Time flies when you're having fun! The history of the VOID kru goes way back, when hipsters were yet to be invented and Yongkang Lu was still merely a glint in in a savvy Frenchman's eye. They've brought legends from Detroit, the most cutting edge producers and DJs from Berlin and held it down with a roster of residents that are serious about their craft.
We sat down with the old and new guard, Shanghai Ultra and Chris Jobs, to chew over the past, present and future of VOID ahead of their birthday celebrations this Saturday at The Shelter...
The VOID kru are surely veterans of the Shanghai music scene by now - what changes have you seen, for better or worse, during your time here?
The scene has changed a lot over the years, a lot more venues and a lot more crews doing parties. That means you get more of everything - more great nights, great DJs but also more mediocrity. I've always been someone with really strong opinions about music, but at the end of the day if people are having fun , then I think that's the only thing music comes secondary to. So now in Shanghai I see a lot of parties where people are enjoying themselves, and surely that is good. But I do think the quality has been diluted a bit, there's too many parties and not enough party people. Plus I think the technological revolution which makes DJing really easy to do with a computer has ushered in a wave of needy and lame people who want to be a DJ to get attention and be in the centre of things, and not champion a style of music or philosophy. These kinda people are better off going to Mint or elsewhere on the Bund to join in the massive group ego-wanking session going on there each weekend.
The development of the music scene here is interesting though. Back in the day (2005, 2006) the only place where you could hear anything different was Cs Bar and the Antidote parties. Those were formative days, a lot of crews who have been around for a while could be found hanging around there. You had Reggie from STD, Jane Phreaktion and Gaz from Shelter who I think was pushing the uprooted sunshine sound. And of course Michael who started Antidote. Back then Nat and I were regular visitors to Cs bar, although Nat being a posh lad will not thank me for reminding everyone he was a regular at such a dingy hole as Cs bar. But it was during this time when a lot of connections were made and alliances formed with really shaped the electronic / DJ music scene in Shanghai in a massive way.
I remember in the beginning, you went to a club or bar and said "We'd like to do a party here" and they'd reply and say "Oh, you can hire our venue for 30,000 rmb for one night." We just laughed. It might seem ridiculous now, but that was the attitude of a lot of bar owners. Now dozens of places are tripping over themselves to get DJs to come and bring crowds, customers and profit, this is where the dilution of the scene stems from. Around 2005, 2006 in addition to C's Logo Bar sprung up a bit later and that is where Void was born in July 2007 - at that time I had no idea then I'd still be doing one of Shanghai's strongest parties 7 years later.
Logo took over the same space from another cool bar called Tang Hui, which moved to Huating Lu (which is still there it's been derelict for years) which was a great venue. It didn't last long though as it is in an area where only well-to-do sophisticated Shanghainese types, and TR-909 owners now live. There were commercial clubs which were dipping their toes into more underground-orientated parties, like DKD and Bon Bon. So there was a growing appetite for some kind of underground venue, and when then the Shelter opened in 2007 it opened at the perfect time and it changed the scene forever not only in Shanghai but in China. The Shelter showed it was financially viable to run a club which didn't rely on commercial music, and that opened the door to building a proper independent electronic music culture. At first the Shelter was absolutely packed each night for the first couple of years. But of course other venues started opening up which were aimed at the same crowd, places like Dada, Lune, and other random short-lived spots. So that's how things developed to where we are today and where Void fits into the big picture.
Shanghai’s music scene and crowd is often exhausting and disappointing. Hype and big words are more valued than quality, but nevertheless after all this time the fun and motivation stays the same. It’s inspiring to see how many promoters and DJs around town work hard to bring interesting artists that enrich the local music culture. To name a few, I really enjoy what Subculture, Stockholm Syndrome and Acid Pony are doing. Also Ginga and his VETA crew are on point when it comes to forward thinking music and bookings. With VOID we want to continue what and how we do it at the moment. For us it is especially important to drag more young Chinese people in the clubs and get them in touch with the music. Unfortunately foreign faces often dominate the nightlife crowds. It is great to have them because they often get the party started but being in China it would be nice to see more local people. This is and will stay our major challenge in the years to come.
