Last Sunday，DJ Skinny Brown brought a night of straight up Roots & Culture Reggae to the chill bar Dope Shifu, a hip, casual and cheap spot on Changping road for beers, BBQ, and bar food in North Jing'an. The place is decorated like a streetwear shop, with trap and hip hop on the speakers. Before Skinny Brown get on the stage to play roots reggae along with custom cut reggae music (dubplates) from some of Jamaica's biggest artists at Dope Shifu, he talked to Shanghai Daily.
SHD: What kind of party and music are you striving for?
Skinny Brown:We're living in an increasingly commercial world, where everyone's trying to make a buck-and that's fair. But on the other end, it's also getting hard to find an event that's not trying to sell you something. Whether it's Budweiser or Asahi, or Urban ears, or every Bund sponsor, or whatever, they all want to capitalize on the youth, and again, fine, fair enough. But for me, music and spirituality have always been connected. 50,000 years ago, music, dance, and religion were the same thing. I just want to keep my dance floor a holy pace. When, I was a kid going to raves, the warehouse was like a temple, and the dancefloor was my Alter. I want to be able to give that back to the youth of today.
Music with meaning, the joy of dancing to something you've never heard before, and the truth that it really is all about the music. No passwords to get in, no tickets, no free drink at the door, no scanning QR codes, no girls in branded jumpsuits, no dress code, no banners, no logos on the mic, no shout out to whatever company made this possible... Just come and dance man.
SHD: What's your biggest complaint about Shanghai nightlife?
Skinny Brown:It’s too internal. The major crews generally stick to themselves, and there’s very little collaboration between them. I would hope for more communication between the major promoter and parties and more embracing of each other.
The other thing with Shanghai nightlife is, it can get kind of boring. A lot of us just tired of hearing a single genre all night or obnoxious wobble bass and electro bass-lines. I’m not really up for hearing hours of house or trap or whatever, and it’s seldom I’m hearing something truly unique. When you compare the really cool stuff against the generic four-four stuff, we really see a lack of originality. But you know what, that’ probably everywhere.
And then of course there are the superstar DJ’s and the money. Dudes who start talking cost right off the bat. Shanghai’s a notoriously greedy city and it can definitely be a bit infectious.
I also really hope to see more unique Chinese production. I hope some of the dudes out here start sourcing China’s cultural sounds, and working them into dance music. I want to hear a Gu Zheng bend and echo off in a dub tune or bass track, or a Dizi wind through a trap break or something.
SHD: You've said that a lot of the music played on your night gets made specifically for the party. How does that work? How are you in touch with all these producers?
Skinny Brown: A lot of the stuff I've been playing recently, I get sent through a network I've been establishing over the past 5 to 7 years. When I was getting into the global stuff, I just started searching online. I ran into a few producers online, hit them up, and started a dialog. Now it's come to a point where I don't really have to do anything, most of these guys email there music as soon as they finish it. But I'm always looking for new sounds. Most recently I connected with this Jamaican cat, Jordan. He's actually 3rd generation Chinese, making the most futuristic dancehall. His production goes by the name of Time cow, you check out a mix I did for him right here: https://www.mixcloud.com/sal-haque/popasuda-presents-time-cow-some-crazy-new-dancehall-sound/
Searching for new and original music is never easy. When I first started playing all this global stuff, I really didn't know where to look. I had some friends in Brazil, India, and Jamaica, and they were of enormous help in the beginning, sending me tracks and pointing me in the right direction. They're still sending me quite a bit of stuff, even now. I had been in Brazil for a bit back in 2003 (when diplo actually put out his first mixtape Favela on Blast, sourcing crazy Baile Funk), It was around the time that MIA had put out her first album, and that Carrioca Funk (Rio Funk/Baile Funk) sound was all the rage. One of my really good friends down there, Matt got me on to the whole Baile Funk movement early on, and that kick started my adventures into global bass.
