Say Hawaii to most people, and they more likely than not immediately think of surfing, grass skirts and the type of brightly-coloured Hawaiian shirt worn by Fatboy Slim for the past 15 years. But in the last few years, quality underground dance music has found a home in this American outpost too — thanks to an after-hours club known to dance-crazy locals as Asylum.
The brainchild of Willis Haltom and partners, Asylum came about when the guys were looking for somewhere to continue the party late into the night. “With the help of some others, we decided to open an after-hours in Honolulu for us to DJ at,” Willis tells DJ Mag. “I found an old recording studio, and we turned it into a place where you can come and be yourself and listen to good dance music till eight in the morning.”
A whole raft of international DJs have been drawn to the epicentre of Hawaii, Honolulu, over the past few years. Justin Martin, Danny Howells, Mr C, J. Phlip and Lee Foss are just a few of the jocks who have graced the decks at Asylum in recent times. The nature of the beast is that the DJs hang out with the residents while in Hawaii — before and after the gig — and friendships are invariably formed.
Willis — alongside the other Asylum residents such as Loic Tambay, Zane, SoundSex and more — tells DJ Mag that he's met some amazing producers who have given him advice over the years, and this has been invaluable now that the club is starting its own label — Asylum Confidential — and Willis has launched his own production career.
The first EP on the label is by Higher Concept, the production moniker of another Asylum resident named Chris Chartier — one of the tracks is with Willis himself. Remixes come from Butane and Corey Baker from Wildkats, while the second EP features another couple of Asylum residents, Russoul and DJ Fathom. Recent visitors to Asylum, Ardalan and J.Phlip from Dirtybird are remixing those.
“The label is gonna be an outlet for our resident DJs to put out their music, with the help of remixers who come and play Asylum and are friends of ours [from] over the years,” explains Willis. “We have some cool music that we've all been working on for quite some time, and it seems like the next step in what we've been trying to do for ourselves and putting Hawaii more on the dance music map.”
Willis himself has some of his own productions coming out on labels such as Get Physical and Riff Raff, as well as a Justin Martin remix he's done with Lopazz. “I have a remix with my good friend Higher Concept coming out on Get Physical for Lopazz & Casio Casino,” he says. “I also have an EP coming out with Randall Jones from Tigerhook Corporation on Riff Raff, and another one coming out soon is another remix I did for Lopazz with Randall Jones called 'U & I'. Very excited for when that comes out.”
We know what Willis is talking about, having been given sneak previews of the cool forthcoming deep-ish material, but what DJ Mag wants to know is why Asylum hasn't gone down a more commercial route?
“We really try to only book the acts we really wanna hear, and I've never been into commercial music so much,” Willis counters. “My friends would also stop coming if we did commercial nights, and Asylum has a loyal following who like quality underground house and techno.”