Chinese producers and DJs like MHP and Elvis T. are leading the way and I hope that through exchange and collaboration a even bigger feeling of unity can be created. Because that is what Techno is all about: Sharing the feeling of unity and love.
What was the catalyst for the night originally? How did the various members come to be involved? Can you tell us a bit about each one?
VOID got started because there was really nothing like it in Shanghai at the time, nobody knowledgeable playing the best techno and house records going and getting a crowd really going mental to underground records. It was Nat Alexander and myself who founded VOID, at the beginning there was James Westwood (who invented the name) and DJ Fish. The crew evolved and changed over time, we had Zammo on board for a while, MHP joined, and Tzu Sing was a key member for a couple of years - he left his mark by designing our current logo, before leaving to do his own thing, the excellent Stockholm Syndrome night.
But the current line-up is VOID's strongest ever, and we are a proper tight-knit crew. Wensen moved to Shanghai from Xiamen a couple of years ago. He's playing a lot of house alongside funk and soul, he's got a wicked collection of 7 inch records. But he can also bang out a cracking techno set as well. He plays a lot of house which has instrumental solos over the top of it, his music is probably the most accessible of the VOID resident's and that's important for us. I shouldn't mention he's French and wears tailored boxer shorts.
Ginzburg hails from Southern Russia, he was really active in the local scene there and contacted us when he moved to Shanghai. Not only is he VOIDs funniest member, but he's just obviously a talented DJ when you watch him play, not only his mixing but also the way he never, ever plays the wrong record, he's very attuned to the dancefloor and that's vital, especially when you are playing strong music like techno which can put people off easily if misplayed. Ginzburg is a DJ you can't afford to miss, because he can't afford not to play.
Chris Jobs is our newest member, but he's the most active. He's got determination to play the best sounds going, he's really on the Berlin tip (since it's his hometown) he bring the best from the city and leaves the crap behind which is quite an achievement. He really knows his stuff, I thought he was older for some reason, I'm not sure why, but despite his relative youth his knowledge of techno and house is impressive. He's also very passionate, for a German.
Currently we are four friends who run things behind VOID. Shanghai_Ultra is the leader of the lot and responsible for the badly needed “Guanxi” in town. Frenchy Wensen does the bookings and ensures with his delicate diplomacy skills that we get the artist for half the price as we would in Europe. Ginzburg is our creative mastermind (creativity is something that we other three lack badly). He is responsible for the great flyers you get to see every month. Since I am the German and we are all very superstitious about German efficiency and precision, I handle the financial side of things - Excel analysis and PPTs with pie charts included!
Getting in touch with the VOID crew is rather simple. Just write Shanghai_Ultra an eMail, meet him at the Shelter and talk for couple of hours about Techno and Soccer. If you prove your knowledge about the two things you might go home with a free T-Shirt. You also could enter a Vodka drinking competition with our Russian comrade Ginzburg. Although, I wouldn’t recommend this because you are going to lose!
Playing for VOID needs a little more endurance. Just bug us (like I did back in 2012) for a couple of weeks, show us some good Techno mixes and eventually we will invite you. And it’s totally worth it. Playing at the Shelter for VOID for the first time was a big step in my DJ life. A big sound system, a crowd that usually follows you where you go and the sweaty atmosphere of the Shelter make it a unique experience.
To what extent do you think VOID has become associated with a particular sound, or is that something you're trying to avoid?
Void is associated with darker techno, and it's true you can hear that style often on our nights. But there's way more diverse music than that. I could name a load of genres, but they are all a bit meaningless. Basically you can also hear a lot of funk and disco, and a lot of electronic stuff not following a strict 4/4 beat. But we call it "Underground House and Techno" because that's mainly what we play, we don't see the point in trying to appeal to everyone. But everyone is welcome to share our love of these sounds.
How do you feel promotors such as yourselves contribute to the development of underground music across Asia? And what damage do less scrupulous promotors do in your opinion?
I think promoters like ourselves, Subculture, Phreaktion, Stockholm Syndrome, guys who often loose money to bring international artists to China do make a big contribution because we are exposing China to very culturally relevant music which other promoters either don't know about or aren't willing to lose money on. That's quite a sacrifice, and the money we charge on the door, usually 50-60rmb is an absolute bargain and in no way reflects the massive amount of work we do to bring these guys. But it's worth it seeing so many happy punters at the end of the night.
