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104 decibels
singapore sunset
amw
A city is a loud place to be. I noticed it when i was sitting up on a boulder on Wai Lingding Island. Although the island is surrounded by ships, when the wind goes a certain way you cannot hear the engines, and then you can hear... nothing. A bird on a distant boulder tweeted and it shook the world.

All day and all night for the past two years i have been hearing foundations getting driven for new skyscrapers, trucks with internal combustion engines hauling goods, helicopters flying overhead and other people's air conditioning units humming away.

Since i got back to Shenzhen the weather has been fiercely humid. There are lots of trees around where i live and so now even the mechanical noises are drowned out by the incessant buzz of insects. It's loud as fuck.

But it's not as loud as a couple of 10-foot speaker stacks blasting techno music.

I finally went clubbing here for the second time. My first round i went to Sector, which is a two-room venue with a small side room for underground music and an epic main room for EDM. I operated like i was still living in Berlin and got riotously drunk, lost my custom earplugs, kissed some randoms, danced to dubstep, bought blue cocktails for a table of rich kids and then never went back.

It was fun, but it was expensive and glitzy and i could never escape the feeling that i was partying with the 1%. Also, let's be honest. EDM is terrible.

On my list of things to do between jobs was go raving.

I have kept track of the events going on in Shenzhen, which is easy to do because the scene is basically nothing. I think Sector closed down. They stopped promoting the side room gigs, at least. There is a club called Pepper that gets the big names in house music coming through, but it gives off the vibe of a pretentious bottle service place.

The only club reliably pushing underground music appears to be Oil, and that's where i went last night. A local hero was in town... Well, a Hongkonger who DJed in Taipei and Beijing before heading for the promised lands of Berlin. The clubs she played at weren't really what i consider to be the top tier Berlin clubs, but i know their sound and so i knew what to expect. Presumably she is playing Hong Kong or Shanghai on the weekend, so we get the mid-week side booking. I'm used to it. Toronto often had to play third banana to Montreal and NYC.

Anyway, she was great. So were the openers. It wasn't exactly the kind of electronic music i like, but beggars can't be choosers. It felt like the entire Shenzhen techno crew was there - all 50 of them. Fortunately Oil is a club that's designed for that kind of crowd. It could probably fit 250 at most. The decor is concrete and scaffolding and translucent canvas sheets. Red lights. Strobe. Smoke. The end.

It's underground as fuck.

The best part was a 30-45 minute stretch of BB Deng's set where she just piled on a relentless assualt of aggressively anti-pop techno. No melodies. No breakdowns. No build-ups. No hooks. Just hammering bass drums layered with the odd burst of static. It was a grand "fuck you" to commercial music.

In Berlin DJs don't need to bother making a point like that because there is so much techno that you can be underground while still playing fun, accessible tunes. But in all cities that aren't Berlin, a stretch of punishing techno is a way of celebrating that we are the weird ones who truly love the sound of drum machines and synthesizers. Fuck acoustic instruments. Fuck lyrics. Fuck all.

Of course, she loosened up and played more party techno stuff too. Snare drum rolls. Silly looped vocal samples. We all know the drill. It's been that way since the 80s. It's still great.

You know what isn't great? Fucking Underworld - Born Slippy. That song sucked in 1995 and it still sucked in 2005 and it still sucked in 2015 and i am so tired of underground techno DJs playing it as their closing tune. It's like the techno version of Adonis - No Way Back.

But in a 4 hour block of dancing, only recognizing one tune is acceptable. Something non-ravers don't understand is that going out to clubs for us isn't about hearing the hits. It's about NOT hearing the hits. It's about hearing music that is familiar in its structure but never exactly the same as something we already heard before.

God, it was good to hear new music.

At the end of the party, the promoter came up to me and thanked me for coming. That is some smalltown rave shit right there. I haven't been hugged by a promoter since Toronto. Apparently they throw this techno gig once a month. Oil also caters to other small scenes like drum'n'bass and industrial. The sound system is great, so there's obviously some money behind the club, but it's got to be a labor of love throwing a Thursday night party for 50 heads who are mostly drinking water.

My body is destroyed. It was already destroyed from biking all over Zhuhai and descending the steep paths at Wai Lingding. Dancing the night away has left me with busted ankles and shin splints.

Well, 4 hours on the dancefloor isn't exactly raving till dawn, but i think now i have been away from Berlin long enough to adjust my brain back into "normal" clubbing mode. You can't go raving in the daytime. Most parties are barely 5 hours long. You will not get to hear exactly the music you like. You will meet the promoter. Drink water to cool off, not champagne on ice. Yeah. I remember the pre-Berlin times. They were okay.

I want to get back in the rhythm of partying from time to time. Even if it's just once a month, and to music that isn't totally my fave... dancing still feels wonderful.