Dada founder Michael Ohlsson: 'Several babies have been made inside Dada'

We spoke to the man behind the madness of Beijing's best alternative club

Whether you're a nightclub, bar, restaurant or even a resident of Beijing, making it to six years in the capital is a fair achievement – particularly if you're in Gulou or the hutongs. And if you're a nightclub in Gulou, well, then you must doing something very right. That's the milestone that beloved Beijing den of midnight din and sin, Dada, hits this weekend. Ahead of a weekend of anniversary nights, we spoke with founder Michael Ohlsson to hear more on his six successful years as Dada dungeon master.

Recap briefly how Dada came to be and who was involved with its creation.
In 2003, I started doing one-off events around Shanghai with bands, DJs, local producers and some touring acts and then went on to manage several venues around town. But they all had various issues so I figured it would be better if I could just run my own place. I'd already befriended and worked on various projects with my current partners, so finally, in 2009, we opened Dada Shanghai right before the World Expo, which was brilliant timing. We almost opened in several other cities such as Chengdu, Bangkok and Taipei but found a decent space in Beijing in 2012 and went with that. It's been an amazing ride so far. Beijing has been challenging but super fun. The crowd here has been especially great – they really appreciate what we've done.

What do you feel has been the key to Dada's success over the last six years?
Keeping a strong focus and not following temptation to do this or that to make more money. We try to keep it fresh, with a variety of music styles, some weird cutting-edge future stuff and also some veteran legends.

How do you feel about the assortment of venues that have tried to imitate your venue's style?
Ha. 'Imitation is flattery' isn't relevant in China – if you're not being imitated here, do you even have a pulse?


What is your relationship with Lantern and how do you view the way the two clubs are grouped together in Beijing's party scene?
We've been friends with Lantern and their crew since before their beginning, even before their original location. When we decided to open in Beijing, they were the first ones I talked to. I have no interest in competing with friends and we purposefully did our programming, marketing, drink menu and more to make sure we weren't stepping on any toes. I love going to Lantern whenever I get a chance.

Any particular disasters you've faced at Dada?
Allowing a promoter to book a 'DJ' called Hucci. What a horrible experience that was on many levels, and let’s leave it at that.

Which artists have brought the most successful events? Have you been surprised by the profits or lack thereof for certain performers?
Egyptian Lover was a surprise as it sold out before 11pm. Usually that doesn't happen until 1am. I expected an older, more expat crowd, but it was mostly young Chinese fans.

What are some of the key dos and don'ts of running a club in Beijing?
I think it's the same as anywhere. There are always going to be challenges no matter how high you're flying. Prepare for rainy days and acts of god and government, but also remember to keep it fun and a little loose. The crowd knows if you're only painting by numbers and that's boring.

Do you see yourself trying to evolve Dada in anyway or is your formula and approach set in stone? Is there any chance of expansion or new locations?
More unicorns.

Any dirty little Dada secrets you are willing to expose?
Several babies have been made inside the club, but no births that I know of.

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