OIL Founders on Shenzhen Club Scene, 996 Jobs and DJ Shoutouts

By Bryan Grogan, October 29, 2019

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OIL in Shenzhen opened its doors to the general public in November 2017. Since then, Shenzhen’s premiere experimental club has gained fans far and wide, including the good folks at Lonely Planet

Huiyuan Sun and Yangyang Song, a pair of friends, clubbers and creative souls, had the zany idea to put Shenzhen’s party scene on the map. While the tech-heavy southern hub has long been known as Hong Kong’s nerdy, early-to-bed neighbor, Sun and Song hit on some kind of magic, creating a dark, sweaty and friendly spot near Chegongmiao in the city’s Futian district. 

Since opening, OIL has joined the likes of ALL, Loopy, Zhaodai, Dada and others, touted as one of the best clubs in China. While the pair of friends behind the club are nowhere near as well-known as the producers and DJs they get to perform every weekend, they have, through an unhealthy dose of late nights, hard work and changing toilet seats, been integral in making the south of China a destination for major producers. 

They've also provided support for a range of local promoters, DJs and labels, giving space to the likes of Daniel Power’s drum and bass promoter Unchained, which regularly puts on some of the best events of any given weekend. 

This Halloween weekend, OIL are celebrating their 2nd Anniversary and have put together a stellar lineup over the course of three days, from October 31-November 2. They’ve invited hyped musicians like Lotic, Shlomo, Teki Latex, Tzusing (drinking ability: 5 stars) and others to play over the course of the three days.  

We took the chance to speak to the pair ahead of the celebrations. 

Can you talk about how and why you guys decided to open OIL in the beginning?
Huiyuan: It all began in the summer of 2015. I remembered it was a small and legal party in a place in OCT Shenzhen hosted by The Real Deal which is a local promoter. Although the party was totally legal, it had to end early, at around midnight. A couple of us turned on our car speaker, opened the car door and danced around the car till the early morning, but we were kind of depressed. That was the starting point. We wanted to do something in Shenzhen by starting a club.

I became an artist, doing freelance projects after graduating from China Academy of Art, then I came to Shenzhen and worked regular ‘996’ jobs for two years. After leading those two completely different lives, I wanted to do something that I truly love. The music scene in Shenzhen at the time was boring and not diverse enough. All the clubs looked the same, typical Chinese commercial places. We had an insatiable desire to bring in forward-thinking music and an inclusive club scene in the city.

Image courtesy of OIL

Yangyang: Before OIL, we were simply electronic music fans, and liked going to interesting parties. At the time, Shenzhen was quite boring. If we wanted to explore and find cool parties, we had to cross the border to Hong Kong or even fly to Shanghai.

Basically back then, when our favorite artists were touring in Asia, they would usually skip southern china. We thought Shenzhen was an energetic city, the music scene shouldn’t be like this.

Image courtesy of OIL

I’m a typical second-generation Shenzhen citizen, and I have a deep feeling for Shenzhen. Whenever I heard people say that Shenzhen is referred to as a ‘cultural desert,” deep down I was unwilling to admit it, even though it is a fact. Being able to accomplish things I want in a city that I love, and make the city a little more fun, where young people can listen to different kinds of music and experience a more inclusive club scene has been amazing.

“Bringing DJ Zinc to OIL Club last year has been my favorite night there. He is my childhood hero who got me into drum & bass music. And we had the club totally packed out! Amazing vibes and one night I will never forget!” – Daniel Power

How long did it take from your initial idea to open a club until you were actually able to open OIL?
Huiyuan: It took us more than two years from the initial idea to OIL’s soft opening. 

Yangyang: We spent more than a year and a half looking for the right place. Basically, we searched every street and every single property in Futian district, and most of Nanshan district.

“OIL has completely changed the musical landscape in South China. For those of us that left the clubbing part of our lifestyle behind when we moved to China, to have a place that equals or even surpasses the scene back home is massive. I used to pine for the music back in Manchester but now, when I go back to my hometown, I am conscious of what I am missing at OIL” – Tribal John

What were you doing in music before that?
Huiyuan: I had been a bedroom producer for two years, casually working on electronic music that I liked. After that I stopped making music for a long time but continued listening to a wide range of music. We didn’t have any experience of running a venue, or even a party before opening OIL.

