If you’ve spent any time in Shanghai’s underground electronic music scene, the name is a familiar one to you. Gaz Williams, along with his co-manager Gary Wang, were the musical direction behind blacked out basement rave of yore, The Shelter. In their nine year run, they, along with Shanghai’s usual cadre of start-up promoters, were almost single-handedly responsible for putting this city on the world map for underground dance music. From dubstep to experimental to drum ’n’ bass to techno to hip hop to skwee if it had limited to no commercial appeal it played at the club.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Especially nightclubs. Especially in Shanghai. Just shy of a decade, The Shelter hosted their last party this past New Year’s Eve. It was an emotional one. Read about that night here. Incidentally, that wire post got almost more traffic that almost any we’ve ever published on SmartShanghai.com.
(The “How to Set Up Your Alipay” one is like the most. There’s no bringing that fucker down.)
Five months later SmSh caught up with Gaz to learn that he’s the music curator of the massive — and massively ambitious — music festival with Chinese media platform Douban happening in just over a week from May 18 to May 21 in Beijing called Wetware. In terms of sheer breadth and sheer balls, the line-up is insane — a strong contender for the best and most forward-reaching electronic music festival this country has ever seen. You should make the trip down for it. Really.
We also learned Gaz is opening The Shelter 2: Esoteric Experimental Electronica Boogaloo.
Just kidding. But yeah, he’s opening a new club. And he told us about it.
Read on to go All in with Gaz.
(He’s a shy guy and didn’t want his lovely stubbly mug all over our website. So thanks to Uptown R ’n’ B for use of the records.)
SmSh: Maybe to start you can give us the broad strokes of this thing. What is Douban's Wetware Festival?
Gaz Williams: Wetware is a four-day music festival from May 18 to May 21 organized by Douban, taking place at Tango and School Bar in Beijing. The festival is mainly electronic music with a few live bands as well as three stages of music. We’ll also feature talks and presentations by various music companies and artists…
Tickets for the show are 239rmb for Thursday night; 329rmb per day, Friday through Sunday; or 889rmb for the whole thing.
SmSh: How is Wetware different that the usual yearly music festivals? Sell this thing, Gaz. Put some asses in the seats.
GW: [Laughs.] Well. For me, the line up at Wetware is a lot more focused than many other Chinese festivals. The music and artists we have chose, although varying genres, have a similar approach and aesthetic. Some of the music is fun and happy — PC Music's AG Cook and Danny L Harle, Nightmares on Wax — and some is pretty dark and challenging — Stephen O Malley, Amnesia Scanner. And some is aimed directly at the dance floor — RP Boo, Earl.
But I feel it all kind of makes sense together. It's a music festival for real music heads and people who want to discover some amazing music they didn't know before.
Also, the festival isn't relying on a couple of big, mass-appeal type names together with the usual Chinese rock bands that seem to play nearly every festival, and it isn't trying to please everyone. It has a cohesive and well thought-out line-up of some of the most exciting electronic music around today.
SmSh: Not relying on the tried-and-true formula or a big huge mainstream headliner — this is kind of a risky move right? Is there a market in China for a festival with this deep of a line-up? Is the country “ready for it”?
GW: I think a lot of people underestimate the youth here. There are a lot of young people pretty deep into electronic music, and even more who want to discover something different than the usual, monotonous shit. Yeah, Douban have taken a risk with this, but it feels like the time is right for something like this now.
The development in the music scene here over the last one or two years has been pretty rapid compared to the previous five years — its changed a lot. It’s a risk, but definitely the time to take this risk…
SmSh: What’s been the reaction like and what sort of numbers are you expecting?
GW: The reaction online has been pretty strong. I think when we announced the line-up a lot of people were kind of shocked, but also it felt like there was a sigh of relief like “finally there is something like this.”
There is only something like 2,000 tickets total, maybe less, as this isn't a large outdoor festival — it’s limited to the capacities of the stages at the venues, and so I think it will sell out. Or at least come very close. To be honest, if you are thinking of coming, I would try book tickets as soon as you can.
There might be a few disappointed people by the time the festival starts…
SmSh: So four days, three stages of music. How do the stages break down? Is it like genre difference? Like a bass stage in one room, a techno stage… Or like, a day with more techno and then a bass day or whatever?
