»Higher Than The Sun« —
VOITAX exploring Asia
When Seoul based movement Constant Value contacted us at the beginning of the year to host a VOITAX showcase, we knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. After arranging a tour across both South Korea and Japan, we set off with Makaton, Paàl, Rory St John, Cressida, Christoph and Marcus to the Far East for our first tour. Below is our recount of our most memorable moments.
Berlin – Istanbul
It’s a cloudy late afternoon when we arrive at the airport in Berlin. Apart from the excitement about the upcoming tour, a lot of questions run through everybody’s mind – »Did I bring all the records I wanted?«, »Did I select the right sound?«, »How’s the crowd in Asia going to be?« After one last, quick skip through our record bags – the crew is ready to go. A bag titled »Experimental« and one called »Dance floor« should hopefully be enough!
Though we’ve had our fair share of label nights throughout the years some of us already had experience travelling through the Far East already. This time however will be the first time we would be traveling with six of the VOITAX crew and we would be spending two weeks together.
Starting the tour with a double espresso and some chats before boarding the plane, everyone is looking forward to the upcoming journey. Before take off, our quirks are quickly becoming apparent – Marcus (Photographer) is already annoying Benjamin (Paàl) with his extensive plans for the entire tour, Rory (Rory St John) is researching things and is providing the crew with funny and interesting facts the whole time, slightly strained Jena (Cressida) is busy going through his playlists, while Christoph (Label Head) is deep in his book. Once we are all set and are mile high, we raise a toast for our tour with the finest Irish whiskey – straight from the bottle of course.
Istanbul – Seoul
After landing in Istanbul, Rory realizes he has forgotten his headphones on the plane… while Jena goes missing in action in Istanbul’s airport, only to be found later with a pint in his hand at an over-priced airport pub. While we wait for the next plane, Christoph and Marcus are deep into important camera talk – putting the first film rolls into the cameras while sharing a few sips of whiskey.
Before boarding our flight, Marcus doesn’t forget to do his obligatory triple knock on the entrance door of the plane - a habit that is supposed to bring luck. We just board the second plane when Steve (Makaton), coming from Birmingham, joins as the last missing member of the crew. Having been in the midst of a nasty flu which seemed to have been claiming many victims recently, Steve’s expression shows us that not much of his condition has changed, yet. However with Steve’s optimistic smile, our entourage is complete and we are ready for the final leg of flights over to Seoul.
Music: Paàl – Garnbach (VOI 011)
Arriving in Seoul
It’s been ten hours of Ableton laptop sessions, reading books, sleeping or clicking through the flight entertainment as we fly over the outskirts of the Mongolian Desert. As the waves’ clarity of the Yellow Sea come into more detail, the plane is slowly descending and Seoul is approaching on the horizon. We are all fully awake, realizing that we have arrived on the other side of the world and are full of wonder about the approaching the concrete jungle of Seoul.
At the baggage claim we start to realise the sheer amount of luggage that we have brought with us. Steve’s weighty live set equipment, five record bags and our personal luggage. After exiting the airport, the sun is already setting and turning the sky into a deepish purple that gives the cab ride into the city a very special mood. The driver is an elderly man that could hardly understand us but in times of modern technology, communication isn’t much of a problem anymore. While we set off on our two hour journey to the hotel, a blood-red full moon, plenty of buildings and advertisements hypnotise most of us into short nap.
Donguk, a co-founding member of the Constant Value collective, is already awaiting us at the hotel lobby and greeting everyone with his infectious laughter and a warm hug. Apart from his passion for photography that he shares with Marcus, Christoph is taking care of the check ins and naturally steps in as our unofficial tour guide - organizing and monitoring our schedules for the upcoming twelve days.
After everyone checked into their rooms Donguk takes us straight into Seoul’s nightlife – the streets of the Gwangjin-gu district, an area with a myriad of bars, clubs, restaurants where we meet up with rest of the Constant Value crew for some traditional Korean food. Despite the fact that we are tired after the long flight and the additional drive to the hotel, we are happily enjoying a meal cooked in front of us by two warm hearted old ladies inside a tiny but very charming restaurant. All of us are gathering around the table happy to meet each other when a liquid called »Soju« appears on the table. Following Donguk’s explanation Soju, a rice-based alcoholic beverage and the national booze of South Korea, works a substitute in a country where drugs are strictly controlled by the government. We noticed very quickly that here people like to drink and they do it properly.
The delicacy on the menu for our first night are local pancakes with crabs, beef and lots of vegetables – a dish called »Haemul Pajeon«. This was of course supplemented by shots, funny conversation and heavy laughs as we slowly get to grip with South Korean culture.
After some enlightening conversations covering how things work in the underground music scene in the South Korean capital and what we have to look forward to we are leaving the restaurant with a full stomach and slightly drunk.
The night ends with a group picture, in which Steve is looking like the teams football coach and is drunkenly dubbed as »Coach« – a name that sticks with him for the rest of the tour – which we think he likes... While most of the crew are happily taking a taxi home, Marcus and Christoph decide to walk home to get some of the first photographic impressions of the city - including the heavily drunk locals putting on a show.
