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[Undercurrents]: Tzu Sing

Sonic exploration for internal conflict. Getting into it with Tzu Sing, promoter behind Stock- holm Syndrone, returning tonight to Dada.
2012-01-13 12:21:04
Profiling Shanghai-based promoters and music makers living and putting on events in this city. These are your manufacturers of cultural capital, Shanghai.

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, producer, and promoter, Tzu Sing is the mask behind the newer “Stockholm Syndrome” parties at Dada bar. Parlaying his experiences playing with locally-based techno junta, VOID, Stockholm Syndrome is Tzu Sing taking a night out on his own and exploring the sinister elements of dance music.

Tonight at Dada, expect music that hits on power electronics, first wave electro, industrial and its various offshoots, into Detroit techno and various styles of house, into American “indie dance” and more. Assisting on harshing the buzz this Friday is special guest DJ, Zammo, another VOID alum who mixes in classicist new wave with a techno background.

SmartShanghai talked to Tzu Sing about throwing parties that mean something, dammit.


SmSh: Maybe to start with you could describe what Stockholm Syndrome is all about. What kind of music is it? What goes on? Who, where, what, why.

TS: Essentially, it’s a party more interested in the darker side of electronic dance music. I don’t want to keep it in any genre. That’s not something I’m too interested in. I like house; I like techno; I like electro; I like EBM; I like industrial -- all sorts of music.

I’ve found that I identify with certain specific emotions and music elements that are being expressed, more so that the genre itself. I’ve found myself in all these genres.

And I’m drawn to elements that have to do with anger and being pissed off…

SmSh: Wanting to explore “the darker elements of dance music”. Where do you see that fitting in with the larger musical landscape in Shanghai? Is that a reaction to what’s out there? A response to a perceived lack in this city?

TS: Absolutely. It’s very much, I think, my personality -- pent up rage and aggression, I guess. So it’s coming from a desire to release energy or express oneself. Also, I think, there’s a lot of young people in Shanghai that are interested in this kind of music. You can see it on Weibo or wherever -- the kinds of stuff kids are posting. I think they’re actually quite hungry for some new shit.

Or not even “new” but “something else”, you know. An alternative.

SmSh: So where are you from and what do you do for money in Shanghai?

TS: I was born in Malaysia and I grew up all over -- Taiwan, Singapore, the U.S., China -- and now I’m back in China, but I've been all over the place. I moved to Shanghai about four years ago, but I’ve been living in an industrial zone for a while. I only just moved back into the city really about three months ago. I’ve just been working -- I started a company out there…

SmSh: What’s your day job?

TS: I run a cycling components brand.

SmSh: So as someone relatively new to Shanghai, what’s been your impression of the music and clubbing scene here?

TS: Well, to take a step back a bit, I used to DJ out with a friend back in Chicago and I kind of had to give that up after moving to China because I’ve been working. But I’ve been getting back into it, going to The Shelter and Dada and stuff. I’ve been doing this business stuff for a while now and I guess this music thing has been back in my head the whole time.

Actually, it’s like the older I get, the more intense it gets, that I have to do something. I love my job and I love doing what I do, but there still this side of me that I can’t deny…

SmSh: Is it hard to balance these two impulses -- having a professional career and wanting to mess around with music in a club at night?

TS: It’s definitely hard to balance, yeah. And I also employ people as well so it’s responsibility. I definitely want to give both my all, you know… so I guess it’s hard…

SmSh: So this Friday night is the third Stockholm Syndrome. Generally speaking, it’s a bit of a departure in terms of music from a general night out. “Dark Wave” and industrial are kind of rarer to find in this city… as is hearing someone play a slow Zola Jesus song at midnight… how are people responding. Are you getting complaints?

TS: No, actually. A few people have come up and said some nice things, actually. And we haven’t had people requesting that we change the music… I think the crowds in Shanghai are as sick of bullshit music as we are, you know. So many people underestimate the crowds in Shanghai… if you do something different, people will go there with you if you give them a chance…

SmSh: Speaking directly to the promotional side of it, how much energy are you looking at researching an audience? Are you thinking about, ‘how can I promote this to different groups of people’? Do you have strategies for ‘selling it’? Or is it more, just putting it out there and whatever happens, happens?

TS: I think if you do something honest and true to yourself that’s the main thing… I think if you keep it honest that sort of resonates with people. This is something I’ve learned from running my own business -- designing products that I believe in. I didn’t really do much marketing or anything but it did well because there are people out there actively searching for this stuff.

