Hawaii may be America's 50th state but anyone who's been there will agree that it feels like a distant refuge from the US mainland. Two thousand miles away in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, this archipelago of eight islands is lush with rain forest and active volcanoes, a primal, natural reminder of something deep, ancient and mysterious. Slip off official roads and you can watch molten rock flowing—“pahoehoe” as Hawaiians refer to it—pushed out by the same vast forces that created the conditions responsible for life. Look out of your kitchen window on the 'The Big Island' (officially the Island of Hawaii) and in a single square foot you'll witness the incredible biodiversity and beauty of plant life. Put simply, there's something magical here, and very hard to sum up using only words.
It's this same vibe that makes Asylum, Hawaii's worst kept secret, a similarly escapist joy for DJs and dancers alike. Boasting Justin Martin as its international resident, and having hosted everyone from Sasha to Dubfire, on paper the line-ups suggest money, suited investors and crippling bar prices. But the reality, so far away from the mainstream of corporate American, is an organic experience germinating long before electronic music became the heavily exploited commodity it is today.
Founded in 2006 on O'ahu (which translates to “The Gathering Place”), the most populous of Hawaii's islands, by three of the club's current resident, Willis Haltom, Darren Zane and Andrew Koch, plus Marc Goto, it's modest aim was initially to create a place “to play the music we wanted to play that we’d be playing around town, but really doing it ourselves,” says Haltom, when he meets us off the plane just before July 4th weekend. Dressed in board short and flip-flops, his laidback delivery is the first signifier of how differently life is paced here.
As a precursor to the holiday, when we're joining Haltom to take a boat out for a party on the sea, the club – which is usually open on Friday and Saturday nights – is also hosting a special Thursday night event, with the Berlin-based Deepchild, aka Australian Rick Bull, stopping by for just a few hours to lay down some techno excellence.
Hidden away on the second floor of an unassuming residential area, where it operate as a membership only venue, the Asylum experience starts with a recondite air that feels like stumbling upon a hidden treasure. A quick wander through its rooms, which include the main room with its mirrored line DJ booth, a recording studio, a second, smaller room, and a bar and smoking area, gives some sense of its slow, assured development. The venue now has the benefit of Dolby Sound, and Zane has constantly worked on the lighting, but it's the countless small features that give the interior a sense of never-ending discovery, from the fully carpeted wall in the club's corridor to the psychedelic murals drawing in unwary eyes and minds outside.
It feels distinctly homegrown, in the very best sense, with the friendliness of a house party stacked up on the musical knowledge of an industry insider event. While the wide cast of residents, who kick the night off with some melodic house, form the backbone of the club's local appeal, a sizeable crowd often following them to party through the weekend on Sunday Funday, the club's ethos has also proved a magnet for curious guests, most of whom become regulars.
“We had Clint Stewart for our New Year's Eve the first year,” says Haltom when we ask him to cast his mind back on those who've made a lasting impression. “Pan Pot came a few months later, then Lee Foss. That was back in 2009, the early days.” Despite living half-way around the world, DJ T. has been a popular repeat visitor, while Juan Atkins was just of many special guests called upon to help Asylum celebrate it's many anniversary. “That still is one of the coolest nights I remember,” smile Haltom. “Dubfire just this past June was huge as well.”
In future, he may well add Deepchild to that list. Talking to us as he makes some last minute preparation to his sets, he has a flight straight to Canada following the club. But Asylum's after-hours crowd sit squarely in the middle of his DJ cross-sights. Taking over around 2am, he picks up the pace with a display of wiry, stripped techno taking in the likes of UK stalwart Ben Sims and Swedish machine manipulators Skudge. Raw, rhythmical and mainly analog, Deepchild touches on the furthest outreaches of electronic music, while still coaxing funk out of the mechanistic milieu, looping vocals over jacking drums, everything seamlessly mixed with a robotic accuracy of his own.
