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Dada Turns 10, Owner Spills Beans On 10 Crazy Nights

By Sep 11, 2019 Nightlife


The people's club, Dada, turns 10 this weekend with a big old party. Of course they do. It's what they've been doing for a decade. But, surprisingly, owner Michael Ohlsson still has a shred of his memory left which he delicately extracted, taped onto a piece of paper and mailed to the SmartShanghai office. Presenting, Ohlsson's 10 Crazy Dada Memories From 10 Crazy Years of Dada!

Ohlsson on a quiet Tuesday night

"Of course, the best stories, I can't tell you... unless you buy me a few good drinks. These are in no particular order. 10 years is a long time to run a club in Shanghai. With 52 weeks a year, 4-5 parties a week — we've done nearly 2,500 events."

1. Soft Opening Eclipse

On July 22, 2009, at 9:36 am there was a solar eclipse, and supposedly the best place in the world to see it was Shanghai. Dada wasn't even in soft opening yet, but I'd invited a few close friends down to taste cocktails so we could train the staff. Just about when we were finished, an Australian guy wandered in off the street and tried to order a drink. I explained we weren't really open but I'm happy to give you a cocktail to try as we're staff training. He ordered a pina colada and liked it.

He must have called some friends, because 30 minutes later we had nearly 100 Australian hippies inside the bar. They had all flown in to watch the eclipse, and wanted to stay up all night and listen to psy-trance. And they all wanted more pina coladas. We sold 500 pina coladas, and our novice staff all assumed "foreign people like pina coladas and psy-trance!"

In all the years since, I think we've only sold about 5 pina coladas, and had even less psy-trance nights. BTW, the eclipse was pretty crazy, it went all blackout in the middle of the morning for 5 minutes, but of course it was raining, it's Shanghai!

2. Snakes on the Dancefloor

We used to share the alley with a snake restaurant. It was pretty crazy to walk by around 5pm for sound check and find their ayi sitting outside on a stool just hacking the heads off live snakes with giant scissors, throwing their writhing headless bodies into a bucket, their heads in another bin.

Anyway, one night someone must have accidentally knocked open one of the cages, there were a dozen snakes slithering around the alley, including 2 that somehow made it inside and onto the dance floor at peak time.

Luckily some of our staff grew up in an area where there's lots of snakes, so they just laughed at me freaking out and grabbed them fearlessly, got them back in the restaurant.

3. Accidental Lock In

During the construction, I was laying bricks one night with the construction crew, and somehow these two lost French guys walked in. I told them sorry we're not open yet, it's going to be a bar, come back in a month. They said they were DJs who just moved to Shanghai, asked if they could play there when we opened, they had played at Bar Rouge and some other commercial clubs, yadda yadda. I was a bit rude like, eh, no thanks, we're doing a more underground vibe here.

Anyway, during our conversation, the construction crew must have all left, cause when we wandered out the alley, everyone was gone and the gates were locked. We were locked inside, couldn't climb over. I made several phone calls but couldn't find anyone with the keys for quite a while. We must have been locked in there for 2-3 hours, asking people walking by if they could pass us some beers through the gate. So I felt really bad about that and finally said, ok guys you can do a Wednesday night party.

It was the Acid Pony guys and they did every Wednesday night at Dada for years, and we became good friends.

4. The Western Toilet Incident

The "men's" toilet is technically a public toilet for the building, and only has squat stalls. So we built our own bathroom, the "ladies" room now, and put in one stall with a western style sit toilet. We didn't know that required a special permit, so we got fined and had to shut that stall for a month, wrapped in caution tape, while we waited for a permit.

When we got the permit, we had a little celebration — cut the caution tape, took pics with our new permit and the toilet, and broke a bottle of Champagne over the side of it. Probably 100 customers took pics with our new toilet, it was very silly.

5. Mexican Tax Money Well Spent

We got pretty lucky, opening right before the 2010 World Expo. Dada became a hot spot for all the Expo guests and employees, and lots of countries flew out music acts that were all paid for, as culture outreach.

One of my favorites nights was when Mexico flew out the Nortec Collective. Their performance at the Expo was rained out, so they asked if they could come and play a free show on a Monday night, since the band had flown all the way to China and didn't really get to play.

There was no space for the 8 piece mariachi band in the DJ booth, so they just played around the room wherever they could find space — the stand up bass and tuba players stood on top of the bar, the accordion player on top of a table across the room, and the horn section just walked around the dance floor. 500 people showed up, including Mexican diplomats and mayors, it was mental.

6. Sub Cinema Halloween

Gaz (The Shelter, ALL) and his friends used to organize a weekly movie night at Dada, and one Halloween they decided to show horror movies for 24 hours. Those crazy guys! You should have seen them near the end, looking like the zombies on the screen, all wired up on popcorn and candy. It was like a kids' slumber party with the parents away.

7. Boiler Room

Screengrab from Youtube

Boiler Room called and said hey can we do a live session at Dada later this week?

"Sure! who's playing?"

"OMG ehhhh..."

We agreed in the end. His security entourage was intense, it was two Russian guys both named José, who looked like Bond villains, and ran around the space checking every little detail, asking about a hundred possible scenarios.

We ended up sneaking Skrillex through a tiny window in the back of the building. I believe it was the biggest Boiler Room ever at the time, with several million live streams across the globe.

8. Wake Up Call

I'd just gotten to bed after a big night at the bar, it was probably 7am. My phone kept vibrating non stop. I usually ignore these as it's inevitably some drunk DJ who left his headphones in the booth. But I decided to pick it up. "Come down to the bar now, we need your help!"

So I got out of bed and rode down to find 2 big red fire trucks, an ambulance, cop cars, etc. They pointed to the roof where there was some white guy walking back and forth. It's only 1 story up but they thought he was going to jump, and no one seemed to speak English. There used to be a hidden stairwell up the side, so I went up and said, "hey man are you ok?"

The guy said he lost his glasses and couldn't find the way down, and just wanted to go home. So I walked him down, and we got a hero's welcome, the fireman congratulating me. The guy said "WTF is there a fire around here!?"

9. The Goat Incident

I was DJing one night a few years ago, I think it was my birthday, and some drunk guy came up to me and said there was a goat here.

I was kind of busy (not) mixing, so I just ignored him. Then several other people came up to ask about the goat. I thought they were pranking me, but some of them were PETA types and quite upset about it, threatening to boycott us. So I put on a long song and went out to find a happy little goat eating grass in the alley.

One of the angry drunk persons couldn't believe there was a goat outside in the winter! I was like, eh where do they normally stay in winter? I had no idea whose goat it was but eventually we found him and I politely asked him to take the goat home, it was upsetting some of the customers.

10. Finnished

During the Expo, those Scando culture departments went berserk and tried to outdo each other. The winner was definitely Finland, who rented out every bar on Xingfu Lu one Thursday night — Dada, Logo, Anar — and threw a multi venue party with some of Finland's best electronic acts. It became a full fledged block party, probably 1,000 people outside on the street. It was a miracle we didn't get one complaint. That's impossible nowadays.



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  • 4 months ago Donny Who Loved Bowling Unverified User

    My former neighbor, I remember having to intervene on his behalf when an illegal Mahjong parlor opened above his apartment. Things never change! He's come a long way from hawking baseball caps that say ”老外“ (laowai on them). Good for him and all his success.

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