Trio turns the tables

Updated: 2012-06-22 16:58

By Chen Yingqun (China Daily)

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Trio turns the tables

Trio turns the tables

EXPATs transform into djs at night to work up dance scene

'There are different parts of me. I can be very serious and strict about work, but I also like crazy nights with cool dance music," says Tommy T. The latter part often sees him behind the turntable as a roving DJ in the clubs of Beijing, and while he aims to have a good time and provide exciting sounds, the experienced beatmatcher also considers himself somewhat to be on a teaching mission to the Chinese music scene.

"In the West, I think people go to clubs more to dance, rather than to drink," he says. "But in China, it is more like a group of people hanging out together, and many of them don't really care what kind of music the DJ plays.

"In the past, it seemed everybody here listened to the same kind of thing, but now people are more open to various kinds of music."

The other and main part of Tommy T is certainly taken up with education.

For during the day, he is Tom Patton, a 39-year-old academic manager at one of the EF group's English-language schools in the city.

Patton, from London, has been in Beijing for six years, but has been a DJ for twice as long, with hundreds of hours logged behind decks around Europe.

 Trio turns the tables

Clockwise from top: Tom Patton, Jared Cline and Brett Wise, the members of the DJ trio Swag Sound, which tries to create dancing nights in Beijing with a difference. Photos Provided to China Daily

It is this experience he brings to a newly-formed team of DJs called Swag Sound that is making a name for itself around the Chinese capital.

In contrast to Tommy T, the group's founder Amari Beats (aka Brett Wise) has only been a DJ for two years, although he also came to Beijing to teach English with another major school group, Wall Street English.

But seeing a lot of room for development in the increasingly popular dance club scene, the 26-year-old from Arkansas in the US left his job to pursue and share his passion for house, electro, garage, bass and UK funky.

It first led him to set up the Beijing DJ Meet-up, a bi-monthly gathering where DJs exchange music and ideas.

He found that many were playing the same, old sounds.

"There are many clubs in Beijing, but they play commercial music, like pop music," he says. "It was difficult to find a night where the music was different.

"In the club, you don't want to hear the same kind of music, you want to change the pace, the flow that dancers have to obey. So we want to get a variety of music, to cater to people at the party."

Wise found two others who thought the same way, and in December they formed Swag Sound to create those dance nights with a difference. Tom Patton was one of the crew. The other was Jared Cline, a net editor with Time Out in Beijing, who DJs as Beatza Hut.

It was fitting that the venue they found to launch their combined styles and tastes was the School Bar in the Wudaoying hutong of Dongcheng district.

Only a few dozen turned up to Swag Sound's first parties, but now the three floors of the club heave with dancers joyously and religiously expressing themselves to the manipulative sounds of the Swag trio.

The magic mix of DJs and their playing styles seems to be having an effect, and in case it does begin to get stale, Brett Wise invites a guest DJ from among his already wide network around the country.

Wise says he listens to a lot of music and then selects his plays on the night according to his feelings. The best moments, he says, are when he finds those feelings reciprocated by the audience.

"When you are in the DJ booth, you think you mix things that are really good," he says. "Then you watch the crowd move and find them really into the music - that is fantastic."

Cline, 23, from Kansas City, Missouri says that after spending 11 years learning to play the piano, he finds blending different tracks and making natural transitions quite easy. He also hosted his own weekly radio show in the US.

He is the only one of Swag Sound who uses computerized music.

"The song structure of electronic music makes it easy for people to dance," he says.

But the more experienced Patton relies on a more carefully calculated process of track selection for his mix of house and techno.

"A good DJ needs to have a very good ear and good reason and some good natural feelings to be able to go through the record," he says. "You have to put different modes together, get good sound and keep it going."

He can act on his intuitions, however. While behind the decks, he will watch what the crowd feeds back and make changes accordingly.

"Sometimes you have to talk to them to keep them on the move when they show up a bit tired. Maybe you slow down, and then they are ready to be lifted up again," he explains.

Such finely tuned adjustments keep the dancers on their toes and interested enough to return. One regular is Du Sixun, from Lanzhou in Gansu province, who says he attends all of Swag Sound's parties, because they are different from others and more varied in choice of DJs and music.

"We are able to hear many kinds of music in just one night with Swag Sound, be it electronic or classic (dance music)," he says. "They are always presenting new music and providing something fresh."

In the process, rather than favorite groups or singers, Swag Sound are becoming the focus for fans to follow, a club within a club.

The 26-year-old Du, who is also a passionate collector of CDs, says Swag Sound attract him because they seem to welcome people for whom the music comes first, whatever its style. Most clubs in Beijing have a fixed style of sound and club-goers, he says, whereas Swag Sound are quite the opposite.

"We can exchange ideas with them freely and even sometimes perform on their stage. In other clubs, that is impossible," Du adds.

(China Daily 06/22/2012 page28)