There are a growing number of shitty promoters in China. Who were those guys at Arkham whoose DJ didn't make it to China, but despite knowing this, they still took everyone's 80rmb on the door, then threw all the money at the crowd? What a bunch of fuckwits. If I had been there in the crowd, I would definitely have climbed up on stage and punched the guy throwing the money in the face. Totally irresponsible, things like DJs getting stuck due to flight or visa problems happens from time to time, but all you have to do is simply not take people's money when they turn up to the gig. But these guys thought they would do this stupid stunt. They give the scene a bad name.
There's also loads of promoters, especially those outside Shanghai, describing any techno DJ who has been around for more than 5 years as a "legend". Come on. You're just misleading the crowd. People will go away and do their own research and then find out later that the DJ was just a regular guy, and next time become really skeptical of what all promoters write on their flyers. That's not right and it pure laziness, they can't think of a creative way to promote their act so they just call him legend.
Has it been a challenge to bring out certain DJs? Are there some who still elude you? Anything in the works right now?
Most DJs are really interested to come to Shanghai, but of course the sticking point is budget. We don't have as much cash to spend on acts as before. Whilst VOID nights are always well-attended and have a great atmosphere, we don't have the massive turnouts each time which we need to bring top acts. We've been trying to bring Convextion for years, money is not the issue with him it's more he's a mysterious character. Jeff Mills is also a real legend who we have wanted to bring, but budget is a big problem for that. For the future we have a few plans, Polar Inertia is a big up-and-coming name in techno and he's coming next month, so we are looking forward to that it's going to be intense as always.
VOID is Techno. That’s our message and that’s the language our bookings speak. We have no stringent line in what kind of sub form of Techno we book. We don’t only get the next Berghain DJ or always another Detroit legend. We want to show variety and change in the guests we have. The artists we bring resemble the different styles we four play ourselves. We have had electroish gigs like Ceephax Acid, a style that Ginzburg digs a lot. Or of course the funky Detroit side of things with DJ Bone. Shanghai_Ultra always pushes for that. Wensen likes to see Acid infused artists like Alien Rain in the Shelter and myself like to hear the more low key dubby Berlin way. John Osborn was a booking I craved for.
Which guest have you enjoyed most personally and which has gone down best with the crowd?
A hard one to answer. We had so many guests who are totally on another level with their art, craft and performance. I'd say Rob Hood, Oscar Mulero, Inigo Kennedy and DJ Bone are four guys playing pretty strong techno music but they are just totally the best in their field and they absolutely rocked the Shelter to the core with their skills and track selection. It's awesome because that kind of music is difficult to play really, you can't just play one track after the other, you need to think about the direction you are taking the crowd in.
I think all three of those have gone down really well with the crowd, also Ceephax Acid Crew delivered one of the best live electronic music performances I have ever seen. Ancient Methods as well surprised us by getting the girls on the dancefloor for industrial techno.
Despite all the brilliant bookings we had over the time my personnel highlight of the last two years was headlining VOID for “Berlin Love Service” last September. Having the Shelter under control for two hours and guiding the crowd through the music you love is in my opinion the holy grail of DJing in Shanghai. I remember closing my set with Portable’s “Keep On” which was a very emotional moment for me since I connect some very special moments with close friends to that track.
Techno is constantly evolving and reinventing itself - which up and coming artists would you point to right now that provide you with great music and inspiration?
There's always great and fresh sounding music coming out of techno, but you do have to dig deep. Polar Inertia is a new name I mentioned earlier well worth watching, combining spoken word and deep atmospheric techno together is very interesting. Dublicator from Hungary is also sounding good, a less minimal take on dub techno, Kaaren are doing interesting stuff of course, and there's an upsurge in techno from Eastern Europe - Woo York is a name to watch, as is Bergain's Answer Code Request, and Stenny on Ilian tapes. Best new stuff of all is probably Spain's NX-1 and their eponymous label. You can hear it all being mixed up and blasted out at VOID, for all the dancers out there.