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Preview: NoCode

It's retro future night at the Shelter this Friday with the second NoCode, an annual celebration of vinyl, longevity and analogue visuals.
Jan 16, 2014 | 16:15 Thu

Once a year DJ Drunk Monk and VJ Olive Pixel drag mountains of analogue video-editing gear and hours worth of vinyl down to the Shelter for a night they call NoCode. Drunk Monk plays a seven-hour set of anything-on-wax, from reggae to techno, while Pixel mixes retro fuzzy stuff to go with it, using a bunch of gear made back when Betamax was still a thing.

It happens tonight (Friday). In the run-up, we sat down with them and asked why anyone would do such a thing.


SmSh: So what's all this about? You did the before, right, last year?

Drunk Monk: It’s something we’ll do once a year maybe. I’ve got shit loads of records that I don’t ever get to play out and he's got all this gear that he doesn’t get to use very often, because it’s a huge pain in the ass to move — it weighs a ton.

Olive Pixel: To do a night like this you’ve got to spend a day going back and forth, up and down, carrying shit there, and then the next day clearing stuff up. So it’s not really, not worth doing too often.

DM: It’s not like going to the club with a USB stick.

SmSh: Then why do it at all?

DM: Just because it’s fun to use the equipment and to play the kind of records you don’t usually get the chance to.

OP: It’s different for people, and it’s different for us. We’ve been doing this for a while and it’s nice for us to do something that we find fun.

SmSh: You're doing a seven-hour vinyl-only set. I see how that might be fun for you, but how is it different for the people in the club, for someone who doesn’t DJ, so doesn’t really know the difference between playing with a USB stick and playing with vinyl. Why should they care?

DM: Obviously the basics are the same, it’s playing tunes. But it sounds much better, for one. If you got a decent needle or a decent system it’s going to sound a lot warmer. And there’s a lot of records I’ll be bringing that you can't get on digital.

SmSh: No shit?

DM: Yeah, I’ll be playing a lot of older stuff, a lot of rare stuff, and a lot of contemporary stuff that is vinyl-only. So a lot of the tunes people wouldn’t have heard, because there’s not that many people playing vinyl in Shanghai, there’s not many people playing the same stuff that I buy. I will be playing popular stuff as well, it’s not just going to be obscure stuff for seven hours.

OP: And then you’re going to be overlaying some tape stuff.

DM: Yeah, I’m going to bring a cassette player as well. I’m going to be planning the set all this week but I’m going to be recording stuff on cassette to play over the top of the set. Movie monologues or sound effects, like atmosphere stuff to go over the top of what I’m playing. Just to do something different.

SmSh: What do you do when it comes to bathroom breaks?

DM: Just play like an afro-beat track that goes on for 25 minutes [laughs].

SmSh: How many records are you going to bring?

DM: I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to structure it in sections. I’ll probably start off with quite a bit of reggae, early Jamaican stuff. I'll bring a box of hip hop and a box of reggae, a box of techno and a box of dubstep, some jungle, and section it off like that. I was really lucky just before Christmas, I went to Manila, to play with Caliph8 and went digging with and came across a whole pile of '70s Italian movie soundtracks and library records and just weird shit. And I’ve got a bunch of gospel records that I’ve never played out before.

SmSh: Alright, let's talk about the visuals a bit. What is all this stuff (points around apartment crammed with crap old grey boxes with big chunky buttons). What does it do? I don’t have any understanding of visuals at all, and neither do most of our readers, I think.

OP: It’s all analog video stuff. All these are mixers, but by layering mixers on top of each other you can get different types of effects and feedbacks. There will be at least three mixers working together with other kinds of analog cameras coming in.

SmSh: But the source is what? Is it a VHS cassette, or is it cameras in the club?

OP: Some will be from the cameras, and I might use some tapes, but probably not. Most of the content will be generated live as if it’s synthesized, because all these mixers have really weird white patterns, so when you have different white patterns overlaying—

SmSh: You mean like the fuzzy static pattern?

The sort of low-fi visuals your correspondent is groping to explain.

OP: Like transitions. Those fade effects to mix between one shot and another. When these machines came out in the '80s, people were just experimenting with different transition effects. It was very new and seems cheesy now but at the time it was cutting-edge. And now you can use those transition effects to do other things. This one has, I can't remember how many, like 50 or 100 different patterns that you can control and for some reason you can also control quite specifically how the patterns move, and all this kind of thing. Which I can't imagine actually being useful in a normal TV situation, but for this it’s really nice.

SmSh: For the person in the club, what does it matter whether the visuals were made on these old, limited machines or on a laptop?

OP: I think it does just look very different. Even if you don’t know that much about it, it has a softer kind of feel. You can't achieve that kind of stuff with a digital set-up. It has a very different look.

SmSh: And is this stuff extremely hard to find in China, or is it really easy because it’s kind of junk to most people?

OP: Unfortunately, lots of people don’t realize it’s junk. They see something that looks like professional equipment and because they have no idea what it is, they’ve got it from recycling or whatever, so they charge a fortune for it without realizing that actually it’s completely obsolete and worthless.

Shit! Look at that one go!

SmSh: Is that just a Chinese thing? I imagine in the West it’s a lot easier to convince people this is worth nothing.

OP: Yeah exactly, so on eBay, eBay UK but especially in America, there’s a huge selection of stuff you can pick up for next to nothing. Here you really have to sift through or search for specific model numbers on Taobao.

SmSh: People put it on Taobao?

OP: Yeah, most of the stuff is from Taobao.

SmSh: At the show, do just get up there and have fun, or do you work with Drunk Monk and react to his music?

OP: I think it will be reacting to the music, but there’s no real way to pre-plan anything.

DM: There’s no rehearsal going on.

SmSh: And what happens if something goes wrong? I can imagine seven hours, turning on all those old machines... What happens if one melts or something?

OP: If something stops working, luckily it never has, but if something does stop working then you just don’t use that bit. But I think normally it’s really sturdy stuff, because it was all professional stuff when it first came out.

SmSh: Seems like a lot of work…

OP: Yes, but it will just be interesting, it will be something you don’t see or hear all the time. So it will be a different night, and a different kind of feeling.

DM: Yeah I don’t really know anyone else who does this, anywhere. Not in Shanghai and nowhere else, either.

OP: Oh, and for the record, this is totally not any kind of thing about which is better, digital or analog. It’s purely about finding a different feel. We're not saying digital sucks or anything like that.

DM: It’s just different. As much of this is going to be a geek-fest, it’s going to be fun as well.


NoCode is at the Shelter on Friday night, 10pm-5am. 40rmb on the door.