Sunju Hargun has been at the front lines of the Asia’s underground scene since the beginning. He’s spent the last 13 years establishing himself as a local hero in Bangkok,Thailand helping spots like Glow Nightclub and Grease develop into the city’s go-to underground spots with his residencies and club nights.
As the dance industry continues to grow in Asia, so does the presence of festivals, and last year saw Sunju sharing stages with many A list stars. His music has come to be defined by his dark and minimal sounding melodies, and his most recent release and remix for Tiga’s Turbo Recordings together with Canadian companion Forrest , has gained him heavy support from the likes of Techno luminaries such as Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Pan Pot, Adam Beyer and many more.
On 31st October, along with Russ Yallop and Greg Pidcock, Sunju headlines Halloween by the Pier in Mumbai, India for Regenerate. As proud media sponsors, Decoded Magazine contacted Sunju to find out about his career, his thoughts on being a warm up DJ and meeting your heroes.
Hi Sunju, thanks for finding some time to chat to us at Decoded Magazine. How’s your day been so far?
Thank you! The day has been great so far as I’ve been working on some new material ahead of the India trip, and managed to slip in a fantastic dinner before starting this interview, so I feel good!
We understand you have a bit a soft spot for Carlo Lio, whom we interviewed recently. They say you should never meet your heroes, but my personal experience has been the opposite. Who was the most famous person you’ve met that lived up to the hype?
Ali Dubfire and Christian Smith would be my biggest heroes. I’ve had the privilege of spending some quality time with both; played alongside with them a couple of times already, and I have only respect towards their hard work, dedication, humbleness and the art that they create.
So talk us through your discovery of dance music and what prompted you to start DJing..
My education into dance music was quite an unexpected journey. I started off as a clubber while I was living in Manila during the late 90’s, going to raves and club nights, where I would hear the local resident’s play a mixture between house, pop and disco. Soon enough, I started to develop a taste and understanding about house music, as I was frequently going to watch those locals and a few international DJs as well, which surely set a spark in me. Trance also played a big role in my early inspirations when I was exploring deeper, but for me it was the darker and heavier side of it and not so much of the euphoric and happy side.
During my late teenage years in Shanghai, I spent countless of weekends at this club called “DKD” which was the temple of Underground House/Techno. The resident DJ’s that played there had a large, but great selection of vinyl and played for at least 5-6 hours taking the crowd on a beautiful Journey. The style of music went through House/Techno/Tribal/Progressive and sometimes Psy trance which carried influences from the sounds of Sasha, Digweed, Christopher lawrence, Dave Seaman, Nick Warren, Hernan Cattaneo, Deep Dish and many more.
I knew right away that this music was my calling, and the local heroes of the city were the reason I became a DJ.
We understand you were instrumental in the growth of the scene in Bangkok, espacially Glow…
I have lived through so many venues in Bangkok that I have seen come and go, that left behind a great legacy. Spots like 808, Astra, L.E.D, Qbar, Bed Supperclub and many more were the the only places you could go out to hear quality music, together with the combination of great international guest DJ’s and international standard of sound and lighting systems.
Glow has been around for almost 10 years now, but has been my home for about 5 years. I refer to it as my “playground”, as for me it has been a special place for those who are not afraid to express themselves, and have the love for the music only. A very special part of Glow’s identity, is the tremendous amount of love that has been put into the place from the owners Gert and Jam , who believe and share a passion for the music and really find ways to always make sure everyone is happy and nothing else. Some of the best local residents and promoters are playing a huge role in the club’s bookings and artist that pass through. With the recent addition of the Funktion-1 system installed into the club I have no doubt that they are on the right path.
Having never been to Thailand, can you talk us through the dance music scene there?
The scene in Thailand is currently expanding, and it’s also very exciting as we see the growth of so many large and even small-scale events with a very creative approach to all of them. In Thailand for example, we have some of the best event organisers which include Retox, Wonderfruit, 808 festival, Kolours, Mixmag Asia and Tempology, all of whom are doing fantastic parties with very strong line ups. Even smaller underground events are gaining massive amounts of attention nowadays, as the community is making the effort to come out and support them all. The local DJs are also highly supported as well.
Wheres good to go for a nice meal and a great party?
Bangkok has a great variety and selection of food to choose from, some of my favourite Thai restaurants include Soul Food, The Local and Bo.lan. A more international cuisine choice would be spots like Lady Brett, Bad Motel, Peppina, Quince, Charcoal and Eat me. For breakfast and coffee I always love to go to The Gastro 1/6 and Rocket Coffee Bar. Thai street food has been very popular in Bangkok for a long time already now and certainly Soi 38 are the leaders in my opinion, but due to recent new building constructions the vendors have been forced to clean up and relocate which is quite sad to be honest as there is something just very special about the street and the vibe it sends.
