Undercurrents is an ongoing column on SmartShanghai in which we profile Shanghai-based promoters and music makers living and putting on music events in this city, specifically within the context of the larger cultural, economic, and arts landscape in Shanghai. These are your manufacturers of cultural capital, Shanghai. This is the business of art and music.
DJ Sliink, Free The Robots, French Fries, The Revenge, Oneman, Tornado Wallace, Venus X, StarRo, LEFTO, Ivan Smagghe, Submerse -- those are a few of the DJs and producers that the Yeti Out crew (formerly known as Yeti In The Basement) brought to Shanghai in 2015. The collective seemed to burst out of nowhere in 2015, suddenly running 3-4 parties a week at venues from Le Baron and Arcade to Shelter and Arkham, and collaborating with Hélas, Adidas, Yo'Hood, and Mishka. And that was just in Shanghai -- they've been throwing parties and booking acts in Hong Kong, London, and other cities all year, too, with plans to expand even further in 2016. They're like the OmniCorp of Shanghai party promo.
Who ARE these people? Do they sleep? How are they so fashion?
I sat down with Yeti B and Eri Yeti, who had just come in from London, over lunch at Tsui Wah to talk about their origins as a blog, Shanghai vs. Hong Kong, and DJing with movie stars at a desert rave in Inner Mongolia.
From left: Fader One, Eri Yeti, Yeti B, and StarRo, their most recent guest
Maybe you can start with some background on who you are, where you're from…
Eri Yeti: I'm from London. Started from the basement now we're here. Started in Brighton originally, and I met Arthur Yeti [Yeti B's twin brother]. We went to university together, and we were into music [and] clubbing, and we started curating a blog. The first post we did was when me and him went to Berlin to check out the scene. This was in 2010.
Yeti B: So yeah, it was a blog to begin with. The whole party thing started with us being at a lot of house parties back at university, in 2006 / 2007. I was up in Manchester, and I'd come down south to Brighton or London. Me and my brother are from Hong Kong, so when you go from Hong Kong to London and you're exposed to this underground scene, it's pretty special. In Hong Kong we had nothing. Like my first rave I went to was with Paul Van Dyke. Pretty wack, you know, so moving to London and being exposed to this huge culture, we were really hungry for it.
Eri Yeti: And we just threw our first party in Shoreditch, and it happened to be these guys' birthday as well.
Yeti B: It was five years ago on Thursday, the first party. Back in 2010, it was still quite feasible to have a blog.
Eri Yeti: That's where you got your new music from. The days of Hype Machine and all that. You [would] go to blogs and download MP3s.
What was your traffic like back then?
Eri Yeti: I mean we were getting like 10,000 visits a month, when we started at a fuckin' thousand, and our reach sort of jumped right up, man.
Yeti B: The blog had good followers, good traffic -- a blog itself is a brand. That was kind of the trend back then. People would go to the parties because of the blogs, and then people at the parties would go back to the blogs.
Eri Yeti: But also the logo man, the logo like really put us out there. [It] was completely different from anyone else. We had loads of stickers, and we literally stuck [them] up everywhere -- you could walk down Brighton or Manchester, anywhere, and there's a whole trail where a drunk Yeti walked home. You could follow him all the way back to his house.
Yeti B: And we had Yeti TV, Yeti TV was interviews. [We] interviewed Disclosure in a cafe. They weren't even signed yet. Everyone was like "yo, you gotta listen these guys called Disclosure," and I was like "nah, these two kids...? I don't know man." It was in a cafe with people walking around. That would never happen now. I wonder if they remember us.
Eri Yeti: And their manager's super tight, and he was like, "be careful what you say, it's your first video interview."
Yeti B: We did a lot of first interviews, like Falcons. We can go on and on, but long story short I guess, it was mostly a media platform for the longest time.
Eri Yeti: We didn't have any advertising on the website or anything like that. The only time we had money coming in was when we threw parties.
So lately, not as much blog posting right?
Eri Yeti: We changed websites, we changed the brand name a bit. We were Yeti In The Basement, now we've moved to Yeti Out. It made sense to transition, going to Shanghai and Hong Kong -- kind of out of the basement -- and it was also the way we signed off on our blog posts. We'd sign off "Yeti Out."
