Cakeshop is the Seoul club championing global dance music scenes
Cakeshop is the kind of venue that not only lives up to its reputation, but completely surpasses it. Since its launch, the Seoul event space has been a hub for electronic music in the region. The team behind it have consistently championed underground-born sounds; putting on DJs and artists who work outside of big-room circuits, all while dialling into local styles and micro-genres that’ve bloomed in music scenes around the world.
Over the years, Cakeshop has hosted an array of events featuring international stars, local newcomers and everything in-between. Labels and crews such as NAAFI, Fractal Fantasy, Hyperdub, Butterz and more regularly touch down at the intimate basement spot – which occupies a former strip club in the heart of Itaewon – alongside DJs such as Total Freedom, Jubilee, NET GALA, mobilegirl and more.
Like most – if not all – event organisers and club owners, the Cakeshop team have spent the last 12 months battling pandemic-related restrictions and the shuttering of their venues (the team also run a sister bar called Pistil). It would seem they’ve used the time wisely, though, resulting in the launch of the club’s new in-house imprint Carousel Records.
The label launches this week (12 March) with a celebratory compilation that reflects on eight years of legendary party antics. Titled CRSL 001, the two-side release features 16 tracks from some of the many names that have played at Cakeshop. With one side showcasing Cakeshop’s international affiliates (Scratcha DVA, Hitmakerchinx, DJ Python), and the other focusing on Asian producers (Kelvin T, WRACK, 106 Mido), it’s as much of a stylistic melting pot as the venue itself.
At a time when we can’t have IRL club interactions, the Cakeshop team are connecting with their club-goers and global roster of artists with the forthcoming compilation. The release also introduces the club’s aesthetic and genre-shrugging approach to those who’ve yet to step foot inside and, above all, will offer listeners a “mosaic of contemporary club culture”. Read: club tunes to dip into at home. Ahead of its release, we caught up with Cakeshop’s Nevin Hendrickson and Samuel Swanson to reflect on the venue’s trajectory and find out more about the new label.
Courtesy of Cakeshop
Let’s go back to the beginning. When did Cakeshop open – and why?
22 September 2012 with special guest xxxy. We needed a space to grow and continue pushing what we were already doing and interested in naturally: club nights and the culture surrounding it.
How did the team decide on a location for the venue?
We were all living and hanging out in Itaewon a lot and throwing a lot of events in the area. We got lucky with a location: an old basement with a lot of history – which made sense.
Which genres would you say Cakeshop’s best known for?
There isn’t one or a few genres, that’s what makes it interesting. [Especially] in an era where we don’t hear genres listed often and sets can hop through 20 genres in one night. Here’s a list of genres that cross our dancefloor: deconstructed club music, FDM (flex dance music), dembow, tribal, tribal prehistorica, hard step, UK funky house, gqom, UK drill, Afropop, Angolan house, Afro house, kuduro, zouk, gabber, 2-step, R&B, UK garage, 4×4, footwork, jungle, bassline, trance, hard step, horror music, American drill, Korean trap, alt-K-pop, amapiano, future garage, acid house, French touch, rap, grime, hard drum, club, Baltimore club, kwaito, ghetto tech, juke, ballroom, vogue, Chicago house, Jersey club, dancehall, bounce, bubbling, reggaeton, emo rap, flamenco, baile funk, punk rock, pop.
Music nowadays is a fusion of many things, and so we would never define all the genres that pass through, or what sounds define the artists who are associated with our club. However, the list gives an overview of what you might come across at any unexpected moment [at Cakeshop] and some of the sounds that might be channelled throughout the night. A melting pot of aesthetics that you might have caught throughout the years.
Courtesy of Cakeshop
For readers who’ve yet to visit, can you describe what the club experience is like at Cakeshop?
Raw, intimate, honest, fun.
How has Cakeshop helped to develop regional or international talent over the years?
Via exposure to new sounds locally [and] bringing new sounds to the region at all cost. [Through our] touring agency, concert company, pop-ups that have brought local talent overseas, collaborations and always keeping things moving. Never getting comfortable.
