There have been some memorable parties and every booking for me is special. both local and international, It's hard to choose
Daniela Horeanga has spent the best part of thirteen years in Malaysia, PR by day, Art Xtreme Media as the promoter of the Sweatbox & Taboo parties in Kuala Lumpur and more recently DJ by night. So, we wanted to find out a 'little' bit more of how her love of Electronic music started, the new record label (Sweatbox records) progression and her thoughts on what makes the KL underground scene tick.
What first brought you to Kuala Lumpur and when?
First of all, thank you for this feature and I appreciate the work you do at The City List KL. It's usually myself who does the interviews, now I feel a bit pampered ;-) The City List is a great source of information for everyone to know how entertaining and diverse Kuala Lumpur is. It's a great platform for, event listing and all happenings. It just emphasizes how important it is to spend some quality spare time. [Ed - Thanks Daniela! Pay you later ;)]
Regarding your question, I came here from Romania in 2005, in Penang, to be precise, with a work assignment that was supposed to last for a few months, work I still do to the day. Having been a journalist by trade I have always been attracted to jobs involving people, so PR/business development is hitting the mark on that front. I had just discovered electronic music in its modern sense and Penang at the time was not giving me what I wanted, so a move to Bali, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur followed. Discovering new cultures and travelling extensively has deepened my understanding of how people party and have fun in these parts and furthermore, it startled my curiosity about people's taste in music.
How did the promoting of your nights come about?
Well, this is a funny story. Back in 2008, whilst in Thailand, a couple of DJ friends whom I didn't know at the time were playing this Half Moon Party and we wouldn't have met and I wouldn't have perhaps pursued this if it wasn't for a piece of clothing I was wearing – a dungaree. They made fun of it all night long suggesting it was an outdated piece of clothing and who even wears that. Then the Ibiza season followed, and guess what the whole wide world's statement clothing item was: the dungarees! Having become friends and going to after parties where I would eventually get to pick the music sometimes, lead both of them to believe I have some taste and I've got what it takes to put on some nights, to be a DJ or, why not, a dungaree superstar. So, here we started, with Scott and Jem, finding them gigs here and there, putting up some nights in The Philippines- in Cebu at the time with another friend- Kat who believed in my ability to make things work. When I moved back to Malaysia I noticed a drastic decrease in both electronic music nights and venues who would host the non mainstream variety of music, given the explosion of EDM and the disappearance of quality dance music institutions such as Nuvo, Euphoria or Backroom alongside with the promoters ; Donovan, Lisa etc they all moved on, got married and had a break from clubland. So I rolled up my sleeves and gave it a go, first with a few random bookings and then with regular nights which I still host 3 years later with my company, Art Xtreme Media.
We noticed you recently started DJing, what made you decide to take it up?
A bored DJ whose track ran out whilst he was playing with his phone instead of DJing. The room was half full and he didn't seem to care. He then played some really hard music for that time of the night an left the other DJ following with 30 seconds left to mix and as if this wasn't enough, he pulled the USB out and left it on emergency loop. Shocking! So I said to myself, I can do this, and I could have made these people dance. I don't know where one and a half years went, but it seems like yesterday when I had my first official DJ gig- Dance For Hope, for an Autism Awareness event. Niall F from Connected came over with the idea, saying that if I am organizing it, why not playing as well. It came natural, and from the desire to not only put up good nights but to deliver good music. I am a listener so knowing dance floors, what they pulsate to, how people party, and what makes them tick in order for them to say “ we had an amazing night out” made me want to try it out and deliver that vibe myself. Being a dance floor head, I have always admired these people's passion for the music, and to the day, I love it when they are loving it. Being on the other side of the controls makes you responsible in a different way than an organizer. This time you are responsible to put people in a great mood and to give that night a direction, an identity and to create some memories.
How did you learn, did you have someone who mentored you or did you work through it on your own?
I learnt from everyone that would be willing to teach me- My Sweatbox resident Otherkind, my Taboo resident Ken DMA, which is a DnB DJ and an extremely versatile head.T hen I went for a course at Mile High Sounds, Blastique and Lish's Ableton Certified music production studio. Reuben is a geek so he helped me a great deal not to panic with the technical side of it and to learn methodically what each button does, and further on, keys, beats, bars and different mixing techniques, at Bad Hatters Studio for jamming sessions and a few tips from Baz, and then, practicing on my own everyday. I would always watch these guys, from what they do with their hands on the console to how they move, what songs they chose, etc. We always learn, there is no stopping to that process. All of these people helped me in their own way to identify who I am behind the decks, and what is DJ Biscuit all about, what music do I go for and how do I build my dance floor. The best teacher of them all was getting bookings and make mistakes in front of the crowd, you know what they say, unless they are your mistakes, you never learn.