Yeti B: I mean I'm sure you know how it is, like you blogging and inviting us, [ it's] very time consuming, and obviously transcribing -- it's a different ball game. As we grow up our priorities change as well.
So you're doing parties in Shanghai and London?
Eri Yeti: Yeah this last year we started it up again, with an artist called Shem. It's one of those where it happens to be that we chose him and all of a sudden he's blown up. I guess we just have our ear to the street.
We also do like a whole festivals movement. We have our own tent in Noisy festival. So we got this wall and we covered it fur, so when you're tripping out, you can just come in and rub the furry wools... big disco ball and just the Yeti face everywhere. My focus is on radio now. I'm on Radar Radio, I'm a resident there.
So coming from Hong Kong, what are the differences between the Hong Kong scene and the Shanghai scene?
Yeti B: Hong Kong is a different market. They've got clubs from like, sort of swanky clubs to underground clubs. There's not as many. We're very fortunate in Shanghai, where we've got a good scene here, a very healthy scene. So as much as we want to do more underground stuff in Hong Kong, I think we end up doing more middle ground stuff.
To be honest, Hong Kong people, when they go out, they aren't as focused on the quality of music, they're more wanting to get smashed, hook up with girls, whatever that is, let loose. Obviously [Hong Kong] being a massive financial hub, massive economy, with finance and everything, people grinding in suits all week, and when it comes to Friday night, they just wanna get lashed, bang girls, pop bottles. They're making so much money they want to spend it right? [Using their] brain cells to think about some left field oddities, they aren't interested in that, you know. So the priorities are different. Whereas, [in] China, I'm not saying people don't have pressure, but maybe there's more people, people are more open minded, there's a wider range of clubbers here as well, I believe, so that shapes the scene as well.
Eri Yeti: You got a lot more space here, bigger venues.
Yeti B: Rent is a massive thing in Hong Kong. You can never really have a big venue unless you are making money. If you're doing the underground thing, you're probably not going to be making that much money. If you could imagine an Arkham in Hong Kong, it'd be mad. Like, that would never happen. The rent would be ridiculous. You know, Hong Kong people don't want to go clubbing outside Central, they're kind of lazy like that.
So say someone throws a rave with good bookings in say, The New Territories, people wouldn't go?
Yeti B: They would, but it'd be like a destination party, and it would require a lot a lot of promotion. Sometimes it really works, like Clockenflap for example. That stuff doesn't really happen in Hong Kong, so going [there] last weekend, I was really proud to be from Hong Kong. When we were kids, we had nothing like that.
What made you move here?
Yeti B: When I first came here, I was working for a fashion PR company back in Vancouver, and [they] relocated me to the Shanghai office. The first time I came to Shanghai as an adult, it was Shanghai Fashion Week 2013 or 2014. I went back to Canada, changed my laptop to a screensaver of the Shanghai skyline, changed my phone… I was like, "man I love this city, I gotta move here within the year." So like the offer came up, I jumped to it. This coming January will be my two year anniversary.
For the first eight months I was just working at this company. Not going to details, but things didn't work out. But at the same time, Yeti was always on my mind. The first [party] I did was with Falcons, and you were there as well, I know you weren't feeling the set. That was June and in August I just quit my job. Now it's a full time thing, and we've grown from a party collective to doing all kinds of things. We throw parties, but we also do sound design work, corporate clients and stuff.
Who makes up the Yeti Team?
Yeti B: First and foremost, shout out to my team. I got a really strong team here, which I'm really stoked about. I've got Fader One, who's my friend from Hong Kong, who I grew up with, and I convinced him to move here from Boston. I went with high school with him. He's the first one that got me onto DJ Shadow, RJD2, like that kind of hip hop. He got me into all this shit when were kids, so he's my long term friend. Allan Marshall came on board because he's obviously big on his house and disco. He had an artist, but he didn't have a date. I had a venue, but I didn't have an artist. So we have Allan Marshall, Alan Wolf, [and] now we also have Roxy, who's the newest girl, she just moved to Shanghai, and Esa, who's part of the crew now as well. Six of us now. Got a little family here.
