The opening dj salvo of 2003 saw me heading to the Far East for a combined dj tour and holiday. I concluded my radio show on Saturday Jan 4th, and then headed straight to Heathrow for an overnight flight to Bangkok, accompanied by my wife Amanda, three year old son Jake, manager Charlie and his girlfriend (also called Charlie.) We based ourselves in Koh Samui Thailand for two weeks, with just Charlie and I heading off midway through the trip for gigs in Malaysia and Japan (in addition to two shows in Thailand.) Jake seemed even more excited at the prospect of his holiday than he was about Santa’s arrival at Christmas. This is because he was convinced we were going to ‘Toyland’. We were concerned that he’d be able to handle the 11 hour flight OK, so we bought him a kiddies’ Samsonite roller case, and left him to pack whichever toys took his fancy in his bedroom. We were equally keen that he didn’t drive his fellow passengers nuts, which made catching a night time flight essential, in the hope he’d get some sleep. In the event we were seated near to an Aussie couple heading Down Under (via Bangkok) with three kids in tow, one of whom was crying relentlessly and made Jake seem like an angel. I brought my portable DVD player and numerous children’s titles to keep the little fella occupied, which seemed to do the trick, and it was touching seeing his tiny body in a huge seat with my dj headphones engulfing his entire head as he viewed the movies.
The Qantas flight from London was painless, and our bags came through very early at Bangkok, which was merciful as Jake kept trying to take other peoples’ luggage off the carousel. We then transferred to the domestic terminal for our 1 hour flight to Koh Samui. When we put our baggage through the X-rays at the other terminal, Jake’s bag was pulled out for search. Unbelievably, we discovered he’d packed some plastic handcuffs and realistic plastic gun, both of which had gone totally undetected at Heathrow’s security screening. How very reassuring for me, as someone who travels out of LHR a few times per week. His (quite realistic) toys were sent in a sealed package in the hold, and the weather was gorgeous on arrival on Sunday 5th. My first gig was on neighbouring island Koh Som, a 10 minute speedboat ride away, two days later. The promoters asked me to record a voiceover advert, which was broadcast from vehicles travelling up and down the crowded Chaweng Beach strip. It sounded very weird to hear my voice booming from the streets of Thailand, sounding like a pirate radio presenter advertising a rave. On our assorted shopping trips to Chaweng, I found numerous bootleg CD’s of my mix albums, priced at about 1pound (sterling) a copy, alongside booties of all the other current pop albums. I suppose I can’t complain too loudly, as I bought illicit DVD’s of current cinema films including ‘Chicago’ and ‘Gangs of New York’. The two days in advance of the Koh Som gig were spent generally sunning ourselves and chilling out, plus gorging on irresistible Thai cuisine.
Koh Som is an uninhabited island, and the party was open air with a couple of thousand expected. Many of my most memorable gigs have taken place without a roof overhead- maybe it comes from being an inhabitant of a country with some of the worst weather on the planet. Tickets were priced moderately, to encourage both Thais and backpackers on a tight budget to come along, with the event taking place over 36 hours. I played 3 til 5 and there was an incredibly mixed bag of people and a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, the sound quality wasn’t very good- the organisers had been forced to rotate the soundsystem 90 degrees because of complaints from a neighbouring island earlier in the afternoon. Nevertheless, the scene was very surreal and as we stepped off our speedboat back on Koh Samui at 6am there were still streams of people at the jetty heading in the other direction.
I then spent another day relaxing with my family before our party of five headed to my gig at Bangkok’s ‘Ministry of sound’, the first foreign franchise of the UK dance empire (Thu Jan 9th.) They intend to open clubs in Taiwan, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur in a battle plan for Asian domination. The Bangkok club is a smaller (1500 capacity) but beautifully designed version of its London counterpart. We spent the early portion of the evening in the city’s notorious Pat Pong district, famous for ping-pong go-go girls and market stalls selling every fake designer product imaginable. The go-go bars aren’t my sort of thing (although Amanda wanted to look in out of morbid fascination) and it was certainly inappropriate to venture inside with three year-old Jake in tow. We did however come away with plenty of shopping, including some interesting designer shades that I’ll have converted to glasses when we get back to London. I often get emailed asking me where I get my glasses from. They’re all bought as cheap sunglasses on my travels, with optical lenses installed when I’m back home. This is the cheapest way of getting interesting glasses, the myopic amongst you may be interested to know. Anyway, as usual, I digress. For the second time I’ve been there, the Ministry in Bangkok totally rocked with a majority Thai crowd plus some backpackers thrown in for good measure. We ended the evening stuffing our faces at a late night restaurant with enough Thai food to feed a South East Asian army.