Before the first gig, at Constant Value, everyone is quite excited and this sort of positive tension shapes the entire day. Some choose to relax and mentally prepare for the night, sampling local markets and restaurants close to the hotel. Marcus and Christoph delve deep into the city for the most part of the day, capturing the soul of Seoul on film.
Donguk is opening up the night under his alias EEXXPPOANN and delivers a wonderfully improvised, minimal, full, organic live set that is followed by Rory’s DJ Set. The place is already been filling up rapidly in the first two hours and the energy of the crowd has been electrifying during Donguk’s and Rory’s sets during which people have been dancing and screaming. The energy of the crowd is reaching its first peak as Donguk is making sure to get out his trademarked lion roar impersonation during the breakdown of all the bangers, which in turn seem to cause a chain reaction, much to every DJ’s delight. Rory’s groovy set is flicking through all kinds of genres - weird electro tunes to deep, rough and crunchy techno and everything in between. The humidity in the room is rising and the acrylic windows are already steamed up through which you can see the blurry shadows of a joyful crowd - much akin to a human aquarium. In combination with deep, red lights the place reaches an intense atmosphere. Next up is Steve, who as soon as he reaches the stage, does what he’s always does, armed with his years of routine and experience. The reaction to his incredible live set is very much explosive and very satisfying to watch.
By this point the Soju is flowing without interruption, when Benjamin is taking over. As a great and trusted selector he is taking us through the busiest part of the night while digging through a great selection and as always, some well thought through sounds with which he continues to play with this great crowd. Two more hours of screaming and dancing during his smashing set and the place is still completely filled when Cressida steps up for the closing set. Cycling through his loopy tunes and some memorable tracks, he is pushing his last resources and finishes the night with a crowd that almost entirely stays until the end riding the waves of the intense energies created by his selection. We end the night with a proper Korean meal along with the last remaining crew members, artists and dancers- finally falling into bed with the rising sun. What a night!
Exhibition at Gallery Unofficial Preview Seoul
After one day of relaxation at one of Seoul’s finest Jimjimbang, a large public bathhouse, the next event is scheduled for Monday evening. This time we get the opportunity to host a VOITAX exhibition with works by Nina Röder, Rosmarie Barbara Weinlich and Marcus Glahn – artists that have been contributing their talents to the label throughout the past years. The exhibition with the artists photographs and coal drawings is hosted at Donguk’s very own beautifully crafted »Gallery Unofficial Preview« in the Gangdong-gu district in the south of Seoul. All the artwork was flown in by us and beautifully framed by Donguk and Sin right after our arrival.
Christoph and Marcus head down early to prepare for the evening’s events in the late afternoon. As the gallery is filling up with some familiar faces of the previous label night, Christoph opens the proceedings with a spontaneous little speech followed by a very special and touching ambient-noise-live set by Steve. The guests brace themselves and sit on the floor, preparing to dive into an hour of hypnotizing sounds. Tonight we are also realizing once again how open minded the scene is here in South Korea. Since the opening started, the people have been analyzing the art, buying some of our records and even asking for autographs on them. We are having some very interesting and fruitful conversations and exchanges throughout the night, that are not only valuable to them but also to us.
At end of the gallery event, we are crossing the streets with some of the visitors, friends, and the crew over to a little restaurant close by, which turns out to be the biggest fun of the night. Served with plenty of traditional food, including some exotic choices such as insects. Of course, once again there seems to be no way around the Soju which leads to plenty of laughs and a very drunk VOITAX team. The night leads to an end and we are having the first sentimental goodbyes to some of the guys that we are not gonna see again, on the next day of our departure. We jump into the cab back to the hotel, satisfied, drunk and very happy with the last few days.
Artworks by Nina Röder
Leaving South Korea
It’s midday the next day, all of us are pretty hungover from the previous night, when we get a call from the lobby, notifying us that we were supposed to check out about half an hour ago. Quite reluctantly everyone is forcing themselves out of bed and tries to pack their stuff as quick as possible to meet up in the lobby, where Donguk is already waiting for us. Donguk has planned a special trip for our last day in Seoul and invites us to drive all the way to the other side of the city and see the some of the traditional architectural left overs in the district of Jongno-gu. Here the mega city shows a complete different face with its traditional buildings. The area is surrounded by a charming neighbourhood with small cubical houses that are serving as little boutiques, restaurants and art galleries. We are sharing a nice walk through the park and streets, full of nice chats and are learning more about the Korean culture, houses and sculptures. As we are walking out of the National Folk Museum of Korea, Donguk is heading straight to a special restaurant with us and invites for a very nice and impressive last traditional Korean meal that once again shows the delicacy of the Korean cuisine.
It’s around midnight when we arrive slightly exhausted from the past 24 hours on the outskirts of the 37 million people strong megacity, Tokyo. As we head straight into Shibuya, we feel humbled by the sheer size of the Japanese capital. The hour journey to our home for our time in Tokyo seemed to go by in a flash. In true Fast & The Furious style we are passed by a team of four highly modded cars as we enter a tunnel adding to the surrealism of the new world we’ve arrived in.
