Rejekts main man Iain Taylor isn't "big in Japan" – but he is quite big in China! Here, he reports back on his latest jaunt over there…
Rejekts label boss and former Sankeys resident Iain Taylor has been visiting the Far East since the early 00s, and is believed to have played in Beijing more times than any other western DJ. He's there right now, in fact – his second tour of the region in 2019.
The first took place earlier this summer, and after it was finished, we caught up with Iain to get the full story behind his Oriental love affair, and to get a blow-by-blow account of his most recent travels…
I'm told you've played Beijing more often than any other western DJ – how did that come about?
"It all came off the back of my Tribal Sessions residency (2000-2008), really. I was playing Fridays when there was a real buzz around the club, warming up for people like Sasha, Pete Tong, Steve Lawler and Derrick Carter, and one of our regulars was a musician from Beijing called Ouyang. He was studying music technology in Manchester, and after one particularly heady night, he said Beijing was crying out for a deeper sound like mine and he was going to get me booked out there.
"Now, Ouyang was a solid guy, but equally a lot of things get said on nights out that never materialise! So I just took it as a compliment and didn’t think too much of it. But a few weeks after he returned home, the call came and we put together some dates at Club Underground, a warehouse-like venue that reminded me a little of Sankeys and tended to attract a predominantly Chinese crowd, and at the more refined Cloud 9, which attracted a mixture of foreigners alongside more affluent Chinese clubbers.
"Both dates went really well: the crowds were hungry to hear new music and open-minded enough to follow me when I took it deep. That was in 2003 and it led to me travelling to Beijing up to six times a year, using it as a springboard to the rest of Asia. The people I met had a big part to do with it, too. I always felt so welcome: Ouyang and his wife Suzi were especially amazing, but also people like DJ QQ and Yugongyishan club owner Goza."
Both of these clubs have since been shut down, which speaks to the problems promoters and club owners face in China's highly scrutinised late-night sector. If you've been going there for 16 years, how's it changed?
"The authorities have noticeably started cracking down over the past five years. To begin with, I don’t think they really knew what was going on, but as the scene grew the police started to raid clubs more. They leave foreigners alone generally, but the Chinese have to take a urine drug test and if they fail, they’re taken to a kind of prison-cum-rehab centre for up to three months!
"They’ve also been putting much more pressure on the venues themselves. So it’s not impossible to run a successful nightclub in Beijing, but it’s not as easy as it used to be. As with all situations like this, it plays into the hands of the bigger clubs, who can afford to jump through the hoops and pay the extra licensing costs, and it pushes certain factions underground. But in most cases, the more you try to persecute a group of people, the stronger their resolve becomes."
So how was your recent visit?
"The place I played this time is called Aurora, and is ran by a consortium led by the legendary DJs Pancake Lee and Mario Yu. The way they do clubs in China differs a little from the UK: you have to offer food all night to obtain a licence and most places take this seriously, with quality cuisine to compliment the high-class sounds.
"Aurora is no different. They have a restaurant/music lounge on the top floor which leads to an open air roof terrace, each with their own DJ booth and bar, and then a deep, dark club room on the middle floor. The crowd was a mix of westeners and Chinese, and because Aurora tends to attract clued-up underground music fans, things got going from the off. Ouyang's house and techno set had the place rocking by the time I came on and I was able to go right across the board, from deep and melodic, to more housey, into driving techno and even managed to drop Blue Monday and a cheeky bootleg of Pump Up The Jam! It was 7am by the time we trotted out into the morning sun – job done."
Would you recommend Beijing as a clubbing destination?
"I'd recommend Beijing in general, it’s an amazing city! But unless you know someone who lives there, you’re probably better off taking it in as part of a wider trip around China, instead of staying there for a fortnight. You can easily do the historical attractions like The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Lama Temple in a couple of days, and aside from Aurora, there’s also Lantern Club, Dada, Zhao Dai and Mix Club, which all have credible stuff programmed on a regular basis. You could also go out there for something like the Great Wall Festival, which has hosted Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Carl Craig, Pan Pot, Dave Clarke, Chris Liebing and Dixon in recent years.
"The shopping is pretty good, and the food is amazing – another level from Chinese food in the UK. But be aware that your average Beijinger doesn’t speak any English, so you’ll need a translator app on your phone to do anything at all! It's different in clubs: most working class people still can’t afford to go out, unfortunately, so the people you meet in clubs are generally affluent, well-educated and speak decent English."
Where did you go after Beijing?
"Changsha next… that was wild! I’ve played in cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei, which are all pretty cosmopolitan, but I hadn’t had the chance to check out any of the more inland cities, so I was pretty excited. I didn’t think Changsha was that big but at nearly eight million people, it’s the size of London. That’s not that big for China, though: Guangzhou has over 44 million!
"Changsha is surrounded by smaller cities, so people flock there at the weekends. It doesn't have much underground pedigree: aside from Space Plus, who recently brought Paul Van Dyk over, there’s only really School Club flying the flag for credible electronic music. It's seen more as a party town, where people come to get drunk and/or ‘lucky’ in one of the many commercial clubs – I saw some of the most drunk people I've ever seen as I was walking back to the hotel!