Though he says a hurried goodbye to depart for a 6am flight, there's no stopping till the club closes around 8 and from there we're off to the boat party where Haltom, who has played everywhere from Watergate in Berlin to BPM Festival in Mexico, compliments the blazing sun and vast ocean surrounding with a set that includes plenty of tracks from Asylum's own Asylum Confidential label.
Running since August 2013, the label has so far earned kudos from a range of players including John Digweed, Adam Beyer and Discern. “Upcoming we have Dragon Suplex with remixes from In.Phrequent, Dozeguize and Matt Fear,” Haltom says on what's next, his own remixes having also appeared on leading labels such as Get Physical, Dirtybird and Moodmusic. “That's followed by another in.Phrequent release, which is myself and Phillip Charles. We also have some remixes coming out for Lopazz later this summer and for ISGUD out of Ibiza as well.”
It's 4am when we finally make it to Aylum for a second night and it's already in full swing. Inventing drinks (the Joke, a mix of Jägermeister and Diet Coke), talking about the tangible spirit of independence in Hawaii and generally hanging with residents and their extended crew of loyal party people, it feels like the door has been thrown wide open on their special, unique scene.
In the studio we meet a tired looking Haltom, the lynchpin of the party still not having slept from when we met him off the plane two days earlier. “The residents at Asylum are what pack the house,” he tells us, with obvious pride at what this island hideaway has achieved. “There are nine of us and we just vibe off each other every night. We all show up and play and create the vibe that is Asylum every weekend.”
So would he say the inmates are running the Asylum then? “I would say yes to that,” he agrees, adding with knowing understatement, “I am quite wild in certain situations...”
MEET THE OTHER RESIDENTS
Ernie Kanekoa aka Bernie's Diction
Style: Techno//Deep House
“I've been involved since day one and knew all the residents and owners from playing music around the city. We were all doing our thing within a different pocket of the scene, pushing good music and eventually started playing various shows together. We all wanted a place to express ourselves freely and Asylum gave us that. The residents have mad talent and crazy passion and we all push each other to be better. It's been super cool to see the changes throughout the years, from a once worn down music studio to what we so love and enjoy today.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Our four year Anniversary with Danny Howells”
Track you most associate with Asylum: ”Dominik Eulberg's 'Der Tanz Der Gluehwuermchen (Kollektiv Turmstrasse "Dirt Glow" Remix).' This is a hard question to answer. There are far too many tracks I could list but chose this one because I love the feeling it gives and how it brings a room together.”
Listen out for releases coming soon on Asylum Confidential, E.M.G. Recordings and Asnazzy Productions.
Name: Russell Trent
Style: “Music style ranges, deep house, deep tech, tech house, techno, breaks, drum & bass, anything which mainly focus on bass.”
“I met Darren the first year I've started to DJ through my cousin back in 2002. I also met Willis through a buddy of mine while we both we're DJing on this college radio station called KTUH back, I believe, in 2004. Then I met Loic back in 2006 when he came by to play a set at this after-hours club called 1739. Eventually that same year I got to meet Ernie, his brother Adam, and Andy. During 2007-2008, Ernie and his brother had an after-hours night going on at this place called Epix, which pretty set the foundation of what Asylum was really about. From that moment on we started to hang out a lot more, played a lot of music and really pushed each other. When Ernie and Adam stopped doing Epix is when Darren, Willis, Andy and our friend Marc wanted to open up a club, and then Asylum was born. Then, of course, later after the club opened up is when I met Chris and Jimmy. So many years of being around this family has really helped me grow to as an artist and also as a person.”
Favorite memory of Asylum: “When I got to tag with my buddies Loic Tambay and Fathom opening up on separate occasions for both Justin and Christian Martin from Dirtybird. Both sets really set the tone for both parties and the place was rocking before they both got on.”
Track you most associate with Asylum: “There are too many great Asylum anthems, but the one that did it for me was Oliver Huntemann's track called 'Dios (Dubfire remix).' It was the first track that I could remember when all of us were starting to push techno at the club.”
