Dance

We Toured Southeast Asia With the Ed Banger Crew

Busy P and Breakbot at Thailand's Wonderfruit Festival
Erin Granat

Busy P and Breakbot at Thailand's Wonderfruit Festival.

From Singapore to Hong Kong to Thailand with Busy P and company.

It’s a Saturday night in Thailand, and Busy P is taking a tour of the Wonderfruit festival. Touted as Asia’s version of Burning Man-meets-Coachella-meets-the-future-of-festivals, Wonderfruit has multiple stages, countless art installations and an organic farm.

On this warm night, December 14, Wonderfruit also has a takeover from Ed Banger Records, the revered label started by Busy P -- also known as Pierre “Pedro” Winter, also known as the guy who launched Daft Punk, Justice and many other pioneers of the “French touch” sound. But before the show starts, Busy P wants to check out a silver school bus.

We climb aboard, the patron saint of French dance music and two of his bright stars: Breakbot (quietly hilarious and looking like the Jesus of disco) and Yasmin (the minx of groove, from London by way of Mexico). Breakbot gets behind the wheel of the bus and pretends to put it in gear. “Where should we go, guys?”

Without missing a beat Yasmin sings, “To Funkytown!” in the style of the iconic disco hit by Lipps Inc. She says it as if no other answer was possible, as if we hadn’t just traveled to three countries in three days, as if exhaustion was something we’d become immune to. And actually, she’s right. We are going to Funkytown. The Ed Banger takeover at Wonderfruit will last until 5:00 a.m., no corner of the dancefloor left un-stomped. 

But first let’s take it back to where the story begins, in Singapore, at “The World’s First Norwegian Salmon ATM.” Yasmin has been to Singapore before, but this is the first time she’s encountered the salmon ATM. It accepts Visa and MasterCard, and if you buy one fillet, you get the second half-off. It’s strange, but it’s been a strange day. The morning was spent at Haw Par Villa, a psychedelic outdoor museum of sorts that tells the story of Asian folklore by way of dioramas and sculptures, a gift to Singapore by Aw Boon Haw, a millionaire philanthropist and founder of Tiger Balm.

After a quick bite in Little India, we’re joined by another DJ from the tour, French-American DJ, producer and singer Irfane, whose voice has graced tracks with Breakbot, Cerrone and Hudson Mohawke, to name a few. With Yasmin and Irfane reunited on Asian soil, they set off to find the real pot of gold at the end of the Singaporean rainbow -- Red Point, a record store tucked into an industrial warehouse.

“I’d heard about this spot from a local friend. He told me this was where I could find the best collection of 80’s funk and disco from Malaysia, China, Taiwan and all around Asia,” says Yasmin. “For a year I’ve been waiting to come here.”

As co-founder of the travel media platform Trippin.world, finding Red Point wasn’t just a fun aside for Yasmin, it was a serious mission. “One of the main motivations behind Trippin was to give people access to the cool, niche or underground spots that they might not find without the help of a local who’s in-the-know," she explains. "As DJs, we’re lucky to always have someone meet us on the ground, who wants to show us the best their city has to offer."

Erin Granat
Irfane and Yasmin in Singapore.

As we enter the record store, the lady behind the counter asks us to remove our shoes. Her hair is in a chic bob and she wears an orange turtleneck. When asked if there’s WiFi, she laughs and instead offers a mint.

By the time we return to the hotel, Busy P, Breakbot and Myd -- the latter producer fresh off a flight from Paris -- are enjoying their first beer in Singapore. Now to a pre-party at the apartment of Zaran Vachha, who’s organized this tour through his agency Collective Minds. Dumplings are consumed. So many different types of dumplings! There’s champagne and dancing to Prince, and then a raucous bus ride to the venue Zouk.