GW: Nah, it’s not really broken down like that at all. The main stage at Tango hosts the majority of the live acts, a lot of which have their own visuals or lighting set ups. The second stage I guess is more of a club vibe as it is mainly DJ sets with a couple of live performances.
School Bar is hosting more live bands and some of the more experimental, nerdy electronic stuff. Genre, to me, isn't really important these days, everything is kind of morphing and changing all the time. It’s much more interesting to have multiple genres on one stage and night rather than sticking to one sound and style for like 8 hours.
[Ed's Note: View the line-ups for each day right here. Scroll down.]
SmSh: Are you going to piss off all the regular punks at School Bar with your blippy bleepy music?
GW: [Laughs.] Yeah, that's the plan. Nah, the School Bar stage is hosting a mix of live bands and live experimental electronic acts and I think it should go down pretty well with the regular crowd there.
SmSh: They do, or at least they used to do, regular experimental nights there as well. But the main venue Tango — what’s Tango like for people who have never been there? And what sort of stage production can people expect? You said a few of the bands are having their own set-ups? And you're having [Shanghai-based video / installation artist] Kim Laughton down? And Jonathan Zawanda as well?
GW: Actually, this will be the first time I attend an event at Tango too [laughs]. The main stage is on the third floor and I guess can be compared to Mao Live House in Shanghai, but maybe a bit bigger. Solid sound system and a huge LED screen at the back of the stage.
The second room is on the ground floor and is kind of a club-live house hybrid. Kim Laughton and Jonathan Zawanda are designing this stage and it’s going to be pretty special. They are creating a digital environment with numerous LED screens around the stage which will change and evolve over the course of the festival. I’m not exactly sure what it will look like, but I've seen little teasers from Kim and it’s going to look pretty amazing. I don't think anything like this has been done before
The second floor will also host the workshops, screenings, and lectures, and also a kind of a market thing but I'm not sure what the market consists of…
SmSh: A few logistical question for people coming down from Shanghai. What sorts of hotels are in the area? In what areas should people be looking for hotels?
GW: Theres a cheap hotel right next to Tango actually, but I’ve forgotten the name. Also, the Gulou-Dada Bar Beijing area isn't too far, so maybe around there is good. There is a cheap Han Ting Express on Ju'Er Hutong, as well as the Traditional View Hotel on the same hutong which is a little more expensive but still decent.
There's also a bunch of decent air bnb's around there too actually, I stayed at one earlier in the year and it was really nice.
So yeah a bunch of options really…
[Ed’s Note: Anything in Yonghegong or Gulou area will work. And there’s lots of backpacker / youth hostel places around there.]
SmSh: Is there anything specific that people from Shanghai should pack when heading up to Beijing?
A superiority complex? A deep sense of malaise and dejection? A fucking gas mask?
GW: [Laughs.] Yeah maybe a face mask would be good. Don't really know how to answer that…
SmSh: That’s okay. That was a rhetorical one. For the people. So. The line-up is really pretty crazy. Feels like I could pick out two of three names on that list — Actress, Low, Mouse on Mars — and they’d could have been the main acts at Strawberry or any of the other festivals, catering to a crowd in the tens of thousands. But you’re maxing out at around 2,000. Also, it seems like Wetware has very little sponsorship as well. How did it all come together? Was it a concerted effort to side-step the usual over-branding at Chinese festivals?
Or is it like... let’s just go for it in our first year and see what comes of it...
GW: Yeah, the festival is sponsored by OnePlus and a few other brands, but it’s nice not to see the poster having like 400 unreadable logos.
SmSh: I’ve seen more logos on the flyer for like a shitty networking event.
GW: I’m not sure about the branding at the actual festival itself but Douban know that throwing logos and products in peoples’ faces all the time is kind of shitty so I think it will be pretty low-key.
Douban have put a lot of their own time and money into this, but I think the risk will pay off…
SmSh: Is this going to be yearly? And are there plans to do a Shanghai version?
GW: Right now I think we have to see how this one goes, but fingers crossed this won't be a one time thing. We need people to come out and support and hopefully this will be a regular event.