I think that’s what “creation” is -- you have this vision in your head that doesn’t exist out there, and you work to materialize it. And if other people out there are sharing that vision they’ll seek it out…

SmSh: One of the central concerns in Shanghai with a lot of the music and clubbing promoters in this city is communicating their angle to the seemingly incommensurable audiences of “expats” vs. local Chinese audiences. You know… ‘is this something I can sell to both expats and Chinese’? Is that something you think about?

TS: Absolutely. Well, I lived in Taiwan for a while and still go back often. And the thing about Taiwan is that “cool shit” doesn’t happen all that often I don’t think. The thing about Shanghai is that it has all these expats who are coming from all these different cities with these advanced music and club cultures… they sort of know this stuff and if they see it on a flyer and it’s what they like, they’ll turn up. You don’t have to do so much work. I think Shanghai is the way it is because of this massive expat market… and the crowd reflects this. But I think it’s changing.

There’s a lot more young Shanghainese kids out there that now have this thirst for this stuff…

SmSh: For a lot of promoters, it’s the expats that represent the money that pays for all the stuff -- they’re the ones that drink and cover the costs of thing -- but it’s sort of a Pyrrhic victory when they throw a concert and it’s just a bunch of white people turning up. Everyone seems very much concerned with appealing directly towards the “Chinese market”, as that represents a long-term vision of making some cash…

TS: Yeah I can see that. In my case, I’m Chinese by blood. And although I still might not be accepted by Chinese people -- actually that’s a whole new can of worms – but I still feel the need to contribute to my own culture. I guess if you want to put it into corporate terms -- “targeting the Chinese market” -- yeah, but it’s more that I want to see a valuable Chinese music culture and want to be a part of it.

There so much bullshit in this city, and if you don’t do something about it… then things don’t really change. I think maybe people don’t realize that sometimes… there’s so much bullshit, but if you don’t do something to change it, things will stay the same.

There’s a way to remedy it…

SmSh: Speaking to what you’re getting at, do you see Shanghai music and clubs and split into a sort of ‘mainstream vs. underground’ divide?

TS: Definitely. This is war. [Laughs.] Well, yeah. I don’t know. This is the way people should look at it, I think. They should. They should care.

Well, yeah. It’s fine. Go out, get drunk, whatever the fuck…

SmSh: But it’s supposed to mean something, dammit!

TS: It supposed to mean something! Right, well... As a kid that's why you choose something to listen to. You were sick of something and wanted the alternative.

SmSh: What sorts of shit did you choose to listen to as a kid?

TS: Oh fuck, now it’s going to sound bad… [laughs]. Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails -- that was sort of the first album that taught me that noise could be beautiful, you know. Growing up in Taiwan, it was a very different album…

SmSh: To go back to Stockholm Syndrome, who all is involved and what are your plans for the future? Is the trajectory towards bigger, bigger, more, more?

TS: Just me and Drunk Monk. But we have other guests in sometimes… right now it’s at Dada bar only. This Friday is the third one. I think in the future if we bring in live acts or whoever from overseas we might try to do it in a live venue or a different sort of space. I would like to bring acts in. That would be awesome. Smaller electronic acts... not really interested in doing big parties.

Ultimately, when it gets bigger and bigger, it gets away from you and you have to think about supporting something -- a band or a venue -- that you believe in. I feel fortunate to be in Shanghai at this time where there are actually a few venues run by people who actually give a shit and you can respect them. I think if it gets to some stadium-sized shit, you gotta wonder who is making the money and that’s kind of lame.

Well , again, you know, the party sort of comes from not being really satisfied with what we, or I, see going on in this city, and the desire to bring a different sort of music to this city. Something that is in my mind, that I don’t really see happening right now. I don’t really know where it’s going to end up. I don’t have a grand scheme or anything. It would be good to see it grow.

But definitely staying in Shanghai… I can’t see where else I would be. I don’t know where else I would go. Kind of a good city for international vagabonds such as myself.

I’ve noticed a lot of the house and techno DJs that I admire and respect in this city, they collect a lot of records... strange electro and disco records that they can't really play out. And with a night like this hopefully the DJs will get a place to play them… that’s all it is really.

SmSh: What’s your biggest complaint with Shanghai nightlife?

TS: I would like to see more inspired DJs. People really digging hard for the music they love and putting the effort in to it. Especially, if people are paying to see you, you know.

Don’t waste people’s fucking time…


Stockholm Syndome returns to Dada bar tonight. On decks: Tzu Sing, Drunk Monk, Zammo. No cover charge. Runs 10pm until infinity.