"At just 300 capacity, School Club is pretty small but there's a Funktion 1 sound and a sleek well-stocked bar, and the people who came out were well into it. The owner, Kobe Chen, has created a mix of spaces with clubbing, comfort and connoisseurs all taken into account. Atop the basement club space there’s an opulent whisky lounge and a late-night dining area. I’d recommend a stop off in Changsha if you’re looking to get off the beaten track: the obvious party cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai are great but they're quite westernised, full of McDonalds and so on, whereas Changsha is more of what the real China looks like."
NEXT STOP: OUTER MONGOLIA!
And then you went to Mongolia, I gather? How did that come about, because no-one I know has even been to Mongolia, let alone DJ'd there…
"Once I knew I was going to Changsha, I started thinking of other places in Asia I’d not experienced, and asked my management to look into some less-travelled destinations. And as Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, is only two hours' flight from Beijing, they looked out that way. When I got the call asking if I wanted to go, it was a total surprise but my initial reaction was “Fuck yeah, I'll have a piece of that!". There’s always a slight worry when you start going to places this far off the beaten track, but everything checked out and I had a few FaceTime chats with the club manager Adrian De Ville, who's Belgian, so in the end I was sold.
"I know it might sound a bit wanky but when I’m travelling, I see myself, in a very small way, as an ambassador for British music and culture. So as much as I’m going out there to experience these places for myself, I’m also flying the flag for what us Brits do best: deep underground house music and partying hard… while being overly polite to everyone!"
So how was it?
"Very different, but amazing! It’s been under Russian rule until recently and that shows through in a lot of the architecture, but it also reminded me a bit of Ecuador, albeit with less mountains. Ulaanbaatar isn't that big at 1.3 million people, and is surrounded by shanty towns without running water or electricity. It's a developing country, basically, and while the Mongolian people are friendly enough, they mostly tend to leave you alone. But I did get to hang out with people from Mongolia most nights, which was really cool.
"They're very respectful people, so you can’t push it too far with offside humour or rock 'n' roll behaviour, but they’re into their music and very hospitable once they get to know you. There aren't many westerners in the clubs but I like that – I didn’t go all that way to meet more Australians! When I told people in China I was going, I was told the Mongolians 'dance really hard', and now I’ve been there I see what people meant. They like to really let their hair down, which of course just made me love the place even more – reminded me of Manchester!
"The Square Club itself, where I played, was amazing. It's on the 22nd floor of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with an amazing 360° view of the surrounding landscape, and it's kitted it out with a full Void soundsystem. They’ve built a solid local following and under new bookings manager Hami Line they’re introducing more international acts. I got the chance to go back to my roots on the Wednesday night, playing hip-hop and funk, and then the weekend was jumping, so I'm definitely looking forward to going back there again!"
"By total coincidence, Kobe Chen from School Club was headlining a daytime event called Bass Jungle the same weekend I was there, so we went along to check that out as well. It was fairly small as outdoor events go, with a marquee capable of holding around 1,500 people next to a roof garden which held around 400. It was a cool vibe, actually: good music, lots of stylish party people out to have a good time and the locals got right behind all the Mongolian acts. Not too much 'too cool for school' going on."
Did you learn much about the scene over there generally?
"Yeah, I always like to get a feel for the musical history of places, so I had a good chat with DJ OG (Odon Ganbold), who's one of the original DJs out of Ulaanbaatar and still headlines many of the city’s main clubs.
"He told me clubs didn't even exist in Mongolia till the late 90s, and then it was mainly pop music – mixed with some disco if you were lucky. There was only a handful of DJs like OG, Tuvshin, Uuree and Amai actually mixing tracks. But around 2000, parties like MMP (Mongolian Mix Project) and Club21 start to take electronic music to a wider audience. Trance and progressive house were the big thing at first, but since then it's broadened out into house, techno, breakbeats, even UK garage! It wasn't until 2010, though, that DJs from other countries began to regularly get booked in Ulaanbaatar."
Would you recommend Mongolia as a clubbing destination?
"It depends what you’re after. It’s right off the beaten track: I liked that, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea! It’s definitely an experience. Ulaanbaatar has plenty to offer in the way of clubs but is also rich in history and culture, and it’s only a short drive out to some outstanding areas of natural beauty. You can also stay over night on the plains with the nomadic tribespeople, and there’s the Gobi Desert as well – both of which I intend to check out on my next visit."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now?
"Gig-wise I’m back out in China in September, this time checking out what Nanjing, Qingdao and Guangzhou have to offer, alongside return dates in Changsha, Shanghai and Mongolia. I’m also off to Cambodia for the first time, so double excited about that!
"Apart from that, I've been a bit of a heads-down studio hermit between trips, working on remixes for Rejekt Music, a couple of EPs that I’m shopping to other labels and a new band project called Lo$ Bastardos, working with singers and musicians I’ve picked up along my travels. I’m also working on a couple of label compilation ideas, so apart from a possible return to China and Indonesia around NYE, it’ll be more self-imposed solitude in the studio until my next big tour, which is set for South America, the USA and Canada in February and March. Keep your eyes on our Facebook page and website for details!"
Words: Michelle The Mal