From left: Fader One, Allan Marshall, Yeti B, Alan Wolf a.k.a. Yung Sol
Where does Yeti fit into the Shanghai promoter ecosystem?
Yeti B: We all seem to have a foot in the fashion background. I worked in fashion PR in my previous career, Allan has his ties to fashion; during the day he's a creative director for Mishka. Alan Wolf works with Adidas Originals. We're all kinda geeky about our street fashion, so when we do parties, we want to bring that element. I feel like our audience now is into fashion and music at the same time.
I remember one time you said you had some DJ play at Arkham because if you did it at Shelter, the kids wouldn't be able to see the sneakers they were wearing or something like that.
Yeti B: [laughs] Arkham is a middle ground club. That's completely right.
Everyone in the crew has very different tastes in music. What we're trying to do, is if you're coming to a Yeti party, you're not only seeing an artist, you're seeing a culture come to Shanghai. We do try to educate the crowd a little bit if we can, like you know, when DJ Sliink came we did a Jersey Club [movie] screening, so people knew what it was about. Jersey Club is not everyone's cup of tea. If you know a little about the genre, then you can appreciate not just the DJ, not just a dude playing records on stage, but he's actually bringing a culture to Shanghai.
Actually, in 2016, [I want to] do like a series away from the club. There's a lot going on in Shanghai right now. People go, they drink, they rave, they get hungover, life goes on. But if there's a way we can interact with the artists in another manner -- in another environment -- then we can really learn from these artists, because they've got a lot to say apart from just playing records, that music is one way of communication and one way of channeling their culture, but like, you know, their voices, them speaking, and actually doing Q & A sessions, or whatever it is, is another way of communicating.
If there's any critique of Yeti, it might be that you guys are doing too much. It's like, Le Baron tonight, and then a big show at Arkham, and again at Arcade. Are you aware of this or do you just really wanna get the brand name out there?
Yeti B: Yes and no. We're all very excited to be doing it, and when things start rolling, we're just passionate to do more. But you know, we're definitely the new kids on the block compared to the old school guys, shout out to all the people that have been doing it for so long, big up to Gaz and SVBKVLT, Archie and Split Works, Michael at Dada. These guys are the elders, and we absolutely respect the elders… Reggie at STD, these guys have been doing it for a minute.
We want to get our name out there first. Once everyone knows about it, then we can taking it back a little bit, start tweaking the brand, adjusting things a little bit. As a business model, I just want it get it out, kind of like a household name, once people know about it, they're kind of intrigued, and you can start telling them more about what we're about.
I think it is a household name at this point.
Yeti B: Household name when you go out at night. I honestly don't think a lot of people know about it.
How about the brands thing. You guys do a lot of work with brands, and sometimes these brand parties still have a cover charge...
Yeti B: Some people frown at the idea of an independent promoter collaborating with a brand, like, "oh if you collaborate with a brand they're trying to sell you something indirectly." I feel like Yeti is also a brand. Just because we're an independent brand doesn't mean we're not a brand. I look up to these brands. When I was a kid I was rocking Adidas Originals, and now we're doing mixed tape collaborations with them. I feel happy about that, you know what I mean? Little things like that. I think you can't really avoid brands in this day and age.
For me to be able to collaborate with brands, that's kind of a milestone for me. To be able to work with Adidas Originals, but also work with start up brands that are kinda [on] our level, like Hélas -- they're cool ass dudes, [a] bunch of young skaters, French, Shanghainese, crazy crazy style, you know what I mean, really talented designers. Us coming up and them coming up, we're just down to support each other.
Eri Yeti: It allows you to facilitate the bigger shows as well, and put on what you want to put on right? Otherwise you're financially restricted. You won't be able to put on these amazing international artists without the support of some other brands. At the end of the day, it's still putting out the music you want to put out.
This is always a tough question for any promoter. What was the most disappointing booking you've ever done?
Eri Yeti: MF Doom is my worst one. He didn't turn up, took my money.
Whoa. He's notorious for that. What a dick. He didn't even bother to send the fake MF Doom?
Eri Yeti: No no he didn't bother. Had me deliver the money to the hotel and didn't even come to the show.
