Interview: Jasmine Li

Jasmine Li and loads more are at House of Roosevelt on Saturday for Shiva Lounge’s one-year anniversary party. SmSh catches up with her.

One of Shanghai’s most well-known and well-traveled DJs, Jasmine Li has graced the decks all over this city, holding residencies at the city’s most popular clubs — M2, Bar Rouge among others — appearing at countless others, touring China extensively, and supporting some of the most popular DJs in the business: Armin Van Buuren (no relation to Dave Van Buuren), Deadmau5, John Digweed, and more.

Good introduction to her stuff on her podcast page.

SmartShanghai caught up with Jasmine ahead of this Saturday’s one- year anniversary party for Shiva Lounge. They’re expecting too many people at the event, so they’re shifting celebrations across town to House of Roosevelt, with a stacked line-up of Shanghai talent, including Jasmine.

…But you know where the after-party is going to be.

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SmSh: I read somewhere that you started playing music when you were five with traditional Chinese instruments. What sorts of things were you playing? What sort of training did you undertake?

Jasmine: I started studying and playing Pipa and Gu Zheng when I was five years old at the Guang Dong Opera School (I`m from Guangzhou), and by the time I was 13 years old I was already playing for the Guangzhou Opera until I was 21…

SmSh: How has your background in Chinese traditional music influenced your electronic music?

Jasmine: I guess that having a professional background in music has had a huge impact on me as a musician — the way I understand music and the way I express myself as a DJ and as a producer. But that is only one thing.

Don`t forget that electronic music is a pretty young genre, and it feeds itself from all the rest of the styles. At home, music never stops flowing, and you get to listen on the same day people from John Coltrane to Kelly Joe Phelps and Andy Mckee, from Gil Scott Heron and Tom Waits to Pink Floyd & King Crimson, Quincy Jones, Bob James, Curtis Mayfield, from Melody Gardot, Muddy Waters and the Rat Pack to Deftones, Hed (PE), Pendulum or Porcupine Tree… apart from electronic music.

I like to think that all that music reflects somehow on how I express myself while DJing or producing and yes, it is a nightmare for our neighbours.

SmSh: When did you get into DJing and what got you into it? What sorts of music influenced you earlier on in your career?

Jasmine: Well, I suppose that life got me into it, really. I was about 21 years old, I started to go out and see what was out there, and I discovered a whole new range of possibilities and opportunities to take my music skills to another area that I was starting to like a lot. And of course, it’s so much more fun than the Opera!

SmSh: How would you describe your sound today? What sorts of music do you play and produce?

Jasmine: I am natural positive and uplifting person. I really am. So I would say that my sets are an extension of me and how I live my life. I play for the crowd and depending on my vision on what they need, what they looking for, where I think I can take them depending on the venue and environment…I go from Tech House to Techno, Deep, Funky & Groovy House, Progressive House, Electro…it all depends on the mood of the night!

SmSh: Do you have signature tracks that you always play?

Jasmine: Not really. From time to time, you do have some tracks on your suitcase that express better than others the way you feel at a certain point in time, but nothing that lasts more than a month really.

SmSh: You’re often billed as a “female” DJ, rather than just a DJ. What are your thoughts on your gender being an issue with promoters and club goers?

Jasmine: You know, there was a time when I was doing eight sets a week! I couldn’t control the way I was being promoted to the public. I`ve been in the top level of this industry for around 10 years now and you don’t get to be where I am today just being a pretty face. It takes lots of hard work and determination and of course talent. I know that when people go to see me playing and see what I do, they appreciate it.

SmSh: So you’ve been playing out for over ten years in China’s clubbing scene. What are some of the key changes you’ve seen over those years in Chinese clubbing?

Jasmine: I truly think that when speaking about China`s Clubbing scene, there`s a huge difference between Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, and the rest of the country. Here the western culture has brought quality standards (music wise) that are coexisting with traditional Chinese Clubbing; where in the rest of country still remains very traditional.

SmSh: And how about music? How have musical tastes changed in China over that period?

Jasmine: I think that the way the industry was focused until not so long ago, didn’t allow music to grow and develop itself. Now there are more venues betting more on electronic music, knowing that there`s a market that understands that music. At the end of the day, it’s the soul of the entertainment business. It will get better and better with time if the venues give it a chance. There is a hope though — the competition leads to a better quality.

You’ve got venues like Shiva, Lola, Dada, Shelter, sometimes Bar Rouge — they’re all different but they’re all focused on dance music.

