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The Same As It Ever Was: An Interview With Chris St. Cavish about DJing, Food, and Dancing Aunties

Aug 26, 2016 | 17:40 Fri
Five Questions: Because "interviews" just sounds so staid and formal! This is where we talk to interesting people about interesting things. "Five" is more of a guideline than an actual rule.
Dive bar Dada is a Shanghai nightlife institution and they're turning seven this Friday night. Round of applause on that. On DJ duty all night long is writer, cook, and music nerd Chris St. Cavish, a.k.a. Dr. Xiao Long Bao. He rarely DJs, but when he does, he tends to play eight hour, all-vinyl sets on a custom built mixer, and he doesn't even beatmatch. His sometimes-monthly night, The Same As It Ever Was, is pure dancefloor magic. Ahead of the party, we talked over email about DJing, food, Shanghai nightlife, and keeping up with the kids.


SmSh: You pretty much only play at Dada nowadays. Maybe Craft or Shelter once in a blue moon. Why is that? And why do you play the whole night -- an eight hour set -- by yourself?

St. Cavish: Um, no one else will have me. I'm too old for Arkham, too pop for Shelter, too nerdy for Elevator, too weird for Lola. No, seriously, I like the small feel of Dada and Craft. I'm never gonna be a fill-the-stadium type of DJ. I'm happiest with a small group of dancers that I can get close with. I know it's a cliche but, hey, it's true, if you're playing music you really love. You're putting something out there and it's personal, and if it moves other people too, it's a great feeling. Everyone wants to be loved, right? I guess I get the most loved at Dada. I don't know why that is. Probably cuz the drinks are cheap.

I like having the whole night cuz I can stretch out, musically. It gives me time to play with the crowd. Bring the tempo and energy up, and then kill it, drop it down to a slow song, to reggae, and start over. I also like that it's one aesthetic the whole night. I mean, I go through a ton of genres and eras, but I think the songs I choose are always...  I don't know. They have something in common. You don't get that when you have seven dj's, all trying to show off in an hour. There's no time to breathe. Everyone is just trying to keep things at peak energy the entire night, cuz no one wants to play the "slow hour". That's the dj's fault; they don't know what it's like to be a dancer. It's fucking exhausting.

You've been here DJing on an off for about a decade. What are some of the main changes and trends -- positive or negative -- you've noticed in Shanghai nightlife?

St. Cavish: Shanghai is much better off now. There's so many options, it's out of control. The amount of international artists coming through is crazy, the quality of the bookings is awesome, there's way more Chinese kids out at the non-mainstream clubs. I think that's the stuff to focus on, not anything negative.

About the on-and-off. You're one of the few DJs here that will just dip out for a few months -- zero gigs -- and then show up again with a party. Is that because you get burned out or start hating music? What motivates you to get back into it? Is it Michael (Dada boss) making you do it?

St. Cavish: Rent. Nah, I get burned out sometimes. So I still play old-fashioned records, right? It takes a lot of time. This is gonna get kinda DJ nerdy, but it goes straight to the heart of what I'm trying to do. There are a lot of approaches to DJ'ing, like there are to cooking. Some people are extremely skilled at taking lots of disparate elements and mixing them into a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. That'd be like, Sichuan food. My approach is spend all the time on picking out the best ingredients and then get out of the way. That's why I stopped beatmatching a couple years ago. I'm like Cantonese food. But it takes a lot of effort for me to find a song/ingredient I want to throw into my stew. It's gotta be catchy but not cheesy, obscure but still fun, weird but still poppy. I don't just download a bunch of new tracks and have a new set every time I play. I'm constantly adding like one or two ingredients, and it takes time to find them. Sometimes I want to do other shit. DJ'ing isn't my life. Music is.

We're both DJs in our 30s, and this can be a young person's game. How do you keep up with the kids? Or do you prefer to just be the wise grandpa dropping unknown classics that blow their mind?

St. Cavish: The latter. There's a place for everyone. As long as you come at it with the idea that you are there to have fun, and help other people have fun, everything is good. I like the young kids doing their own crazy shit, shit I can't keep up with. I just do what I know.

Sometimes I feel like DJing and cooking have a lot in common. But you know more about cooking than me -- what do you think?

St. Cavish: Yea, there's deep parallels. One of them is that DJ'ing and cooking are both a way of socializing, as long as you are in control. It's kind of anti-social socializing. I heard that on a podcast recently -- I didn't think of it myself, but it's true.

What do you usually eat before one of these marathon sets? How about after?

St. Cavish: Nothing spicy. I ate Sichuan food once before I played at Shelter. Love Shelter, love Gaz, love everything about the place, but that taught me to think ahead. Now I go in with a little care package for myself: Gatorade, Snickers, some fresh fruit, tons of water.

So for the Dada anniversary, you're using footage from the dancing aunties in the park. You said you met some grumpy grannies? What happened? You're a dude who analyzes things, so what's your take on them? What can you tell us about the culture of park dancing?

St. Cavish: My super-talented friend Jia Li brought out a fancy video camera that I don't even understand. It doesn't look like a video camera. And we set it up at Changshou Park the other night. There's a bunch of dancing cliques. Most of the ladies are just in a zombie-trance, and don't even notice, or pretend not to notice. But there is one clique, on the west side of the park, who don't want to be filmed. That's okay, that's fine -- there's plenty other people to film. I'm not sure that I would exercise in public if I didn't want to attract attention, but whatever. If my mom lived in China, she would be out dancing in the park too, so I get where they are coming from.

What are the three worst situations a DJ can face during a set, and how do you deal with them? What's the worst situation you've ever encountered while playing?

St. Cavish: Being too drunk. Being not drunk enough. Being there too late, when people start to get extreme. I got it into with a chick at Dada once who I think was on meth. At about 5am, I looked up and there were just a few people on the dance floor. She had her right arm cocked backwards, with a beer bottle in it, and it looked like she was about to smash the guy in front of her in the head with the bottle. I grabbed her arm and dragged her outside, where I then got yelled at for "putting my hands on a woman". It was an ugly scene. But that's nightlife. Sometimes people take it too far. Or rather, sometimes we all take it too far. I've been there. You probably have too.

What's your process for finding, digesting, and organizing tracks? Eight hours is a long time.

St. Cavish: I have a big record collection. I've been buying records and music for 20 years. I still buy a couple hundred records a year. For the Dada thing, I literally cut out cardboard dividers for my record crate to break up genres: Afro/Latin; Reggae; Soul & Disco; 80s & Italo; House & Techno; the Odd Ones.

Aside from Dada, what's your ideal setting to DJ in? Like, for me, it's either a forest or a house party.

St. Cavish: Some place where I don't have to wear shoes.


Dada's Seven Year Anniversary party is on Friday, August 26. There is no cover. Same as it ever was...


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