Upon arrival at the appartment, advertised to have three separate rooms, we realize that we may have made a blunder, and it was a lot smaller than we had anticipated! Four beds to share between six of us wasn’t ideal, but we were far too tired to put up too much of a fuss. We soon pull ourselves together and managed to arrange our new sleeping situation. This is where Rory turns out to be the hero and organizes our sleeping arrangements post haste, preparing ad hoc beds from whatever he could find. Totally finished with the day, we fall into bed, thinking what the double-gig marathon will be like the next day.
After only a few hours of sleep everyone prepares for the upcoming night in their own individual way. Jena goes through his playlists for the last time, Steve has the calm of a veteran who has done this plenty of times – however, contemplating his two live sets and the trouble of switching between two venues in the same night with his equipment. Rory and Benjamin go out to hit some Tokyo’s famous record stores, including Technique, one of the many record shops available in walking distance of Shibuya square, for some last minutes bangers, and to check some of their own records. Marcus and Christoph are already out photographing the streets of Shibuya to give us a deeper insight of the city - given that we don’t have much time to explore. The mood was slightly more tense as the time to soundcheck gets closer.
VOITAX at Dommune
Around 5 p.m. we take a cab to Dommune – a venue which is intentionally elusive. We pass it a few times before we ask in a nearby bar, who luckily point us to a steep staircase leading down into a basement – Dommune. We enter the building through a staircase, headed with a Dommune sign, that leads to the basement of a commercial building, where the studio chamber is contained. Behind the entrance door you find the Dommune staff are already preparing the set up and Kazuo, the promoter of the following VOITAX gig at Contact Club is already here. We are happy to finally meet each other and clarify the running order of the night.
We have a tight schedule as Benjamin and Jena have to head over to Contact Club straight after their sets in order to start the night there. Though this seems stressful it’s definitely achievable. The place is much smaller than the videos let out. A DJ booth, a small dance floor, several sofas, a bathroom and a bar. They provide us with the finest technical equipment - turntables, plenty of CDJs, but most impressively a Funktion One sound system that seemed huge compared to the dimension of the basement. It becomes apparent that we are clearly in good hands. The soundcheck goes well and everyone is looking forward to playing. By this time the cameras and flashlights start to pile on the pressure. The fact that thousands of people are going to live stream this event world wide, doesn’t help too much either! When the mysterious Ukawa enters the room we are all excited to meet him. Having shaped Japanese electronic dance culture his Dommune radio shows reach up to 80.000 people per session, making this one of the most exciting stops on our tour. His cool and magnetic character fills the room and after a shot of vodka we start the night. Benjamin gets things going low and slow, 120 BPM broken beats and some noisy, deep tracks thrown in for good measure. Jena, Steve and Rory follow suit and take it up, notch by notch until the end. See for yourself:
VOITAX at Contact Tokyo
While Steve is still playing live at Dommune, Jena and Benjamin pack their stuff and jump into a cab to Contact Club. Surrounded by a concoction of love-hotels and 7-Eleven convenience stores, the club seems surprisingly hidden for such. After following the flashing neon sign inside a multi-story, we are greeted by a bouncer who asks for our ID who then directs us into a lift, which takes us into the main club. Leaving the wardrobe and door counters behind you, you enter one of the club’s smaller dance floors, where we are playing tonight. Despite being the smaller of the two rooms (the large one being closed for the night) the sound system is not compromised. The edge of the dance floor is surrounded by a bar area where the party goers start their night. In keeping up with our traditions, we toast the night with a shot and let the show commence.
Donguk (EEXXPPOANN) has also flown over from Seoul that day and is already opening the night with his live set. It’s great to see each other again even though only 48 hours have passed since we have left each other’s company. The club is hidden inside an underground car park and a lift is required to get down to the entrance. The sound system is once again of the highest quality and we notice that people here generally value their their sound. After Donguk’s live set, Benjamin starts his DJ set. We can already sense that the crowd here is very open minded towards music and adapt easily to all kinds of genre. The Japanese crowd also seem to like their tunes wild and heavy, but also enjoy a softer and deeper touch. The highlight of the night is Steve’s live set who’s set up in the middle of the dance floor. The Japanese crowd really take to his brand of off-kilter Birmingham techno. We are closing this final stop of the tour with a triple back-to-back between Benjamin, Rory and Jena - so in true rock and roll fashion, we round things off with an alcoholic binge which inevitably ended in delving into what Tokyo can offer drunk people at that time of the night.
As the countdown to our return back to Europe starts we try to cram in as much sightseeing, food, music and synth shopping as possible. While Steve is already on his way back to Moscow on the Friday for another gig. Totally spent from the tour after nearly 20 hours of traveling, we make our way back to our homes, to the much welcomed sights of our own beds.
Text by VOITAX
Photography by Marcus