Spotlight: Stockholm Syndrome

One of the best-loved monthly parties in Shanghai

As fast-rising night Stockholm Syndrome is granted a Saturday residency at The Shelter, Time Out speaks to the promoter-DJ behind one of the best-loved parties in town

Shanghai’s underground nightlife agitators are in awe of a night that some reckon is the city’s best monthly party. ‘It’s serious music with a dark, destructive streak; sometimes experimental, often obscure,’ says Nik P, the DJ-promoter behind Double Happiness and Discosmic and one of the night’s most ardent champions. ‘The crowd is usually musically savvy and they go because it gives them the one great alternative to the standard bass-house nights going on,’ he adds. ‘Nowhere else can a DJ drop songs by The Cure or The Smiths after some dark Italo at 1am without losing the crowd.’

DADA owner Michael Ohlsson agrees. ‘It’s become my favourite monthly party at DADA,’ he says. ‘The music, the visuals and the crowd make it the most creative, interesting, and just plain sexy night we’re running right now.’ Cameron Wilson, aka Shanghai Ultra, a co-founder of revered techno party Void, is also a fan. ‘It’s done well because of a clear passion and enthusiasm for the music,’ he says. ‘It’s great to see new people come into the scene and bring something fresh that wasn’t there before rather than copying what’s already going on,’ he continues. ‘There’s also a really artistic visual element that most other parties out there don’t have.’

Laura Ingalls of Acid Pony Club says the night’s not really a party: ‘It’s an experience, where house is played like rock and industrial is played like techno,’ he says. ‘There’s an uncompromising attitude and passion for music of all kinds that makes it a rare item on the scene here.’

Stockholm Syndome is the brainchild of Malaysia-born DJ Tzu Sing, a night that has no strict genre restrictions but loosely centres on darkwave, minimal and industrial techno that occasionally takes tangents into the leftfield often to devastating effect. Up until now, the night has had no fixed address but usually took place at DADA. This year, though, the night will be one of the first parties to ever take a permanent Saturday residency at The Shelter since the club opened five years ago.

Stockholm Syndrome was inspired after the founder’s four years in Kunshan. ‘An industrial zone is a very depressing place to be,’ says Sing. ‘Being so disconnected from what I wanted to do, the time I spent there built up a lot inside,’ he adds. ‘I just wanted to do a party that broke away from the standard club music, or even “underground” club music,’ he says. ‘I wanted to book [DJs] that collect music for themselves to play the music they listen to during the day time but also work on the dancefloor.’

‘Dress goth; act intense’ has become the night’s unofficial tagline although its origin is unknown. ‘I’m not sure who wrote it,’ says Sing. ‘I think it was just [DADA owner] Michael [Ohlsson] being silly and ironic.’ The night does have an ethos, though, and rarely do we speak to DJs or promoters who can so precisely and confidently define their party manifesto.

The difference between Stockholm Syndrome and other nights is its sound, reckons Sing. ‘I like very off-kilter music,’ he says. ‘Early EBM, industrial, minimal wave, new wave, Italo – there aren’t parties in town playing music like this with any devotion,’ he adds. ‘It would be easy to lump it all as dark, gothy music but that’s not accurate. The tagline is, “Sonic explorations for internal conflict”. I’m very interested in the human condition and the kind of inconstancy and irregularities we see in ourselves and others. The music I’m interested in explores these sorts of themes so it isn’t limited to a genre,’ he says. ‘But I do try to keep it acceptable for dance club environment. I might push it a little every once in awhile, but I care very much if I’m losing the crowd,’ he goes on. ‘I want people to feel slightly uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the sound, but not lose them entirely.’

Visuals come care of Olive Pixel who says the Shelter residency will bring more ambitious video installations with ‘modern projection mapping technologies and 1980s, broadcast-grade video mixers’, adds Sing. DJ bookings are also now part of the plan going forward, he adds. ‘[Chicago jakbeat DJ] Beau Wanzer is coming in April; he does a fully live analogue industrial dance set. We’re also doing a collaboration with [Shelter party] Sub-Culture in March,’ he says. ‘It should be pretty interesting.’

International DJ bookings are a perhaps ironic development for a night that is considered to already have a strong-enough draw to stand-up to big-ticket DJ parties. Despite the fact that last year’s Levon Vincent party at The Shelter fell on the same night as Stockholm Syndrome, it did little to nothing to dent the crowd at DADA that night. In a fairly breathless survey of Shanghai nightlife published last year, Resident Advisor (who backed the Vincent party) picked up on it and said it was testament to what made Shanghai’s nightlife ‘so fascinating’, writes Sanjay Fernandes. ‘The sort of cultish European DJ worship that can be rife in small scenes is non-existent.’

We ask Sing what he made of the piece, who agreed that most of the city’s Levon Vincent’s fans ‘were probably all playing and partying at Stockholm Syndome that night,’ although added he was not an ABC (American-born Chinese) as the article asserts.

‘As for DJ worship, I sorta agree with that article, but not because people in Shanghai don’t like to worship, they do,’ he insists. ‘It’s that they are worshipping different things. In Berlin it’s hip to worship up-and-coming producers or new, ground-breaking acts,’ he says. ‘In Shanghai, it’s hip to worship Justice.’

Stockholm Syndrome is at DADA on Friday 18 and at The Shelter on February 2.