A lot of the 3rd World genres I didn't even know existed. I had a vague idea about some of the traditional African sounds like Makosa out of Kenya and Cameroon or Traditional Shona music from West Africa, and I was certain that kids across Africa must be drawing on their own cultural rhythms to produce dance music, the same as Brazil or Jamaica. So I just started going online and keyword searching sounds like "Shona Bass Remix", or "Kuduro remix", or whatever random genre I discovered that day. After three years, of what can only be described as extensive research, I began to short list producers who made music the suited POPASUDA. I'd hit them up on online, tell them what I'm up to here in Shanghai, express my heartfelt appreciation for their sound, and ask for music. And let's say I asked about 40 people a month, at least 10 or 15 people would get back to me, and that was the beginning of a dialog. It's been very enriching, both musically and culturally. I make a sincere effort to maintain my networks, and when someone sends me a link or a track, I always respond. Lately, I've been forced to do much of my correspondence over email, which is actually more personal, and helps to establish a much stronger relationship.
But outside of keyword searches, I'm also looking for mp3 download sites in Africa, India, and all over South America. I literally scour the web in Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and whatever else, to put me in touch with local scenes. Kaisa.com is one website I found a while back based out of South Africa, that's helping me discover a lot of dope African producers and sounds like Kwaito, Kuduro, Asonto, and GQOM. I know a few Shanghai DJ's who are already up there unearthing some very dope music. And straight up, Africa is the future! I'm doing it now, but it won't be long until these genre's are deeply influencing poppier sounds the same way Dancehall and Baile Funk did. If you don't believe me, check out the Major Lazer mixtape actually called: "Africa is the Future".
Whether I'm trying to connect with producers in India, Pakistan, Columbia, Argentina, Morocco, Germany, Angola, Miami, or Israel, once you establish a functional system for research, it's just a matter of following that format. Sometimes you might have to translate some shit, but generally speaking it's a fairly simple step-by-step process. And to be honest, the big name's almost never get back to me, it's the 18 year old kids in their bedroom, making music on fucking Fruity Loops in Senegal ,who are more than stoked someone's appreciating their sound.
And Honestly, I look for new music every single day.
SHD: When did you first start DJing, so many years has that been? How old are your crates? Skinny Brown:I picked up my first pair of decks, a shitty pair of Gemini's in 1994. But my brother into a lot of good music and my older cousin Shara was linked up with a lot of the old acid and techno guys like Mark EG and Chris Liberator, as well all the cats who pretty much started the Toronto scene back in the early 90's. So I was always around deejays. I was definitely one of the first kids in my high school to start deejaying. I was originally into Trance and Acid, cause that what early 90's raving was all about. I had my fair share of jungle records as well, and all the Congo Natty's. My older brother was big into hip hop and reggae at the time, so he was getting me into dudes like Yami Bolo and Buju Banton. But I've always loved music, so I explored. The 90's were dope, cause you could just drop a cassette into your buddies stereo at lunch time, and record his whole Deejay set. Underground music moved quick and it was the era of the mixtape. Cassettes were gold, and they exchanged hands faster than cigarettes. I honestly have so many tapes and records. I miss them. Some I've lost, some I know exactly where they are. But straight up, I love all music. From classical Indian or Chinese sounds, to real-ass dub (not dubstep), reggae, hip hop, rock (and its millions of sub genres), even some trap stuff. There's so much music out there, and I really have spent a considerable amount of time exploring as much as I can.
SHD: You have some of the most praised artists from Jamaica shouting out Skinny Brown and Popasuda on some crafted dubplates, how does that even happen? Skinny Brown: Man I’ve got dubplates from some of Jamaica’s finest. I’m waiting on Marcia Griffiths, hopefully pretty soon. But honestly, I never even thought about grabbing dubs, until I went back to Japan to play last May. My buddy Yu was dropping a sick reggae set of all massive dubs, and I was like, "Damn! I need to step up my dubplate game". But getting linked with artists isn't all that easy, especially if you want deals on your dubs. But crazy enough, there's a cat in town by the name of Rob Sensei. This dude is a straight up G, and one of the most underestimated cats in the Shanghai scene. The photo album on his phone is just him with like EVERY artist in reggae. His crates are deep. In fact, I fear the day he gets behind a pair of decks, because it's gonna be murder. Back in Toronto he specialized in getting dubplates, so he hooked me up with some serious cats. Every now and then I contact the artists directly, and a few of my dancehall dubs I'm now getting are from man Jordan in Kingston. But if I wanted to get like a dubplate from Bunny Wailer, Rob Sensei could make that happen. Right now I’ve cut guys like Capleton, Iwayne, Sizzla, Eek a Mouse, and few other of Reggae’s biggest names.Check out my Dub sessions right here: