There is no shortage of Western DJs in Asia. In fact, there are probably more English teacher-cum-DJs in Asia than there are certified English teachers. But why are there so many, and are they actually any good?
“I think it’s easier to get started in Asia compared to the UK because there is less competition from world class DJs,” said DJ Fenner (real name Oliver Fenn), who is from the UK but now lives it up in South Korea. Fenner is in Taiwan for a string of shows this week.
“It bugs me because it tempts people to start for the wrong reasons. A large number of people out here start deejaying for the lifestyle without really caring about the music.”
This is true. Many Westerners are living life large in Asia, and it’s more likely to see their face in an advertisement and having an MC hype them here than at home, where there are hundreds of other DJs gunning for the same gig. As with any Asian country, Westerners attract attention.
Fenner explained to me that in South Korea, not every DJ from the West lacks chops. As a group, though, they are diluting the overall quality of the music scene. However, Fenner also believes that it’s a good thing for the scene that so many people are getting involved. It’s just that some people are a little too quick to call themselves a DJ after just a few months of practice.
Fenner got his start deejaying in the UK 13 years ago. He arrived in Seoul in 2009 to teach, but is now producing music, throwing parties and working as an artist liaison for international artists. He’s also playing in most clubs and festivals around South Korea, and is in a DJ band called Trouble Makerz that includes an MC, a live vocalist and a drummer. He says he is also eating a lot of Korean BBQ.
So sure, it might be easier to get ahead fast in Asia’s DJ game, but Fenner says it’s not that easy to stay there. When it comes to music, while creativity is valued, skill is paramount and Fenner is certain that it’s the number one thing that gets DJs booked, not nationality. Another thing is respect, he explained, and what garners the respect of club owners and older DJs is people skills, friendships, consistent effort and business relationships.
He also recommends that aspiring DJs get into music production and try remixing some local music. It was after he remixed some K-pop songs that he really started getting noticed in Seoul, Fenner said.
K-pop or not, even though he lives and thrives in the city that is home to Gangnam District, he definitely hasn’t been remixing anything by Psy. “Enough is enough,” he said of Gangnam Style. “It got so big and commercial that school kids would practice Taekwondo to it at lunchtime.” He went on to say that some of the premier clubs in South Korea even go so far as to kick off any DJ who dares play it.
It’s good to know we won’t be hearing any of that when Fenner plays two gigs in Taipei this weekend. His style is anything but Gangnam, and his focus is on the electro and house genres with a touch of drum and bass and dubstep. His style has been dubbed “make them dance” and what you’re going to hear is what’s currently powering a very exciting and wild underground scene in South Korea, Fenner says.
Even if at any point in his career Fenner was just another English teacher-cum-DJ, he spent many years carefully crafting and honing his skills and this hard work has landed him spots on stage with artists like Dada Life and Goldie. He is the epitome of what Western DJs in Asia should be striving for, and is worthy of our attention as he graces two of Taipei’s dance floors this weekend.