Image courtesy of OIL

Yangyang: I got into the electronic music field pretty late. It started when Huiyuan started bringing me to parties. In the beginning, what attracted me was not only the music itself, but also the vibe at these parties. I was drawn to the inclusive, interesting atmosphere. Before that, I listened to pop music when I was a student, but I didn’t see the point in listening all day long. I thought I didn’t have any connection with music at all, until I started listening to electronic music, it was like entering a whole new world. Before OIL, I was a junior fan of electronic music who liked to party.

“I have many good memories of nights DJing and hanging out with new and old friends at OIL. One of my favourite memories is playing a DJ set from 3-6am and seeing how the crowd kept on dancing and grooving no matter what kind of music I threw at them. It gave me big hopes for the future of club culture in Shenzhen” – DJ Tayta

Thinking back over the past two years, what moments stand out as your favorite or the most formative in OIL’s story?
Huiyuan: Way too many. Let me think of the important ones.

It was very impressive for me when Mala played at OIL in April 2018. Towards the end of his set, he stopped the music and said into the mic, “During my music career in the last 10 years… I swear, this is one of the best venues I’ve ever played.”

That was the moment.

Image courtesy of OIL

Yangyang: I could talk about several formative moments.

For me, I’d say it was OIL opening weekend when Kode9 first played. He said, in his more than a decade of playing music, 80% of venues were “so, so,” 15% were terrible (like disaster time) and only 5% were the “highlight stars.” Because of the 5%, he has been able to keep on doing his thing, and he counted OIL in the 5% for sure.

So, no matter how hard times get, I will go back and think about how we are in the 5%. Luckily, we get quite a lot those “5%” from people.

“My favorite memory from OIL was the first party basically. It was like a secret one and they only invited friends to test the sounds and check the venue. All of us worked so hard before it and I got too drunk that night and puked hahahahaha” – Warmchainss

OIL helped to make Shenzhen a destination for international DJs and producers touring China. What have you discovered about music and music fans in Shenzhen since you began OIL?
Huiyuan: People are becoming more and more picky with music at the parties, and people’s purpose towards music is growing stronger. I wasn’t really aware of that until we started OIL. 

Image courtesy of OIL

Can you speak on some of the behind-the-scenes work that people might not know goes on with running a club? 
Huiyuan: We need to fix the toilet lids once a month.

We also need to check tons of emails every single day, including some DJs and agencies but, we can easily filter out those unimportant emails which we don’t need to check.

“Watching Kode 9 play on the opening night in November 2017 was great because I knew it was the start of something special for OIL. I loved watching Unchained presents D Bridge because my dad attended and he loved it. Also had the pleasure of supporting many artists I’ve admired for years such as Loefah, Goth Trad, Commodo, Madam X, Anna Morgan, Nina Las Vegas, Murlo & Chimpo. Roska was a special night to promote too because it was my last one before moving to Hong Kong and a big success!” – Katie Cooper

Yangyang: We’ve taken artists to local restaurants so often that we’ve become VIPs there. We can walk in without any reservation and don’t need to wait in line.

Image courtesy of OIL

Your anniversary last year was super impressive and had a huge turnout. How long did it take you to organize this year’s party?
Huiyuan: We probably started to organize right after the first anniversary, every time an event has ended we always have a period of self-examination, asking ourselves if we could have done it better. We actually started to reach out to artists from May 2019 for this year’s anniversary.

“When I was just moved to Shenzhen last year, I made some new friends and they invited me to play at their event. It was an occasion that DJs blindly choose each other’s USB sticks, improvise their sets. That was fresh to me” – 3ASIC

For celebrations like these, do you feel pressure to make it bigger and better?
Huiyuan: Yes, we do feel pressure.

When we found out that this year’s Halloween is on a Thursday, we decided to make a marathon party from Thursday night until Sunday morning. We understand that audiences in Shenzhen might not be able to attend long parties for three days, so we made it a party of three-consecutive nights instead of going non-stop for three days.

Normally, we will have a wider range of people, who have various music tastes, that come to OIL’s anniversary. This is an opportunity and we’d like audiences to experience a diverse range of club music. 

READ MORE: The History Behind Shenzhen’s Blossoming Underground Electronic Music Scene

Oct 31-Nov 2, 9pm; RMB280 (three-day pass), RMB200 (two-day pass), RMB100 (Oct 31), RMB120 (Nov 1), RMB130 (Nov 2). OIL. See event listing. Tickets

[Cover image courtesy of OIL]

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