The following day Amanda, female Charlie and Jake headed back to Koh Samui, whilst Charlie and I left for Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. As we boarded our flight at least 20 parachutists descended on the runway at Bangkok airport, over a period of about five minutes. This seemed very dangerous- I guess they must have suspended flight arrivals and departures to accommodate them, but I couldn’t imagine seeing para’s dropping down on Gatwick. Then again, not much should surprise me ‘cos there’s a massive golf course immediately next to Bangkok’s runway, and I’ve got nightmare visions of someone teeing off and hitting a 747. About five years ago the plane I was taking off in suffered a lightening strike at Bangkok, my most horrific moment flying, so I’m always a bit on edge at the airport. The flight south to KL took 2 hours, and although the climate’s similar to Thailand, in most other respects Malaysia’s world’s apart. Bangkok’s teaming with people and very chaotic. Malaysia is clean and orderly to an almost fanatical level. KL’s airport is brand new and makes most European and US gateways seem poky and full of unsympathetic bolt-on development, but it’s f’ing miles from the city centre (a whacking 75kms.) When we finally arrived in the city we headed straight for Chinatown and yet more fake designer stuff. Unbelievably there are still people who’d prefer to buy the genuine items, when you can buy exactly the same goods that have slipped surreptitiously off the production line into various South East Asian markets. It’s the price luxury goods firms pay for outsourcing their production to cheap labour markets in the Far East. Anyway… back to the matter in hand. The last time one of my Asian tours incorporated KL it was far the best gig of the trip. The Malaysian capital may not be one of the world’s renowned party hot-spots, but the gig was a 2000 capacity lock out, and the atmosphere was electric. Like most of the far East, Malaysians are obsessed with English football, with 24 hour television coverage. The only slightly off-putting factor was the presence of a small TV monitor in the dj booth, showing the Premier League’s greatest goals throughout my set. I’m too much of a footie fanatic to resist being distracted by some of Dennis Bergkamp’s masterpieces!
I hit the sack at 4am, but had to be in a car en route to KL airport by 8am, so a long night’s sleep wasn’t a luxury I was about to get. Charlie and I were heading for Japan, and our last two nights of gigs before re-joining our loved ones in Koh Samui. The flight took all day, as we couldn’t get a direct routing to Japan’s second city Osaka, being forced to connect via Hong Kong. On the way I watched the bootleg of ‘Gangs of New York’ I’d bought in Thailand. It had clearly been recorded by someone with a camcorder in the cinema. This didn’t affect the picture too badly, but with numerous outdoor street scenes containing lots of background noise, the sound quality left a lot to be desired, as the original movie was designed for surround sound in cinemas. I’ll definitely have to check out the real-deal in a movie theatre when I’m back in the UK, I’d thoroughly recommend it- it’s sure-fire potential Oscar material. We arrived at Osaka Kansai airport around 9pm, being unlucky enough to hit the immigration hall just after the passengers from two other fully-loaded aircraft- the queue made the opening day of January sales seem like a breeze. We eventually left Kansai and headed into Osaka. The airport is an architectural marvel, floating on the sea on a man-made island. This was my first visit to the city, and it was typical metropolitan Japan, bustling and packed. After a brief siesta, we headed for the club, where I played from 1am til the close at 3.30. Someone in the crowd had clearly bought every mix CD and production I’ve ever made, so I had a lot of signing to do, and tried to incorporate a few of his CD’s in my set, including my five year old remix of ‘Funky groove’ by Untidy DJ’s. The crowd went crazy, responding well to my ‘do you want one more’ chant on the mic at the end, despite it being in English. I asked someone to write it down for me in Japanese, but it was clear that the record would run out before I’d successfully managed to master the delivery. After a couple of encores we stopped at an excellent Ramen noodle bar, before getting to bed at 5am.
By 2pm the following day we were on the platform at Osaka central station (Sunday 12th Jan.) You can either fly the 600kms to Tokyo, or do what I’d dreamed of since I was a small boy, and travel on Japan’s legendary Bullet train. It was no surprise to see our departure hit the platform at the precise second it was due. At 200mph with very spacious seating, it put Britain’s shoddy dilapidated rail system to shame. We’d opted to leave around lunchtime so we could see Japan in its full glory while it was still light- I’d only been there on a 12 hour in and out visit before. The most remarkable fact is the sheer population density. Throughout the near 400 mile journey we passed only minimal rural areas, mainly city after town after city, with a mountainous backdrop virtually the whole way. The highlight of the train journey was passing Mount Fuji, which was all the more spectacular as the sun was setting. We arrived in Tokyo dead on time, and headed for our hotel, preparing ourselves for the last dj’ing night of a mighty enjoyable Asian tour.
Compared to other long haul destinations, I’ve been to Japan a disproportionately tiny amount of times to dj. Only on my second visit, this reinforced the impression I’d made the previous occasion. I think that more than any other nationality I’ve encountered, the similarity between young Japanese and British is overwhelming. Both come from an environment where the older generation is steeped in tradition and reserve, and fight against that by becoming the craziest outgoing MF’s imaginable. The Japanese have style in abundance and incredible originality- no two individuals ever look the same. If the atmosphere in Osaka was good, Tokyo was out of this world. There have been many attempts on British tv to decipher the Japanese psyche, but these generally focus on older people, and their young have changed out of all recognition within a generation. In these weekly reports, I generally concentrate on what I see around me on my travels, rather than focusing on my gigs, which would be quite dull. Going to Japan is a fascinating experience because they combine the inimitable passion of the British with an infrastructure that works impeccably, and a sense of quiet self-confidence that can’t be shaken. I can’t wait to get back there.
I’m now en-route back to Thailand to finish my family holiday, before returning to the UK in time for next weekend.
More next week…