FarEastVibes interviews Michael Ohlsson, creator of Shanghai’s Antidote and DADA Bar
Last week we spotlighted Antidote and DADA Bar on our “Shedding Light on Chinese Subculture” series. We had the awesome opportunity to interview creator of both movements Michael Ohlsson, and discuss how his love for Electronic music lead to creating two of the most influential acts in the Chinese Electronic music scene.
Antidote is our party brand and booking agency. We are based in Shanghai and Beijing, and focused on Asia — firstly Asian talents, and secondly on bringing international talents to Asia. Our goals are to have a kick ass time firstly, and also to develop a more diverse, creative and robust music and nightlife industry here. Something more than just crass mainstream entertainment. Although we’re mostly known for working with electronic producers and DJs, we also work with rock bands or experimental music.
Dada is a venue we opened to use for creative culture community events like our China photographer nights, indie fashion markets, local filmmaker nights and of course DJ parties. We opened in Shanghai in 2009, and are opening in Beijing in August 2012.
I had a college radio show in the 90s in California, and used the name Antidote for my show. When we started doing events in Shanghai in 2005 we liked that name and the Chinese translation, Jie Du Ji, fits with what we set out to do.
I had visited China a few times before moving here in 2003. I’d had a background in the music industry in the States and wasn’t planning on getting involved here, but I was still checking out the local bands and DJs. Then one night I stumbled upon a night of experimental music and local electronic producers. That was 2004, on a rainy Monday night at this dive bar in Shanghai. The guys were B6, Sulumi, MHP, AMNJK, iLoop and Torturing Nurse. I was surprised these guys knew so much about music from around the world — heavy metal and punk, Eastern Europe minimal composers, Detroit techno, Aphex Twin, etc. — and this was before the internet had hit here. Anyway there were maybe 10 people in the audience, but I was completely excited about the music they were producing and playing out. I was confident they could get larger audiences and really make something special in Shanghai. We all became friends and started throwing a monthly event focused on local producers, and they were packed out from the start. Things grew gradually from there, and now our Antidote events are touring monthly around China and Asia. We’ve had tours to Europe, etc., and interviewed on BBC, CNN, NPR, Time magazine and others. It’s pretty exciting. It became much bigger than we expected.
Does Antidote want to stay kind of lowkey, underground even or are you pushing the genre to a mainstream Chinese audience?
We choose our battles, hahah. Some of the events and music acts we work with we know have a limit to the audience just like in any other country including the States, but we’re certainly not anti-mainstream. The goal in the end is just to share music we think is good and needs to be heard more, whatever genre. We’ve actually been quite active in the mainstream nightlife and pop music scene here but not under the name “Antidote”, which is reserved for the real cutting edge, underground vibe. We like to push that (the cutting edge) to everyone. I believe the “mainstream” kids just don’t know there’s other music out there to discover ’cause no one else told them about it! That’s our job.
Totally. We’ve been doing Antidote for 7 years, so it’s like we’re seeing a 3rd generation come out for the first time on top of our loyal audiences. The kids in Shanghai and Beijing are starting to get a bit more — not jaded, but overwhelmed by choice — but the 2nd tier cities, they’re excited to have something new and unique suddenly in their city.
The music festival industry in China just exploded over the past 2 years. They’re mostly losing money and are plagued by severe growing pains, but after 5 years (or whatever) it’s going to be the biggest market in the world. Or not, but there’s certainly big potential there. We’ve been making progress with it.
Personally I’m more interested in developing the Asia indie tour circuit, more small scale events like 300-500 people, and also setting up more collaborate projects. Last month we released a CD with producers from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines and Japan. We work a lot with European cultural programs that want to collaborate with Chinese artists. Unfortunately there’s been very little activity with the States so far. You guys need to step up!
What was the inspiration behind DADA Bar? Was it just to create your own lounge/club the way you wanted it to be done? Were clubs in China just not doing it right? Describe the Chinese club scene as you see it.
Dada, I often describe as a “grown up dive bar” — a casual place that students can afford and feel welcome but with a good sound system, good drinks, good entertainment bookings and no cockroaches. Shanghai lacks a lot of mid-range places, especially in restaurants and nightlife — it’s either posh over-priced places, or real dodgy dives. We had local artists decorate the walls instead of hiring a designer, or letting people graffiti bathroom humor around.
Yeah, we get the creative industry types, the expat hipsters. The foreigners here know they can catch new local talents here. During the World Expo in 2010, we had this amazing global community down at the bar every night. Local artists were toasting with the mayor of Warsaw or whoever was in town. A lot of creative and culture relationships are spawned here.
We’d really like to bring more Asian talents overseas. We’ve done OK in Europe already, but the States we haven’t done much yet. The States have always been difficult for foreign musicians but we’d like to think there’s some curiosity there, especially from the Asian American community. It’s just such a pain sorting out visa’s, etc. You need mad guanxi (connections).
But yeah, our focus is here in Asia. It’s developing, it’s exciting. It’s frustrating as hell, often insane, but we like the challenge.
Lastly, where can people find out about your events? What’s the best way to keep up to date with Antidote’s activities?
The best way is on our Weibo. Since Facebook is blocked here, we’re lazy about updating it.
Thank you Michael Ohlsson for the informative interview. Here’s to your continued success! Keep up to date with Antidote and DADA Bar through their Weibo accounts: