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Interview: Popasuda on Dada Bar Shanghai and Pure Love

SmSh chats with the long-time Dada DJ about the good times…
2023-06-24 12:00:00

Shanghai is losing a big part of itself with the imminent closure of Dada Bar at the end of June, after more than 12 years of parties on Xingfu Lu and Yan'an Lu. In solemn observance of our lost youth and innocence, SmartShanghai got in touch with the Popasuda big man, Skinny Brown AKA Sal, to talk to us about the role the club has played in his creative life. Sal has been DJing at Dada since the beginning, AKA the dawn of time, bringing eclectic global bass to the dancefloor basically every month for the club's entire run. This Saturday, June 24 is the last Popasude at Dada bar.

One last time then for all time... big up, Skinny Brown! Big up, Popasuda!

SmSh: So how did Popasuda come about?

Skinny Brown: 12 years ago, I started Popasuda, because I needed something different. I grew up playing house and techno (which I still love), but I was getting bored. When I lived in Brazil, I was getting into the early Baile Funk stuff right before Diplo released his first mixtape "Favela on Blast" (a Baile Funk Mixtape). That's where I got the name "Popozuda". It's the Brazilian word for booty, or the Brazilian equivalent of a fat-batty gyal. I thought it sounded cool. I had no idea the night would go on for 12 years. Going to those early Baile Funk parties in Rio made me realize something: There are genres of dance music all around the world, that I don't know exist. So I searched, and I found. From Karachi to Bombay, and Kampala, Durban, Medallin, Georgetown, Guyana, If a country had vibes, there's a good chance they were making some crazy style of dance music.

SmSh: How were you getting the music though?

Skinny Brown: Everywhere I looked, there were kids in their bedrooms with drum machines or laptops making music. So I reached out, and they sent me music. So much music. In the early days of Popasuda, I would play the entire night myself, 8-hour sets. I did that for like 9 years.

I once sent these kids in Senegal 200 USD on Western Union. They hit the studio with like seven friends and made me 10 tunes. I still play those today. Recently these heavy dudes in Kampala sent me a big stack of tunes. I don't even know what to call it. They call it afro-dancehall, but it's more like really bassed-up, slowed down Kuduro music.

In 2010 I got into the early days of GQOM from Durban, and the evolution of that sound has led to some wicked club music. But it's dark and scary -- which is cool. But I also like the bouncy guitars and vocal harmonies of Makossa, and even some of the Coup stuff. That shit is good for the soul. So I started digging around for young African producers making cool new stuff, forming links in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, Cameroon and Nigeria. After 12 years of doing this, my network grew. Now people from all over the world just send me tunes. But I still actively search. I just found some really dope new Azonto-Bass(ish) stuff. That's what Popasuda is about. It's like a geography lesson in dance music, with sounds built for the floor. A night where you can hear something different from some far-off corner of the globe, that some kid made last week. It's a reminder that there's still culture in the music, something human, something spiritual that we can all relate to.

SmSh: How did Dada Bar fit into the equation?

Skinny Brown: My sound started at Dada. That's always been my home, and I'm so sad to see the Shanghai branch close. I've been doing my night there for 12 years, and it was wicked. To a large extent, it's because I played there, and because of their resources and network I was able to play all across the world, from Japan to Jamaica to Europe. But times have changed, and a three-year hiatus changed the cultural landscape of the city. My night was dope, because people from all over the world came to hear their country's sounds being dropped in my sets. They danced. The night was a reflection of the city's transient and multicultural dynamic, with West Africans, Italians, French, Chinese, Brazilians, and everyone.

But the laowai exodus over the past 6 years, changed that. The Shanghai underground seemed to become more streamlined towards house and techno, with a lot of the underground clubs going in that direction. And that's totally fine. That's how music works. It comes and goes in phases, and I still love house and techno. But there was a little less room for maneuverability. People still ask me what I play, and it's hard to explain. I think a lot of the time they expect me to say some sort of house or reggae. But I don't really play a single genre of music. It's a big, diverse sound. It's a concept -- one that took 12 years to develop.

SmSh: So you're closing out the club this weekend....

Skinny Brown: I'm getting excited to play one of the last parties at Dada Shanghai, and I've got so much dope music for it. I'm sad they are closing. Dada was one of the first. A great many people who helped build the Shanghai scene started at either Dada, C's, or Logo bars. Respect the foundation. But even with Shanghai losing one of its pillars, the sound will remain. I'm gonna kill it at Dada on June 24, 2023. Wherever I end up after, I'm gonna kill it there too.

SmSh: You play a lot of "exclusives" or "dubplate" songs or versions -- songs that only you have, in the whole world. How is that possible? Did you ask for them?

Skinny Brown: Yeah for sure. In the beginning, I didn't have too much custom stuff. I had tunes that no one really had, cause I was searching for sounds on youtube and soundcloud, linking labels, and just asking for music. More than not, people were happy to send over tracks. The custom stuff started with reggae because they have a culture for it. Every big soundsystem has dubplates (a song where the artist sings about you). The reggae dubplates weren't super tough to get. Some were. Absolutely. But there's a network intact to link artists through studios in Jamaica. For anyone who wants custom reggae dubplates, I suggest linking-up Dubshottas. He's a Canadian dude based in Shanghai, and can get you connected with pretty much any artists or studio in Jamaica. Once you voice one dubplate, the process begins to facilitate itself.

But that culture of recording custom music in Jamaica got me thinking, about whether I could apply the same process in Brazil, Africa, India, or anywhere else. It was harder and took a lot of time. Artists in Africa and Brazil didn't really understand the concept at first-the idea of making three songs about how wicked Popasuda is. But once it caught on, it grew exponentially. The actual studio process is really fun because singers are writing these ridiculously tough lyrics about how much Popausda kills sound and destroys everything in its path. Every crew I talked to started bringing friends to the studio, and all of a sudden, I was getting enough custom stuff to play entire sets. It was really dope.

SmSh: You've taken Popasuda around Shanghai as well — VOX Wuhan, Dada Kunming/Beijing, and that resort in Yangshuo.

Skinny Brown: To be completely honest Popasuda has always worked best at Dada, especially back in the day when it was this dope multicultural melting pot. That said, that one time I played with DJ Ozone at VOX in Wuhan, a massive rat fell from the ceiling onto the cdj's and straight-up stopped the music. I thought it was dead, but it squirmed around a bit and ran off. Tough.

I played a party in Dalian. The floor was straight-up West Africans and Caribbean cats, they went so hard. They knew all the dances to the songs, brukking out and winding up. I pulled one up tune like six times, and played it back. There's nothing more fun than pulling up a tune.

After the Concrete and Grass Festival, I did an after-party at Dada with Kiltir Maloya from Reunion Island, they brought like seven drummers and percussionists and were doing straight-up polyrhythm chanting stuff. It was rad as hell.

But in all honesty, just the average Popasuda party at Dada Shanghai was a very special event. I've never experienced a vibe like that. Pure love.