Pop Playground
Get Miles: DJ Night in Kathmandu

et Miles is an occasional series of music and travel dispatches from Colin Cooper. Armed with an mp3 player and a luxurious notebook, Colin relays his experiences from the bustling Internet cafés of South East Asia, all in an attempt to explore old bonds with his record collection and forge new ones with the wider world.
“If we’re being honest, I have to say that, well… we all thought the girl on the ticket was just a model. Everybody did. When we came in and saw the in-house DJ; a middle-aged bloke with hair only above his top lip, we thought he was the main attraction: DJ Nakadia. Slightly suggestive, effeminate name for a baldy, but still we were surprised when the girl with the ass did her thing with the decks later on.”
Luckily, the promoter saw the funny side. Well, at least he seemed to. He hasn’t been in touch since.

Nevertheless, when I arrived at the sprawling complex that is the Hyatt Regency, home to the trendiest club in town—Rox—I was underwhelmed. I’m sure when we walked in The Black Eyed Peas’ politics-for-the-lobotomised-generation, “Where Is The Love?” was blasting out of the sound system like it was interesting or relevant or enjoyable or something. It was already midnight. So figuring the party would be in full swing by now, and being as stunning a progressive house event as this was supposed to be, I was perhaps a little deflated to be met with these misguided tones. “Return Of The Mack” followed, and I can vouch for this: Mark Morrison is still cool here. The obligatory nod to 80s hair-rock (which almost always takes the form of “Livin’ On A Prayer”) was followed finally—mercifully—by the main attraction.

Looking at DJ Nakadia’s website, her biography appears to be as brief as the time she seemed to spend behind the decks. Speaking of brief, we quickly learn from the site that she’s only been DJ-ing for a few years, that she was raised in a poverty-stricken part of Thailand, where, rags to riches, triumph over adversity, et cetera after et cetera, she began touring the world. However, the work sounded good; definitely well mixed and danceable if a little tired and directionless. But Nakadia spent more time dancing than pretty much anyone else in the venue, all the while our balding friend lurking around in the DJ booth. Going back to the website, we also learn that Nakadia broke into the trendy Asian club scene not from her work as a DJ, but as a model.

There’s no doubt about it, she’s a beautiful girl. And I bet she really loves house music. She might even be a good DJ. But over on the promoter’s website people were invited to send messages to DJ Nakadia, and the results were too predictable to detail. Back in the club, the event was marred slightly by over-enthusiastic men showing their “appreciation” for Nakadia’s talent in a pretty degrading manner. Not only did our heroine seem pointedly unfazed by this, she seemed to spend most of her time responding to this attention with varying levels of gratitude, ranging from short-but-sweet conversations to out-and-out brush-offs. I was concerned for those decks, spinning round and round, out of control, totally neglected.

Finding a DJ who was (slightly) more focused on the music and who definitely wasn’t hired for any aesthetic qualities wasn’t half as hard as I’d thought. A week on, I’d been challenged to bring along my trusty mp3 player to Tom & Jerry Pub (which Lonely Planet’s guide to Nepal justifiably deems as “rowdy”), one of the principal trekker/tourist/volunteer haunts and probably my “local” watering hole. Generally, the guy who picks out the music in there does a grand job, flitting from indie singalong classics to hip hop, then from hip hop to new music from The Killers, U2 and whatever last thing was that the tourists heard before they left for poorer climbs. Unfortunately, we’re often subjected to Bon Jovi there, too.

So what did I bring to the table? Well, I happily took requests for early U2 and The Jam, negotiated which Strokes run-through we were going to indulge the insane inane with that evening (I opted “New York City Cops” over the now-intolerable “Last Nite”) and even played “Where Is The Love?” to further prove what a truly selfless and benevolent being I am. Of course, that was never going to last too long, so I interspersed more selfish choices with stuff I knew would go down well. Here’s a sample list:

Song 2 – Blur
Can’t Stand me Now – The Libertines
Stand Up Tall – Dizzee Rascal
Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
Sit Down – James
Blue Monday – New Order
Born Slippy (Nuxx) - Underworld
Mass Destruction (P*Nut Remix) – Faithless

That’s the stuff I can remember anyway. I enjoyed it, but the whole process was dampened by the presence of some Nepali patrons down the bottom end of the room. The bar staff were unusually edgy that night, distant in conversation and constantly turning the sound down to a barely-audible fridge-buzz. When I asked why (normally the place runs at full volume well into the early hours) it was explained to me at length, but to simplify for the purposes of readability, here’s an equation:

Nepali men + budget–priced whisky + loud music = fights

I know similar equations are true in the West (or at least they certainly are where I’m from, replacing the Indian scotch with Stella Artois, of course) but a long stint on the nightlife scene here will find very little trouble amongst the tourists—all of them too good natured/stoned/scared to mention to anyone that you spilt their pint, whilst yes, I have seen local revelers getting a bit handy now and then. So there it was, the search for the decent DJ night still reaping little reward. That was, of course, until I met this guy:

DJ Sishir. Unpretentious, enthusiastic, passionate and, from what I can gather, something of a bright young star, Sishir earns his crust playing the usual commercial hip hop and Hindi dance music on a Friday night in Thamel’s Fire Club, but his real love is house, which he spins at the more discerning Club 2000 on the other side of the New Road. It was there that he took me (after talking with him in Fire a few days before) to see what he really enjoys doing. And he seems to do it pretty damned well, under the circumstances.

The booth was crowded with myself and two friends, as well as innumerable DJs shuffling in and out, some of them playing sets, some of them just talking shit. Invariably, the ones talking shit were the most highly regarded and the least willing to actually do anything to substantiate their worth, including one such DJ Flex. He told me that he wants to stay underground, doesn’t want to be “too” popular. Flex, who (according to his friends) is the best DJ in Nepal right now, bored me with ridiculous cooler-than-thou clichés for nigh on half an hour, before I told him that if he didn’t want people to listen to him then they… well they probably wouldn’t.

On a more positive note, DJ Sishir, a DJ of two-and-a-half years, he won Nepal’s War Of The DJ’s competition last year, and is now looking to spread his wings to a larger Asian contest. He cites his main frustrations as the current trend in Nepal youth culture for American hip-hop and the lack of decent vinyl records/decks to practice on. He told me the scene is gradually edging towards house music again, and people such as himself are being given more opportunities to play, to purvey. Good on him.

The name of this article is stolen from the novel “Video Night in Kathmandu” by Pico Iyer, a book I may or may not ever read.

Photograph of DJ Nakadia by John Ivar Sandvik

By: Colin Cooper
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