What are some of your musical influences?
I am a big Depeche Mode fan, just saw them in Paris a couple of weeks ago. They are the epitome of timeless music, however, I haven't felt any nostalgia of my youth or any darkness or sense of not belonging, despite their strong messages in their lyrics. When I grew up I used to listen to a lot of Pop Rock, Rock, Soul, Funk, New Wave stuff, Dub and Reggae and later on House Music. Anything that has either a funky groove or soul, touches me deeply. From Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk & Erasure to Metallica, Iron Maiden and AC/DC to atmospheric stuff such as Enya and Morcheeba, from Aretha Franklin to Jill Scot and Angie Stone, to Thievery Corporation and Bob Marley. I can't say they influence the music I play or the music I select for my parties in the literal sense, but they do define somehow my music personality and my taste.
Describe your sound as a DJ and promoter?
Well, this is a tricky question as what I play and what I promote can be at times two different things.
When I organize a party, there is nothing about me on that dance floor, apart from maybe my way of organizing things or curating a certain line up and when I put up an event, my main priority is to think of the people who attend my party, it's them I want to entertain , and as I learnt, tastes vary tremendously when it comes to the so many shades of electronic music. However, whether is house or techno, deep or progressive, good music is good music.
As a DJ, it is important to play what I like and to find a balance between my personality and the message I want to deliver to the crowd, without compromising my taste or play stuff I don't enjoy just because the crowd likes it. Our character as a DJs/Musicians/ Producers/ Promoters is defined by that very balance. The sound I play is tightly related to what dance floor I play too, what time is my set, how big is the venue, what the crowd likes in general. As the objective is to make the crowd dance and have a good time, music becomes an instrument to generate that vibe. For example, I don't particularly play progressive house, however, I appreciate a good set when I hear one. For me, it's rhythm over melody anytime, regardless of the genre. Most of my sets are deep and rhythmic. I have noticed that here in Asia, as opposed to Europe, as the native electronic music scene has a shorter history, there are more “swayers” than “dancers”, so it's my way to explain to myself why people in these parts like progressive music more than, say, jacking house. Because I am coming from Romania, there is a bit of a Rominimal groove present at times, and I don't think I am being nationalist or patriotic, however, it's just utterly beautiful groovy music for the soul.
What has been your most memorable moment as a promoter?
Being a promoter is a lifestyle and a passion for me, and we are in the job ( if I can even call it a job) to make people feel good, so the whole thing is memorable, to begin with. I am trying to put that passion into every party I make, and there have been a few memorable moments every time I organize an event. So there are too many to mention. The day when I don't enjoy my parties anymore is the day I will stop doing events. Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends through music, now, that's memorable!
Without naming names what’s the worst experience as a promoter to date?
Oh, where do I start? I am only joking ;-) I am fortunate enough to have dealt with people who are on the same wavelength as myself, it took some convincing at the beginning and I don't take that for granted. We do choose our own “battles” after all and we play an important role in making our experiences good. Cancelled gigs, police raids, equipment failure, terrible deals with venues, losing money on bookings, fights, etc every decent promoter has experienced this at least once. These are situations that add up to our experience and it's not that relevant what happens, but how is it being handled to get a positive outcome.
How do you approach the musical direction for your nights and what do you look for in the DJ’s you are booking?
The musical direction of my nights always focuses on the people who attend my parties and lately, they have been spoilt for choice and I am very glad! The main idea is for them to expand their music knowledge and to explore their taste. Every booking I make is based on the fundamental fact that we cannot please everyone. It is meant to bring novelty, knowledge, and above all, nobody remembers a good party for the exact songs that have been played, they remember it because the atmosphere was great, they feel safe, they danced, they met their friends or made new ones, etc. Every line up is curated keeping in mind the synergy between DJs, their style and their ability to build a room together, not as individuals. It is important for them to understand the concept of my nights and to support it and there is always that click between the DJ and the crowd which is absolutely priceless, it comes from their own personality and their presence. Their passion and love for music are also very important, even if this is their main career choice or they do it on the side, also, I never tell any of them what to play, my job is to choose the ones that get it without me having to say it. It's their energy and mine, it's synergy.
Best booking so far, Local and international?