Tell us a story about a show.
Yeti B: Over the summer, we played an amazing mini festival in Inner Mongolia. The venue was a dome in the Kubuqi Desert that’s never been used before. Everyone played an intimate set to like 50 people and then Hong Kong actor Sam Lee jumped on, which was jokes because I use to watch his Triad films when I was younger and never thought I’d see him DJ trap music in Inner Mongolia.
Do you branch out in other parts of Asia at all?
Yeti B: We've DJed in other places, like Taipei, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, around South-East Asia. We're working more tours as well. Especially in Eri's position, a lot of London heads have followed our growth from the basement in London or Brighton, and they sorta look at him as the portal to Asia. And we're just trying to do our best to follow up that demand.
Eri Yeti: People really see China is the next biggest economy. People are hungry to come over here, and especially Howie Lee, the music is coming right back into London with Rinse FM.
Do people know Howie Lee over there?
Yeti B: Yeah. And now the goal for 2016 is sort of to bridge the gap between East and West. You know, I'm half Chinese and half English, Eri's English, we're sitting in Tsui Wah, which is the prime example -- we're drinking tea in an English tea pot, but it's Chinese tea. Tsui Wah is like the epitome of who I am, you know what I mean, China meets England, and we're trying to translate that in Yeti as well, through the radio shows we do through Radar -- we did a mix two days ago in Shanghai, we were showcasing Damacha, Howie Lee, like we were playing songs by Jason Hou from Do Hits.
Right now, in China, we're taking a lot from the west, but what we are giving back to them? Like we're not really giving much yet, but hopefully through our connections, through our channels, we can show them what's going on here as well. You know, we don't want it to be lopsided.
What do you love about Shanghai nightlife?
Yeti B: Shanghai's scene is still quite new, you see the same people that go to a 1LVSH night might go see Kode9, you know what I mean? Because it's still quite new, people are quite curious and open minded, and in that sense, the underground scene is a very together scene. I appreciate people's open mindedness in Shanghai.
Another thing is [that the] people we party with, we also work with. We know the guys from Vice, or Beats, or Adidas -- these are the people we party with but also they're the people we do collabs with. And so it's kind of like... that's exciting.
What don't you like about Shanghai nightlife?
Yeti B: When I first came, a lot of fake alcohol. Killed me, man.
That's the easy answer.
Yeti B: Alright, let's dig deeper. I really don't have much complaints to be honest. Fuck man. I mean the only thing that I personally have to find more in my nightlife life is balance. During the day we have a lot of things to do – agency stuff, corporate stuff – at night we're out DJing, mingling, networking till 4am. So it's not really about the scene it's about my lifestyle. If I wanna do this for long term I need to find my balance a little bit more.
What's a typical day like for you?
Yeti B: Wake up and hit the gym in the morning, then emails and follow up with artist agents, managers in other time zones, making sure our programming, promotion and projects are in place and moving forward. Hitting meetings in the afternoon with our team, clients, sponsors etc. Then probably hosting out of town friends or industry people at night or DJing till silly o ‘clock.
What's the focus for 2016?
Eri Yeti: Focus for next year for London Yetis is going back to our roots, man – underground parties, focus on festivals, and focus on radio, and really linking up with Shanghai, bridging that gap.
Yeti B: Same for us man, bridging that gap, east / west. There's a lot of exciting stuff going on here, not just in China but Southeast Asia -- the Darker Than Wax guys -- there's so much exciting stuff going on. It's just globalization innit, bringing the world together, without sounding like a conglomerate [laughs].
The Tyrell Corporation x Yeti...
Yeti B: I was thinking more United Nations man [laughs]. It's also about being more consistent as well -- doing better shows, changing the formula, keeping people interested, and definitely more tours.
Put this in anywhere, but make sure you put it in, big up to the whole Yeti team: Alan Marshall, Fader One, Alan Wolf, Esa, Roxy, like, without these guys, none of this could happen in Shanghai. It's a team that's making this happen.
Eri Yeti: Shouts to the London crew as well – Dre, Bae, Adam…
Yeti In The Basement's next show is with Elijah & Skilliam from London's Butterz label on Saturday at The Shelter.