Guest post by Matthew Tinkelman (UG ’15)
Electronic Sound Outfit, also known as E.S.O., is a DJ duo made up of Nick Kohler and Alex Blanton, both NYU students. Nick Kohler is a MUSB student (Class of 2015). The DJ duo started making a name for themselves in New York, playing many gigs and weekly residencies around the city. Though Kohler and Blanton began gaining recognition throughout the local underground club scene, they had their sights set on more global opportunities. For the Fall 2013 semester, E.S.O. decided to take their studies and their music to Shanghai. Choosing China as a destination of study was a fascinating and strategic decision. China is an emerging new market for music, and E.S.O. wanted to take advantage of China’s current, fast-paced evolution. E.S.O. is very ambitious, and by the looks of it, is succeeding in their quest to make a name for themselves in an entirely new and exciting market.
NK: Nick Kohler
AB: Alex Blanton
What drew you to dance music?
NK: I remember when I was 7 or 8 my father had two albums on repeat: Moby’s “Play” and Fatboy Slim’s “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.” It’s the music I grew up with, it’s the music I blasted from the speakers as loud as I could while I played on the trampoline. I don’t know what it was, but even at that age, it made me want to jump. I like to jump, it’s fun. Whatever music makes me want to jump is OK with me. A few years after I started writing acoustic songs, I decided to try to make the music that I wanted to make and that’s when E.S.O began.
Why did you pick Shanghai as the right place to share your music? Was this decision strategic?
NK: We both knew that there was a vibrant nightlife scene in Shanghai, but it is in such an infant stage compared to where it will be in a few years. We figured that if we entered the market now as an EDM duo from New York City, we’d be able to get in early and ride the wave to the top. Because we’ve established ourselves thus far in this emerging market, when we come back in March and June, we’ll have no problem performing and we’ll already have a built in fan-base.
AB: I felt Shanghai was the best location to study abroad for a variety of reasons. As someone interested in business and entrepreneurship (I’m in Stern), Shanghai, and China as a whole, is the place to be in the next 20 years. Nick and I also thought the development of the music industry here would likely mirror the overall economy’s development. We were definitely right with that prediction. The music scene in Shanghai is definitely growing at a rapid pace! We figured it’d be much easier to break into a growing market rather than a very mature one like Europe.
What were your goals when coming to Shanghai and how have you approached and tackled said goals?
NK: The overall goal was to simply perform because we believed that if we were able to get a foot in the door, we’d be able to make a pretty significant mark. Beneath the surface, we wanted to make a significant enough mark to be able to come back to not only Shanghai, but also the rest of China and possibly other countries in Southeast Asia and have people know who we are and want to come see us perform. We still have another month and a half, but I think that so far, we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do and then some.
How have your shows been going? What kinds of shows/venues have you been playing? How has the response been to you and your music? What has this experience taught you about the Chinese market?
NK: I think we’ve played more diverse shows in China than we could have ever even dreamed of even back in the U.S.A. Our first show was on the beach, the second was with French legends Cassius at an underground venue, and for Halloween we performed in the middle of a bamboo forest. In between we’ve played at the local clubs, but we’re having the time of our lives at every show. When we first went to the clubs as spectators, we thought that we would have to tailor our music significantly to fit the general vibe. However, upon deciding to stick to our style, we found that the Chinese public actually really enjoyed it (maybe because it was new). I feel like the Chinese market is incredibly receptive to new experiences in music… what they don’t know doesn’t turn them off, it provokes curiosity.
AB: We’ve played everything from beach parties, to mountain parties, to western style nightclubs, to Chinese styles clubs, to more European-style concert venues. The high-end nightclubs are very westernized and remind me of places in New York. They have an heir of exclusivity and the usual music of choice is vocal house music. The Chinese clubs on the other hand are a bit different. Chinese people don’t like to dance very much but they love to get messed up so these clubs have lots and lots of tables but a pretty small dance floor. The music at these venues is very top 40 (except when we play of course). The concert venue we played when we opened for Cassius was my favorite venue. Huge dancefloor with large bars either side, and only a small set of tables in the back. We played some really old school house music which was a lot of fun.
What have been some of your highlights while playing music in China?
NK: Our show with Cassius was far and away the highlight of our stint in China so far… I listened to their track “My Feelings for You” when I was like 11 years old and have loved it ever since. We opened for them in front of a sold out crowd and played an underground set. The audience loved every second of that entire show… great crowd, you could tell they just wanted to dance.
What are some key takeaways from your time in China? Have you learned anything about the music industry that you can apply to what you want to do?
AB: The Chinese locals don’t understand modern music or the music industry very well yet. Most of the current development in the music scene is still led by the westerners. There are definitely people working to grow and improve domestic taste and talent so this may start to change in a few years. Overall, China is a great market for new artists to break into. It is much less structured and hierarchical than the American music industry, so for the young and bold there are great opportunities here.
NK: China is an emerging market, but it is “emerging” at a tremendous rate. There is so much demand for great content here and although there is a healthy supply of Electronic Dance DJs, there is not a healthy supply of Electronic Dance Musicians. I was also surprised to find out that there isn’t a single label based in China that’s geared towards EDM, this being despite the fact that EDM is growing at the same rate that the nightlife market is growing. In fact, we’re talking to two entrepreneurs who are trying to launch the first EDM label in China and are trying to be on the cusp of that wave.