There have been some memorable parties and every booking for me is special. both local and international, It's hard to choose, so I will just base it on the crowd reaction: Dennis Cruz, for the serenity with which he played his amazing music and the smile on his face, it melted our hearts. He is one of my favourite producers at the moment alongside Basel Darwish and Philipp Lichtblau.S abb, who is back in KL this August 18 at Kyo- ren, for The Sweatbox Pop Up Party. Understated style and in a boiling room on our 2nd-anniversary party when the air con broke down, he managed to keep everyone on a dancing frenzy, it was like dancing in a sauna but nobody left the room. Mark Knight, because he was my first international booking in KL and the “epicness” of his tunes always leaves me with tears of joy, he has this unbelievable effect on many of us, and the list can carry on and on and on. Our local heroes always surprise me and I am very proud of how much they grew over the years : Otherkind, he plays some absolutely amazing live sets, Meliha is a great performer and producer too, Obadius always surprises me with his music, I don't know where he digs it from, but it's always fresh and on point. It is fair to say that I enjoyed at least one of the sets of every person I booked. There is a lot of talent in this small and animated city.
Name one DJ you’d like to open for?
Guti, Ricardo Villalobos, waFF, Miss Kittin, Loco Dice, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Terrence Parker. It's a long list.
What frustrates you and what do you love about the music scene here?
I love the energy of the people in KL, the scene has grown so much in the past few years that I'd rather be here than anywhere else in Asia at the moment. I can see younger people making their way into the clubbing scene and are a bit more selective and discerning than the 'EDM generation” They are not out to be seen or to ask for a VIP pass, they come over for the music, it's lovely to see that their numbers began to grow. The frustrating part is that most club operators here see music as a business more than they see it as a passion, so most give into short-term benefits, the hype of the moment and really bad music that appeals to crowds. The commercialization of the music business to the point of losing one's soul bothers me a lot. This has resulted in many of these glamorous clubs to open and close at a blink of an eye. We are missing the real dance institutions and concepts that stand the test of time and for a homegrown music culture to evolve, I time and consistency are needed. There are only a few who keep it real and who truly understand the meaning of a dance institution- the Ohrwurm guys, Pisco, Under 9, and even Quinte, which even if it shut down, there are still pop up parties going on (just to name a few). Ultimately, most people who are in the entertainment industry and buy clubs know nothing about music. I notice in some cases a lack of respect towards the performers in their venues, they are not being paid on time or are paid ridiculously low fees or being kicked out at a moment's notice. It is particularly hard for the DJs who earn their living from it, it makes it near impossible to make a living if you are a full-time DJ. Let alone a promoter. I think the entertainment industry is poorly represented in the higher forums that should moderate and defend the rights of all parties involved and there are no rules when it comes to dealing with venues and promoters, it's like a wild west in a way. Who even sets up the DJ fees and why are they not controlled by anybody? Another aspect that is very worrying is that some club owners spend millions on building their clubs and pay the performers who fill it absolute peanuts. The same question comes to mind, why such a short-term view? The VIP culture in Asia, unlike Europe and of course, with a few exceptions, is always about getting free perks because they feel they are important, with disregard to supporting the DJ, the promoter or the club. These artists cost money to book and the staff is being paid a salary too, so if they are so VIP, then they can afford a 10 $ and a drink included ticket. That is support. Also, there is no more loyalty to venues, and I don't blame the DJs. Some of them have 2 or 3 bookings in one night, and the attitude of clubs towards Djs ( somehow considering them “disposable” ) has caused a lack of interest from the Djs as well. It's a “ you reap what you saw” situation. I think a non profit organization that mediates the interests of the people involved in entertainment may be a long term solution to the imbalance between Venues/ Djs/ Promoters. Wired Music Week, Malaysia's brand new electronic music conference can also be a great platform to grow the music market and to open the doors to more opportunities for people in the entertainment industry. Getting back to the positives, I am glad to see an insurgence of electronic music record labels being born in Malaysia – Soul De Anima, 1Hundred coming up soon and our own Sweatbox Records. It is certainly a great start for the talented producers to really create a local market.
What else have you got lined up for The Sweatbox and the record label in 2018?
I am pleased to say that Sweatbox Records has reached its 4th release. On September 7th our Shades of Deep compilation will be out on all media channels and the feedback we have received so far is outstanding. Tracks from our very own Eva and Circuitbreaker, Sabb, Loco Dice, Satoshi Fumi, Marcoloco and Jason Chance enforce my belief in the music global family and in the fact that talent always rises to the surface.
As for The Sweatbox parties, there is no stopping, The recent closure of Elysium, our home for 3 years has been as sad as it was inspiring, as it brought up new ventures, new ideas and a fresh approach. For the month of August, we have hosted the 21st edition of Taboo ans well as The Sweatbox for 3 pop-ups at Privi, and we had a great time. Our new home will be officially at Kyo – ren room, from September 1st onwards and we are excited to start this new venture. Kyo is a world class club, the sound is incredible and the dance floor is way bigger, so I look forward to filling it up with smiley faces and good vibes. We have some amazing artists lined up and furthermore 2 pop up party concepts in the works – Jaded and Off the Record. I will keep you posted about the evolution as well as any upcoming parties for your City List readers.
The City List