical. My point is that it shouldn’t be this way.

    My problem is not with d.j.s, like the ones you mention, but with the newer d.j.s who don’t play for the passion, but d.j. as simply a part time job or for the image. These are the guys that are content to be jukeboxes, and unfortunately, these are the guys that are taking most of the jobs!

    Hong Kong’s best d.j.s are currently forced to dumb down their music or are getting pushed aside in favor of those who just play Top 40 music. I think you’d agree that this is an unhealthy situation for the city’s music lovers.

  • This is what I’m telling Myself everyday for the past decades. Respect what you see Respect what you hear Respect everything and Respect Everybody. And You will see the Universe will unfolds.

    On behalf of the DJ’s / Clubs Industry here in N.T. , Kowloon & Hongkong. If you like what we do , thank you very much. If you hate what we do , thank you very much too.

    Flight Commander
    DJ SPIDER HK

  • Ade says:

    As a DJ of 22 years, maybe more … eek! I luckily have a day job which gets me here and there, in which time I always try and get something going wherever I go, what do you suggest? I have my own kit, totally portable, all that’s needed is a system to plug into. I was thinking of bringing it over when I come over to work in HK on a contract… As a house;Nu-Jazz;Nu-disco DJ (mainly underground stuff. Are you saying that there isn’t a scene for me to play to? or is there something to be created

  • Administrator says:

    Hi Ade,

    I don’t think you need to bring your entire system, depending on how much equipment it requires. If you want to practice or play music at home, I’d say it’s worth bringing your minimum setup – if you can package it safely.

    There is a scene for that type of music, but it’s small. The first place that comes to mind is Yumla, which caters to more underground, niche dance music.

  • From Vauxhall says:

    AMEN

    On point.

  • bald says:

    I think everywhere you visit around the world the scene is predominantly commercial..as its popular music,that the majority like..underground scenes are called that for that very reason..but i do agree there is alot of wasted dj talent here that should have more exposure and more gigs playing the genres of music they play well and not forced to play a load of old shite because some bird wants to hear poker face because its her birthday or something…djs christian,johnathon chan,mr malig,the yumla crew and a good few other could teach a thing or two to alot of djs..

  • DJ Keith says:

    I have to say that is true in Hong Kong. But just remember that Hong Kong is full of bars that are way to expensive to run. . Being a Dj i broke ground by playing Alt/Indie music. Yet sticking with the commercial fromat. It was the hardest thing to do. I always find songs or artists that no one thinks can be played, and most times (90 percent) would come and ask me what i just played. “Great track DJ.” etc… It can work in HK if the Dj knows how to work around the crowd. Good music is good music. Comm, non comm or alt/indie. Any comments are welcome!

  • K says:

    Ex-DJ

    Where is there a place to hear music similar to the UK dance scene or what Pete Tong, Judge Jules play?

    HK music scene leaves a lot to wish for…… Have been in a FEW places that the music is quite good but some are just…….

    Also where can I find DJ on the weekends

  • K says:

    And

    At the Fatboy Slim gig there was a Chinese girl DJ playing, anyone know where she spins as she played some good stuff?

  • K says:

    I meant – Also where can I find DJ WORK on the weekends

  • ezekiel says:

    Hi everyone, hope someone can give me a hand on this. I need to get in contact with any venue owner/organizer or foreign dj working in Hong Kong to ask them what the requirements are to work over there. I would love to come and live in the city and it would be great to pya for my stay by djing in some small venues or even at events but I don’t know if you need to have a work permit to do that. Hope someone can help me with this because I am dreaming about moving to Hong Kong every night : )

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