The official Beijing release for this one happens on Saturday, June 13 at Arkham. Do Hits is really pulling out all the stops for their birthday party, packing live sets from Howie Lee alongside support DJ sets from a wide cast of friends. Expect that one to be packed.
Ahead of Do Hits' big day, I caught up with Howie and Guzz in the studio, as they were putting the final mastering touches on the EP. Here's where they came from, where they're at, and where they're going:
Do Hits original lineup. Left to right: Billy Starman, Howie Lee, Sulumi, Guzz
SmSh: This EP is to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Do Hits. When you first started, who all was involved in Do Hits besides you two?
Howie Lee: It was us, Billy Starman and Sulumi. Actually the idea came from Sulumi. He wanted to run a party, and he found us. Then we started doing it at School Bar.
SmSh: What were the early shows like? At the time School hadn't built a stage yet, it wasn't the rock'n'roll club it is now. It was still a DJ bar back then…
Howie Lee: Yeah, yeah. They only had a DJ booth. School was kind of an electronic music bar, playing DJ music. Most of the Do Hits parties were just us DJ'ing, but sometimes we'd also bring some other producers in.
SmSh: Who are some of the producers you'd bring up?
Howie Lee: We brought Zaliva-D, we had brought SIG... DesToys, these two guys from Shanghai who dress like zombies. I can't remember who else… In School Bar we mostly played with people from [Shanghai promotion label] S.T.D. They came all the time from Shanghai. I can't remember who else... It's School Bar, you know. You don't remember shit. [laughs]
SmSh: Why did you choose School Bar for the early Do Hits parties?
Howie Lee: Because Billy is one of the co-owners. It's that simple. And they wanted to do DJ parties at that time.
SmSh: Back when you started, School was pretty much the only club in the Gulou area doing underground DJ parties featuring local producers. White Rabbit had closed and Dada hadn't yet opened, so School was the only venue for that kind of alternative electronic music scene…
Howie Lee: Yeah, but at School, it was all rock people, a lot of people from the rock scene. Me myself, I came from the rock scene as well. Billy, you know, he has a [band] management crew. So we knew a lot of rock people. But back at that time, all the [rock] people started listening to electro, like Justice-influenced electro, Boys Noise kind of stuff, and they started to do more electro-influenced rock. So it made sense for the rock people to listen to this kind of music. And also alternative dance punk kind of stuff.
SmSh: Did you work with any other crews or labels who were doing parties at School back then? I know Blake and Einar were doing some shows…
Howie Lee: Yeah, the 87FEI crew started doing shows. They started after us.
Guzz: We knew each other because of School Bar.
Howie Lee: Yeah. We knew each other because Harikiri had run an event called Beat Makers, and that's how Chinese guys like me and Guzz originally met Harikiri and Einar and other people.
SmSh: Did you guys work together much after that? Guzz, you released an EP on 87FEI87 right?
Guzz: Yeah. In the early time, Einar just asked me to make a song. They had a compilation, so I made a track, and he liked it. So then he asked me to make a full EP for his label.
SmSh: When Dada opened it changed the Gulou club scene pretty dramatically. How did Do Hits change when you moved from School to Dada?
Howie Lee: It was very hard to get people to come to School Bar in 2012. Our party started going down. We were all from the background of listening to electro stuff, but everyone kind of starting going in their own different direction. So we were getting pretty chaotic. Sulumi was still doing his stuff, but also more dark techno. Guzz started doing acid techno, acid house and stuff. And I started messing with dubstep. So the whole sound became very chaotic. We couldn't get people to come. School Bar's business was going down as well. So, in 2012, when Dada opened… I think we did a Harikiri show, we did my leaving party. When was the first show we did at Dada?
Guzz: My release party.
Howie Lee: We moved to Dada before I left China. And the good thing is we started to make a little bit of money. At School Bar, you got no money at all.
SmSh: So did you have more of an audience that wanted to hear your music at Dada?
Howie Lee: I think so. From the beginning there were more and more audience going to Dada, because Dada is definitely a better bar than School, as a DJ club. And also their bar cut was better, so we could start making a little money at least. We felt more comfortable doing parties at Dada.