Forthcoming are two tracks, "Destination Paradise" and "World of Music," on Waska Records, another, "Deep in the Pacific Ocean," on Shea Delany's Friction Free label and a four track EP on Asylum Confidential.
Name: Loic Tambay
Style: “Deep house, tech house, techno.”
“I got involved with Asylum from the start after Epix shut down.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Probably getting to see Danny Howells playing.”
Name: Andrew Koch aka Cryptik
Style: “Deep house and melodic techno.”
“I've been involved with Asylum since the very beginning. Darren and Willis approached me and asked if I wanted to open up a club with them and Marc. The rest is history.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Our four year anniversary weekend with Danny Howells and J.Phlip was beyond amazing.
Track you most associate with Asylum: “DJ Mujava's 'Township Funk (Crazy P Remix).' This track was pretty much inescapable for the better part of a year and I still never got tired of hearing it. The club, after parties, EVERYWHERE! Every time I hear it now, a flood of memories comes pouring in.”
Name: Jimmy Lee
Style: “House and techno.”
“I was friends with a few of the original resident DJs and the owners Willis and Darren before Asylum opened. However, I had been out of the scene for about six years, so my first time to Asylum was probably in their fourth year of being open. When I finally went I couldn't believe what an amazing club it was. I started coming every night and pretty soon I was just there all the time. Willis and Darren eventually asked me to be a resident and it was the best the day of my life.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Aside from the day I was asked to be a resident was after we had Sasha DJ at The Fix here in Honolulu. The vibe at Asylum that night for the after-party was just so memorable. We were all on cloud nine and buzzing off the earlier Sasha show and I remember DJing with Loic Tambay and just vibing with him, the crowd and the club itself. It was next level.”
Track you most associate with Asylum: “It would have to be the Discern remix of Dozeguise's (Zane & Higher Concept) 'So Good,' and Siopis feat Alfons 'I Try to Fight.' Both just have that underground heads down groove and after-hours feel that to me represent the true heart of Asylum. No frills and extraneous BS... just straight amazing underground music.”
Jimmy is currently working on tracks with Higher Concept and Loic Tambay.
Name: Darren Zane aka Zane and Dozeguise (Zane and Higher Concept)
Style: “Deep tech/tech house.”
“I've been a part of Asylum since its inception in 2008.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Our first toga party with Sugiurumn was nuts!”
Track you most associate with Asylum: “Audion's 'Sky (Scuba Remix).'”
Name: Adam Kanekoa aka Fathom
Style: “Known for playing intelligent techno, tech house, deep house and breaks.”
“I have been with this crew since before Asylum was even conceived. My brother Ernie and I opened an after-hours club called Epix. This place was a popular spot for the people of Honolulu to go to after everything else was closed. During that time, Darren ran another spot called the Living Room. And Willis was holding it down at another club called Next Door. All of us were close friends and helped each other out. The rest of the residents were all a part of our nightlife as well. After Epix closed, there was no longer a safe after-hours club in the city. At least, not one that did it like we did. Soon after, Willis and Darren found this sick new space, which was an old recording studio. We all joined forces and with a lot of hard work and support from each other, Asylum was born. It has evolved over the years, and today is the no.1 spot in Honolulu. With our own recording studio and record label, things can only go up from here!”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Too many great memories to narrow down to just one… tag teaming with Justin Martin was one for the books.”
Track you most associate with Asylum: “Once again, too many to count. One that stands out is 'Township Funk (Crazy P remix).' That was a classic with lots of fond memories associated with it.”
Name: Chris Chartier aka Higher Concept and Dozeguise (with Zane)
Style: Deep and minimal techno and melodic house.
“I met the core crew right when they were getting the spot and creating the idea. It was amazing to meet like-minded people in the middle of the Pacific. I've been there since day one and after almost a year into the club being open I was invited to be a resident.”
Favorite Asylum memory: “Playing a tag set with Troy Pierce and Heartthrob for my birthday on the beach was awesome, and all the Asylum anniversary nights always have the best vibe and energy.”
Track you most associate with Asylum: “SIS's 'Immigrant.'”