Home > Culture > Magnetic Soul: 17 years of drum and bass parties in Hong Kong and counting
Magnetic Soul: 17 years of drum and bass parties in Hong Kong and counting

Here’s an observation: Clubs with clean bathrooms rarely play interesting music. New scenes often take hold in grimy afterparties, cut their teeth in makeshift warehouse raves, and gain lifelong devotees through seemingly pure chance. Hong Kong’s diverse music scenes and nightlife are proof that the city’s underbelly can, and often does, outshine its glamorous side — if only one knows where to look. Drum and bass (D&B) showed up in Hong Kong’s afterparties in ‘95 shortly after its birth in early nineties UK rave. Or that’s what Johnathan Chan estimates anyways. Few would be in a place to disagree with him as Johnathan, one of the first members of D&B DJ collective Magnetic Soul, was also one of the first DJs in Hong Kong to champion the genre. 


“Because of the handover, a lot of the [guys playing D&B] were moving back to the UK,” Johnathan remembers. “So I started feeling like the scene was getting smaller at the time.” He was recruited by a friend (“Jane, aka DJ Siesta” he offers) who was organising D&B parties at the time with international names like Diesel Boy and Aphrodite at the legendary CeTop, Skitz, and other venues around town. Johnathan did a regular Drum and Bass night dubbed Red Label at a bar called Phoebe — a place we currently know and love as OMA.  

After Phoebe was reincarnated as Yumla, the venue truly began to gain a lasting reputation as a DJ hub packed with music lovers of all creeds. The music would vary from night to night, ranging from drum and bass to techno, to breakbeat and hip-hop. Though Yumla eventually went on to change hands and names multiple times over the decades, its status as one of the city’s undisputed homes for music lovers still remains.  


It was during Yumla’s heyday that Johnathan met the original founder of Magnetic Soul, a deceptively stoic man known affectionately around town as Cookie. Upon his White Label partner’s return to the UK, Johnathan says, “I had enough [of people leaving Hong Kong.] I joined Cookie, then I kept going with Magnetic Soul.”  

When Johnathan joined, Magnetic Soul was already known for throwing some of the city’s first D&B parties and bringing international names to Hong Kong. “We were always asking Johnathan to join us. We’ve been friends since that first meeting,” Cookie says. That was twenty years ago. Magnetic Soul will be celebrating its eighteenth year this June.  

Cookie recalls their early struggles with throwing parties — issues which many of Hong Kong’s musical upstarts still currently face. “It’s always about the venue. Like, where can you go that’s not going to charge you a ridiculous bar guarantee? We were young and dumb, and in the early days, we were just paying those guarantees and bringing our own sound systems, because we were so into it, right?” 

Venues with decent sound systems, DJ equipment, enough space, and are also financially-viable options for growing (read: not-so cash-driven) parties are extremely rare. The now-defunct XXX Gallery (“Triple X”) was a welcome addition to Hong Kong’s nightlife. The roving venue occupied various locations through the years, and became a destination for bass music before it closed for good in 2018 


Recently, Magnetic Soul has been putting more energy into producing their own music. Their 2019 debut album, titled The Pressure, hit number one on Junodownload’s Drum and Bass albums chart upon its release. They currently hold a D&B night every five to six weeks in OMA hosted by Dan Stezo, a member of Amsterdam-based record label The North Quarter. Dan, Cookie, and Johnathan all agree that these parties are mainly about giving the new generation a platform to get started. 

Dan, who will be emceeing for Magnetic Soul’s Clockenflap set this Sunday, believes its essential for new generations to make their own mark. “Things have to be shaken up by the young crowd to let the oldies know they have to adapt.” A thoughtful pause. “Or not, and [they] keep doing their own thing.” There are merits to both; we love what we love. And for the most part, Dan’s tastes are very much in line with that of his Sunday cohorts. “Magnetic Soul has always been a name that’s been promoting the more soulful side of the spectrum. It’s a niche in a niche, basically,” Dan observes.  

Johnathan Chan, left. Dan Stezo, right. Image credit: Magnetic Soul

Drum and bass still occupies a relatively fringe corner in Hong Kong. Despite being one of its earliest proponents in the city, Cookie is quick to admit it’s not love at first listen. “It’s not for everyone. It’s fast-paced. It’s like punk rock and heavy metal.” On the other hand, Dan believes the genre can ultimately be a versatile one. “Drum and bass is a broken beat in the 175 BPM range, right? So there’s types of music to throw on that beat that can be very much different for everyone. You see these [younger] guys JFUNG, Busy Boi, carving out their own places in warehouse parties.”  

Despite repeated self-deprecating assurances from both Cookie and Dan that their particular subset of D&B may not be an easy sell for most, a quick search for Magnetic Soul on Spotify reveals a host of melody-forward, dreamy tracks begging to be played beachside or at sunset on a summer junk. Is this what we can look forward to on Sunday? Perhaps. One thing we do know is that there will always be more, even if it all goes to hell. “We’ve always done this because we absolutely love it. And we’ve never done it for the money. We’ve never, ever made any money from it, right?” Cookie smiles. “It’s a losing-money cause.” 


Catch Magnetic Soul and Dan Stezo this Sunday 4PM at Clockenflap’s Electriq stage. Listen to The Pressure below and view the full schedule here

(Hero image credit: Jeremy H. Greenberg. Feature image credit: Magnetic Soul)

Magnetic Soul: 17 years of drum and bass parties in Hong Kong and counting

Vanessa Lee

Managing Editor

Never miss an update

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.

No Thanks
You’re all set

Thank you for your subscription.