It may be a little ignorant of me but I never imagined that there would be any house music 'scene' to speak of in Hawaii – but, in a testament to just homogenised the world's music culture can be, the island does have some semblance of a house scene. One of the key clubs is an after-hours venue called Asylum. I caught up with the owner Willis Haltom to get the lowdown on Asylum and what's up in Hawaii...
When did you get into house music and who were the people you were listening to?
I personally got into electronic music around 1999 or January of 2000. I got turned onto The Crystal Method and then went to my first rave which turned out to be Sasha, John Digweed and Jimmy Van M. This totally gave me the DJ bug and I started collecting records and following them. I also started following the artists they were spinning like Slacker, Breeder, Cass and other progressive house artists from back then along with H-Foundation, Mazi and so on... I think I started listening more to tech house and things like that once I moved to Orlando in 2003 to go to school and even more so when I moved to Hawaii in 2005. I started listening to people like Paul Woolford, Jamie Jones, Guy Gerber, Tom Pooks... so I had a really broad range of taste from techno, house, tech house and so on.
How did you end up in Hawaii? Where did you grow up?
I ended up in Hawaii after finishing school in Colorado and thinking where to go. I had also attended audio engineering school in Florida and had a good friend who was from Hawaii. We stayed in touch and he invited me to stay with his family and come out to Hawaii and do some music with him. I always wanted to live in Hawaii so I kinda jumped at the chance and it’s worked out quite well.
I was born in Virginia/Washington DC area and moved to Colorado when I was 14. I would say the most growing up I did was in Colorado. I attended HS and College there and found the passion of music while attended college.
Was there anywhere to go and listen to house in Hawaii when you first got into it? Was there much of a scene back then?
When I first arrived to Hawaii in 2005 there was a cool place called the Living Room that a good friend named Ramyt used to do the bookings for. He'd bring some really cool artists like Moshic, Jimmy Van M, Three, Satoshi Tomiie, along with many others. It was the only place doing events like this with artists I was interested when I first arrived. Shortly there after Nextdoor opened in downtown Honolulu. It started bringing top notch talent as well. DJ's like Miguel Migs, Doc Martin, Josh Wink, DJ Dan, Danny Krivit.
There was also the place that DJ Harvey helped open back then called Thirtyninehotel st. They brought DJs every so often but I spent most of my nights at Nextdoor and the Living Room.
There was a nice scene then, small but it had its moments and we had some really fun nights. Nextdoor was also the first place in Honolulu I had what I could call a residency. I played there along with a couple other DJs on friday nights for a few years.
There's been a nice scene in Hawaii for a long time. There's been people doing clubs and underground parties for a while and the Love Festival is in it's 12th year this year. It's the biggest event of the year.
Why did you decide to open Asylum? When did it open for business?
My partners and I decided to open Asylum because, at the time, we saw an opportunity to play what we wanted to and also there wasn't really any afterhours spots in Honolulu at this time in late 2008. My friends Adam and Ernie had been doing a small afterhours for a while that closed down not too long before we found a nice place and opened our club. It was kinda the Asylum mark one and it was called Epix.
Asylum kinda turned into this place where we could really play the music we were all into without compromising our sound or worrying what people wanted, like promoters or club owners, because we did it all ourselves. We got to book the DJs we wanted to hear and whoever made us happy.
Has the scene there changed much?
The house scene in Honolulu is kinda still the same I feel size-wise as it was then. It's grown a little bit but people are into more mainstream music as a whole in Honolulu or trance or dubstep but there is a house and techno scene and we are the ones pushing it for sure. We are open every Friday and Saturday night and we do a monthly party at Thirtyninehotel where we bring international artists to play for us like DJ T., Justin Martin, Luca Bacchetti. At Asylum we continue to bring those type of artists all the time but we are an underground club and we don't promote to the public.
It's a members-only spot where you need to be friends with someone to get and we keep it very underground in that respect. We don't advertise, other than Facebook and word of mouth. It kinda lets us do our thing and stay under the radar so much and keep people we don't want so much stopping by to come. We've been doing this for a while and we've been in DJ Mag and everything but in Hawaii barely anyone reads that magazine.
The clubs we talked about for the most part are still open except the Living Room. There are also a few new places that have opened and do house and electronic night like SOHO. There are also clubs that have opened that play shit music top 40 and say it's house music so that always annoys us but what can you do. Those are the more uppity places we don't frequent anyways.
So, what about local producers? Is there anyone making house music in Hawaii?
There are some very talented producers here. The residents at Asylum are all making nice music these days. Loic Tambay, Russoul, DJ Fathom, Higher Concept, Bernie’s_Diction are all making some quality dance music. Russoul, Fathom, and Higher Concept have some releases and remixes out and there are quite a few things coming down the pipeline. Loic Tambay and myself have a remix coming out on Halo’s new label Surface as well as some other original stuff we are gonna release very soon on our label. We are about to launch a label called Asylum Confidential that will be a platform for our residents and friends of ours who have come to play at the club and in Hawaii. We are really looking forward to that.
There are also some other producers in Hawaii making waves. Ginobeats is another artist that has started a label in Hawaii and has released some stuff from our residents. Another producer making some noise on the more dubstep tip is a guy named ctlgd. This is another friend of mine named Christian. He makes all types of music from hip-hop to dubstep and whatever. He’s definitely someone to watch!
Having been to a few places around the world, what would you say separates Hawaii's music scene from other places? In other words, what it's main selling point?
I would say the friendliness in Hawaii definitely is a nice selling point. People are a lot friendlier here than in most places I’ve come to realise. Also one other thing is people are very receptive to new music here and being able to play it outside year round since we have an endless summer is quite nice.
What's the general response been like from people who've been to visit?
In general most people have an amazing time when they come to Hawaii. Most people don’t wanna leave actually. The vibe of the island in general is quite nice and when you can have a nice party and fun afterparties in the sun what’s to complain about?
How big would you say the scene is there? How many people do you get at Asylum?
The scene in Hawaii is growing pretty nicely. It’s not the same as an LA, Chicago, Denver scene but it gets a lot of quality music and the larger parties are starting to pull numbers in the thousands. Asylum is a very intimate afterhours club.
Our capacity is only 175 but what it lacks in size it makes up for in vibe. We consistently get to capacity especially when there are nights with headliners or other special events but Asylum is also quite underground and kinda exclusive in nature so it’s a very word of mouth kinda place when it comes to events.
Who would you say are the biggest/most respected DJs for Hawaiian people?
I personally have a ton of respect for guys like Justin Martin, Christian Martin, Paul Woolford, Lopazz, DJ T., I feel that people in Hawaii are really feeling DJs like Z-Trip, Steve Aoki as a whole but people like DJ T., Juan Atkins are all respected a bit I think. There is a healthy dose of all sides of electronic music going on.
What are your plans for the future of Asylum?
We will continue carrying the afterhours flag without a doubt as we strive to make Asylum even more comfortable for our fellow partiers as well as bringing new and exciting DJs from around the globe, but we are focused on doing bigger events and branching out as well. The record label, Asylum Confidential, is also our main focus in the coming year. We wanna keep making our mark and putting Hawaii on the map. Four years has gone by quite fast!
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