I believe in a quality party surrounded by good music, good vibes and people who just like to be themselves. Before a big night out I highly recommend Sing Sing Theater, Smalls, Bad Motel, Above 11 to have a few pre-drinks. Clubs and bars that play good quality music are Dark Bar, Glow, LIVE RCA and Oskars.
That’s awesome Sunju, really comprehensive. Lets move on to your DJing: the way you like to construct a set. How much of the music you play is instinctual from the vibe of the audience, and how much is tracks you really want to play?
My early years of DJing was always about the connection with people, the same way those DJs that I use to get inspired by would make me feel something because I was hooked on their vibe. Music being such a strong tool of connection, I feel we DJs have the ability to make anyone who has a had a really bad day put a smile to their face in the end.
With that, being said for me it has to come natural ,but as funny as it sounds whenever I DJ I always have a story going through my mind, and it starts off with this person that sets off on a journey (where I begin my set to the end) but what happens in the middle is always the surprise.
We understand you’re heading abroad soon – to Mumbai for Regenerate’s Halloween by the Pier. Firstly, how often do you get to play international gigs, and secondly, do you find the choice of music differs from your home crowds?
I am very excited about the Mumbai gig. This is the first time I am playing Halloween outside Bangkok as well. The International gigs have really come about since I returned from a one month stay in Berlin last summer.
Recent travels to Australia, Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore have been inspiring so far, and in regards to the music choice, I would say that I always try to be myself no matter where I go, I am usually quite adaptable to many situations but it is always a balance.
Any cool tour stories you’d like to share?
Yes! It was recently during my Australia tour in Sydney, I did a 4 hour b2b set with Marco Resmann after he finished playing solo for about 2 hours, and we kept the crowd with us until the early a.m hours. It was a really magical experience, and we vibed off each other very well, but again totally unexpected which is always special in my books.
You’re playing alongside some great residents, but theres been much talk recently about the roll warm up DJs play in the scheme of a night, and how due to their inexperience some of them don’t play appropriately for the time of night. What was your biggest learning curve?
Around the time I had just started to play residencies in small clubs and bars, I was given the role of a warm up DJ to an empty floor for a couple of months until I started to have some crowd. My training started from there, as I had to fill the dance floor until the next resident came on.
Being able to adjust accordingly to the time of the night without getting to carried away by playing the banging stuff, was one of the hardest things for me to learn from the start. Sure there were a few mistakes here and there along the way, but I learnt a very valuable lesson that no matter what you play or do, reading the room was always key and giving a smile to the crowd once in a while haha!
Thats some sound advice there. Lets move on to your productions. How long did it take before you first released a record?
It took me about 4 years until i had my first single on ONE Recordings which is a label run by the legendary Aldrin from Singapore.
Do you think the new generation of producers are prepared for the inevitable knock backs?
It really is all about dedication, passion, staying original and hard work to be honest. Believing in your work and setting goals and targets will put you on the right path. A very important factor I learnt and I will say I’m still learning today is to understand what you really want for yourself and how you can play a role in this industry. You have to be extremely careful about all the steps you make and whom you work with. I tend to read and watch alot of videos/tutorials online let it be DJ interviews, documentaries and discussions, all this information can be very important at times especially when it comes from your peers.
Now signed to Turbo and VIVa, have you found A&Rs are more open to listening to your new tracks?
It has opened a lot of doors for sure, I’m very happy with how well the EP’s have been received and i will continue to release in other outlets as well as keeping Turbo my home.
Earlier this year you hooked up with rising Montreal based producer Forrest for your collaboration EP on Tiga’s Turbo Recordings. Can you talk us through the development of the track and the challenges posed by your locations?
Two years ago, I had the privilege of being able to work with the very talented Forrest whom I had connected with online and I was a big fan of his work since day one. Our first collaboration led to getting signed with Steve Lawler’s Viva Music, and after that we decided that it was a good time to follow up the EP with something bigger. So we worked on a few more bits and ideas and ended up with four big dance floor bombs that we held on to for about two to three months, to play out and test the reactions on the floor.
A few weeks later, I received an email from Forrest, and he said that Tiga was interested and of course we said yes immediately! It was an amazing moment as I had made a list of labels that I wanted to join four months prior to signing, and Turbo was one of them, so I’m really happy about how this worked out as I have a lot of respect for Tiga, and for how he has contributed to the electronic music scene. This eventually led to a remix for the label and soon enough, we will have a follow up EP towards the end of the year.
Well, its been wonderful chatting Sunju, we wish you the best of luck with your gig with Regenerate on October 31st. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in making this India tour happen, it is extremely exciting for me to be going back to the motherland and experience and looking forward to meeting some interesting people along the way that will inspire me.