Anith Adilah Othman catches up with Daniel Weiss, touring Southeast Asia as DJ Hartojo.
It was unlike any other Saturday night in Phnom Penh. Fast electronic beats were blaring from the top floor of Meta House, the German-Cambodian cultural center, just loud enough to pique the curiosity of the passers-by along Sothearos Boulevard.
If I had not known better, I would have thought that Meta House was purely an underground party venue, with the way the bar was fashioned that very night – pitch black with nothing but blue lasers flickering across the makeshift dance floor.
Despite a killer line-up featuring Nick E. Meta and Prof Kinski and other guest DJs including Hungary’s Lefty Stryker and Cambodia’s Sao Sopheak, the star of the night had to be Berlin-based techno maestro Daniel Weiss.
Weiss is not your average table-turning DJ. He is a jack-of-all-trades. He produces his own music under the name DJ Hartojo (his mother’s Indonesian surname), writes at It Sounds Music, runs a record label called Fehler Musik and on top of that, has a dayjob at an elite music academy in Germany.
Now, on his first ever Southeast Asia tour, Weiss said he has a new mission: to produce a documentary on the region’s electronic music scene.
“Before I came here, I wanted to collect some content for my blog alone but now I realise I can play a bigger part by connecting the dots between the scene here and Berlin, which is known as the techno capital of the world. I have the chance now, so I have to do this,” the 40-year-old told Good Times2 in an interview.
In spite of it all, DJ-ing is what Weiss does best as evident during his two-hour set on Saturday.
“DJ-ing is all about energy to me. If you hit the right spot with the beats and it resonates well with the crowd, you’ll see happy faces and that will motivate you to take it higher.
“I play in larger warehouses in Berlin but I prefer smaller venues because it feels intimate and personal. It’s like you are part of the crowd, not above them, you know, standing on some platform 10-metre high.”
Having played in some of the biggest clubs in Berlin such as NeuWest Berlin, Bertrams Freundenreich and Icon since he started in 2009, Weiss said he enjoys switching things up once in a while.
“Techno is my signature and the crowd in Berlin is super sophisticated. If I made a mistake for a millisecond, there would be people who would recognise it, which is good, but at the same time I collect decades worth of music so I would like to play some house, or freestyle,” he said.
In his own words, he is “living his best life” at the moment.
“This trip is a dream. I am setting foot in countries I have not been to before, playing my music and the best part is I get to escape the cold Berlin winter,” he jokingly said.
Weiss admitted that working on too many projects at a time can get a little distracting for his artistry. He said, however, breaking it all down into ‘storytelling’ is how he copes.
“I try to have music days or business days only. The common denominator for me is that everything I do tells a story. Essentially they are the same thing – whether writing in my blog, recording a Facebook video, producing music, or playing a gig – I tell stories. Now, I try to focus on one story a day,” he elaborated.
Regardless, Weiss is constantly looking for new, fresh creative outlets to tell his stories and 2019 will prove to be a memorable one for him.
“My blog is already moving towards Youtube. I have another project on this tour which is mobile music production. I want to show people that you can produce music while you’re traveling so I brought pieces of my setup with me.
“Right now, I am also recording local sounds in every city I play in and I will produce the tracks named after each of said city: Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, et cetera,” he explained passionately.
Weiss also pointed out the biggest misconceptions about house music is its strong association with drugs.
“When you say house or techno party, people would say it is a drug-only party. Come on, drugs are everywhere in the world, even at fashion shows. It is the music that keeps the people ‘addicted’, they come back to enjoy the moment. They want to be there because they like the vibes,” he said.
After Cambodia, Weiss is playing several more gigs at his birthplace, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, making pitstops at Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand before going back to Germany in the middle of March.
“I want to make the most out of this trip. Aside from playing gigs, I wish to check out all the beaches and pretty places in the region. You know, mostly so I could send pictures to my friends back home who are freezing right now,” he ended with a joke.