Zen Again

Posted by Pete DeMola on 9. Jun 2009

It's easy to overlook that perhaps at one point, the Beijing nightlife scene didn't always offer hundreds of hedonistic choices giving night owls the opportunities to blow both their income and one another ten times over (wait, what?) each and every night of the week.

No need to go into in-depth analysis here (Time Out Beijing has a far more comprehensive review of days past then this burned out, increasingly-unhinged writer can muster up) but suffice to say as recent as five years ago, the Beijing nightlife scene crashed from a three-year high from 1999 to 2002 to become lacking in inspiration, fragmented and dull.


"You didn't have Gongti," said Kiko Su, founder of O2 Culture, the Beijing-based event planning and production company behind YEN, at a meeting last week. "You had Mix and Vics and a few bars and that's it."

In addition to a lack of sympathetic venues, talented DJs and production outfits, said Su, clubs' sound systems were terrible and relationships with management were problematic.

So in 2003, Su did what any Beijing expat would do in the event of being dissatisfied with any particular situation in his/her adopted city: he went to a online forum and starting anonymously trolling about how angry he was.

No, wait. He didn't do that.

Su actually founded a group that would completely revolutionize the nightlife scene in one of Asia's most dynamic cities, essentially designing a much-imitated blueprint for all successive dance parties in the capital city.

Their solution?

To slowly help facilitate a nightlife scene, DIY style, with an emphasis on quality and detail, which the Japanese-born Su and his crew did via organizing parties at choice venues across the city.


Hallmarks of YEN bashes include the careful assembly of all essential components -- bar, sound systems, lighting rigs, security, musical talent and even VIP areas -- by themselves, with a little help from their friends at Lush and Aperitivo, who take care of the bar and VIP services, respectively.

Su explained that the original concept was to help promote local artists. "We wanted to build up this scene," he said, explaining that someone needed to push open the door and give the city a booster shot of high-powered energy, promote promising local DJs and simply "provide a good experience for all."

The first YEN party, O2 Culture's most endearing brand (their others include MORSE, Plus and Goldfish), was in May 2004 at the now-defunct venue the Loft. Su reckons about 700 people showed up.

After five years of high-profile bimonthly events, beloved theme parties (Fetish, anyone?) and the city's hottest New Year's events -- as well as offering a career launch pad for hometown heroes Usami, Dio and Mickey Zhang (Trivia: the latter, in 2003, was the first local DJ to release an album in China) -- YEN is going back to their roots for this month's anniversary blast on June 19, at the 798 Art District's 706 Factory.


"We'll have the best artists from before," Su said, ticking off an impressive genre-spanning roster of local talent, including the aforementioned Dio, Mickey Zhang, Usami, as well as LIman, Flo Eysler, Blackie, Ouyang, Yang Bing and about a half-dozen additional DJs and visual artists.

Expect 3000 square meters of arena-style dance floor demolition on the ground floor, with the upstairs slated to offer a darker and more intimate experience. Photo galleries, movies and posters of past events will be exhibited, as well.

"If you join the party, your memory of the next days will be yen," Su said, in a sly nod to the party's namesake, an amalgamation of three Chinese characters symbolizing a small fire, an intense flame and a "bright shining."

"But know your limitations," he warned, which may as well apply to the continued development of the capital's electronic music and dance scenes. "Find a balance," Su said, explaining that's it best for proponents of an enriched scene to continue to strive for improvement via a gradual incline as opposed to taking drastic steps.

"Don't use too much muscle," he laughed. "But all of our parties have good memories -- there is no bad ones."

Yen's Fifth Year Anniversary will take place on Fri, June 19 at the 706 Factory in the 798 Art District. Everything you need to know can be found here.

Photo: Fetish Halloween 2007, courtesy of O2 Culture.

Are you the guy beneath the mask in this article's cover image? Prove it to Mai to win a free ticket to next weekend's party.



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