I got some inklings that disco and italo influenced sounds existed in the regions surrounding China - mainly the four Asian tigers. My first clue arrived through a youtube video of Roman Tam’s Laserlights. He is known as Hong Kong’s First Lady of Drag.
Later on, a mix was posted sometime in April 2013 by fellow CBS roboter “Spaziale”. Good timing, since I was about to embark on a trip to Shanghai to DJ with Doc Sleep at our friend “Sacco’s” club: 390 Shanghai (http://390shanghai.com/). The mix itself was unlike anything I’ve heard.
Majestic string composition featuring the title track Midnight Kiss - an old folk song from 1950 redone for the Taiwanese disco set in the early 80s. It was a mix that brought back memories of my mom listening to her cassette tape collection when I was growing up in Diamond Bar, CA.
I invited Spaziale for coffee here in SF to pick his brain on what he would do if he were about to embark on a massive dig adventure through Asia. He hinted at a bigger haul in Singapore.
On the first trip, I was able to visit a few random bookstores in Taipei with my mom and aunt who basically helped me find the stores that would carry these items (even translating my dialogues since I never learned Mandarin Chinese growing up). There weren’t any true record stores that had the kind of music I wanted. There were a lot of usual suspects one would find at any record stores. Mainstream albums of American musicians you would usually find in the dollar bins of Amoeba, but higher priced since vinyl is a rarity in Taiwan.
The next stop, Shanghai, was a different story. New records stores have popped up around parts of Shanghai tailored to this new found taste but as far as selection there wasn’t anything that reflected a dance canon of the past as Taiwan and Hong Kong had.
Arriving in Hong Kong, there were tales of a man who was a self-professed vinyl hero and had stockpiled all the found records he had collected into his small studio apartment very close to Sham Sui Po station. Inside was a hoarder’s paradise with tons of Italo records in cardboard boxes stacked high up into the ceilings and secret stashes of his prized canto-pop were hidden from view. He made some comment that a lot of buyers from South America and Philippines were looking for a lot of the same records I was seeking – jazz/funk inspired pop music from Asia around the late 70s to 80s.
However, the process in digging was very tedious as he would hand me records one by one and I wasn’t really allowed to touch the records myself. I ended up showing him photographs of some album covers I saw on youtube and he did his best to dig the right records and similar music for me, but we just had different vibes altogether. A lot the selections I ended up with had a very cheesy edge to them.
Not really satisfied with my selections, I embarked on one more trip to Asia, mainly Singapore as my main target. Though it was about a 6 month span of time that had passed when I came back to Hong Kong, I visited the same record dealer in the small studio apartment again and he seemed a lot more frail and possibly ill. His mood was quite different and when I mentioned I was still looking for pop music from the past he seemed less than willing to help this time. He mentioned the Chinese were on a aggressive shopping binge buying all music sung in Mandarin and that he didn’t have any more he could sell. I don’t know if this had more to him assuming I was Chinese but I sort of parried a bit and asked him to play some of his favorite Italo records for me.
After all this I was still relentless. I told him I was interested in Cantonese music and played an example for him to which he was able to dig from under a coffee table a pile of all his prized cantonese records. I took this one which he referred to as the jewel of canto-pop.
Sum Sum + Pan Pan (Robot Hustle Edit)
That was about all I had it with Hong Kong record shopping. My flight was leaving fairly early next day to Singapore and always paranoid about missing flights I needed an early start.
A vinyl LP warehouse around Paya Labar MRT was a record collector’s paradise. Featuring highly efficient cataloging of records and easy to search bins I was ready to get my fingertips dirty. The first day I was able to walk away with about 90% of my record list that I have been able to find off youtube and other blogs. I went in subsequent days with the load getting smaller and smaller each day. However, I wasn’t able to find any of the records that Spaziale first featured on his mix. In this dig, I was able to find a lot more headier psychedelic soul music that just show how far the imagination had been pushed in these studios.
Cheng Qiong Mei (Robot Hustle Edit)
As my record journey ended by the New Year, I decided to record a mix. Tim Sweeney was the first choice to feature this since I’ve been such a fan of his for so long and thought it would be one good chapter for the Honey Soundsystem collective to have every members on his playlist. Harvey had recorded a set back in November 2013 with all Russian and Eastern European pop from the early dance era so I thought this mix would provide a good counterpoint.
I present to you “Native Lover”, a mix for Beats in Space Radio, featuring music and songs about freedom and love from the Asian tigers: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan 1977 – 1984.
<3 Robot Hustle