The show! It goes like this: Yasmin slays her set -- global funk, disco and soul grooves mixed with house and electro. There’s a packed house. Then Don Julio and more Don Julio. Busy P and Myd are up next, bringing a heavier sound via tracks by the likes of Justice and a particularly tough one by Gorgon City, “Roped In,” which has the crowd going apes--t. Breakbot comes on, and everyone’s phones come out. Snap snap snap. Donna Summer, “I Feel Love.” Daft Punk, “Around The World.” More Don Julio. Myd and Irfane and Breakbot trade off tracks. The crowd forms a conga line, which Busy P and Breakbot join. Martin Solveig stops by to watch.

And then a Singaporean hot pot meal at 4:00 a.m., which basically means a buffet of meats and veggies you dip into a hot vat of oil that sits in the middle of the table. No one can tell when the fish balls are ready. Everyone loves the wagyu beef, except the vegetarians. 

Erin Granat
Breakbot in Singapore.

Then we’re on to Hong Kong, which isn’t a city so much as it is an energy. A frenetic, exhilarating madhouse energy. Millions of souls and billions of lights, all squashed together and in the midst of transformation. Recent reports out of Hong Kong have been of social unrest and protests.

“For the past few months I stand for the children,” says our taxi driver from the airport. “I stop my job; I go to the protests, even I make less money because I stop my job -- because this is for the future. We want a good future in Hong Kong.”

So why bring a dance show here? Why now? “Times are tough in Hong Kong at the moment,” says Vachha, who was born in Hong Kong and co-founded Collective Minds here. “Usually this would have been a ticketed event, but due to the current situation we made it free. We wanted to give the kids a chance to release some pressure. Music is an expression of freedom. Hong Kong’s freedom is what’s being challenged. Culture is one of the things we are fighting for.”

Ironically, the show is an old court building called The Magistrate. The room is awash in red light as Yasmin, Breakbot and Irfane play to an international crowd. So many different languages bounce around the room, and the kids dance -- hard, like their lives depend on it. 

After the show, we go to a bar with a giant concave wooden door. French fries are served, and an entire wall is painted with a mural of E.T. in a forest with flowers. Breakbot takes a photo touching E.T.’s finger. Outside the night is chilly and clouds drift across the moon. It’s the last full moon of the decade.

“I’ve always heard so much about the Wonderfruit festival,” says Busy P, when we’ve touched down in Thailand. “That the vibe is so good, that it’s one of the key festivals in terms of ecology and trying to change the minds of people. I believe music is a better way to change the minds of people than politics. This is the side I’m on.”

We arrive in Bangkok, our third airport in three days, which means its now three times that we’ve lost Breakbot in customs only to find him wandering around on the other side, smoking a cigarette. He always looks so innocent, like “Where were you guys?” while wearing one of his epic T-shirts. Today’s reads, “This is my Saturday afternoon do nothing shirt.” The Ed Banger takeover of Wonderfruit is in fact happening on a Saturday evening, so this statement checks out.

It seems nothing can stop us, until it does -- a flat tire. Almost everyone sleeps through it, as sleep has been a rare commodity on this Asian tour. The tire is fixed as semi-trucks whiz by, and soon enough Yasmin is kicking off the Wonderfruit takeover at a stage called Forbidden Fruit. (Clearly, fruit is a thing here).

Erin Granat
Yasmin at Thailand's Wonderfruit Festival.

The crew takeover lasts from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. A string of red Chinese lanterns bobs above the turntables. Dozens of Singha beers are passed around, and, inexplicably, an enormous straw hat. Never for a moment is the dance floor empty.

“Wonderfruit is one of those festivals everyone is talking about,” says Irfane. “It’s like going to that movie everyone says you’re going to love, then you go and you hope you won’t be disappointed. This definitely wasn’t the case for Wonderfruit, it delivered. This was a really special show.”

Breakbot starts the beginning of the end with “Pass the Dutchie.” It’s hard to believe this will all soon be over. The final song of the takeover is a Yasmin selection, “Oye Como Va.” Amidst a raucous crowd and a night turning slowly to dawn, the Ed Banger Asia Tour comes to a close.