Brian Offenther is an audio Ninja. If you are a resident of South East Asia and your city is afflicted with bad music, no nightlife or you live at the mercy of a regressive Government, have no fear. Offenther will slip on his DJ cape as DJ Bo, take over your sound system and show you how to party. That’s what the 28-year-old Florida resident has been doing ever since he exchanged the American landscape with the culturally rich mountain folk and folklore of Mongolia a few years ago. DJ Bo has been instrumental in creating an alternative, club culture in Mongolia with the setting up of a nightclub, interestingly named Cross-Eyed Gypsy after an ex-girlfriend, which continues to host parties and electronica nights with artists from around the globe.
Last month DJ Bo played a private party in North Korea, which he admittedly tells us (as was put across to him by organizers) was
the first time a DJ ever played in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.
Offenther was invited to play the after party of the country’s annually held Mass Games at Koryo
Hotel in Pyongyang. Offenther played the requested “retro rock” for a crowd-full of expats and a few locals who danced the most when Offenther played YMCA, still loved the twist and moved strangely to Britney Spears.
We spent an hour talking with Offenther on a lovely Tuesday morning, learning all about his spoils across the unknown territories of South East Asia.
Q-1. How did you start your DJ career? I read you are from Florida?
I started my so-called “DJ career” in Gainesville, Florida when I got annoyed with the club scene. I love to dance to music but rarely love “dance music,” so I got the most basic laptop DJ program and put on some parties. This was in 2005 to 2006. In 2007, I moved to the countryside of the country of Mongolia when I joined the Peace Corps, a volunteer group. I threw some parties there. Few were successful, but few almost got me killed. Two years later, I moved to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where I managed a nightclub I named after the girlfriend I left when I moved to Mongolia, “The Cross-Eyed Gypsy.” Those parties went much better. About a year later I moved back to Florida and worked as a dancer for Platinum Gold Entertainment. After six months, I was bored as hell, so I moved to Shanghai. I’ve been here for two years. The most successful thing I’ve done here is co-direct with a Japanese guy and a Chinese guy a series of parties called “Trash A Go-Go” that still gets talked about for the consistency and quality of the debauchery of the international artists we brought for it.
Q-2. Tell me a little about your family and your background.
I grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, which is a suburban town in South Florida. It can best be described geographically and culturally as a pimple on the penis of the USA.
I have a younger brother who is nothing like me, and I’m sure he’ll be embarrassed if you even mention him, so please do. My mother is a tap dance teacher and my father and his brother are both rock ‘n’ roll trivia nerds, so I think those two things had a big influence on me. My father’s brother also has lived a very unique life, including many appearances on TV game shows and a spot in the shuffleboard hall of fame. His spirit has had a big influence on me. I was a very fat and shy kid until the summer before my senior year in high school, when I lost a lot of weight and soon asked a classmate named Deb Gober to the homecoming dance. Her saying yes and making out with me a whole bunch set me on a path of righteousness.
Q-3. What kind of music do you play? Do you also produce your own music?
I specialise in retro rock ‘n’ roll dance nights, including 1950′s sockhops, Motown nights, 1980′s, funk, and stuff like that. I also do some true school hip hop, stuff from the very late 1970′s and 1980′s. Sometimes I throw it all together with indie rock and whatever else I feel like. I tend to do a lot of 1950′s nights through, because those are my favourites and very few DJs know anything about music from that era and are willing to work with it for a general audience. Also, you can’t just use a beat-matching program. I don’t produce my own music, though like many things, it’s in the works. In Gainesville, I was the singer-songwriter for an ultra-conservative punk band called The Factor. It was a lark.
Q-4. What is scene like in Shanghai?
The scene in Shanghai is good, and I encourage bands from India to come visit! It’s small considering the population of Shanghai, but it’s growing. Shanghai is more known for posh places, but the rock scene here is developing, and has an interesting mix of expats and locals. A strong music scene is something I care a lot about, and I’m committed to helping it along. Well, some places in Florida definitely do have a more prosperous music communities than Shanghai, but in a way, that encourages me to be in Shanghai more. People here are less jaded about it; people need more guidance; there’s a lot more room to grow.
Q-5. What are some of the strangest parties and strangest crowds you’ve played to?
I think most of my strange party experiences come from my time in Mongolia.
I once DJed an underground warehouse party for the LGBT community in Ulanbaatar, including lots of drag queens. They had no idea what to make of the only white guy there, who was also straight, and playing Depeche Mode, or anything that wasn’t trance music.
That didn’t go over well, but it was fabulous. In Darkhan, Mongolia, I DJed a party at a hotel, and it just happened that an international kindergarten was passing through, and they asked to join. I gave an enthusiastic “yes,” and the dance floor was soon full of little kids jumping and screaming, which completely reinvigorated all the vodka-soaked adults. Little kids love tunes from the “Rock Horror Picture Show,” FYI. Of course, there was also the party in North Korea.
Q-6. Talking about strange parties, you’ve also played in North Korea. Tell us about your experience, the audience reception.
I DJed in the Koryo Hotel karaoke bar and room in Pyongyang. It was a mix of North Korean hotel staff, security minders that all foreigners have to keep around when they visit, foreign diplomats, and all sorts of tourists. Literally, it was impossible to get more diverse: I had jaded students from Yale, and North Koreans who literally had never heard of Britney Spears. So I played a lot of different stuff: The Big Bopper, Big Audio Dynamite, Big Joe Turner, Katy Perry, and stuff like that. At first the Koreans were kind of scared, but some Europeans grabbed them after a few songs, and they got a hang of the whole dancing thing.
Watch this video of DJ Bo spinning in North Korea:
Q-7. Was it difficult playing to an audience who mostly traditionally would not know what you were playing since they pretty much don’t have a grip on music trends?
Exactly. Though that’s the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll: anybody can do it. Also, The Twist (by Hank Ballard) is universal and infinite, so that helps.
Q-8. Did you ever feel unsafe or apprehensive?
I never felt unsafe. Queasy after drinking some bootleg soju moonshine from a gasoline canister, but never in danger. Oh, there were many things that were staged, but that doesn’t make them unreal.
The act of artifice is so ingrained in North Korea, that it’s as natural as anything else. One could make that claim that this is true to schemes in other cultures as well, but I will say that at least those tend not to be about covering up so much brutality. Still, violence always implies something beautiful is there in the first place.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I’m working on lots of new things. In March I’ll be directing Mongolia’s first rockabilly festival featuring the wonderful Rocktigers from South Korea. I’d also love to DJ in India. Please invite me!