2010 Jul 23 Break Out Beats: the Syndicate's DJ Blackie
Drum & Bass DJ Blackie arrived in Beijing five years ago “fresh out of uni and naively eager to start a d&b scene.” It wasn’t long before he jumped in the fray, playing alongside The Syndicate crew and quickly establishing a reputation and a fan base along the way. This past year he was voted “DJ of the Year” in City Weekend’s annual Reader’s Choice Awards and has more recently been gearing up to play at The Syndicate Sessions party at Lantern on Saturday, July 24. We caught up with him to talk about the travails of playing in China, meeting Goldie and vinyl vs CDs.
How did you get into drum & bass?
I first heard it when I was a boy of about 16 and around 4-foot-eleven who certainly did not look old enough, or indeed have any luck, getting into clubs. Me and a battered BMW full of mates went to a club in east London and honestly I don’t know how I managed to get in! It is, to this day, the moodiest club I’ve ever been too. It’s not a “love at first sight” story at all – I didn’t properly get into drum & bass until I was at university. The track that takes me back the most is “Shake Your Body” by Shy Fx, because I was into different, much worse music then, and it provided a bit of a crossover. That was a huge track – it’s still a classic. I remember listening to Marky’s “The Brazilian Job” on repeat too.
When did you start mixing?
It just kind of happened. At uni, my friend bought a shoddy set of belt decks and I learned on those. They were so old and hard to use, you can’t even get them anymore they’re so bad! But I’ve always been into playing music – I was a pianist and a drummer – so I suppose it came a bit naturally to me to want to play it and not just listen. Me and two of my mates, Seb and Matt, called ourselves the Wapan Circle, and used to DJ at all of the big legendary uni house parties. They were insane.
Where did you play when you first arrived in Beijing?
When I got here we played for free once a week at Kai bar with no publicity and no one really listening or caring what we were bringing.
Are you a vinyl or CD man?
Well, you know, the horse has four legs; if it doesn’t then it just falls over …
Care to elaborate?
It’s a German proverb, or something. I do love my vinyl but I use CDs for practicality – logistically it is a lot easier to use CDs as they’re easier to transport. Vinyl just feels more personal and more permanent. One of the things I miss about England is going to record shops; I can spend hours perusing the records and listening to and discovering all sorts of new stuff. I do feel that the internet has made it too easy to get stuck in a bit of a musical niche – you just don’t get that browsing experience.
[I know first hand that] mixing is a skill that is incredibly hard to learn. How would you encourage budding DJs?
I wouldn’t. If you want to do it enough, then you’ll get hooked and you’ll do it. If you need words of encouragement you don’t want it enough!
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
As a child, I played conkers, someone – I can’t remember who – told me to put them in an airing cupboard for two months and to use a plastic string when playing. I did it and it was great, I was a legend, until someone beat me by snapping the string, and then stamped on my prized horse-chestnuts. I think I probably cried.
Who is the most exciting DJ you’ve ever played alongside?
Goldie – that was huge. The first time he came I was so ridiculously nervous about meeting him; he’s like a god! I bought him a pizza, we took him out for dinner and everything, just casually chilling with this icon – it was surreal. We’ve been lucky enough to have him over three times now.
Have you ever made a really embarrassing error when playing?
The first time we brought Logistics and Cyantific over was pretty horrific. My whole set was just a failure. The mixer I was using confused me, which resulted in me looking like a muppet, and the mixing was just terrible. It was down to the nerves, but that doesn’t meant I don’t still cringe thinking about it!
Where do you like to hang out in Beijing?
My favorite place in Beijing remains the old White Rabbit, as nothing has been able to replace it. I love heading to Café de la Poste for a nice meal, then for drinks with friends in flats, or a trip to one of the kooky little bars like Tryst; I’m not a fan of the see-to-be-seen scene that goes on here.
The Syndicate celebrated its sixth birthday earlier this year. Tell us a bit about its background.
Dan Stevenson and DJ Slide set it up originally operating out of Lush in Wudaokou because they wanted to be able to hear what they wanted to hear in clubs. Beijing’s music scene really wasn’t very diverse back then – that’s only really starting to change now. I joined early on, and it’s amazing to see how big The Syndicate has become. We’re certainly not “there” yet, but I feel like we’re on the right road, which makes me feel very proud to be a part of it.
What is your/The Syndicate’s proudest achievement to date?
I would say the podcast on jing-dnb.com. We’ve been doing it for years, since way back in the olden days when nobody did them, and now we have accumulated such a following that we average 50,000 downloads each time. That’s pretty incredible and it’s another sign that we’re heading in the right direction that just means so much to us.
How did it feel to win City Weekend’s DJ of the Year award? Would you describe yourself as a diva?
It was quite a proud moment; it was very gratifying and made the stress worth it! The first time I won it there was a lot of controversy as I was up against DJ Keza and Bling weren’t too happy about the defeat! The victory meant a lot though, it meant drum & bass was starting to get noticed here over the smog of the generic that prevails. As for me being a diva, I can be – if you asked my friends I am sure they would all tell you yes!
What is the most frustrating thing about trying to introduce and establish a new genre of music in China?
I dislike the nightlife scene here – everything is so generic I feel like there is just a constant flow of sewage! I often feel like The Syndicate will take three steps forward and then three steps right back to where we started, that’s very frustrating. There just isn’t an underground scene here, that’s probably one of the hardest things – drum & bass has always been an underground genre of music. We did a night at the old China Doll with Total Science who came over from the UK for a Syndicate night, and it was huge, absolutely epic, but the manager decided they didn’t like drum and bass and so wouldn’t be putting on another night – things like that …
Skywalker is an incredibly talented, promising, young new member of The Syndicate team, but of course he has recently left Beijing and returned to England. Is it easy to find talented new recruits for the crew?
We are always open to new ideas and new DJs … Skywalker’s a lovely guy; he is already very much missed. We have very similar tastes in drum & bass so it was always a pleasure to have an impromptu back-to-back mix with him, and debate the new releases over a beer! He’s like a little brother to me, and the boy is good at what he does, I’m looking forward to seeing him go places. It’s just so cool to have a job that brings with it such promising new talent to work alongside.
Is Beijing a city that embraces new ideas?
Definitely. One of the things I love most about Beijing is the fact that there are so many cool interesting people here, doing such a diverse range of things, it makes it a very unique city. I’ve met the coolest people I know here. Embracing new music is different – it takes a lot of time and a lot of determination to introduce a whole new genre to a city like this one!
Find out more about DJ Blackie and The Syndicate at www.jing-dnb.com
You can catch Blackie and other Syndicate DJs at Syndicate Sessions at Lantern from 10pm this Saturday (July 24). RMB 50/free (before 11.30pm).