SmSh: Do you try to keep up with new music and trends to stay on top of things — are you always looking for the next style? Or do you more focus on your own thing?

Jasmine: People tend to think that DJs just show up for the party, play for a couple of hours and easy money baby! But the truth is that, I spend around 3 or 4 hours a day working on my music, searching, filtering, organizing…and around 4 or 5 hours a day working on the studio on my own tracks. Being a musician is a way of living; I live and breathe music. What else can I say? I love what I do!

SmSh: You’ve toured in China pretty extensively, playing many cities all over – how does Shanghai compare with the rest of China?

Jasmine: It`s hard for me because almost every Chinese club focused on a Chinese crowd is producing shows with singers, MCs, real time advertising…they don’t fully understand what an electronic DJ set is yet, so you find yourself in middle of the high part of the track, ready to go crazy…and the MC starts thanking an alcohol brand for the sponsorship, which is very upsetting to say the least. On the other hand you have these venues where you can really play and be yourself.

SmSh: What have been your career highlights — any show, anywhere — in that ten year period?

Jasmine: I learned a lot from the Sasha tour we did back in 2004. I got to learn more of how the whole business and industry was, made good friends, it took me to the next level professionally speaking. Then I`ve played with Armin Van Bureen, Deadmau5, John Digweed, Deep Dish, Markus Schulz…it is quite something really. But I guess those were highlights on a personal way. I`ve played at parties for both large and small crowds here in Shanghai that had been completely insane and I’d say those were quite something too…

SmSh: Speaking of these bigger shows, you’ve played with Deadmau5, Markus Schulz, Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, John Digweed, Rank 1, Deep Dish & DJ Sasha — which of those shows stands out for you and why?

Jasmine: If we understand show as an event production…probably Deadmau5. Before him people like Carl Cox, Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Tiesto…they all took Djing to another level, they became superstars and created a whole business structure behind them. Now Deadmau5 has converted himself into a Brand.

There`s a whole company behind that show. There`s this big show production that they tour around just like they would with a rock band, they have a merchandising line of all kind of products…it’s just a big show right?

SmSh: You’ve held residencies in a number of Shanghai clubs – which have been your favourite?

Jasmine: I held M2 residency four days a week for more than two years. I`d say that has been the one that allowed me to grow more as a Dj; I had the chance of playing for a big crowd on a daily basis and I shared stage with the world`s most important names in the business. I`ve been holding a weekly residency at Bar Rouge for more than a year and now I also have a twice a month show with Mia at Drop and a monthly one at Shiva Lounge. In all of them I deal with a different crowd with different needs, and that also helps you growing and improving as a professional.

SmSh: What are some of your favourite clubs here in general and why?

Jasmine: I`m very picky when it comes to clubbing really, but then again I guess that a Chef would be picky when it comes to dining right? I like places with a good and steady music guideline. It`s what all is about at the end of the day (or night). Shiva Lounge would be a great example.

SmSh: How do you feel about the music coming out of Shanghai? How would you describe Shanghai’s clubbing music landscape, and what are your favourite Shanghai DJs?

Jasmine: I feel excited about it really. There`s lots of talents playing almost every day in different spots in town and throwing out lots of good music (both DJs and producers). It definitely has a lot to do with them that the night life scene in Shanghai is evolving and improving. Guys like the everlasting Tim Crouch, who`s been around for about 15 years now and is also a great producer, Mia who has a really good music taste, Teasy, the Pony guys, Ben Huang…and Milan J who`s my personal pick. Keep an eye on him, he`s doing very interesting stuff and is definitely on the right track!

SmSh: What sorts of projects are you working on now that people should watch out for in the future?

Jasmine: What really got me busy and excited for a long time now is a project in which I am deeply and very personally involved called, CLUBBING SHANGHAI. I can`t say that much about it yet thou, other than we have a fantastic team working real hard and putting so much passion into it and its due to go live and public this summer…I hope we can talk more about it when the time comes!

But what`s important this weekend is to drive people nuts on Saturday at The House of Roosevelt for the Shiva Lounge’s 1st anniversary party. It’s definitely going to be THE PARTY-to-be in Shanghai this weekend, massive sound system and line up and stunning view!! These guys know how to throw a mind blowing party. They have been doing great for the past one year and we all like Shiva so much that we are getting ready to show them some love back on Saturday! We are going to rock it!

 by Morgan Short