SmSh: In the early days of Dada there were a few crews playing pretty regularly, like you guys, Black Eyeliner, Bye Bye Disco. When you first moved to Dada, what made Do Hits parties different from the other labels?
Howie Lee: We're all producers, we all produce music. That's the biggest difference. Except Billy, all the other people are producers. Sulumi was already pretty famous. I'd started doing dubstep and trap stuff before I went to the UK. Guzz was doing his acid stuff, and slowly transitioned to bass music as well. So that's the main difference, we're actually making our own music.
SmSh: What's the balance, when you're DJ'ing, between playing your own tracks and playing other people's music?
Howie Lee: It depends. I use Dada as a test place, to test my new music, new records. I used to play too much of my own music. Now I want to play more of other people's music. Guzz plays more other people's music. But we want to have something that we can fit into our set that doesn't sound shitty and still moves people, so I can see what's happening on this city's dance floors.
SmSh: Howie left for the UK in 2013. How did Do Hits change after that?
Guzz: We didn't have any changes, I think. We just continued to make parties. Me, Billy, and Sulumi. Sometimes I asked some producers from Shanghai to come play at Do Hits parties. Then after a year Howie came back. In fact, I think when Howie came back is when things really started to change.
SmSh: How so?
Howie Lee: I brought another person. Veeky, my wife, I brought her back to Beijing. She DJ's as well, and she started doing all the posters. We kind of saw things more clearly, had a better vision of what we wanted to do. After I came back, I got a little bit more famous, and when I'd play my own shit people would know it. So I guess that changed the parties a little bit.
SmSh: What are your plans now? What are your ideas for the future of Do Hits?
Howie Lee: I think the biggest shift is… Billy used to play house music, a lot of house and techno, 4/4 stuff. I think we're slowly moving to a direction with no 4/4. It's not like I hate 4/4 music, but we want to try more stuff. We want to build up more of a producer scene. Me, because I come from this background, I know all these producers from the beat music scene. So I'm trying to use that knowledge I have to try to help young producers to get heard. At least give them some place to play. So that's our plan for Do Hits, to help new producers to play.
SmSh: So you're about to release this EP, a compilation. That's a totally DIY release, right? You're doing it through Do Hits as a label? What's the format? Will you put it on CD or vinyl?
Howie Lee: Yeah, totally DIY. No vinyl, no CD. We have a scratch card. The release is a scratch card. You scratch it, and you either get the album or you don't. Maybe you get a coupon for the next Do Hits party, you don't know what you're gonna get. So that's the release. We're selling this scratch card at the show for really cheap. But it's a digital release. We don't want to do a physical release right now, it doesn't make sense.
SmSh: Can you introduce some of the other artists on the EP?
Howie Lee: Jason Hou's stuff is super sick. He studied music in Canada and then came back. I did a workshop at my old university and he came, that's how we met. He's just been doing his stuff by himself, and we discovered him. I think he's got a very unique, kind of Chinese sound. He comes from a music and audio engineering background, so he makes stuff much cleaner than other producers. He has the skills, and he wants to do more alternative stuff. So basically we've been pushing each other.
And Zaliva-D. He's been there for a while. He's one of the people I really, really like, I really dig. I don't do the same music, I don't do stuff like he does, but I know he's super talented. He's got very unique and very real stuff going on.
And SIG, SIG is an old friend. He's been doing Chinese stuff for a while.
SmSh: After this EP do you plan to do more releases?
Howie Lee: We'll have a Jason Hou EP, four or five tracks. We'll have a Guzz EP. Maybe do Kedo. He's a new guy, pretty popular on Xiami.
SmSh: Anything else you want to add about the EP or your anniversary party?
Howie Lee: Yeah, my live performance at our show will have Dawanggang's drummer playing live on four or five tracks. I'm playing live with him. I don't even know where to put the drums… it'll be just a low tom and snare. I'll figure it out.
Celebrate Do Hits' fourth birthday and buy their new scratch card EP comp on Saturday, June 13 at Arkham.