When programming nights, how do you strike a balance between breakthrough names and more popular, big-name DJs? Likewise, a balance between artists from places like the US or UK and local names?
We’ve tried to build together with local crews and sounds that naturally gravitate around the venue. Also, we book artists from overseas with sounds that we feel are vital, without really worrying about where things are from.
Courtesy of Cakeshop
Can you tell us about some of the artists and collectives who’ve become regulars at the club over the years?
Fractal Fantasy, NAAFI, Total Freedom, Fade to Mind, Teki Latex, Para One, Murlo, Mykki Blanco, Jacques Greene, Stones Throw, mobilegirl, Staycore.
How has the Asian electronic music scene shifted in the years that you’ve been operating?
The greatest shift has been towards local sounds, which have gained prominence with local artist-led crews and events [being] the key drivers. Also, Asia is participating more actively in the global electronic music scene and becoming comfortable and confident in having something to say.
How about the club scene specifically?
The Asian region is growing at a rapid pace in many respects including the club scenes, especially in China. It’s becoming increasingly feasible for artists to tour a number of cities. This has been amazing, as it’s a win-win for everyone. Seoul has always had a great nightlife. At the moment, as with most of Asia – and the world – we are flooded with techno clubs, but there are a number of other alternative spaces that are increasingly in demand. The Asian region is in constant flux: thereare always new faces, new crowds, new sounds, new artists, new promoters, new clubs and new cities to tour. Plus, [there’s] more integration between art, music and fashion in the region.
Courtesy of Cakeshop
How has Covid-19 impacted the team and the venue?
The Seoul club scene has been banned from opening for most of the past year with no compensation. There isn’t a great understanding of the cultural value of the music and club scene beyond K-pop within the government, so they actually don’t care if it dies and many great venues have closed. We’ve used the time to stream regularly, which has allowed us to stay connected to the scene. Plus, [we’ve used the time to] get merch up on our website to help us keep going, get this label up and running, get some rest and rethink and reflect on what we do and what it’s all about.
Why did you decide to launch a label – and why now?
The label and brand has been vaguely in discussion for two years. We thought it would be special to start with an anniversary project as a starting point, but the label is a natural progression from our other ventures – from having a touring agency to helping artists locally and internationally connect with this part of the world. We even had plans to make a studio for a short period of time where people could touch down and work, and so it’s all been part of a bigger picture that’s been bubbling in the background for a long time. It all relates to collaboration and building with the people in our scenes to keep things growing and interesting.
Courtesy of Cakeshop
How did you approach the curation of the compilation and decide on which artists to feature?
First off, we decided to limit the compilation to two sides, one representing artists from different countries in Asia and another with artists from other far reaching parts of the world, most of whom have played at Cakeshop. We limited it to eight tracks per side, representing eight years of Cakeshop. We thought a lot about the different sounds and scenes around the world that have brought colour to our dancefloor. We also knew that it was quite limited by the numbers we set forth, which meant that, obviously, we could not represent all the sounds. We also tried to get a little taste from artists who represented sounds from different worlds geographically, sounds that get played in the club often but are from [cities] so far away. We always find it a treat when [these artists] get to physically make it to Seoul.
Almost all the artists involved with the compilation we’ve worked with in some capacity. Either we have booked them, were in the process of booking pre-Covid, work with them in different territories on the agency side or are just friends that see eye-to-eye and vibe in other ways.
What do you hope listeners will get from the compilation?
No expectations. We just hope that they enjoy themselves and find some nice stimulation through the works presented. Maybe it will take you somewhere unexpected.
What are your hopes and plans for 2021?
With all the limitations, our hopes are to keep growing Cakeshop, Pistil and Carousel, growing in the new avenues we’ve shifted towards, growing our ideas and giving a platform for sounds to expand. [We’re also] hoping for the raw energy of the club to come back post-Covid, so people can once again get lost in our intimate fantasy.
CRSL 001 is out 12 March via Carousel