I'd love to do one in Shanghai, I've already mapped out most of the line up for the next one if it happens [laughs].
SmSh: Finishing off on the Wetware stuff, can you highlight one international and one Chinese artist performing that people need to check out. Not to the exclusion of others but y’know. You know what I mean…
GW: One of the international acts I'm most excited for is Amnesia Scanner. This act will probably be under the radar for a lot of people, but their music is incredible and their live show is meant to be pretty intense.
Apart from Duck Fight Goose's Limbic Man show (which is crazy), people should definitely check out Faded Ghost's [aka vocalist / songwriter ChaCha] new live show. She is about to release her debut album and she will premiere the show at Wetware on the Sunday. She's been working really hard on it and I'm sure its going to be pretty nice… albeit dark as fuck.
SmSh: Speaking of releasing music out there in the world, what’s the state of the union with your label Sub-Culture?
GW: The label is called SVBKVLT, Morgan, pay attention…
SmSh: Man. Whoops.
GW: Yeah, the label is chugging along nicely, Swimful's release went really well — the attendance at the release party was way beyond what we expected — and Faded Ghost's album is all set to be released next month along with a zine designed by Nini Sum. Those will be available in very limited numbers at Wetware. After that, I've got a bunch of things lined up but not sure what order they will come out in. I'm waiting for the artists to finish up. New EP's from Prettybwoy, Osheyack, Hyph11e, Gooooose, and 33 are on the way, plus I've just signed a guy called SHX from Japan.
There's also a single from Swimful featuring Palmistry coming towards the end of the summer which I'm really excited about. I think Palmistry is going to perform/premiere it at Wetware.
SmSh: So what's the music like coming out of Shanghai these days? Good stuff going on?
GW: Yeah, things are pretty exciting these days. The Genome crew are doing great stuff, they just released Rui Ho's latest EP which is great, and they have Dirty K's EP up next I believe. Push and Pull have also started their own label and released Knopha's EP a couple of months back. There’s a nice buzz around at the moment.
SmSh: Seems like all these talented kids — they need somewhere to play, eh, Gaz? Seems like the kids — they need a club. What do you think?
GW: I think that is correct, Morgan.
SmSh: Hey so. There seems to be like a Shelter-sized hole out there in Shanghai’s nightlife scene these days. Are you going to open a dance club? Fill that hole?
GW: Yes, Morgan, me and some friends will open a new dance club in June 2017.
SmSh: June, 2017, huh. Next month. I’ve heard through the grapevine, you’re not calling it “The Shelter” though, eh?
How would you say it diverges from or continues what you were doing at The Shelter?
GW: Yeah, this isn't The Shelter. The Shelter is closed and can't be recreated. This new club is by some of the people that were involved in The Shelter, and some people that were not involved in The Shelter.
…Well, I guess the music policy and selection will be somewhat similar as some of the promoters will continue at the new place, but there will also be some different promoters and events.
The venue will function mainly as a bar during the week, with no DJs, and a club at weekends.
SmSh: A bar with no DJs? Are you going to have proper drinks and such? Sounds like you’re growing up a bit…
GW: [Laughs.] Yeah, the drinks menu will be different than Shelter — a bit nicer and more refined — and the environment will be much better for just hanging out and chatting and drinking with friends. But, also a mix of international and local acts at weekends, and also some afternoon Sunday events from time to time.
The venue's interior is designed by Kim Laughton. Its going to be something a little different to other places in Shanghai…
SmSh: What about the size? What sort of capacity is it? And, I know you don't want to give away the surprise of it or whatever, but what's it going to look like?
Is it going to be a basement with the walls painted black?
GW: Kinda hard to tell the capacity right now, but I'm gonna guess in the region of 350 people for the club nights.
It’s not a basement. And it’s not painted black.
That's all I'm gonna say.
SmSh: Where is it?
GW: It’s in Shanghai.
SmSh: Fine, fine. Fair enough. June 2017. Last question: What's it going to be called?
GW: The name of the venue is ALL.
Here’s the logo.
The cheapest Wetware tickets in town are currently on sale at Uptown R ’n’ B. You can also buy them online here. Here's a link to the SVBKVLT label online. And look for ALL near you in June.
Pictures with this article by Andrew Rochfort.