FEATURE INTERVIEW: DJ HAPA OF AOS
It’s raining. We’re already running five minutes late and we’re still traffic light away. As we’re just about to park, the phone rings. Everyone has arrived. We scurry towards Yong Siak Street, straighten out every last fold in our shirts and step into the cosy coffee café, Forty Hands. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee gets our immediate attention. A quick scan around the room and we spot DJ HAPA, comfortably seated next to his manager, about to sink his teeth into a toasted sandwich. “Hey, hi! How are you?” HAPA stands up to shake our hands with a heartwarming smile, almost throwing his lunch onto the plate. He jokes that we are going to be the reason for him being late for his gym session.
It’s just another day in the life of HAPA – DJ, Performer, Entrepreneur, National Director of Scratch DJ Academy and National Spokesperson for Epilepsy Therapy Project. The 32 year-old has just flown in from Kuala Lumpur for the opening of Butter Factory KL with AOS, and will be jetting off back to San Francisco in two days, only to travel down to Los Angeles shortly after. With 17 years of DJ-ing under his sleeve,HAPA spends as much time in the air as on the ground, in pursuit of spreading a positive message through his gift.
“I’ve got to this point of my career, where I see DJ-ing as a platform, a stage, to do something else. I almost feel like it’s my duty to go beyond, instead of just being in it for personal gain. Whether that means helping someone to become a DJ or making someone a better person. For me, it’s leaving behind this legacy as opposed to just being the best DJ there ever was.”
Epilepsy is another one of them.
“At any given moment, I could be gone. This could be my last interview and my last experience as a human being, ever. So I have certain reminders on me,” explains HAPA as he points out a tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Life is too short”.
Everyone wanted to be HAPA when he was in high school. He was academically strong scoring himself grades that were beyond good, which landed him a graduating Grade Point Average of 4.25; he was a confident athlete; part DJ, part businessman selling his homemade mix tapes to students; and most of all, he was one of the 12 in the world to receive a full academic scholarship to University of California, Los Angeles. He was on top of the world, feeling invincible and justifiably arrogant.
“One night, I wake up in the middle of my room and I have no idea how it happened. I go back to sleep, shake it off and the next night, the same thing happens; only this time I saw my mom and sister standing over me, crying. They rushed me to the hospital, the doctors ran some tests and then they told me I had suffered from seizure.
(So) I went to see a neurologist who told me that with my condition, I shouldn’t even be thinking about college. But you know, being this cocky 17 year-old, I brushed it off and told myself, “I’m going to do whatever I want to”.
Seizures and visiting the emergency room unpleasantly became a weekly affair for HAPA. There were even moments when he saw the white lights. One of these close shaves with death was when HAPA was alone in his room burning up with a fever of 42.8 degree Celsius. Reaching out to phone to call for help that was just about an arms length away, was impossible. “I thought to myself, this is might be it,” says HAPA. Indeed the movies were right about life flashing before your eyes.
“All of a sudden, everything goes white. Pictures literally started moving like this,” he describes his unnerving experience as he makes the moving motions of a show reel. “It would stop and then play. I saw my sister and I playing catch at my parent’s house when I was eight, and then it would move on to something else.
To me, epilepsy was actually the greatest thing that ever happened to me because I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am, or be where I am today and I wouldn’t have this drive and passion if it wasn’t for it.”
Speaking of a hunger for DJ-ing, experimenting with music and performing aren’t the only things that HAPA is enthusiastic about. As the National Director of DJ Scratch Academy, founded by Jam-Master Jay of Run DMC,HAPA is a strong believer in building a community and maintaining the DJ culture by sharing his secrets so that they can be passed on to generations. “It’s all about getting back to this communal piece – much like what we now have with AOS.”
When we ask about his love for DJ-ing began, his eyes light up; he shifts forward and leans closer towards us. “So I was 15 years old and my buddy and I started creating the best songs ever by taking our favourite parts from different songs and putting them together. We managed to sell these cassette tapes at school. We found out later on from his brother, who was a real DJ, that we were hardly DJs.
So he told us about the Invisible Scratch Piklz. When I saw them spinning at the museum for the first time on this turntable, making the craziest sounds I’d ever heard, I told myself that this was what I wanted to do. I remembered that my dad had a turntable at home with records – and we ran back home, put the records on, and started scratching. After ruining the records, I found out that you actually need special equipment for DJ-ing.” It was at this point that HAPA realized that he wanted more control over the music that he liked.
As he’s about to tell us more, Celeste, Co-Founder Marketing Director of Butter Factory, joins us in the conversation. They greet each other with a casual “Hey” with a nod. You can tell by HAPA‘s friendly demeanour that work has enabled them to foster a mutual friendship. “I’m actually working on this project now where I would be able to DJ on a touch screen device that is completely transparent, so you can see every thing I’m doing,” he continues. He whips out his mobile device and shows us an image of the cutting-edge multi-touch DJ performance solution’s work in progress, known at QnQ. It’s the idea of revealing what and how the DJ is creating his music that HAPA wants to introduce and share with everyone else.
We pose the final question, “If there was one DJ or musician that you could meet, whether dead or alive, who would it be and why?” and he’s stumped for a moment. Tapping his chin while deep in thought, his manager raises his eyebrows and smiles at us as if to say, “you got him”. After a minute, HAPA readjusts himself in his seat and starts.
“There’s a bit of a backstory to this. There’s a DJ by the name of Kool Herc – short for cool Hercules. He was a DJ back in the 70s, and still is one today. In 1973, he was playing at a bloc party for the kids in the community in New York. As he was playing these funky disco and Chic good times records, he notices that no one is dancing. As the records naturally falls into the bridge, also known as the break, where the vocal gets taken out and the music becomes more instrumental, he realizes that the kids get exited. They started doing moves like James Brown did on TV, getting down on the floor and stuff. He called them break boys and break girls.
He then decided to get another copy of the exact same record and put it down on another turntable. He would play it, and before the break ends, he would start it over again – and he would keep doing that. Essentially what he discovered was he was taking the hippest part of the record, and hopping back and forth on the turn table – and its hip hop!
Everything that we listen to today, all the popular music, is based on this loop and the only reason for that is because of this guy Kool Herc. But he hasn’t received the recognition of creating this, yet all of us in the community know this story.
To me, to be able to go back to that time period and in some way, be there when he created this, to see that moment of brilliance, that transpired; or to be able to help him fix that path in some way, would be what I would want to do. He really put DJ-ing on the map in many ways.
DJs might not even exist if it weren’t for him.”
DJ HAPA on QnQ