Dada’s Michael on music, life in China and a new Dada club opening in Kunming

Hi Michael, you have just opened a new Dada club in Kunming after opening in Shanghai and Beijing a few years ago. How long have you been in China and how did the Dada adventure start ?

—   I’m from California.   San Francisco.   I started out as a radio DJ, then dabbled in various roles in the music industry — record labels, promoter, etc.  I interned at Sony and BMG before working at Virgin Music.  Moved to China in 2002, after a few visits.  I wasn’t planning to get involved with music here, but I met some Chinese friends who were in good rock bands, or producing electronic, or doing underground hip hop events — I got sucked back in, I guess it’s fate.   We started the Antidote events in 2005, then I managed two “live house” bars in Shanghai — Tang Hui and 4 Live.   It was a great experience, to be involved right when the Beijing ‘no wave’ scene was taking off.  We brought all those great Beijing bands to Shanghai, 2005-2008.   But it’s very hard to do live rock music in Shanghai and be sustainable.   So those venues closed.  I was also booking and managing tons of tours around China, around Asia, with live bands and DJs.  We opened Dada Shanghai in 2009, and Dada Beijing in 2012, and now Dada Kunming in 2020.   The focus is more on DJs and live electronic music.    I know a lot of people have different feelings between DJs and live music, and of course it’s a different experience, but to me I find them equally exciting.

What can you tell us about Dada Kunming and its difference with the two other clubs ?

— Ask me in a year, hah!    We will see how it goes.   We are trying to find a happy compromise between local taste and behavior, but also bringing something new.   We are stubborn about keeping it music first policy, rather than chasing easy money by playing obvious, mainstream music, and trying to catch customers with drink specials and gimmicks.   Even if it takes longer for the audience to trust us, it’s ok, we want to build something sincere but sustainable.   I guess that’s the same as our other Dada’s, but so far I’ve noticed that the Kunming audience has some different behaviors — many are ordering 4 cases of beer bottles at once, or several bottles of whiskey — very few do this at our places in Beijing and Shanghai.  It’s also a bit more laid back in Kunming — which is nice, but can also be frustrating if you’re trying to get some work done — we opened several months later than planned because construction work was a lot lot slower and sloppy than in Shanghai, for example.

Where does the name Dada come from ?

— We wanted a very simple, stupid name that anyone could pronounce or type.  It was before smart phones, and on my ancient Nokia phone I typed 2121 (d,a,d,a).   But yeah, we’re also inspired by the Dada art thing, and that’s been a part of our promotion strategy, our aesthetic, our approach, our slightly punk attitude.  I guess it’s a bit of an homage, but it wasn’t really obviously intentional that way.  It’s funny though, a lot of customers have sincerely asked me, “hey do you know about the Dada art movement?” as if I had no clue.

As a DJ, what do you like to play and what are your influences ? Who is your favorite DJ and why ?

— I’ve played all sorts of music as a DJ.  I’ve always had eclectic taste, and I am genuinely confused when I encounter someone who doesn’t.   When I was in radio, I did jazz, reggae, rock, and techno shows.   I even played a Country Western DJ set at Shanghai’s Shelter club once.   In recent years I’ve been traveling a lot, and I always get vinyl records from local shops, so I’ve been playing African music sets, and for the past 2 years I’ve been doing tours around China playing my “Ozone’s 80s Disco”, which is really only about 20% disco music.  I need a focus, a creative limitation, or I’d end up going in all sorts of weird directions.   Sorry I can’t pick favorites, I’m not good at that.

How did you start music and why? Which instrument did you start on (if you have) ?

— I briefly tried to play bass in a band, and produced some acid house tracks, but just didn’t have the time and diligence to really learn.   I decided at a young age that I’d love to work in music, but not as a musician myself.   I think it was a good decision, so I’m not lost and confused, but occasionally I wish I was producing music, I know I’m missing out on part of the fun, and I often have compositions in my silly head but no way to get them out except beatboxing in the shower.

Can you give the reader a little bit of your musical background (bands, side projects, labels, etc…)
What’s your favorite thing about Dj’ing in Beijing and China, how does it compare to other countries in the world? Which city in China ans Asia has the best vibe for Dj’ing ?

—  Audience taste is different.   For example, my 80s nights are well loved in China, but when I did a little Eastern Europe tour, people looked at me like I’m a taxi driver curating the music.   They hear those songs all the time.   But in China, they never really had this music, the kids think it’s cool, not like “oh that’s my parents music, yawn!”

I find it foolish to pick a “best city” because whenever I do, it’s all changed a year later.  I also think the actual venue is more significant than just the city.   But I always sing the praises of Manila, which I think has the most underrated music scene in the world.  Incredible talent there.

What can you tell us about the state of Dj’ing since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis ? how do you see the future ?

— There’s been a lot of online events.  People asked us to do these, but I just never really got into the idea.  I get it, but it’s not for me.   But also, coming out of the quarantine time, there’s suddenly a lot more new DJs, because they were bored at home and wanted to learn how to play.  I know one friend who just started learning to DJ in February during lock down, and is now headlining a national tour — which seems absurd, but hey more power to her !

What’s your favorite Chinese band/artist/song  you would like to introduce to the rest of the world ?

— Well, if you insist.   Just before Covid hit, we did a few gigs with White+ from Beijing.  They were great 10 years ago, but now they’re absolutely amazing.   Their new album is in post-production now and can’t wait to have them back to play with us.

visit the new Dada if you come to Kunming, and if you don’t, go to Dada Beijing as it has just re-opened and go to the new Dada Shanghai when it re-opens !

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